The spotlight for the next instalment of our Rising Stars series is Berlin-based DJ Bruno Schmidt. The Domesticated label-boss was one of London’s best-kept secrets before breaking out into international waters in recent years. He opts to fuse new and old music together, searching for obscure and forgotten records that have slipped through the cracks of the past and combines them with newer records that ensure his sound keeps moving forward. There’s no use pinning him down to one genre, during his sets, chaotic techno is seamlessly blended with obscure ’90s tech-house, choppy garage and everything in between.
“Last year was awesome. More gigs, travelling to new countries, especially to places like Detroit and Seoul, which were personal highlights.” Bruno excitedly informs us. “New projects, new friends, new opportunities, successes, failures, disappointments. It’s been a proper year.”
It’s evident from our conversation that he’s not a huge fan of the ‘digger’ tag, but those who’ve had the chance to listen to him play would definitely attach it to him as a DJ. Collecting records for over a decade has led to Bruno going through many musical phases and piqued interests of certain genres, amassing a mind-boggling selection of records.
“It’s actually really weird to hear the way people talk about ‘digging’ nowadays. No-one used to do it to purposely unearth obscure records.” Bruno tells us in his cosy Berlin flat, which is sprawled with records and introduced with a half-joke that he wouldn’t have many belongings if not for all the records he owns. “Digging is just something that everyone who buys records and is enthusiastic about music should just do by default, in my opinion anyway, there’s no need to attach so much merit to it.”
Bruno’s early partying years set the foundations for his views on parties and his ethos for playing records as a DJ. He recalls early rave experiences whilst growing up in Cambridgeshire with the same nostalgic and childlike excitement as most of us do. The Priory, a Cambridge based party collective back in the mid-late 2000s, were throwing parties in a ‘Hula themed venue’ which captured the imagination of a fresh-faced Schmidt. “They brought guys like Luke Slater, Derrick May, Ivan Smagghe, Carl Craig…” He trails off. “Amazing people who threw the best parties. Anybody in Cambridge around that time will be able to tell you about those nights.”
“About an hour or so after my first E…” He smirks. “I realised I loved electronic music.”
The starting transition from party-goer to DJ first took place for Bruno in the basement of one of The Priory’s parties in 2007. “A Guy Called Gerald or EDMX were playing, I think…Mathew Jonson – Decompression was the first track I ever tried to mix!” It would be through a close friend and fellow DJ, Josh Tweek of The Ghost, where Bruno would start to get his opportunities to shine and begin to grow his reputation within the UK.
Originally from Cambridgeshire also, Josh began hosting the Louche parties whilst Bruno was studying in Leeds and he eventually became a resident. The legendary and now-defunct Mint Club which hosted Louche’s parties was the ‘holy grail of clubs’ for any young DJ to hone their craft, and Louche represented the unpretentious party spirit that The Priory also championed.
Teary-eyed accounts of the Louche parties are not uncommon for anyone who was in Leeds in the late 2000s and early 2010s and Bruno’s memories are no different. “I look back so fondly at those parties. Most notably the Visionquest party where Seth Troxler, Ryan Crosson and Shaun Reeves masks were handed out. I remember DJing and looking out to the 1000 strong sea of fucked up people in Visionquest masks, it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen.”
After graduating from Leeds, a move to the capital was on the cards. He cut his teeth into the gritty London nightlife culture where the Louche party series continued, gigs at Plan B (now Phonox), Fabric’s room three and early editions of Cartulis Day at Crucifix Lane helped him assimilate to London’s partying ecosystem. The change-up from Leeds to London came as a shock, he cites the partying culture being more culturally enriched as well as older and more serious crowds. “The music was way darker and druggier, too. It was a different time, a different approach, a lot more naive than now I would say.”
He enthusiastically recounts a time where people weren’t ‘necessarily obsessively digging from A-Z on Discogs and buying the wackiest looking and most obscure records’, but rather a time where parties were freer with less snobbery and downward-looking attitudes towards the music selection. “Everything felt very fresh and inspiring, great parties, good venues, the various scenes were colourful and the weekends were long.”
The period of 2012 to 2014 in London is a period of his life that Bruno wholeheartedly describes as the most formative. Afterparties were held every weekend in a friends’ front-room in Camden and would often stretch on for 36 hours or longer whilst Bruno describes the setting as ‘like a techno dojo’. Those infamous afterparties are referenced as being instrumental in beginning to seriously develop his DJing talent and ear for music. The close group of friends would buy records every week in anticipation for the next weekend, keen to impress each other and grow their record collections exponentially during this period.
That front room in Camden was a regular afterspot for the beloved Toi Toi Musik parties as well as fabric, meaning many paths were crossed and bonds grew aplenty within those walls. “It’s crazy to see how much impact those times had, how it shaped so many relationships in music, and how many opportunities opened up as a result for everyone. It was an extreme case of right place, right time, and a lucky stroke, but as some people say, you make your own luck.” Such luck as Bruno refers to it, plateaued in January 2016, when he received a phone call inviting him to warm up fabric’s room one for Craig Richards, Ricardo Villalobos and Margaret Dygas.
Bruno’s desire for his own platform would be satisfied in conjunction with fellow highly-respected DJs and dear-friends Gwenan and Andrew James Gustav. “Throwing those Hifi parties was fun but it was honestly more about giving ourselves a chance to play without focusing on big guest DJs.” Their honest approach worked a treat, the money saved from booking guests was instead spent on a nice venue and better sound. This party cauldron of organic ingredients led to an incredibly loyal and close-knit Hifi fanbase which set the trio well on their way to their DJing paths whilst giving them invaluable experience where the focus was on them.
“I actually met Andrew, Gwenan and Joe Delon at the second edition of Meadows In The Mountains [of which Bruno is one of the key organisers] back in 2012.” He recalls of the career-shaping friendships. “The festival was only about 300 attendees and they had bought tickets to come to see Jane Fitz. Since they were travelling to rural Bulgaria for Meadows, I understood pretty quickly they were die-hard into similar music as me.”
Meadows has been steadily growing since its inception in 2011 to become one of Europe’s most-beloved small festivals. The scenic Rhudope Mountains in southern Bulgaria has hosted the likes of Jane Fitz, Binh, Francesco Del Garda, Carl Hardy and Truly Madly as well as both Gwenan and Andrew James Gustav. The idea for the festival was born from a group of friends who used to go Secret Garden party, an independent festival near Huntingdon which ran from 2004 to 2017. “Those times were so special and brought our group of friends very close together, bonding over a love of partying and music. It was my first partying group.”
It’s a festival which has always been focused on growing organically, Bruno recalls the first year where there was just a BBQ, a treehouse and some decks. “There was only one tent in the campsite I remember, although I don’t think anybody really slept. We just kept doing it our own way each year and saw it grow organically.”
The festival’s push to be as environmentally green and responsible as possible has been a big part of Meadows and the crew take pride in doing their part for the climate crisis and it’s something they all emphasise as much as the names on the line-up. “The least we can do is try and slow down the process of the eventual and inevitable apocalypse.” High self-awareness is in abundance throughout our conversation and the climate crisis is no different for Bruno. “Having fun is important at Meadows of course and it isn’t easy being environmentally friendly whilst throwing a party that has its roots in hedonism. We aren’t perfect, but what is perfect?”
After living in London for 5 years, Bruno was offered a job relocation in Berlin. It was a perfect occurrence, offering him the chance to grow close to the German capital’s clubs such as Club der Visionaere and sister venue Hoppetosse, which have become the premier clubs for those who like their music deeper and more obscure. The party hours are, naturally, very long, but audiences are educated and the challenge to find unique-sounding music is at an all-time high.
London and Berlin may be the two partying capitals of Europe but their differences and attitudes seemingly become more amplified as the years go by. Despite his nostalgia-drenched recounts of London in the early 2010s, he’s excited and enthusiastic regarding the capital’s nightlife. “I think there is a lot of sick music and parties coming up through London, as there has always been. Perhaps more-so than Berlin dare I say. Further away from and less likely to be swayed by current trends, can be a great thing.”
Trends are easy to get sucked into when a whole host of DJs are playing similar strains of music and I imagine it’s hard not to subconsciously follow trends, something I’m keen to quiz Bruno on if this is the case in Berlin. “Actually, I feel less swayed now than ever. I admittedly followed trends to a degree in the past and possibly will do again, provided I’m into the music.”
One element of the current electronic music climate that Bruno is quick to add to our conversation is the importance of incorporating new and current-sounding music into his sets. “There’s plenty of new music to dig, right now there’s a renaissance of old styles mixed with contemporary ideas which I think has led to stuff sounding the freshest it has for ages. Perhaps we can thank ‘digging’ for this.” Bruno, now sitting up in his chair, goes on. “People became a lot more familiar with the history of dance music whilst searching for a wider scope of music that goes way back. This may have inspired a more recent generation of producers to make a higher quality of music after the decline of the digital generation.”
It’s not just a matter of introducing more music and giving your sets a fresh dynamic that’s important for Bruno, but also giving back to the music ecosystem that keeps the whole thing going. “When you’re buying new music, you’re supporting new artists with recognition and exposure, the money paid for new records goes directly back into the industry, rather than into the pockets of a Discogs seller.”
There’s also the small matter of his label, Domesticated, which recently released a sublime electro and oddball techno EP from Marc Ashken under his SHKN alias. Bruno’s outing on his own label came alongside French DJ/Producer Robin Ordell and their Asper Bothrops project, offering up a three-track EP that combines punchy techno and leftfield minimal.
“There have been more releases from myself, but under different names and aliases, mostly collabs.” And the future? “There’s plenty more to come, solo-wise it’s been a while but hopefully I’ll be releasing again soon. I’m actually working on new stuff with my neighbour Levat right now that I’m particularly excited about.”
For someone who always tries to look forward, the future is looking particularly exciting. “There’s hopefully three more records coming out on Domesticated this year, another Asper Bothrops record on Spinning Plates, two podcasts. The first wave of Meadows’ 10-year anniversary lineup has arrived and there’s more to come. There’s also plenty of stuff going on right now and a Hifi comeback at Pickle Factory on March 27th. Then,” Bruno shrugs. “Who knows?”
More info on Bruno Schmidt
Facebook | SoundCloud | Discogs
More info on Meadows In The Mountains
Facebook | SoundCloud | Website
Checkout next in the series Sugar Free’s Rising Star feature.