Interview: Mr. Fonk – „Well, I wanna be a mentor, that’s for sure.“
Mr Fonk is a true DJ and very enthusiastic about it. You not only experience it through his well-selected mixes and gigs. Also talking to him and his love for certain tracks, eras and labels clearly transports his love. Living in Franconia as a kid, he made some of his first steps in the area around Nuremberg when it comes to clubbing. After living in Frankfurt and now Berlin for a time he experienced many different club cultures. All of them, but more so the people made an impact on him and his label S4AW. Smile for a while is not just a name it’s a mindset. What he wants to do with his label as well as his beliefs are just some of the topics we went through during our conversation.
Hey Mr Fonk, thanks for your time. Before we dive into details and how your three labels came along could you give us some information about your early years? At a recent short interview on Ohrenschmaus Podcast, you revealed that you lived in the outskirts of Nuremberg. How was that for you when you think back?
Well, when we were kids it was great. Lots of options to play outside in the woods, on the rivers, etc. and clean, fresh air everywhere. As soon as I turned 14/15 and parties popped up at friends‘ places in other villages or in the little town I went to school it became a burden though. My parents were not very actively bringing and picking me up for any activities and the next train station was a 25 min. walk away. So even more so when I turned 18 and wanted to go clubbing, the village situation was a problem.
Did you immediately click with a certain style of music, or was it about going out and having drinks in the first place and the music didn’t matter that much? I can imagine that it was quite hard to get in touch with house, techno and disco whilst living in a small village without the internet, or like we know and use it nowadays.
Funnily at the moment, I am compiling a „10 electronic tunes that influenced me the most“ post series on Facebook. And it doesn’t start when I started to go clubbing. It started around 1989 when I heard the first House Music / Dance stuff on the radio like Culture Beat, Crystal Waters, etc. So in a nutshell: Music always mattered the most, because it played a very important role in my life from the very beginning. I still got a few papers from the mid-80s where I wrote down my favourite tunes, trying to reproduce the English titles while I was only in primary school. And yes, of course, it was hard to hear this stuff. They would only play it at night and my parents were quite strict with their bedtime rules. However, around 1992 I got my own radio that could get in „Radio N1“, which played a lot of electronic stuff, even during day time. So my first tapes with The Prodigy and some Trance & Dance stuff were all recorded from this station. When I started going clubbing in 1998 (I was 19) it was also about going out (no drinking back then though). Yet music played always a very important role, we always tried to pick the clubs with the best music, not the ones where you met the most people.
Was it possible for you to go out on music you liked in Nuremberg with its limited and more techno orientated club scene or did you head to other cities?
Maybe back in the late 90s, it wasn’t so limited. We had Market, a pure Techno club, and Hirsch, which hosted big Techno parties as well as Disco, broken beats, Drum & Bass, etc. and also Mach<1, bringing international House heroes into town like Armand van Helden, Barbara Tucker, Darryl Pandy and so on. There were also a few off-locations and illegal parties, so really a wide variety of styles and parties. However in 2001 I founded a sound system with a few other guys from the area and they were really active ravers, driving to Stammheim in Kassel, U60 in Frankfurt, but also Stuttgart or Mannheim. Also through the internet, I got in touch with other electronic music enthusiasts all over Germany, so I drove to Cologne, Munich and other places quite frequently, too. I could also DJ in a few of these places back then. This really broadened my horizon in every aspect, great times back then! What I want to add is, I was always interested in a wide range of electronic music, from fast breakbeats and Drum & Bass over to slamming Techno and soulful House Music. Only through my labels, my main focus came to House Music.
As you mentioned, you also were able to play in some of those cities. When did you start DJ’ing? Was it something you wanted to do from the beginning or that came over time while discovering the nightlife?
I think I didn’t want to do it from the beginning. I met this girl in Sweden early in 2000. She showed me her box of tapes from the 90s rave scene in the UK and was raving about these days and this DJ and that DJ. I somehow wanted to become this guy, that other people collect tapes of. However, it was a process of course. I actually started in the middle of 2000 after a magnificent Sven Väth gig at Nuremberg’s Mach<1 club. It was something that came naturally, by itself, because many of the tunes I wanted to buy were not available on CD, so I had to buy the records. So starting to DJ was just the next step, logically.
So you went from one step to the other it seems. Was it also clear to you that you had to host parties and build a collective as the next step as you did in Frankfurt back in 2010/2011 or was this as well some kind of natural progress?
So as I mentioned before me and some other guys founded a sound system in 2001 called „Groundlift Soundsystem.“ We did a lot of small parties in clubs around Ansbach, a little town 50km west of Nuremberg. In 2005 I moved to Frankfurt to be closer to a real club scene. Back then I had no real plans to do any own parties, but I DJ’ed every now and then, mostly at the notorious Vinylbar. I did two parties there around 2008 but I had yet to meet Daniel Tischer, whom I started the „Smile for a while“ parties with. We kinda escalated at the Robert Johnson NYE party 2010/2011 and after that, we founded S4AW with the #1 goal to do parties where we can play and invite our favourite DJs. Why did we do it? Good question, in German you would say „Wir hatten einfach Bock drauf!“
On the Smile for a while homepage, it says you focused „on quality music and artists, but also especially on young, underrepresented local artists.“ Was it and still is it a desire for you to do something for the community in the first place?
Definitely. I still want to feature and release music of young artists that don’t know how to get their great stuff out to the public. Yet I gotta say that it was hard from the beginning and it has become even harder during the last 5 years to create an audience and get attention for the music of unknown artists. Yet the example of Kolja Gerstenberg who by now has remixed Cassius & Pharrell Williams and has released on Quintessentials, Suol and Sisyphon shows that it is possible to help a great young musician become a player in the scene. Even if you’re not a „big“ label in the scene.
If I get you right it is more than just releasing music what you do with S4AW. Do you also help connect the artists with other people, give them advice and help them find their place in the scene?
This is what I am trying to do, yes. Be a mentor. Help others and they will help you too, someday. For me, it took a long time to find my place in the scene and two times I kind of quit everything because I was frustrated with a lot of things. First around 2003 and then again in 2008. Yet since around 2010 I never took another break because I found „my place.“
Talking about finding one’s place in the scene. How would you describe your place or the place you feel comfortable in and what did it take you to get there or realize where you belong?
Well, I wanna be a mentor, that’s for sure. And I want to collect records and DJ. And I want to dance. This is what I do and where I find peace with my inner self. Simple as that. Kind of hard to judge by myself how I got there. Maybe just growing up and reflecting who I am and what I do, while still staying the curious 19-year-old, energetically sucking in the essence of our scene.
Find the full interview soon in First Floor’s second print release coming in 2019. You’ll be able to find this beautiful fanzine in record shops all over the world. Or simply click here and write a message: FIRST FLOOR
Mr. Fonk for our FUEL category: FUEL – Mr. Fonk
Mr. Fonk for our mix series: Ohrenschmaus Podcast #061 – Mr. Fonk