When I meet artists with an extensive and accomplished body of work….I’m not sure where to start and what to ask….I’d love to ask about IT all. He’s released a slew of hits year after year over the last 6-7 years. He’s one of many really good German Soulful/Deep House talents with a production career spanning many decades! In the 90s he played at Studio Lounge (Wuertzberg, Germany) and Club Airport in his own town. On his first visit to NYC in 1991 he said ‘it was then that I decided that House Music was IT…..He became more focused on it after hearing people like Louie Vega and Ron Trent playing pure House all in one night- ‘I remembered how I had been so used to playing all genres at home and it blew him away.’
In 2001 he started label GOGO Music and used it as a platform to keep his style of music consistent and real. With such exceptional production he brings absolute harmony, soul and groove to the music! UK Blues & Soul Magazine says about DJ Ralf Gum: ‘He emphatically demonstrated his ability to orchestrate Soul House goodness on the grandest possible scale’ (And he does this well!) His productions have become more lush and full-bodied over the years. They’re deeper. I can identify a RALF GUM production anywhere!
In 2008 Gum released a very impressive debut project titles ‘Uniting Music’. It was unique in that it was one continuous connected piece of music-like a mix CD but seamless. With this production he pushed traditional DJ mixing boundaries. I wondered if he created a piece like this for creativity’s sake or for the sake of being able to mix for a long period of time-I realized he enjoyed both. We talked extensively about his connection to creativity…..
When he first arrived to Pretoria he really missed playing long sets and wanted to create a journey where he could play some obscure music and because there was more time, he could be left to create what he callsed an up and down of moods. That was one of his many main goals when looking for the right venue. The night would be split into two sets and everybody played 4 hour sets. With a open venue, it was easier to showcase more sounds. It’s not possible to pack all that into 1 hour sets. ‘It’s a lot of fun, I love this style especially when the venue has an amazing sound system. It’s just one of the ventures I ventured in when I first arrived here.’ (That was for him.) For the House Head, he says ‘it’s incredible-the real House Heads will hear old,new,known and unknown and this is just to keep House culture alive.’
Ralf visited South Africa for the first time in 2008 and during many of those visits he conducted DJ workshops. Those trips then became every two-three months. On his later visits he brought his wife. He loved that national SA radio plays sounded like a bunch of well crafted mix-tapes on air and at the time it was Osunlade’s latest playing on a taxi radio-like top 40 plays everywhere else. All media outlets promote and cover all aspects of House music unlike Germany where he comes from-national or local broadcasters would hardly play Deep House and National TV didn’t report about House either. It was never treated like other popular genres like Hip Hop for example-this is one of the reasons why he chose to change locales……
You’re not the first producer/DJ to talk about South Africa’s support of good House Music. South Africa REALLY supports the artists and now you’ve moved there-how’s it been?
‘It opened up the possibility for a different way of life for me to be honest. I used to travel a lot for gigs and like many other DJs do today for example I’d play in Europe one day and then tomorrow be in Asia or whatever.’ He emphasized that South Africa changed his life in many ways because the need to travel far was no longer necessary. He realized that over time he found much better gigs because this country has the highest consuming House Music fans in the world. He boldly sums it up that ‘wherever you go-you find educated crowds who are really into the sound which makes it a pleasure for a DJ like me to play for them.’ (I just love that he calls real House Music fans educated crowds! )
His move South reduced his time on the road and he could still play the same amount of gigs or more. He honestly says, ‘I obtain income and I can still do my music and most importantly I’m being appreciated as a white person of all places like South Africa…….. considering the history with apartheid….. which only ended 23 years ago…’ I paused for a second before continuing our conversation to let that sink in-that he even considered if he would or would not be embraced in a country with such a tense political history and that he would even speak about this as an artist. This was another topic that further broke the ice in our conversation. He matter-of-factly stated,”My race has a lot of implications… because people still don’t really trust the white man here……and this is very understandable and truthfully my luck is the music. Music is my connection with the people and through the music I’m very much accepted here…..with confidence.’
In 2012 Ralf emigrated to SA with his wife and kids. And dropped hit after hit, remix after remix with : All This Love For You, Complicated, Fly Free, Little W.12th St., Free Is All I Wanna Be, Take Me To My Love, The Pap and SO many more!
What was it like throwing your first conference/event at WMC (2006)? Did any opportunities come out of there? How were you received by fans? What was your expectation?
RALF: Tons of preparation, organization and very exciting to have an event in a space where you are not located. Many factors depend on the outcome of the event than if you were in your home town. I’d been to Winter Music Conference a few times before I organized the event with the label. So I didn’t completely tap into something I didn’t know. I’d been there for some years. It’s a challenge. It was a vehicle to promote the label. Over the years I’ve held 3 or 4 events with partners at different locations. We had great parties we had an impressive line up. So yes, I loved doing it. I stopped doing them because I felt that Miami didn’t have the relevance anymore which it used to have for me. In addition-it’s far away for Europeans. Its easy to reach for Americans but the costs involved in doing an event there just didn’t justify the fun and promotion. I eventually stopped doing them. It’s a great occasion to make contacts.To meet people. It’s especially great if you are new in the industry. Its important in case you’re starting a label and wanna get its name out there but it lost relevance for myself because I felt I had the contacts already. The only reason to continue is to take advantage of a nice and warm holiday!
What are you working on today? This year? Who would you like to work with? Multi-genre?
I loved every collaboration to be honest. Most people I worked with again usually because it’s a mutual pleasure. What sticks out though is working with Monique Bingham. We go back a long time and everything we do REALLY has an impact so I feel we are a special match when we work together. Maybe Monique Bingham sticks out the most but I always find it a bit unfair because working with other artists who have a musical mindset and who love working with and creating music like I do……are very important. I usually have a good feeling to pick who I should work with before I start working on a project. Sometimes even understanding why they are in the industry helps a project along…..if creation is the actual reason…it (the idea) usually works out perfectly with me… and to put out quality work is the spirit of creation.
You’ve been to Toronto? You mentioned at the beginning that you’ve been to Toronto once? Yes. In the Winter. It might have been 2009. Or 2010. I had a great, great night. He wasn’t sure what to expect. He was told (by the promoter) that Hip Hop was to be played and later on that night move on to House. He said ‘I was like oh shhhhh…..it could’ve be one of the nights that the crowd would maybe expect something a little bit more commercial. It wasn’t at all what I expected. It was an amazing party! I can’t wait to come back at some point……’ (That’s Toronto!)
Currently (June 2017) he is finishing up Sir LSG’s project (Circles-cop that album it’s gorgeous!) and his own album. (We talked a few months ago!) Sir LSG’s album dropped yesterday! This past July/August he was helping with some mixing. He was inundated with requests to mentor and assist so many artists when he first arrived to South Africa and couldn’t help everyone. He’s helped break artists like Raw Artistic Soul and Black Coffee. He’s decided to focus on one artist at a time to be more effective and also give the artist a strong platform to steady their own career. Ralf will be refocusing efforts on his own projects soon and we should expect an album from him next year!
Here’s a Carl Cox quote: Your favourite artist was once a local artist, don’t wait until they blow up to start supporting. How do you feel about what he said?
He answered me with a German quote: ‘The Prophet Doesn’t Count In His Home’ but not being understood is a great school of learning…….Unfortunately we live in times where a lot of things are based on media hype and if you’re able to travel continents with your music and so forth, you suddenly become interesting to media that might not have cared about you for a long time. Actually you might have been doing the same thing in front of them all this time.
The reason being I can’t explain. I feel like I said its wrong but I wouldn’t know how to change it. I strongly believe you have to make it to a certain point in your hometown or country before you should start venturing out to other territories and as well you grow your skills while working with smaller audiences. For me it was a great school to fight against the prejudice that Deep House received. People at home thought it (Deep House) wasn’t hard enough and people can’t party with it enough. It made me better at reading crowds and work them rhythmically and get away with playing music that certain crowds wouldn’t necessarily listen to. It took me awhile until I was able to start travelling with my music. A good DJ is a good DJ and a good artist is a good artist no matter where he comes from. Look at the artist for his craft and not where it has taken him. And of course the city pays attention to it because it makes money…..
Next to the passion which is the foundation for creating or doing anything related to the arts is patience- which is extremely important unless you have a super hit and become a star overnight–usually is a long way to popularity or whatever you wanna call it or just to be able to make a living with your art. If you keep having passion or patience it will work out for you. I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of obstacles financially and in other aspects or other but you can overcome them and at some point with enough talent it will work out. It’s the most fulfilling thing to really do what you want to do and yeah if you make it to the point where you can fully focus on your passions. Its the most fulfilling and best thing that can ever happen to you but I think patience is the key!
Super special thanks to DJ Ralf Gum!