Often described as a non-conformist or musical chameleon, Roman Flügel is one of the most important names in the electronic music scene, now a regular fixture at the likes of Berghain, Amnesia, fabric, and Robert Johnson. His career spans 35 years, from his start as a DJ to live performer, producer, remixer, and now label owner. 

 

Flügel’s relationship to music began at an early age in his hometown of Darmstadt, when his exposure to Chicago house propelled him into the vibrant nightlife scene of Frankfurt, eventually pursuing an education in musicology and deeping his understanding and appreciation for all types of sound. 

 

It would be impossible to discuss contemporary music in Germany—or even across the world for that matter—without acknowledging Flügel’s influence. Luckily, PR’s own, Diego Martinelli (Diego Andrés) was able to sit down with the techno legend to do just that. 


Ahead of his debut in the Sound Room, I got to chat with the illustrious Roman Flügel. He and I have known each other since Safe Sound first brought him to Miami in 2012. Currently 35 years deep into a life in music, he remains as humble, intentional, and enthusiastic as ever. Gerd Janson joked that he could have been a professor or a priest. This is because, at first, Roman can appear shy; except he’s not. He’s got just enough to say. He is mindful, effortlessly present, and serene. He runs at optimal speed, which is slow to us Americans. We discuss his early days clubbing in Frankfurt, reviving old projects, club culture’s role in social movements, Ashtanga yoga, and more.

– Diego Andrés

 

DA: Hey Roman, where in the world are you today? And how are you really doing?

 

RF: I’m currently in Berlin. I feel a little exhausted in the best way possible because of a weekly boxing class, which happened to be this morning. I’ve also visited a fantastic Andy Warhol exhibition at Neue National galerie today. I’m doing well I guess.

 

DA: You moved from Frankfurt to Berlin a few years ago. What contributed to that decision?

 

RF: I spent almost two and a half decades in Frankfurt before moving to Berlin at a time when many people had already decided that leaving Berlin might actually be a good idea. But after the bankruptcy of our labels Ongaku, Klang Elektronik, and Playhouse around 2009, and the fact that my longtime studio partner from Alter Ego, Jörn Elling Wuttke, and I would not be making music together anymore, things felt increasingly different, and I was open to some change. It took another nine years before I decided to live in Berlin, though.

 

DA: Ok, here’s an easy one: concisely or not, reflect on 35 years of being a musician. Go.

 

RF: It has been a wild ride, an overall fantastic time, and even a dream come true. But it wouldn’t have been possible without teamwork, luck, and a good portion of enthusiasm.

 

DA: Tell us about the famous mixtape you made when you were 12 years old.

 

RF: Back in 1982, a friend of mine and I, both having older brothers who visited the infamous Dorian Gray Discotheque at the Frankfurt International Airport regularly at that time (it was considered one of the most exciting nightclubs in Europe back then), were blown away by mixtapes that our siblings purchased at the club. So, we wanted to find out how to DJ and created our first mixtape.

 

Each of us would have to make a ‘mix’, one after the other — you’d call it a back-to-back today. We had a cheap little mixer, two cassette tapes, and one turntable. We’d take our favorite tracks from cassette tape and a few Italo 12”s and start to record. Of course, it was a bloody mess, completely un-tight. But I was hooked and decided to learn how to mix as soon as I could get two turntables.

 

DA: Amazing. And you still have it? You should upload it!

RF: Yes I do! We even did our own artwork for the cassette tape on one of the first Macintosh personal computers and printed it on neon orange paper.


DA: You’ve made music in countless styles, including works that don’t easily fit into boxes most call: IDM, electronic pop, (almost every flavor of) dance, techno, Chicago-style house, and even “proto-minimal”. Is there a sound that you lean into more naturally than another? And how do you decide what you’re gonna create on a given day?

 

RF: It really depends on my mood. Most of the time, I end up somewhere else. I might think of a Chicago House track and end up with some IDM, or the other way around.

 

DA: “Gehts Noch?” was released 20 yrs ago,how does that sit with you?

 

RF: It’s still one of my most successful tracks. At the same time, it was kind of weird because it was the first recording that was released under my given name, and I refused to do something similar as a follow-up. Instead, I decided to release something completely different musically on DIAL records for a few years to come.

 

DA: Did I ever tell you it got a good amount of FM radio play in Miami?


RF: I think you did! It has a bit of a latino vibe. Maybe that explains something.

 

DA: You might be right. It also got played at bars and clubs that played top 40 music, it’s really interesting. Did you hear of this happening in other places?


RF: Oh yes, it went top 20 in Italy and France.

 

DA: When you hear it, or “Rocker“ come on at a football game, or at a supermarket,does it make you feel any sort of way?

 

RF: It doesn’t happen anymore, but yes, there was a time. I’m actually happy and a little amused that we were able to create some kind of electronic punk rock anthem before EDM became huge. Looking back at those days, like 2005/2006, it feels almost surreal — like, did it really happen?

 

DA: In 2020 you released a remastered compilation of your “Tracks On Delivery” project to a great reception. You recently mentioned this project is again on the front burner for you. Tell us more about your plans for it, and for your label Sister Midnight.

 

RF: “Tracks On Delivery” gained some Discogs fame over the years, so I decided to give it a proper three-vinyl compilation re-release. It’s also the only project I present ‘live’ sometimes. This year, it’ll be at MUTEK Festival in Montreal, for example. Sister Midnight is a label for re-releases or hidden hard disk gems. I’m planning to give some of my Playhouse and Klang Elektronik releases a second chance in the near future.

 

DA: That’s exciting. Several people I know hold hopes that you release new music by some of your past projects like Soylent Green, 8MH, Ro70 and Roman IV. There have been several re-issues of your earlier works, but no new works under those names. Is there an aversion to this idea of alias comebacks, or a reasoning? What’s your take?

 

RF: I can see it happening. But there was a reason for getting away from all those monikers. It became increasingly complicated to separate them from one another artistically. Maybe I can get into that pre-Fatty Folders mindset again, let’s see.

 

DA: Let’s go back in time now. Can you describe the scene and vibe at The Omen in Frankfurt in the late 80s, when you were coming up?

 

RF: Those were the glory days of Acid House and early Techno. We’d go out every weekend to dance and sweat to these new and abstract forms of music that sounded like nothing else. The Omen was our church. The only place where you’d witness DJ’s from the US and UK performing.

 

DA: What night with an American DJ was the most memorable for you there?

RF: Jeff Mills.

DA: Wow. What was that like?

RF: Imagine a sold-out club, probably oversold. Heat, strobe lights, JBL speakers turned up to the max, no phones, disconnected from the outside world, lost in music. Jeff Mills playing an otherworldly set of speedy but funky techno.

 

DA: It’s also Robert Johnson’s 25th anniversary, a huge moment for a revered institution. There’s a big 3 day party to celebrate next weekend. The line up is being kept secret, you need not confirm nor deny if you are on it. Given your history with the place, and as one of its original residents, what can you say?

RF: I’m forever thankful for that little place! It has given me the opportunity and time to grow and experiment.

 

DA: I read in an interview with Ata that mentioned that during its beginnings in 1998 there was a desire among the founding community to have an intimate place that was dedicated more to house music over techno. I find this relatable,as this was a sentiment when creating The Electric Pickle in Miami. Did you also share this ideal? Tell us how it went down and about those early days.

 

RF: Robert Johnson was different because it focused on house music in a phase where hard and fast techno would dominate nightlife in Frankfurt. That’s one of the reasons why it took some time to establish the club. It wasn’t crowded from day one but it created its own scene and aesthetic over the first two years.

 

DA: In a 2009 interview you gave to Little White Earbuds (a wonderful outlet many of us sorely miss), you mentioned that around 1993/1994, techno in Germany became “fast and boring,” and that house was more for the “bon vivants.” I found this interesting and feel similarly in some ways today. I wonder how you view this now. I find that a lot of younger heads often enter the complex world of dance music via faster tempos and techno aesthetics; I also notice that as some of them age, they gradually develop tastes for slower, deeper, and more organic sounds.

 

RF: I agree. In the end there’s always good music to find and promote. It’s just sometimes a little more different to shine a light on what’s good when your taste is not mainstream for a while.

 

DA: Dance music and club culture have historically been inherently political and a catalyst for social movements. Examples through history are as plentiful as they are unique, from the Harlem Renaissance to the boom of techno in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In more recent years, communities came together in Tbilisi to successfully fend off an ultra-nationalist government agenda of suppression. Here in New York, until 2017, a racist and classist cabaret law that prohibited dancing still existed, until a heroic effort by members of the city’s cultural economy led to its repeal. Mass anti-racism movements that reached peak momentum in 2020 also helped create greater awareness than ever before of house and techno’s Black roots.

 

It is said by some that progress isn’t linear; others see it as an upward spiral. What’s your view on this, and on how music and club culture may continue to play a role in the advancement of an equitable and pluralistic society?

 

RF: I really hope dance music can play a positive role. But situations are always individual and differ from each other. Dance music during the unification of Germany didn’t have to fight something; it rather supported an overall positive feeling that young people from East and West Germany carried within when we started to discover each other. I think it’s important to always remember and respect the roots of House Music and Techno. Without that, there will be no real progress.

 

DA: I think you’re right. Currently we find ourselves amidst a climate of historic escalations in global conflicts and alarming polarization. Also, this week Europe’s leadership shifted much further to the right. What are your thoughts on the state of play?

 

RF: At the end of the day, we should focus on what is uniting us rather than what separates us. Of course, there can be heavy arguments, as different opinions are part of a democratic and free society. But as long as we see ourselves as humans, individuals with the same rights and dignity, we can still find a way to get along with each other — that’s at least what I hope for.

 

DA: Intentionally dense and imprecise question: What could help the planet right now?

 

RF: More love, less hate.

 

DA: Whom are 2 or 3 personal favorite artists of any discipline, or philosophers?

RF: Prince, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hannah Arendt


DA: Years ago I wondered how you became such a genuinely vibrant and equanimous individual. We were at an NBA game once and the subject of wellness practices came up. You lit up when you told me about your Ashtanga Yoga practice. You practice almost daily with your wife Saskia, who’s now also a senior teacher. You’ve both also traveled to Mysore, India several times to retreat for months of intensive formal practice with its lineage holder. Please tell us about this, how you discovered the practice,and what it represents in your life?

RF: I started my practice quite late, around the beginning of my 40s. I guess I was at a point where I was feeling a little different, sometimes even unwell, and wanted to make some changes. My wife never forced me into yoga, though. I stopped smoking and eating red and white meat. Yoga had an immediate effect since it simply made me feel better. Ashtanga is quite challenging sometimes, so it made me feel a little tired as well, to be honest. But the overall effect is still positive. I’ve just started again with a more regular practice after a three-year break, and of course, it’s never easy to get your body back into these positions. But I try to be humble with myself and give it some time.

 

DA: Thanks for the time Roman. See you on Saturday!

RF: Yes! See you soon!

Roman Flügel makes his Sound Room debut this Saturday, June 15, with Diego Andrés, as part of Safe Sound’s quarterly presentation at Public Records. 11 PM. Tickets are available on Dice.


Diego Andrés is a resident curator and founding member at public records. He has been an organizer and DJ since 1999. Diego is a co-founder of the famed Electric Pickle (2008-2019) in Miami, and also of the long-standing Safe Sound event series.