With seven full-length albums under his real Markus Schulz name to his credit, the world-renown German-American Trance DJ and music producer took some time to meet with Trance Farm for an extremely rare conversation before his Open To Close performance at Chicago’s Sound-Bar on August 10, 2019. Note: While Markus is very generous with his time to journalists, he rarely entertains interview requests before OTC sets.
Not wanting our limited time to include the same mundane questions that have been asked of the 20+ year veteran many times over, I decided it was time for Markus to do what this publication does, tell stories.
“Look, you’ve been asked every question in the book,” I said. “There has to be some story that you remember, music-related or not, that hasn’t been told.” Markus didn’t disappoint.
Beginning his life journey at age 18, Markus was homeless. Living out of his mother’s car, he desperately sought an apartment where there was no security deposit or first month’s rent. “If I found one, I knew I had a month to try and make it,” Markus told me as we sat on the VIP couches in the club. “It was really rough.”
However, during this time, his mother came back from Germany and needed her car again, leaving Markus with only his bicycle. “I would ride that bike 20 miles with a crate of records on the back to get to a residency. And, it wasn’t even a proper club,” Markus said as his eyes pointed to the ceiling. “It was Djing in between bands, and I remember how brutal those days were.”
Markus paused for a moment and reflected on questions that often get asked of him. “People always ask me, ‘What was your defining moment or if you could go back in time, where would you be or what would you do?’ And the whole premise of this excerpt is to say that if I could go back in time, I do remember that defining moment because I was riding my bicycle after one of those shows and there was a construction site. Well, after a day of working they hose the site down, so dust doesn’t get everywhere. Well, there’s oil all over the street that you really couldn’t see. Mixed with that water, I rode right through it and completely wiped out. Records went everywhere!” Laying in the middle of the street bloodied and battered, looking up at the stars on this night, Markus remembered saying to himself, “If a car hits me right now, so be it.” He continued, “If I could go back in time, I’d go back to that moment, and see that young Markus lying in the street, and I’d tell him to ‘get your ass up because life is going to be amazing.'”
Markus gathered his oily records, put himself back on his bicycle, and rode the rest of the way home where he tended to his wounds. “I was literally picking gravel out of my arms,” Markus said as he raised his forearm. “But, the next day, I got right back on the bike and went right back to it. I never gave up. It was brutally hard, but as I started to gain momentum and started to get somewhere, I released my first album.”
Markus eagerly continued, “The interesting thing is when you compose your first album, you put everything you’ve experienced in your life up to that point into it. That album is filled with so much pain and hardship. But, the ironic thing is that when that album became successful, all of a sudden I’m living a dream. I’m traveling the world doing this and doing that, and it’s hard to tap into, nor did I want to tap into that pain that I had experienced up to that point.”
The sophomore curse is real. The second record plagues many musicians for the simple fact that it’s challenging to maintain the level of intensity and passion that was given to the initial effort. Such was the case with Markus. “The first one was a lifetime in the making, and it’s hard!” But, fast forward ten total albums and Markus realizes that we evolve as human beings, but looking back, no matter how successful we become, we all will remember that street and what the house across from us looked like when we took that spill on the pavement.
Today, Markus receives daily adulations from people, and while he is undoubtedly grateful and humbled by them, he is quick to remind people always to pay it forward. “I had a guy last night in Atlanta come up to me and say how I helped him get through medical school,” Markus recalled with a smile on his face. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s amazing! What do you do?’” And, he said, ‘I’m a surgeon.’ I said, ‘Well, save and change people’s lives because if I helped you, then you have to help it forward.'”
With the always asked question, “What’s next for you?” he has reached a point in his career where it is time to consider his legacy. “I’ve done a lot,” the 44 year-old Markus proudly said. “I still feel like I’ve got another 10-15 years of things I want to say, but at this point in my career, it’s time to concentrate on my legacy.”
For the first time in his life, Markus feels that Trance has reached a point where the genre is holding between 128 and 138 b.p.m. “That’s it!” Markus said while shaking his head side to side. “Every time you open a session, you say to yourself, ‘Ok, what are we gonna do today?’ You type in the tempo, and it’s automatically between those two numbers. I don’t want to do that anymore.” So, what to do? Markus is hell-bent on changing all of this by looking to the future and readily experimenting in the studio.
“Listen,” as Markus shifted his body on the couch and clutched his hands together. “What people love about Trance music are the amazing melodies, the lush sounds, the beautiful chords. That’s what I love about Trance! What I am impatient with right now is that all of those elements have to be between those 10 b.p.m’s so I’m experimenting.” And, while he’s the first to say that the experiments may never see the light of day, but as an artist, Markus feels alive for the chance to regain a bit of soul that was missing from producing the same type of music year in and year out. “The most important part of this era, this chapter of my career, is to see what comes from what I’ve been working on. It’s exciting! It’s gorgeous. It’s emotional, but it’s not between 128 and 138.”
Speaking with more adamance now, Markus proclaimed that today’s Trance artists are afraid because the fans have abandonment issues. “Tiësto left Trance and people went nuts!” Markus exclaimed waving his hands in the air. “Then, there are other artists that say they still play Trance, but it’s not. And, the reason is that every time someone goes outside the box and does one thing differently, everyone screams, ‘Oh, my God. You’re leaving Trance!’”
When Markus speaks of the upcoming revival in Trance, he isn’t speaking of Psy-Trance or returning to the anthems of years gone by. “Everything that there is to say in Psy-Trance has already been said,” Markus boldly stated. “But, at the same time, I don’t want to go back to 1999. As much as those were amazing days, I feel like there’s so much more for the future.”
And, Markus teaches this to young producers in the schools in which he funds. He equates it to a chef preparing the same meal day after day, knowing many other ingredients could make a delicious dish. “The tools and the inspiration are there,” said Markus as he began to rise from the couch. “We have by far the most talented group of producers in dance music right now but to regain my thirst I’m listening to people like Hans Zimmer and Chicago’s Jeremy Sole, and I love what Above & Beyond is doing with Seven Lions because they’re looking for something different, too.”
“The talent and resources are there. We need to stop being scared.”
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