After working in the industry as a producer for 16 years creating hit after hit, we here at i:Vibes thought we should chat with Torsten Stenzel, the man behind Ayla, DJ Sakin and York, amongst many others...
Torsten Stenzel With New Musical Inspirations In Antigua...
Legends like Sven Väth, Torsten Fenslau, Talla 2XLC, and Oliver Lieb were just some that were responsible for the development of The Sound Of Frankfurt, but the name Torsten Stenzel should not be forgotten. He has been making high class dance tracks for 16 years and was very much involved with The Sound Of Frankfurt as it was taking off. He is one of the most successful German Dance producers having released over 250 tracks. He learned to play the piano at age five and played the organ at his local church for three years. Even though classical music and theory were important in his early years, he found his love for techno / house music in the early nineties. He started to arrange his studio and his first hit came like lightening as he reached #1 position in countries like Holland, Belgium and Italy with ‘Nuke’ in 1992. He next started his long working relationship with Ralph Beck aka Taucher. They celebrated hit after hit from 1994-1999 with unforgettable tracks like ‘Ayla’, ‘Infinity’, ‘Atlantas’, ‘Fantasy’, ‘Miracle’ and ‘Child Of The Universe’. All these tracks reached the German top 100. By the year 1997, Torsten Stenzel and Taucher had made 53 remixes and were already considered the best remixing duo in Germany. At this time, he started to realize that he was capable of making big tracks. In 1998, he started two projects with DJ Sakin and his brother York. He celebrated his biggest hit with DJ Sakin called ‘Protect Your Mind’, for which used the famous melody from the movie ‘Braveheart’. This track was a huge hit in countries like Germany, England, Denmark and Italy. This track nearly sold 700,000 copies. But with York, he also quickly found his way in the charts. The unique thing about York was their sound that combined dance beats and a guitar, which became their trademark. The first York release was ‘The Awakening’, which has become an instrumental classic track. In 2003, many artists went back in the studio to make new mixes including German duo Hiver & Hammer. Further hits like ‘Jastamba’ and ‘Farewell To The Moon’ followed. The biggest hit was ‘On The Beach’, which was a remake of the Chris Rea hit. This track reached #3 in the UK charts and Torsten received an invitation to play it at the UK Top Of The Pops. He also made ‘Fields Of Love’ with ATB, which was a huge club hit in 2000. The last York hit was in 2004 with ‘Iceflowers’. In 1999, he turned his back on Germany and moved to Ibiza, where he continued to produce music. He always had a love for house music and in 2002 he started the house label Chica Discos and released tracks with his buddy Sin Plomo and for the famous US label Tommy boy. He ahs worked with well known artists like Tina Turner, All Saints, Vanessa Mae, Moby, Faithless, ATB, Enigma, Westbam etc. He recently worked together with Tarja Turunen making an album ‘My Winterstorm’, which received platinum in Finland / Russia / Czech Republic and will be released in 70 countries. In November 2007, he left Europe and moved to the exotic island Antigua. i:Vibes had the chance to chat with the versatile music producer…
i:Vibes: Hi Torsten, how are you? Nice to talk with you again. You are German, but soon you will have lived abroad for 10 years. It can’t be just be the bad weather in Germany that prompted you to turn your back on your native country in 1999 to move to Ibiza? Why did you go?
Torsten Stenzel: Thanks, I’m fine. I decided to leave Germany already in 1998. In Germany there is a saying “…go while the going is good” and in 1998 the club scene in Frankfurt was great and the vibes were fantastic. But I felt that I needed a change and a couple of years before I was with DJ Taucher in Ibiza, where he played in Amnesia and I was fascinated from that little Island, all these crazy Party People, the whole positive energy and this special feeling of freedom. I loved it. And decided, when I would have enough money to move to Ibiza, I´d do it. Then luckily 1998 ‘Braveheart’ burned in the charts and I had my budget. ;-) I didn’t invest my money in a new mixing desk, I rather bought a house and left my home country.
i:Vibes: You lived in Ibiza from 1999 until 2007 and since November 2007 you call Antigua home. Why did you move to the Caribbean islands?
Torsten Stenzel: To be honest, Ibiza has changed a lot in the last years and I am not happy with some developments. They built too much, the streets are too big and oversized and the prices are really high. When I had a holiday in Antigua, I was sitting on the beach and stared at this crazy turquoise water and thought “Wow – I want to live here!”. The good thing is if you’ve done it one time you can easily do it another time. I feel like a world citizen and I can feel at home anywhere. The internet gives creative people the freedom to work even at the north pole.
i:Vibes: I remember Antigua from the Duran-Duran music videos from the 80’s. How is this place different from Ibiza? Can this exotic island give you different inspirations for your music than Ibiza did?
Torsten Stenzel: Antigua is a beautiful place with friendly people. The general feeling is more positive, “take it easy”, I think people in Europe are too angry. I felt more and more anger in Spain, why is everybody so aggressive? People are yelling at each other when they drive and no one has time. When you arrive here at the Airport you feel the difference in a second. Antigua is a non perfect place: the streets are bad, many things don’t work, but still people are smiling, even when they are poor. I like that kind of feeling because I am a positive man. It influences the music a lot. And we still have a big VIP list of actors and musicians. Interesting people. Of course it is not dance orientated, but I met Roland Emmerich at the aiport, Mariah Carrey was jogging on the beach and my idol Jean Paul Belmondo retires here. That doesn’t sound so bad…?
i:Vibes: Up until 1999, you had produced over 200 techno / trance productions, then moved to Ibiza and started making more chillout / lounge / house kind of tracks. Now you have moved again to Antigua after almost ten years in Ibiza. Does this mean you will be creating totally new kinds of sounds? Maybe going in the direction of soundtracks?
Torsten Stenzel: This is my dream. Indeed! I am moving more to the direction of soundtracks. I still love to do dance stuff, but I need to do new things to grow and this classical music, to work with orchestras and still combine it with electronic sounds. Trance is so close to classic, you wont believe it… I am doing my first movie right now, it will be shown at the Caribbean Movie Festival in Washington 2009!
i:Vibes: You played the organ in your local church for three years as you were a kid. If you had the chance to do this again, would you do it and might you play one of your own tracks and fit it into a church friendly version?
Torsten Stenzel: Oh my God… but: yes, why not?
i:Vibes: One of your early musical inspirations was The Alan Parsons Project. Is there a track of theirs, where you can say “Wow how did they manage to make the track like this”?
Torsten Stenzel: I think they created a fantastic atmosphere in their tracks, and if you listen to songs like “The Fall Of The House Of Usher” you recognise that they were really ahead of their time. The question is: how did they produce songs like that in the 80’s??? Now a days that is much easier…
i:Vibes: You played a big part in the development of the Sound Of Frankfurt. Guys like Sven Väth, Torsten Fenslau, DJ Dag, Mark Spoon Oliver Lieb, Talla 2XLC, Jam el Mar, Tom Wax or Pascal FEOS were responsible for the Sound Of Frankfurt. How did you get along with these guys? Was there one or two guys from this list that you had a good working / friend relationship with?
Torsten Stenzel: I like them all and they all did a lot for the music scene. Torsten Fenslau was a great guy, I visited him a couple of time in his studio in Darmstadt. I worked a lot with Talla and on his labels. With DJ Dag I made a couple of tracks in Ibiza, I also made some remixes for Marc Spoon and Jam el Mar and with Oliver Lieb I had the Tranceproject Paragliders on Superstition Records. Tom Wax is a nice guy, we met long ago in his hard house times, when he was the A&R of the label… Pascal FEOS - I haven’t seen for ages. Last but not least: Sven Väth – he still rocks Iike crazy… I borrowed Cocoon, especially Richi Hawtin, a couple of times for my boat in Ibiza. So for me there was peace, love and happiness in Frankfurt.
i:Vibes: Many of the early Taucher tracks were beautiful instrumental tracks, which really had their own unique sound at that moment. What really inspired you to make these brilliant tracks like ‘Ayla’, ’Infinity’, ‘Atlantas’ or ‘Miracle’?
Torsten Stenzel: That is about 12 years ago… I just made what I liked, I used a lot of the harmonies I learned from classical music. Taucher also was a good influence, he often whistled melodies and I just played them. We were a really good team. I love to change sounds and never use “presets”, so it happens that we were the first ones who used a pure “saw” sound on the ‘Ayla’ remix, which made it in to a big club hit.
i:Vibes: Who can forget “Protect Your Mind” from DJ Sakin which was one of the most popular dance tracks in 98-99. If you sit down today and listen to that track again, what memories come back to you from ten years ago when you were making this track?
Torsten Stenzel: I remember standing in clubs like the Dorian Gray and watching the Reaction when the DJs played the track. It was a massive feedback, everyone started to scream. It was played in the clubs nearly one year till it buzzed into the sales charts. Some tracks need a bit longer, so it was with ‘Braveheart’. It made its way on its own through the clubs all over the world. Fascinating. I think this is what a real club hit is. I thought I was dreaming.
i:Vibes: You made so many amazing tracks with your brother Jorg as York. How was a typical studio session with him? You were laying down the beats and he was playing with the guitar?
Torsten Stenzel: We always wrote the tunes differently. With my brother it is a lot of jamming on harmonies. Then suddenly he comes up with a great melody line. This is what happened with ‘Awakening’. He also came up with his own guitar hooks and I put chords underneath. You never can say how we write…
i:Vibes: Will you ever make a new York track again?
Torsten Stenzel: Yes, I am planning a new album next year and a new single. We will stay with our sound. Our last album ‘Peace’ was great fun to record, I want to get back to the roots with the new one and make it a bit more club playable.
i:Vibes: What was the best medicine in Ibiza for you when you had a day where you had few ideas in the studio?
Torsten Stenzel: Going out with my boat to Es Vedra and staying there the whole day watching the doves.
i:Vibes: You have made massive remixes since the beginning. What is the most important thing for you when making a remix? Why do you think you have had so much success as a remixer?
Torsten Stenzel: I love to remix Tracks, I love to change everything and I am not afraid to give my best ideas for it. I think this is what it made them very successful.
i:Vibes: I guess your remix for Sosa - The Wave is my favourite. I remember buying the CD single in 1997 and just thinking how incredible the piece of music was. That track is massive and works perfectly in the club. Was this a difficult mix to make and what was the most difficult thing in getting this track perfect?
Torsten Stenzel: ‘Sosa’ was a very special remix, it built up an extreme tension in the breakdown. After the more than two minutes break, when the beat started, people started to tear down the club and go crazy. When we made the mix, I imagined standing in the club and I just programmed it like I thought it would be best for the ultimate orgasm! ;-)
i:Vibes: How did you come up with the name Mandala Brothers?
Torsten Stenzel: DJ Shog had a present for my daughter, a mandala game – this is when you draw through a template. We liked the name and took it…
i:Vibes: “Sleepwalking” has a beautiful atmosphere in the break and the male vocal adds a special spice. Was this a track that took a lot of bleeding to make or did you guys bang it out quickly? What was the most difficult part in getting this track the way you wanted?
Torsten Stenzel: ‘Sleepwalking’ went a long way before it was finished. I recorded the vocals about two years before and had them on my hard disk. I couldn’t fit it in any backing track, when Shog came I played them to him and he loved them. We built in the vocals in three days around the track and it worked pretty good in the clubs. This is also my favourite track for a long time…
i:Vibes: What new releases can we await from you in 2008?
Torsten Stenzel: We will work soon on the new Tarja Turunen album. Also the Jazzy flavoured lounge album with my wife - Asheni – Butterfly Survival Kit will be released in July. I wrote also a couple of popsongs for known Artists… I will finish a new trance album called ‘Ibiza Nation’ where the former singer of Faithless Rhianna Kenny performed the vocals.
i:Vibes: You once said you would like to work together with Kylie Mingoue. Have you gotten closer to this dream?
Torsten Stenzel: Yes I am closer! I wrote songs with Rob Davis, he visited me twice in Ibiza and will come to Antigua in late summer. He wrote “Can’t Get Out Of My Head”… the best Kylie Single ever…!J
i:Vibes: One of my all time favourite albums is the Grammy winning album ‘Rise’ from Herb Alpert. Could you ever imagine making music in this style?
Torsten Stenzel: Yes, I can imagine. Although I like his really jazzy stuff the most. You will find a lot of real brass recordings in the Asheni album ‘Butterfly Survival Kit’…
i:Vibes: One of your top friends at MySpace is Roger Moore. Are you a fan? He was the best James Bond in my opinion. What do like about him as an actor?
Torsten Stenzel: Yes, my favourite James Bond ever. What I like about him, he is “the” gentleman, he drove the nicest Bond cars and had the most beautiful Bond girls. Much better than the others! I also liked him a lot in ‘The Persuaders’. He has my kind of humour…
i:Vibes: One of your all time favourite tracks is the legendary 1993 track ‘Café del Mar’ from Kid Paul. Do you remember when and where you were when you heard this track for the first time? What made this track so timeless?
Torsten Stenzel: I heard it the first time in a small club close to Frankfurt and I thought “Oh my God” It is sequencer-heaven. The rise of the melody and the chord progression is perfect. This is one of the real classics.
i:Vibes: In our last interview you said that your most crazy experience in Ibiza was seeing a couple having an argument and seeing the woman again four years later and falling in love with her and now you are together and have a daughter. You are now six months into living in Antigua. Have you had a crazy or unforgettable experience there?
Torsten Stenzel: I am fresh in Antigua. Experiences need time…
i:Vibes: You live in paradise on the island of Antigua. What dreams or wishes do you still have?
Torsten Stenzel: In terms of travelling… I want to sail around all the Caribbean Islands and I want to stay a while in Bali. My biggest dream is to get old with music…
i:Vibes: Thank you Torsten for the talk. Good luck in the future and please send me some sun and warmth to Germany!!!
Torsten Stenzel: Thanks for your questions!