Marco Rockstroh started DJing back in 1989 and producing in 1994. In 2006 to separate the experimental compositions from the other musical projects he decided on the straightforward sobriquet “Smooth”. The music project is a deeper study into the sounds of Dubtechno, Deep House, Garage House, UK House, Progressive, Drum & Bass, and 2-Step. The UK influential sound of yore; however, still is at the core of modern forward-thinking dance music.
Besides producing, mastering, sound design and graphic design, he operates the non-commercial audio netlabel CYAN, a free and independent audio label, based in Wuppertal (Germany) that he founded together with his wife Jaja. True to the ethos of Smooth. CYAN’s push for quality is in the foreground. Quantity is an afterthought.
This mix you provided for Phuturistic Bluez was a smorgasbord of unified compositions. Lush is one word to describe the overall mix. I’m surprised by this credible body of work that you never signed to a major electronic label. What made you decide to launch a free netlabel when streaming was at the initial stages back in 2009?
Well, I started producing electronic music back in 1996 and until 2003, I had some successful releases on major labels from Germany and Sweden. But, besides my musical work and the growing success, I felt that the A&R-Managers of those labels tried to push me into a musical direction I didn’t like. For example, the need to put some vocals on the tracks to sell 15.000 copies more was never an option for me. Musically, I wanted to do what I like, but I recognized lots of influences by the labels to make me produce music I didn’t want to produce. And, they never pay out what was agreed upon within the contracts. It was a lot of administrative work back in these days, and I wanted to focus more on making music. So, in 2009, I decided together with my wife founded a free netlabel where we would have all the artistic freedom. From the beginning, it was clear to us, that we would not have any interest in benefit. And we liked the idea very much to make our music (and the music of other artists we signed) accessible for all at the same conditions, no matter if you buy the music or if you are poor. And, by the way, we also discovered many free netlabels in that time which gave us a lot of inspiration by releasing high-quality music for free. Let’s say, our netlabel is our way to give something back to the people out there. Our favorite idea, when we founded CYAN back in 2009, was to offer the music not “just” like MP3, but also in an uncompressed, high-quality audio format (WAV) for perfect enjoyment. Until today, we had over 2 million downloads of the releases we offer on the netlabel.
What are the challenges of the day to day operations?
There are many challenges to keep the label running and to surprise the listeners. We are always searching the internet for new and fresh artists or awesome music. That also includes lots of communication. If we receive a demo request, we listen to the tracks and we get back to the musician with detailed feedback. We programmed the complete website on our own, we are doing the complete artwork on our own, and in the studio, we also do the complete audio mastering. The main challenge is to keep the eyes open for new stuff and to see the potential of the works which reach us.
To support the netlabel, I would think alternative ways of income come into play. What’s your occupation?
I am a graphic designer and web programmer, a great job our netlabel also benefits from (web design, artworks, videos, etc…)
I noticed quite a bit of the release are by you and Jaja. Is it easier to run a net label when you are already a music producer?
I would say: Yes! As a musician, you are very close to the technical (and magical) side of music and you know, what counts. And it helps a lot to understand the music other artists are sending as a demo. I live music, I never could imagine doing something else. It is part of my life. An important part.
I am assuming that the average electronic producer admires the concept of free accessibility but do not understand it’s worth in the electronic music zeitgeist. I guess my question is maybe describe why submitting music to a netlabel like CYAN is eventually worth it?
I started DJing back in 1988 and producing back in 1996. That has been completely different times, where you could earn money as a musician. Nowadays, through the musical overdose and round-the-clock-availability of music on the internet, the times have changed a lot. Back in the 90s, you “just” were a musician, but other people cared about marketing, selling and distribution for you. Today, if you want to be recognized, you have to do all of this alone to run the business effectively. Sure, you can host your music on Bandcamp, promote the music on Soundcloud, but be realistic: The times where you could live from the benefit of your art has gone. For example, we host our musical output on Bandcamp for free, but people can support us and pay if they want. And we recognized that many people are doing exactly this. To answer the question, why it could be worth to release on a free Netlabel: Over the last 10 years, we have grown a pool of followers worldwide. That would be a benefit for an artist to be recognized by all those people. And sometimes it happens, that we are getting a booking request for our artists to play at a festival. We are always networking to present our artists, and we support them with all we can do.
What is “self-sacrifice” to you?
Something positive! I always felt the need to be creative, but I also have spent countless hours to keep the Netlabel running, to do artworks and the masterings for the artists, to communicate, to program, to administrate. Finally, I think, it was worth every single minute. If I did not feel positive about it, I would have stopped all of this already. I never felt something negative on all the work I had to spent.
Let’s circle back to the 3-hour journey of CYAN 2009/2019. How and where was the mix recorded?
Ah yes, I burned all the tracks onto CDs and mixed them on 2 Pioneer CDJ-100 players in addition to a Gemini PS-626 mixer. The mix has been recorded directly into Logic X using an RME Fireface 802 Interface. All of that happened in our “mix room”, another little space for all our vinyl and mixing equipment. It was a challenge to match all these different musical styles, but it also has been lots of fun.
What are you and CYAN music up to next, respectively?
The release schedule of CYAN already includes the next 6 releases, a wide range of electronic music from Lounge and NuJazz to Ambient, Techno, and Dubtechno. We already have plans for our next label compilation, I guess it will be released in the summer of this year. Personally, I am working currently on a new, massive Dubtechno album. I gathered many ideas and scratches, I think, the whole album will be more straight, with lots of influences of Detroit Techno. But, who knows? maybe, in the end, it will be something completely different.
YouTube HD Version
|1||Smooth – Dubnoe|
|2||Smooth – Cats in Dub|
|3||Smooth – White|
|4||Smooth – Island Two|
|5||Smooth – Phase into space (Smooth Genestar Remix)|
|6||Smooth – Lookout at Framework 201|
|7||Smooth – Beyond the twilight|
|8||Smooth – Chicago Sunset|
|9||Smooth – Manifestation (Southern Cross Mix)|
|10||Smooth – Spaceport 65|
|11||Smooth – Galactic Outpost|
|12||Smooth – Luna|
|13||Smooth – Contemporary Past|
|14||Smooth – Frozen Capitol|
|15||Smooth – Phase into Space (Jaja Deep Spheric Remix)|
|16||Smooth – Destination Deep Field|
|17||Smooth – Spaceport 65 (Terminal 4 Mix)|
|18||Smooth – Northern Star|
|19||Smooth – Phase into Space|
|20||Smooth – Cyan (Reprise)|
|21||Smooth – Subtraktion|
|22||Smooth – Jana|
|23||Smooth – Screaming Stars|
|24||Smooth – Arrival of the Plejades|
Image by Sanmeet Chahil @unsplash