Groove Odyssey talks to the almighty Ralf GUM about his musical journey and obsession for real house music.
GOGO Music founder and soulful house trailblazer, Ralf GUM is one of the most respected figures on the scene, renowned for his exceptional production skills and live sets.
With a career spanning almost three decades, Ralf GUM has worked alongside the likes of Inaya Day, Monique Bingham, Beate S. Lech, Robert Owens, Kenny Bobien and Caron Wheeler, to name but a few. In 2008, he put out his debut album Uniting Music, which bore all this signs of his hallmark sound; live instrumentation, deep beats and an infectious groove. Three albums later and a slew of releases on labels like Defeced and Tommy Boy, and not forgetting his own imprint GOGO Music, Ralf remains at the the top of the game.
We caught up with Ralf ahead of his set for GO Ibiza in May. Here’s what he had to say.
Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with us, how’s everything going?
Thank you for having me. All is well, I can't complain.
Before you started working full-time in the music industry you studied civil engineering. Did you learn anything during your time at university that has since helped you as a musician?
For sure, I learned how to work structured and this still helps in every aspect of life. And, of course, music is partly mathematics, which is a main focus in a civil engineer studying. So it helped me with various skills I still can use to date, even though I never worked as an engineer.
When you first started DJing in clubs in your homeland Germany you were playing a mix of house, hip hop, and nu-jazz, but, as mentioned in the past, you preferred US house. Did you find that frustrating? And what did you do to satisfy your love of US house?
Playing a variety of genres enlarged my musical knowledge and as well my DJ skills. It was not frustrating at all, even though I enjoyed playing House music more than any other genre already at that time. Few years into my DJ career, my love for House prevailed and I stopped playing anything else.
You often cite Ron Trent and Louie Vega as key early influencers for you. What is it about their music that inspired you?
They are two of the DJs which I heard on my first trips to the USA in the early nineties and who left an everlasting impression. Those USA trips definitely influenced my decision to focus on House Music only. It was their way of playing and their ability to keep a crowd energized for several hours by creating an atmosphere.
Around the mid-nineties you were playing as part of a production team ‘Gum Team’ - can you tell us a little bit about that time, and the sorts of sounds you were playing?
As GUM Team we strictly played US House, a deep and soulful sound. At that time we were one of the few people who were introducing vocal House into German clubs. We liked playing releases from labels like Music Station, Freetown Music, Nervous, Strictly Rhythm just to name a few and give you an idea. As GUM Team we produced music, too, and the first record releases I've been part of have been under that name as well.
In 2001 you founded your label, GOGO Music. What are the core values of GOGO Music and what do you aim for in the sorts of records you put out?
GOGO Music clearly focuses on quality over quantity. The sound of our releases is an organic one and we mainly release full songs rather than tracks and tools. A well written song will always stay a well written song and the intention is to enrich the musical landscape with some great dance music on the soulful side. Being a helping hand in all aspects of the music industry one of our core values, too.
Now the music industry today is nothing like it was 17 years ago, first with the advent of digital music and now with streaming. What sort of struggles have you faced as an independent record label?
The music industry has always been challenging and highly competitive and therefore struggles are order of the day, especially when you start out. The sound for which the label stands unfortunately never had a big market in my home country Germany, which created additional financial pressure, but I've been aware of this since day one. The transition from a physical to a digital market even increased the competition, as it became easier for new labels to enter the market without any bigger investments. But presumably you find similar struggles in any other industry, too, and there's nothing more fulfilling than overcoming them, while doing what your heart tells you to do.
It wasn’t until 2008 that you put your first album out, Uniting Music. Was this something you’d been sitting on for a long time? And how long did it take you to finish the album?
Before my debut album I focused on single releases and EPs which always have been the industry standard in our scene. I started thinking about the production of a long player already few years prior, but it was with the foundation of my label GOGO Music that I became more serious about the idea. It wasn't until 2004 or 2005 that I felt that I was finally in a position to start working on the long-player, as I had the infrastructure and necessary contacts to release it successfully, as well as a list of artist I wanted to collaborate with and whom were interested to work with me. It then took about 3 years to complete the album.
‘Kissing Strangers’ from Uniting Music was a big track for you, and really blew up in house music circles. Did you expect the track to be as successful as it was?
You never can plan or expect to have a hit. It clearly was a personal favorite on the album and therefore I was not fully surprised when it went up in various charts. That it should become the best selling house track of the year on Traxsource however was a pleasant surprise.
You relocated to South Africa with your family in 2012, and you’ve since been very vocal about your love for the country. What was it that drew you to South Africa and how has living there helped you musically?
South Africa is a beautiful, diverse country with a great climate and blue skies on most days of the year. Add to this a very friendly population and an amazing House music scene and you'll start to imagine why I like the country so much. Artistically it was highly interesting to be part of and influence South Africa's House scene at a time where the SA sound became popular internationally and revived the global House music scene.
Is there anything you miss about your native country of Germany?
Family, friends and maybe certain restaurants. There's not too much to date.
In May, we have the honour of having you play for us for our 2018 Ibiza weekender. What is your most memorable Ibiza experience?
I am so looking forward to return to the island, after having been there kind of regularly in the 90s, as a DJ and for holidays alike. My last time on Ibiza was in 2002 and I still remember this gig at Privilege as probably the best one I ever played on Ibiza. Nevertheless my interest in the island and its scene declined as the Electro and later EDM wave changed the sound in a lot of clubs. It is exciting to see that during the last years a more soulful sound returned to many Ibiza venues and I am absolutely amped to play at GO Ibiza for you. We had some dope parties in London together and the line-up for this year's Ibiza event is absolutely promising.
What do you want your audience to walk away feeling after hearing your set?
Ideally they walk away with a smile on their face. Introducing them to some new sounds and taking them on a journey is part of it, but mainly the set should make them happy.
And finally, what can we look forward to from you in 2018 and beyond?
I am currently working on my 4th artist album to be released probably in early 2019. This year you will be able to enjoy first singles taken from it and of course you might hear some of them at GO Ibiza.