Ralf GUM Makes Himself—And His Soulful Brand of House Music—at Home in South Africa

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“After I finished my album, Uniting Music in 2008, I was not sure if I would ever do a follow-up long-player, as the scene is very much driven by single releases and an album is actually much more work than 10 single releases,” German DJ/producer Ralf GUM reveals in his exclusive interview with Tania Fuentez Media this month. The latest album, released in September, immediately picked up widespread praise and momentum on the charts. “I don’t see Never Leaves You as a game changer, but rather as continuation of my previous works while I, of course, tried to grow as an artist,” he says. “It was very important for me to have good songs on it and hence I approached a list of singers who I consider great songwriters.” He shares more in the following Q&A, including why he moved to South Africa, his record label’s 10th anniversary and the so-called rise of EDM culture.

For me, most of that EDM stuff is pop music with a four to floor beat and does not have too many things in common with the music I really appreciate. My advice to DJs is to keep on following their heart and not the latest trend. If you are passionate about music, just keep on pushing it wherever you can.

Tania Fuentez: Your record label, GOGO Music, successfully reached a significant milestone this year. How does that feel and what’s your secret to longevity? When did you know this was your calling?

Ralf:GOGO Music was launched by me at the end of 2001 and we celebrated the 10th anniversary early this year. It was a great feeling to reach such a mark, as I saw many labels come and go during that time. As well, I am really happy that the fan base of the label is still growing steadily. Before I started the label I already was releasing on other labels for almost a decade, but always felt that artist development was a foreign word for many of them. It was my wish to show my specific taste of music with a platform which not only releases mine, but as well, like-minded artists. There’s no real secret behind the label’s persistency. I just release music which I think is well-written and timeless. I am happy to see that people seem to appreciate the quality of the records. As well, we reached in 2012 our 50th vinyl single release which was the first single taken off my new album, Never Leaves You. It was the collaboration with Robert Owens titled, "Fly Free," and we just released a video for it.

Best advice for veteran and newcomers to DJ culture and the House music scene. How do you explain the recent rise of EDM and what’s the deal since various forms of electronic music have existed for decades?

I hear a lot about a rise of EDM in many countries recently, but to be honest I am not really sure what is meant by that. For me, most of that EDM stuff is pop music with a four to floor beat and does not have too many things in common with the music I really appreciate. If it helps to open doors for real house music I am thankful for it, but I don’t see a gain for deep and soulful house in most territories at the moment. My advice to DJs is to keep on following their heart and not the latest trend. If you are passionate about music, just keep on pushing it wherever you can.

What draws you to the deeper, soulful side of House? Why has it often been overlooked by mainstream audiences yet thrives underground and how can that be changed to reach a broader base?

The deeper side of house music just combines all music elements I like. You can incorporate jazz, funk, soul, Afro, Latin elements and so much more in it. The music is often treated as a “DJ tool” only and hence was not really pushed to a mainstream market, where you need radio-edits of songs and, in an ideal case as well, a video. Furthermore, it’s helpful if an artist is literally performing the song. The labels in the deep house scene often concentrated only on an individual single release by someone, instead of building their name with consecutive releases. All the aforementioned aspects are truly no secret in the music business for many decades, but have most times been overlooked in the house scene. Lately, a change seems to have started worldwide and is already in full effect in South Africa where house music is treated just as every other mainstream genre. It hopefully keeps on and helps the music to get more of its deserved and overdue attention.

As a prolific producer, what makes a collaboration “golden” and what doesn’t always work in the studio despite best-laid plans? Memorable moments or favorite artists to work with in the past?

When you go to the studio you never know what will happen. You cannot “prepare” to make magic happen. Sometimes it does, on other days you struggle to get a good result. But, anyway most of my songs are not done within one studio session. The secret is to keep on working on songs and revisit them until they are strong enough, rather than release half-backed works.

Tell me something distinctively priceless about your latest project. When did it begin, how long did it take to complete and what was the impetus behind it? Is it a game changer? Next big thing on your radar worth a mention?

After I finished my album, Uniting Music in 2008, I was not sure if I would ever do a follow-up long-player, as the scene is very much driven by single releases and an album is actually much more work than 10 single releases. However, after a while I felt the hunger for a full-length album again, especially as it is possible to reach another audience next to clubbers with a CD. I don’t see Never Leaves You as a game changer, but rather as continuation of my previous works, while I, of course, tried to grow as an artist. It was very important for me to have good songs on it and hence I approached a list of singers who I consider great songwriters. I could not be happier about who I was able to include on the album as the likes of Caron Wheeler or Robert Owens have been big influences for me since I started out. Monique Bingham is for me the best lyricist in the game and Oluhle and Jaidene Veda are vocalists I wanted to work with for quite some time. Kenny Bobien, Jocelyn Mathieu, Jon Pierce and Kafele are beyond my favourite male artists in the scene. All in all, the whole project took more than two years to complete and it is good to see it on the market now. At the moment, I am not really looking too far into the future, as album promotion keeps me busy. The next big thing for me is bringing Monique Bingham for a tour to South Africa, where our song, "Take Me To My Love," is on heavy rotation and in the charts of almost all big radio stations. Next to our gigs, we will use the time she’s here to shoot a video for the song.

Any bothersome or promising trends to note? Who or what could shift the way House music is better understood and accepted?

I never was a person to look at or follow trends too much and have to admit that this became even more since I relocated to South Africa where I finally found my musical home. There is a natural and general understanding for the right house music in the Motherland, which is amplified by strong media support, no matter if we talk about radio, press or TV. Due to the Internet and its social media, the classic media became less important to spread the word about something. I hope deep and soulful house artists will use this opportunity wisely and make our scene grow in all parts of the world.

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