Interview: Benjamin Philippe Zulauf (Hummingbird by BPZ)

Running a label for nine years is no easy task, especially when you are pushing out as solid releases as, Hummingbird by BPZ. Somehow amongst the time it takes leading the label, founder, Benjamin Philippe Zulauf has managed to lay down his own productions most recently on the Introspective EP, and now his debut LP ‘dɒɡɪd’ with Part 1 coming later this month.

PRE-ORDERS are available now! Part 1 of 3 of the LP –

We caught up with him recently to find out about the life of BPZ…

First of all, a little bit about your career. How did your music journey begin? What pushed you in to the music side of life?

“I guess it all began with that fundemental prerequisite in childhood called curiosity. As a kid I loved making noise and was lucky enough to have my own set of kids drums and keyboard, I remember family trips across Europe with the radio blaring, songs like Oh Yeah by Yello and Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood stick out for me. It was also listening to my mother’s incredible vinyl collection of disco and funk on our home record player, I was just drawn to music like a moth to a cognac. Through my mother’s coaxing I learnt the piano and then the trumpet, with which I played in a brass band and for the school orchestra. In those days if it wasn’t football it was music.

In my teens I really got into the electronic side of music and hardware. I was 17 when I started producing my own music, experimenting with softwares like Buzz and then using drum machines and synths with cakewalk. Through my mate Paul, I learnt about working in a studio set up and editing your audio, we would jam every free weekend right into the early hours and play these live sets with out gear at house parties for friends, who would stare at us blankly, man those were the days! DJ’ing came a bit later, I was just an avid collector of music but I didn’t own a set of turntables. That of course all changed after seeing Jeff Mills and Patrick Lindsay perform, I knew at that moment I just had to learn the way they were playing their records.

My ‘career’ kind of stems across continents, starting in Australia playing bars, clubs and raves, then Europe in Switzerland and Germany, right into the club scene holding down residencies and releasing my first tracks. This time in Europe I was more aware and focused, thinking about my own sound and what it could be.”

How does it feel to be releasing your debut LP? Especially on your own label, Hummingbird by BPZ.

“Man…incredible, I can’t expressive it any other way. This has been 20 years in the making, everything I have learnt up until now with production I poured into this group of songs. If I can be honest about it, I kind of feel naked about it, its very different to just doing a single release, they’re easy as its a club track or a mellow b side mix. With an LP there is nowhere to hide, no excuses really, you are laid bare with all to show. It’s definitely new territory for me but I am so glad I decided to plunge in the deep end, better to try than no to, right?

Yes it definitely feels right and the only decision really, to release this on my own label than on another. I really didn’t want the added pressure of having to compromise and adapt my music to fit another label’s tastes and style direction…as a label owner I don’t agree with that, the music should be left to the artist, you work with them because you trust them, that includes the musical direction. Like this I have total control, on all aspects, even the artwork…I designed that too.”

How many parts will the LP be split in to? Why did you choose this method instead of releasing all in one?

“The LP will be in three parts, so three EPs all together. Why? Why not 🙂 I could have thrown it all together into one compact double vinyl unit, I did think about it for a while, but then I began to factor in the vinyl collectors, DJs and music enthusiasts out there, I am a new name to them. Up until recently I have always used an alias and not my full name. Throwing a massive double vinyl pack at people might be asking a lot of them, this was my thinking. You get to collect three records to make the full album and something to look out for, it is another way of doing it I guess.

I also do design and making my own vinyl cover for my album was a dream come true. How many people have three different vinyl covers for their first LP by the way 😉 It also gives me an excuse to work closely with my good buddy Björn, who is a ridiculously talented photographer and designer himself, that’s his image on the cover for Part 1 by the way.”

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of the album?

“Right, maybe grab a coffee for this. So I sit in my little studio space, open up a blank project, either get a synth going or a sample sound I take a fancy to and start to experiment with it, go where ever it wants to take me. I will usually run with it like this for a while until it starts to shape a sonic construct that I am able to build a narrative around it with other audio elements. At this stage the rest comes quickly once I have a vibe going and I usually build a good group of audio loops, filled with variations, expressions and percussive elements, that I bundle into a kind of mini short song.

My litmus tester is to have this group of sounds all play together over and over. As this is happening I will distract myself with another activity, say read an article or reply to an email, something like that. If during this process I stop what I am doing because I am distracted by the loops, then I need to fix or eliminate a certain detail in it, after I edit I go back to looping the sounds again. If I can get it to a stage where it can loop and I don’t notice it and it doesn’t annoy me, then it is ready to go the next phase, sequencing.

I try to make life easier for myself by having blocks of loops that represent different stages in a song structure. So like a chorus, one break, a second break, outro, intro, with variants of the elements. I like fluidity in my tracks, even it is minimal in signature or short, I like the detail to move and morph, not be a simple 8 bar static repetition. With these blocks I build a version of what the song could be, a sketch if you like. On the odd rare occasion I may make the final version on the first run, but usually I make between 8, 9 or even 10 versions before I get to one I feel is complete.

What I start with doesn’t always end up with the same parts. I am not building a model aeroplane here from a blueprint, I have no blueprint, just a feeling. These feelings can change later in the process too, many times has a producer made a killer groove the night before and upon hearing it the next day or the following week completely changed their opinion of it. It happens a lot and it is part of the nature of creative writing. We constantly seek the next thing, hidden somewhere behind that last groove…its a blessing, its a curse but I couldn’t do it any other way.

Once I have a ‘final’ version I am feeling happy with, boom! I put it to bed and don’t touch it or open it again. Leave it frozen in time. It is my process to finishing a track, if I don’t do it that way, I will make the mistake of going back and chopping it up again, loosing what I had and well, probably not feeling very good about it. Nothing is ever truly really finished…but you need to be able to cut off when it requires, know your limits and learn to get over it. And remember to look out that window, see that…there is life going on out there too, go on, get in on that!”

Within three tracks you already touch on a variety of moods, why is this important to you?

“Emotional content… textures, moods, feelings, spaces, dimensions, thought… these are pretty massive in retrospect to my musical process. I tend to naturally bend to these elements when I am writing, and for an LP it provided the perfect canvas to go and explore with them and dig deep, pull out all this stuff I didn’t know I had inside. Each song is a captured instance in time when I was writing it along with another probably older experience influencing it, that I’d had some other time, like a memory.

Us creative music types, we’re always trying to be story tellers in one form or another, whether we are consciously aware of being one or not. Through our expressive medium we are communicating, sharing a little insight of our self to the listener. It is a crazy thing music, just incredible what a few lines of sound can inject into a person, evoke memories, bring new feelings and meaning to something that then remains with them for life. These three tracks are my bookmarks, little footnotes of that moment that I can use to look back on when ever I need to.”

How did the title of the album come about?

“The title came about fairly easily as it was a word I have kept in my psyche for a while now. The story behind that word is rooted to Berlin, it was my birthday and a friend gave a card, one of these spiritual thingies with a message and break down about how people who are born on this day in that year etc… I think we’ve all seen one of these at one time in our lives. Anyway there was one line that just stuck with me, it said “people born on this day are commonly very tenacious and dogged.” …Dogged.

It really summed up how I feel about my music process, I am stubborn when experimenting, like a dog with a bone. I will work and work on a sound for hours, and a track for days, even weeks. If I can’t get past something I will come back to it later and try again, keep on like that until I arrive to a place I am happy with it. Reading that back now it kind of makes sound a little coo coo haha, but I won’t give up on a sound, even if I have to start from scratch and reinvent it, there must be a way.

The title is typed in the phonetical way of speaking it, like you see in a dictionary, I liked the way it came out typed and it was definitely more interesting and visual. It’s nice to find meaning in things, even in a name for an LP.”

You also recently released on your Hummingbird label, showcasing old tracks from the catalogue, and new tracks from yourself. Quite an array of artists you have worked with, what are some Hummingbird highlights for yourself?

“Yes I did, it had been a while since the last release and I wanted to kick start the new stuff with a little homage to what had been done before and maybe bring it to the attention of a new listeners. I had a couple of tracks that I had sitting on a HD and wanted to find a use for them, so I threw them in with the others and made a sort of looking back by looking forwards concept with the VA compilation.

I have been really lucky and fortunate to work with some really talented and humble human beings with my label. Running a record label is not all party nights, fun times and fast cash…very far from, it can be very challenging and does take an enormous amount of energy out of you, but you do get to experience some defining moments, especially around the music. Everything from Andres Bucci is just pure masterful machine music, those remixes from Akufen, Mike Shannon, Dean Dixon & Jamies Lloyd. Discovering Simon Li’s incredible music on Myspace, making parties with Laurent Charbon and Dan Noel, many happy memories here.”

Is there much in the pipeline for the label past your album?

“Apart from the other two parts of the LP, I definitely plan to bring more music from my end and I really am enjoying the format of doing an EP in an album kind of way, not another LP but you know putting two or three tracks on wax that are all very different, not all safe 4×4 dance floor hits. Why would you stop exploring your own music after an album? I like this idea, let’s see where it takes me.

Other than that I have a couple of guys who I am really excited to showcase to the world – Georgios Papamanoglou and Mike Ferry, both close friends of mine and each proper music loving hobbits not unlike myself. Their knowledge of music history and their personal musical styles fit nicely to where I want to take the label. There is more, but I want to wait and let it come in its own good time, when its ready.”

Will you be throwing any parties in line with the label in the next years? why?

“Well nothing planned as yet, I haven’t done a label night in a while now but I guess it is something to think on. I moved not so long ago and have settled down in a new city Leeds, which is up in the north in the UK. It’s a change from Berlin, but there is definitely a healthy and vibrant music scene going on here.

But there is a party lined up that is not under the label banner but it will involve myself and two others, that being Mike Ferry who I’ve mentioned and Brian Jackson, a fellow musical prodigal son who’s record knowledge and collection puts me to shame. This will be the focus for now on the ‘parties’ front and I am very much looking forwards to sharing the decks with these two. There will be a label themed gig somewhere soon, I promise, so watch this space.”

Thank you for chatting to us Benjamin.

“This was a treat and pleasure for me, thank you for allowing to share a little about myself and hopefully I didn’t put too many people to sleep, I can have that affect 😉 all the best to you guys, until next time!”


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