These are dark days for disco euphoria; even an expert like Marius Lauber can’t deny this. The German artist who’s better known under this alias Roosevelt is releasing his third studio album Polydans these days and it’s meant for anything else than the harsh reality of lockdown life in early 2021. The record is pure summerly dancefloor dopamine and a celebration of togetherness, love, joy and escapism in the club context. “It just doesn’t feel like a proper release,” he confesses with a smile right at the beginning of our video call interview. “It’s equally a good record for these times… or a bad one,” he adds. While the album predecessor, 2018’s Young Romance, saw Lauber flirting with more traditional pop sound this new record is a return to his early club-focussed sound and modern indie-club classics like Sea and Fever. It’s as disco as a disco record can sound in 2021 and maybe for the first time, Roosevelt is wearing that label with pride and confidence. He perfected his style and the album was designed to conquer clubs and festival stages all over the world – it just wasn’t meant to be… for now.
After ten years in the business the Cologne-based musician has established himself as a key figure in the international neo-disco scene which reactivated the love for funky and warm grooves from the 70s and early 80s and brought it back to the here and now. Just like Poolside, Satin Jackets, Lindstrøm Lauber takes the best from the past and puts it into a contemporary context. It’s modern pop that fuels itself via the energy of nostalgia and Polydans is another prime example here. Roosevelt‘s approach towards electronic music is a more organic one that makes it partly sound like it was recorded by an actual band in the studio. For this edition of Electronic Empathy I wanted to dive a bit deeper into the origins of that sound, Lauber’s influences and his understanding of electronic music. Like always this interview comes with an artist-curated Spotify playlist which you can and should enjoy right here while following Marius and me on this journey.
Hi Marius. According to the press release of Polydans the record is a love letter to club music. How did that come about?
I wanted to return to my own roots following Young Romance which was my attempt to head into this pop world. I was craving for my old machines which I haven’t used in a while. I was trying to get back to that balance of sounding like a band but actually making music for the dancefloor. That was my basic idea but the rest happened quite naturally. The record was pretty much written last March/ April and I finished it over the summer. Unfortunately it’s the record that I mostly wrote for the stage. There are pieces like Forget or Echoes which were specifically written for the live moments. It’s quite absurd right now.
Yeah, it’s a bad time for dance music and that might change the perception of these new songs. I remember reading a review of the new BICEP album on Pitchfork and their main complain about the record was that it’s just not that good if you take the live experience of the band away. There’s a bit truth in that. Are you afraid that this can happen to Polydans?
Well, I’m not afraid when it comes to the album. Still, I sense that lack of inspiration in my life right now. Enjoying loud music does something with you, it’s a physical experience and if you take that away, it can be frustrating. It’s also the feeling of togetherness when you, for example, watch a band together on a festival. It’s affecting you so much, way more than you notice. And that’s totally missing right now … and so is the context. When you’re playing a lot of shows and you head directly to the studio you’re still in some sort of ‘live mode’ which you can’t reproduce. That’s quite tough right now and I sense that as I started working on new music. I didn’t notice that in the past, however. I remember telling my management and booking agency to give me two months off between shows so I can get to the studio.
Now I realized how important playing live was for the actual writing process. You need the exchange with the audience. They give you something and you use that energy to go to the studio and make music for them in return.
I heard that from a few colleagues as well … we totally underestimated that cycle. I mean I’ve been working in my studio on new stuff ever since I finished Polydans last summer. Despite it being 8 months so far there’s way less output than usually after that period.
Quite an interesting point, indeed.
Sometimes playing live felt like a duty to me. I mean it was still great but sometimes my head was somewhere else, already looking for the next record. I was longing from a break back then. Well, who knew …
I also have the impression that your sound turned more and more into a band sound over the past years and that might have been a subtle influence from all these shows as well.
Yeah, there’s a bit truth in that. Over the years I learned how I make myself sound like a band. I couldn’t do this at the beginning. Back then I sampled my snare sounds from other tracks, now I create them by myself. Creating the band energy alone by yourself in the studio it’s something that takes years of practice. It’s still quite a challenge though. I mean, I also did that in my early days, like on Sea … I just got better at it.
And over the years you find your specific sound. Is it even tempting for you to head for an entire different musical direction? Like, creating a techno album?
When I started releasing music under my Roosevelt moniker I always said that I have a certain distance between myself and the music that I wanted to create with that alias. I set myself a certain frame and sound cosmos in which I wanted to navigate under this alias. But more and more I realized that this simply is the music that comes out of me. I know, it’s a cliché saying that this is my most personal album. It might not be in terms of the lyrics but it is in terms of sound. I accepted that this is my sound and I don’t need any distance anymore.
Some producers tend to get new alias for new sound experiments. Is that an option for you?
I could see myself doing something like a techno record and there’ve been a few ideas here. But I think the music I release is also the one I’m best at. You tend to underestimate that. When I started making solo music I still had the mindset of “Oh, I could do so many things.” but I think you usually have your biggest talent in your own niche. I tend to automatically navigate towards that style. It’s quite naturally. And maybe it always has been. It’s best to dig deep into your own musical world instead of trying to head into every direction.
The heart and soul of the tambourine
When you listen to the ten new tracks on Polydans Roosevelt does indeed sound as tight as never before and despite the shimmering production there’s also a bit more rawness and purity on this new record. It still remains grounded in the pop-infected disco cosmos, mixing funky bassline and smooth guitars with wonderful string harmonies and Lauber’s tender vocal performance. It’s the sound of joy in a time that’s clearly lacking of that feeling. When we talk the infamous Cologne carnival would usually happen but was cancelled for obvious reasons. The producer is not a big fan of that but he does miss one special occasion. “Kompakt Records always hosts a great carnival party. Luckily no carnival music from Cologne but everybody’s dressed up and I often DJ at it. It’s always a wonderful night.” Well, you can’t help but feeling nostalgic when it comes to parties these days and that notion is actually pretty fitting for the Roosevelt sound. And it can be also found in the music that influenced Lauber and that is partly featured in his selection for our Electronic Empathy playlist. As our call continues we had a bit deeper into his musical influences.
Can you recall specific moments in your life when you got hooked up on that disco sound?
I remember there was a Michael Jackson album lying around in our living room. I don’t know if it was that significant in terms of disco but if definitely was in terms of pop cultural understanding. I was maybe six or so when I looked at it and realized “This is an artist and that’s the record he released.” I began to understand pop music und it fascinated me because Michael Jackson wasn’t a real person, he wasn’t the ‘guy next door’ and that’s something I always found fascinating. Many artists in Germany, for example don’t get that you can be an art character but still be authentic. I mean, David Bowie was authentic because that was who he was. But that term got twisted over the years and today ‘authentic’ is often used as a synonym for being boring.
So, he wasn’t your gateway drug into the music …
That was more the time around 2008 and 2009 with labels like Kitsuné and Ed Banger. The heavier stuff of around 2006 by Digitalism and Boys Noize got smoother and more elegant. Phoenix also had their big breakthrough around that time. In terms of nu-disco the Norwegians like Todd Terje, Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm had a huge impact on me at that time. Also everything that happened around New York’s DFA Records in that decade.
They are all favourites of mine as well. But they were already recreating the sound of the past. But it’s quite common when you grow up that you start listening to such artists instead of the originals. I got to know Interpol before Joy Division, for example. Did you later move back in time to get closer to the roots of the sound?
I never approached music in a music historical way. I didn’t listen to a new song thinking “Oh, they are sounding that way because of this old band so I need to listen to it.” I wasn’t really a heavy explorer here, I was more interested in working on my own sound. I tend to consume music in a very timeless way. I don’t care if it’s from today or a record from 1972. Still, I like moments when you realize the influences. Happens a lot when I listened to LCD Soundsystem who are really good with their references.
That’s always fun, you’re right.
I especially like it when you listen to music from a time where you thought ‘Oh, that genre didn’t even exist back then.’ There’s this song called Temporary Secretary by Paul McCartney which sounds like proto techno. And it’s from 1980. That’s pretty exciting. I also sense that a lot with old African music from the 80s and 90s. There are things that are pretty awesome, especially in the field of electronic music.
Are there certain sounds in electronic music that always trigger you?
It wouldn’t be a Roosevelt interview without mentioning tambourines. (laughs) There’s really no song of mine without it. My studio is named Tambourine Dreams as a reference to Tangerine Dream. Marius Bubat from COMA once told me that I would never do a song without tambourine and so far he’s right. I’m trying to prove him wrong with every song but somehow the instrument always gets back to me.
So, what’s it then? The organic rhythm? The haptic approach?
I hear a beat without tambourine and it’s good, then I hear one with and it’s instantly better for me. Maybe it’s the human factor because a tambourine needs constant swinging. You never have a perfect rhythm, every swing is different. If you take one swing and loop that on the computer it doesn’t sound realistic. There’s no groove in it.
You can definitely spot the tambourine in the tracks you selected for our playlist. I was very happy to see Another Chance by Roger Sanchez opening it. I haven’t heard that in years. And it reminded me that I’m getting old since it turns twenty this year. What’s your connection to it?
I think I was eleven back then when I first saw the memorable music video for it. I can’t recall all the tracks from that time but in my memory there have been a lot of these warm French house songs on rotation. They were quite nostalgic and melancholic. I also loved the stuff of the short-lived Roulé label by Daft Punk‘s Thomas Bangalter. He and DJ Falcon had a project called Together and the track So Much Love To Give is another favourite of mine. I remember my sister listening to a lot of that stuff. It later then got a bit weird with Eric Prydz and The Disco Boys. They overstepped the line with the whole French House thing and was one step before EDM.
Yeah, that always happens with a sound. I mean you both thank and blame Daft Punk for turning disco into a mainstream thing again in the last decade.
It’s a question when it escalates, right? Because at the moment the whole new disco revival is still pretty tasteful. Just take a look at those Dua Lipa productions. It’s very well done although it’s partly a bit too posh. I mean also Harry Styles… really good mainstream productions at the moment, way better than it was in the past decade.
Are there new electronic music acts that inspire you these days?
The new BICEP album is indeed magnificent. We briefly discussed the feeling of nostalgia and whenever I hear that music it takes me back to the British rave fields of the early 90s, although I was obviously too young to have experienced that.
Yes to all of this. It’s the same feeling for me.
There’s this haunting video for their song Glue which sums that up pretty well without showing much. Just watch it to see what I mean. It’s nostalgia in perfection. I also loved the last COMA record a lot and I’m looking forward to the next one.
Perel is also in your playlist …
One final question for the DJ in you: Is there a tune that always works miracles for you in your set?
Well, there’s a few ones.
Okay, specifically asked: any hidden treasures that aren’t New Order’s Blue Monday?
Haha … well Metro Area who are also in my playlist turn every party into a better party with their sound. Tasty production, not over the top but still very pumping. It’s setting the right tone at the beginning of the set. For the peak time I love this Piano Mix of Oldschool Baby by Westbam and Nena. I’ve said that a few times before so it’s technically not a big secret. Pretty disco drums with a house piano. It’s delicious! Always works. Not many people know it but it feels like something people might now … again, very nostalgic. It’s always great to witness the reaction of people to this because that’s what’s so great about club music.
Yeah, maybe this is indeed the best possible time for an album like Polydans (out on February 26 via City Slang/ Greco-Roman) and a playlist like the one you are about to hear. Lauber’s selection features artists like Caribou, Diskjokke, John Talabot or The Whitest Boy Alive. The first 21 songs on the playlist – starting with Roger Sanchez and ending with King So So – are picked by Roosevelt, the rest are picks by me and other previous curators.
Please note: Roosevelt‘s selection will be only available for a limited amount of time before it will merge with the picks of the next update. So make sure to save your favourites as quickly as possible and discover the music of these tremendous artists.