Learning from Toi.Toi.Musik: A talk with Isis Salvaterra and Claus Voigtmann
- Published on Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:15
“The sound is the heart of everything – if that is beating then everything else will follow.”
Toi.Toi.Musik is more than just a club night, an agency, a record label – Toi.Toi is a complete musical culture and ethos; one that is clearly fighting against the tide when so much of the electronic music scene moves towards commercialisation, imitation and inauthenticity. For three years, Toi.Toi founders Isis Salvaterra and Claus Voigtmann have curated some of the most cultivated London house and techno line ups, pushing the sounds of artists such as Jay Haze, Daze Maxim, Audio Werner, Nicolas Lutz, Delano Smith, Claus Voigtmann himself and many more. They’ve attracted hugely respected underground artists to their Toi.Toi agency, and their vinyl-only record label will no doubt emulate this same success. The reason? Isis and Claus inject meaning, passion, and thought into everything they do, and so each venture visibly reflects their own personal belief in quality and genuineness. Ahead of the launch of Toi.Toi Records and their stage at Echo Festival this summer, we caught up with the couple in their East London flat for an illuminating chat about the skill of throwing parties, the mounting difficulties with using warehouses, the culture that surrounds Toi.Toi and being real about your music.
For those who aren’t aware, can you tell us a little about the history of Toi.Toi - how did this very special party first come intro fruition?
Isis: We started three years ago and it’s always been a guest list only party. It’s really important for us that we keep it small – it’s not that we’re against big events, just that for us it needs to be a gradual growth, otherwise if you go to fast then people don’t know what’s going on and..
Claus: ...it loses the intimate feeling a little bit! The way we try to grow slowly is by getting the same people to come back, so that people know each other and feel like a family.
What do you think makes Toi.Toi stand out against the hundreds of other house and techno parties around London?
Claus: I don’t know if we stand out...we basically just do what we believe in. And we are quite focused on details; like the sound. We always invest a bit more in the sound than we actually should...[both laugh]
Isis: Like the line-ups as well!
Claus: Yeah, but the results are always great and make us happy. If you go to a party with mediocre sound it just doesn’t really spark the feeling inside people and so the party won’t go off.
Isis: The sound is the heart of everything – if that is beating then everything else will follow. That’s the attention to detail.
So is Toi.Toi the first time you guys have worked together or have there been previous joint projects?
Isis: Yep, Toi.Toi is the first time. I was part of the Lo*kee parties before, and always used to help a lot of other promoters, so I think it was a natural progression. If I went to a party, I would always collect a list or bring 30 to 40 people with me. When I left Lo*kee, I began managing Jay Haze and a month later we founded Toi.Toi.
Photo credit: Daddy's Got Sweets
And what about you, Claus – where did your musical journey begin?
Um, my musical journey actually started when I came to London five or six years ago. Before, I hated electronic music! I just thought it was, like, ravers in neon clothes and all that. I come from the countryside in Germany so it was more alternative music, singers and songwriters and things like that. But when I came to London, I completely saw a different side to it; it can be really cultured and intelligent. So I bought decks when I was studying in Munich and started trying to play, and then I moved back to London after my diploma and I’m stuck here now! [laughs]
You obviously both have passion for electronic music culture, what is it that you love most about the music and the lifestyle?
Isis: I think for me it’s because it’s an interactive thing. If you go to a concert to see a band, yes its nice but you are just a receiver. If you are on the dance floor, you take a direct role in how that set is going to build and it’s so important for a DJ to absorb that. So it’s a constant give and take. The crowd will always mould the night and the set, they can make a hell of a difference in fact. Everyone is taking part.
Do you think the type of space is key to this interaction?
Claus: Definitely, definitely. The size of the space is important, the layout, where the DJ booth is in relation to the crowd. For example, if the booth is on the stage, high up where people can’t really feel the DJ...they just see someone standing there. You know, people are interested to see what these ‘superstar DJs’ are doing, why they are so good at what they do, but they can't if they're placed high up on a stage.
Isis: It’s really difficult when you’re moving from space to space. Whereas a lot of people don’t actually put in that thought process in terms of the layout, the first thing we assess is the acoustics and the space. We’ll discuss with the sound engineers and see how the sound is going to work best whilst still thinking about the practicalities of the event. Maybe you could put the booth in a certain place, but that might be where the crowd is coming in for instance. You need to combine all these elements, and that takes a lot of time.
In that vein, promoting and throwing parties in London is becoming increasingly difficult with expensive headliners, what are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
Isis: Venue cancellations. We’ve had them three days before the party before, and it’s crazy. There are also other aspects but, right now, I think it's the prices of warehouses; it’s just ridiculous. Were being charged over £4000 for six hours and we get nothing for it but the four walls.
Claus: The whole idea of the warehouse party started to try and get away from the clubs, because you wanted to have an alternative, freer space. But it has spiraled up so much that now if we DID take Toi.Toi to a club it would be a lot cheaper than a warehouse. We’re trying to fight against it, but it’s proving to be really difficult because I think warehouse owners have so much demand that they can push the prices that much and there are people willing to pay that price. It's spoiling the scene.
Would you ever consider investing in your own space/venue?
Isis: Yes, we can’t do it now but I think in the future it would be ideal to get our own space and run it our own way because it’s a massive struggle. We spend a lot more money where it needs to be spent; we invest more in sound and we don’t like to overcharge our people. At the end of the day, warehouses were about dealing with basic spaces, with maybe some crappy toilets – but you had freedom, and didn’t have to charge loads or compromise on the music at all. We just won’t do that...
The problem is that there's so much demand. 18-year-olds come along saying their promoters and they’re going to stick to the regulations, but they need to understand that if you have five hundred people, you must take liability for them; you need to know healthy and safety rules, where the fire exits are, have really competent security teams, and enough water and provisions – it’s not a club and you have to be more aware. You can’t put people’s lives at risk.
So with your years of experience, what would you say is the most important thing missing from the London electronic music scene right now?
Isis: I think seventy percent of DJs shouldn’t really be there because they are in it for the wrong purpose. And I think the same goes for promoters; they see an opportunity and think they can just book a headliner, put the sound there, and attract the people, and that’s it. But there’s a lot more.
Claus: Funnily enough, I think those parties are often one-off parties, where maybe an 18-year-old kid gets some money from his parents and decides to throw a big party, books a huge headliner, pays too much for the warehouse space, and finds out after the party that the calculations didn’t quite add up. So they just come and go...
Apart from the parties, ToiToi is also an agency and you are also establishing yourself as a record label. The ToiToi agency has some hugely respected, underground artists – how/what attracted them to you as a booking agent?
Isis: I had always thought about my own agency, but it never came about and I think it’s really important that when it did, it happened organically. It actually begun with Audio Werner, he was sitting in his room talking about leaving his previous agent and then he just went “ah, do YOU want to do my bookings?” It was the same with Nicolas Lutz. The first time he played for me he said he wanted someone like me to manage him, because these guys are really particularly about their music – and being an agent shouldn’t just be about sitting behind a computer. Many of our artists have live shows, and I need to be fully involved; I have to understand the processes, discuss with sound engineers and be on the dance floor checking that the sound is perfect. It’s about matching their artistic output with the right crew and the right promoters, not just getting them bookings and signing contracts. The amazing thing about working with labels like Perlon is, if it’s not right, they don’t do it – the money doesn’t matter.
And did the Toi.Toi label also come about organically or was it always in the pipeline? Which of you is leading the project?
Isis: The agency is my baby and the label is Claus’ baby!
Claus: [laughs] I always had it in my mind that I wanted to put out music that I think is worth putting out, but there were obstacles. I didn’t have experience basically. But after some years, and gaining a lot more experience, we had Mr G play at our party. It was a huge success and he absolutely fell in love with Toi.Toi, the party and the concept –
Isis: Mind you, this is a 51-year-old man, who normally performs and leaves but on that night he went absolutely crazy and didn’t leave! When you get a legend like that loving what you do, you get super inspired!
Claus: Yeah, he said he didn’t think that things like this existed anymore and that we had to start up a label to put this out to people, and take people in a certain direction with music quality. So because he gave us the final push in that direction, he’s going to be our first release! And another member of our family and one of my most respected producers, Daze Maxim, will be remixing him. It’s all going to start happening the end of spring, beginning of the summer!
Photo credit: Daddy's Got Sweets
Speaking of summer, you are hosting a stage at Echo Festival in Croatia this year – how did that come about and what are your plans?
Isis: Echo was a really nice thing – we’re not the type of agency to go and ask for gigs but if you do the work and make sure your artists are in the right place, you get exposed to the right people.
Claus: The guys from Echo approached us after coming to two of our parties, and when we had a look at it and saw the quality of the lineup, we were seriously impressed. Obviously that was important for us, in order for us to attach our name to it.
Isis: The whole ethos of the festival appealed to us, really. It’s only £65 for the four days, the music is amazing, and you can stay in an apartment so cheaply; it just stands out from all the other mundane English festivals in the same area. We’re really happy to take over a stage, on the Saturday I think, bringing Claus and Lamache as our residents, as well as Anthea playing and obviously the headliners Audio Werner and Ion Ludwig, which is really exciting. A lot of the people on the lineup, like Delano Smith for instance, we’ve had down to our nights before anyway so it just made sense. We have a lot of our people coming with us too! Plus we're hosting the London launch party on April 12th with Audio Werner, Losoul, and Jichael Mackson doing a live show.
It’s something we at MEOKO have been pondering a lot and so as an artist yourself Claus, and having direction over other artists, how do you think a DJ can strike a balance between hype and publicity, and retaining the authenticity that Toi.Toi is trying to push?
Claus: Hm..it’s actually hard to explain. I think as a DJ, you either are authentic or you’re not. To yourself, most importantly. If you stand infront of people and you play a track you do not believe in, it feels wrong to me and I would be ashamed to play it. It’s a natural thing to put a record that I believe in on the player. I don’t think I could sell myself to a certain direction of music just because its hyped or because its trendy, and then be really sad when I’m playing music that I don’t have faith in...
How will Toi.Toi the record label encapsulate this ethos, and all that the parties have tried to represent?
Isis: I think we’re pretty diverse with our lineups. When we started, Toi.Toi was much more house-y but I’m a techno-head and, more and more, we’ve worked with artists like Mr. G and Cab Drivers, after we found out they did a tiny gig in Berlin after ten years of not performing. I think the authenticity comes from this; from just listening to records, following artists, exchanging music and culture amongst our friends in this very apartment, and bringing down artists who may not be known amongst the younger generation but who are legends in their own right. We don’t book our lineups a year in advance, because who knows what we might experience and discover in the meantime? And the response from the artists who recognize this is even more inspiring. They can see we’re real about it, that we're all about the music.
Claus: The record label is also going to hopefully highlight the connection in Toi.Toi between music and art. Me being a designer and an architect, there is a massive art element to Toi.Toi, with the flyer artwork and the same with the records. My friend Lee and I are going to have an art series on the vinyl, screenprinted by hand in a studio – so each one will be different and unique, and hopefully that will feed back into the whole artistic concept that Toi.Toi is about.
So is it going to be a vinyl-only label?
Of course! So, I’m intrigued, what is it like working on these projects as a couple?
[cautious laughs all around]
Isis: Um, I think we’re very different and so we take very different roles. The things that Claus can do, I can’t do and visa versa. So there’s not much crossover.
Claus: I’m very disorganized!
Isis: He’s an artist...
Claus: [laughs] But yeah, we work on different things. Isis is a born promoter, so to speak, she’s sociable and talkative...I’m more the guy in the background, doing the music bits and the technical side at the party. But in the end, we’ve never really had a proper discussion about which artists we’re going to book, we just tend to align naturally on most things...
Lastly, apart from Echo Festival, what are the highlights of this upcoming summer for you guys?
Isis: It has got to be our third birthday coming up in June - we have something so so special planned, but we can't yet disclose it! It's very German, let's just say that...
Words by: Becky Young
Toi.Toi are throwing the Echo Festival London launch party on April 12th.
Visit the event page here
Buy tickets here