Steve Bug, like his record label Poker Flat, has been a pioneer in electronic music for quite some time, putting out consistently outstanding music releases over the years. In 1999, he created a sound and pattern that has influenced dance culture ever since, and the label continues to have the trustworthiness that DJs and music lovers alike desire today. It’s no coincidence that Poker Flat debuted at a time when dance music trends were shifting toward a more minimal, European-inspired house sound.

As a DJ, he has expanded the sound of Poker Flat and its contemporaries across the European club scene, garnering him a recognition that has led to invitations to perform all over the world. In addition to his Bugnology series, he has also contributed to compilations from Cocoon, Fabric, and Fuse.

Meoko caught up with Steve Bug to learn more about what it’s like to run multiple labels, his most recent release ‘Montafon’, and how the music industry has changed over the years.

1. Before we begin, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Steve. We’re big fans of your work…

Thanks, my pleasure.

2. At least 28 years have passed since you began working in the music industry. Going back to some of your early releases from 1994-1995, it is evident that you are a real minimal/ tech-house pioneer. Who influenced you when you were younger? What tune would you pick if you had to pick only one that was a watershed moment for you? 

Oh, I’ve been influenced by many producers. I started buying house & techno records in the late 80’s, so I witnessed the development over the years. And that’s the reason it I impossible for me to name a single tune. I think my sound is an essence of influences of all the various styles, from the deeper NY style house, the jacking Chicago tracks, the Detroit techno and many other things that followed.

3. You just released a new track called ‘Montafon’ on your Poker Flat Recordings label. Tell us about the idea behind the track and how you would interpret it.

I’m not sitting in the studio thinking “what am I going to write today?”. The music that I write basically happens in that moment. It sometimes turns out to be deep, other times energetic like this one. Even though it changed a bit from its early ‘final’ stage, which was slighter deeper, I try to leave the interpretation to others. I got a lot of great feedback from deejays that I respect, and in general it seems to hit a sweet spot for many people out there. It definitely works in clubs as well as on huge festival stages, and all of that makes me happy.

4. It’s been more than two decades since Poker Flat Recordings has been around. By launching the label and releasing your iconic track “Loverboy” in 1999, you were able to push the envelope and create a gloomy, yet incredibly funky and groovy sound. What inspired you to start the label in the first place, and what’s the concept behind it? Do you have a favorite EP or one that has special meaning to you?

After putting Raw Elements to sleep, we wanted to change a few things for the new imprint, like not experimenting with releasing too many styles on one label for example. At that time people seem to have a problem with labels that were too diverse sound wise. So Poker Flat was set for minimal, yet driving tracks, that had a nice groove, and a hypnotically element. But the main reason to start a label in the first place was to release music that we loved. And not much has changed since. But with an expanding artist roaster, and the techno & house sound developing over the years, the music we release, and produce, has changed a bit as well. I could name many singles, that are special for me, but with 200plus releases, the list would be endless. A good thing is that so many of the tracks of our back-catalogue still sound fresh today, and still work great in a set.

5. There are so many names and so many incredible releases on Poker Flat Recordings. I believe there are over 240 releases, according to my research. Describe the characteristics you search for in music when operating as an A&R at Poker Flat Recordings and its sublabel Sublease Music. Any productions coming up in the pipeline?

Firstly, I really do have to like it. I don’t care if it’s written by someone who already has a name, or if it’s written by a newcomer. Music first – always. That also counts for music that you have to turn down, simply because you don’t 100% feel it, or if it doesn’t fit the sound of the label. It’s hard to say no to artists you respect, but if the music doesn’t fit, or especially if you don’t 100% feel it, it doesn’t make sense to release it. I think it’s important to stand fully behind every release when you’re running a label. The sound of Poker Flat is hard to describe, it’s more a feeling, it can be melodic, but never cheesy, it needs a nice groove, and something to carry you away. Sublease is more track based, we release rather simple tunes, that work great in a mix. If that makes sense? We have a few releases lined up on Sublease Music, and I am listening to Demos for Poker Flat right now. Good stuff.

6. What was the process like for starting your new label, Sublease Music? Did it start as one thing, and evolve into something else? What’s the story behind the label’s creation, and what do you think its main message is?

We got so many demos that weren’t for Poker Flat, not that they weren’t good enough, they simply had a different feel to them. And as I said before, it’s hard to let go of good music. So, we decided to found a new label especially for these tracks. I think people would file it under minimal, deep tech, or sometimes deep house.

7. In 2020, you released your first solo album in the last 8 years called ‘Never Ending Winding Roads’. Can you tell us more about it and how long did you spend on the new album?

The album was mostly written in the first lockdown in Germany, it was the first time I had more than 4 days in a row in the studio, and that really gave me the push to write some tunes that were slightly outside of my other, more club-oriented productions. And you definitely hear a few melancholic notes on it as well. All together I think I spent about 6 months on it, maybe a bit more. It was the last album that I wrote in my old studio. It was the perfect finish to 14 years in the same place. I think it works great as one piece, and I truly wish more people would listen to long players in full instead of just putting their favorite song in their playlist. They would find out so much more about the artists.

8. You make music authentically, yet your sound has evolved through time and throughout your albums. Do you believe that producers are becoming too genre-specific?

I can’t speak for other producers, but I would get stuck and bore myself if I’d try to write only tracks in one genre. Maybe that’s why some producers had issues writing tracks during lockdown. I started more tracks than in the years 2016-2019. Some are proper Deep House, others have more classic House Vibes, some are chord-based dub house tunes, some are more melodic, and some are even under 100bpm. I love to experiment with sounds and rhythms, even if it leads to something that is similar to what I wrote before. Sometimes it helps to dive into unknown waters to become a better swimmer. I personally think producers should be more open to what truly comes out of them instead of trying to fit into a box that has been created around them. The music out there would be definitely more interesting.

9. Do you think you’ve settled more into the production/label management routine over the years, or do you still enjoy the club environment as much as you did before?

To me these things always belonged together. It’s not one without the other. Being a deejay, a producer and running a label. It’s all fun, and it’s great that I am still able to do all of it. During the Pandemic I spent more time the studio, but I am happy that gigs are slowly coming back. That feeling when you’re deejaying, and connecting to a crowd – priceless.

10. DJs nowadays rely heavily on social media hysteria and branding as a marketing tool, sometimes even more than the music itself. Do you believe that branding has overtaken music as the most important factor in the music industry?

It definitely has. In general, it seems that we’re at a stage were music itself is not so important anymore. People want to see big names, they want to be a part of an experience that they saw on the social media, that has basically nothing to do with what it feels like to be in a proper club with no phones, or cameras allowed. People used to go to clubs to let loose, to forget their problems, to dance their asses off. But today, especially on huge festivals you’ll find many people who take pictures or videos of the main act, and jump up and down occasionally on build ups. Instead of having an experience themselves, they want to capture something that is not possible to capture, especially not with a smart phone. I mean, how many times are you going to watch your videos, or are you just trying to catch a suitable moment for your socials to get likes? It’s a problem of our world today, but it’s also a problem of electronic music being too mainstream. It attracts people who basically don’t care about the music. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a great experience being at a huge festival with your friends, but you don’t need a phone for that. Also,promoters seem to book people with a certain following on the socials, well it makes sense somehow, since many people would only go to see someone who has a strong following. But the amount of followers stands in no relation to the quality of the work of someone. There are great artists having an enormous amount of followers though, but there are also great artists and deejays, who basically have zero appreciation for they work, just because they’re bad at social media. Maybe they even hate it, and don’t want to be a part. Many people hoped that after this pandemic there would be more appreciation for true talent. But as far as it seems, that was only a dream.

11. Germany has been praised for its quick response to the coronavirus outbreak, with billions set aside to help the country’s art industry. What are your thoughts on Germany being a leader in supporting the art and music industries throughout the lockdown?

From the outside and compare to many other countries it might appear that Germany has done everything to keep art, culture and music alive. Truth is they did help some pretty well, others completely fell through the supporting system. Still better than most countries, but definitely not great.

12. The world is your oyster now that you’ve seen it all and have had the good fortune to be successful in the music industry for a long time. Think your musical journey will ever be completed? Are there any goals you have for the future that you’d like to achieve?

I truly enjoy writing music, and deejaying, and the longer I’m doing this, the more I think I might do it till the everyend. I might not be able to tour as much anymore, but I will definitely continue to write music, even if it’s just for my own listening pleasure. House & Techno is running through my veins, it is a big part of who I am.


Words by Monika Zander

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