Since the pandemic hit our lives in March 2020, producer and DJ Julian Stetter has not stopped working tirelessly in his studio, after coming back from a DJ tour in Mexico. After turning his recording studio from a temple of loneliness into a haven of peace conducive to creativity and freedom; today we can finally see the result of this momentous period in his professional career and his personal life, in the form of a new album, Sky Without Colors.
“For me, it’s a balance of being soft but energetic at the same time,” says the Cologne-based producer when asked about the meaning behind this new work. A forty-four-minute long album in which, through trust in his decisions and the consequent actions, he has achieved a plausible coherence with which he admits feeling satisfied, even though he is aware of the reactions that he can get from his fans. “I know that there are people who followed my work during the last years who won’t fancy the feel of the record due to its pop appeal. I somehow made music that reflected how I felt by the time and I did my thing even though I wouldn’t do it that way again,” he says.

Having toured the major cities of Europe, highlighting Madrid as one of the epicentres where the validation of his art is concerned, each of the tracks that make up this new album preserves its own unique essence. “It feels like if you had various kids, they are all different but you love them all the same,” he explains about the eight tracks, among which he places special emphasis on Mornings because of the production work. “Hopefully, the track will also fulfil its potential as a sunrise heart melter on a few raves to come,” he adds. We also want to highlight No Cure or Sleep, where Aydo Abay's vocals give voice to sensations and emotions with which it is inevitable to connect deeply. We speak to Stetter to discover all the details of Sky Without Colors.
Julian, before we dive into your new album, Sky Without Colours, could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
I am a producer/DJ and I am by now working in a few different fields as a musician. I mainly work on my own productions but I also produce/mix for others, compose music for theatre and film and I run a little label with two friends called Planet Akwa. After coming back from a DJ tour in Mexico in early March 2020, Covid hit and I have kept myself busy in the studio since then.
You live and work in Cologne as a producer and DJ, as well as being a professor of Sound Studies at the University of Bonn. A frenetic activity that shows your passion for music. How do you combine all these facets and in what way do they complement each other?
I am not a professor but a lecturer, so academia plays a role in my life but it‘s really only minor (by now). I never had a master plan setting my life up that way, it only developed very naturally with me ending up with various fields that for me relate perfectly. I mainly consider myself a producer, that’s what I do. I sit in a music studio and produce music.
In my early twenties, my life was mainly about making an electronic pop project called Vimes. When performing electronic music with a band I always felt like this really lacked musicality due to the tied limits you have with such productions on stage. By that time, I also felt like my taste shifted, I developed more of a focus on subculture and a fascination for club culture. After already having DJed for many years, I felt like this is the form of performing the kind of music I make. From that point, I followed the path of being a DJ and constantly built up my reputation. I was playing quite a lot and diving very deep into it for many years now. I was always doing different projects as a producer or composer by the side. Mainly because these other forms of art like film, theatre or also producing for other artists felt like they nurtured my creativity and prevented me from repeating myself.
When Corona hit, these former side projects became my main occupation which I was and still am very grateful for. I will see how it will go on from now on when club culture will come back more and more. I realised at some point that being in the studio by myself working on music is the greatest freedom I can imagine, but it goes along with the potential of artistic repetition and a lack of inspiration. Knowingly or unknowingly, I set up my life in a way where feel like that danger becomes minor. By now I feel like I want to get back into touring as a DJ, but above all, I want to be able to focus on the work in the studio.
From Madrid to Antwerp, Hamburg and Mumbai – where you now travel for a residency with the Goethe Institute – you've toured countless cities around the world, so I imagine you know quite well the current music scene and the differences that exist between countries. How do you assess the moment that music is currently going through and which city would you highlight in terms of creativity and experimentation? Why?
Being a musician has and always had a political dimension to me, and the projects and scenes I am involved with by now are building an active part in generating a more open, diverse and fair society. I had the luck of being able to see a few places on Earth but there are obviously endless spots that I don’t have a glimpse of what happens there musically. Among all the places I have been to, Mexico City and Madrid stick out the most. These are the two cities where I personally experienced the biggest validation for my art.
In Mexico, in general, I always perceived such a fascination for this kind of music that it was nothing but fun going and playing there every single time. I met so many people there who are deeply into making art and building a scene. This was and every time is just amazing!
Julian Stetter Metalmagazine 4.jpg
In addition to being a DJ, you have not stopped consolidating your facet as a producer. What do you like the most about this job? Is there an experience that you remember with special fondness?
Over the year 2019-2020, I was working a lot with Casey Spooner. In case you don’t know him, have a look at this character and you can imagine how much fun that was. We ended up sharing an apartment in Berlin in Autumn 2020 working on his tracks day and night. No studio could have replaced the vibe we had there. The mixing process was a bit difficult due to the home-recorded material, but in the end, we worked it out.
But if there is one thing you are completely focused on right now, it is the release of your new album, Sky Without Colours. “It rests entirely within itself, and yet it burns ablaze,” you said of this new work, which you refer to as “an inverse image of that glowing sky over the city.” What do you mean exactly? What’s the prevailing emotion in this new work?
Tobias Thomas found these beautiful words for my album which I find fit perfectly. I guess my work always seems a bit restrained and still can feel very loud if that makes any sense. For me, it‘s a balance of being soft but energetic at the same time, and as I always work on my productions with a lot of attention to detail, I somehow need to be balanced and rest in myself in order to have the patience to work things out according to my vision. I guess it really is the combination of being calm but still feeling that energetic thrive.
From Calm to Sleep, eight tracks make up this new album, available in digital and vinyl format and in which Aydo Abay collaborates with his voice on tracks like No Cure or Mountain Of Geeks. How was the process since you decided to release an album until you got the final result?
Making an album from developing a concept to the last mix is really quite a project. At least it was for me. From the perspective of an artist and a producer, it was important for me to take that step and trust in my ideas and decisions. As I made all the decisions by myself, it was difficult to keep the distance and seeing what it still needs. I went through various stages where I thought I was done but I still was far from being done. I am very happy about how coherent it is, how it sounds, etc.
The lines between the tracks indeed seem to blur as we go through the album. Perfect synchronisation of transitions whose equator is between the single that gives its name to the new work, Sky Without Colours, and Ambush. Is this your most mature and complete work to date?
In a way, I would definitely agree. From the point as a producer and also as an engineer, this is the most sophisticated and the best sounding record I have done so far. From an artistic perspective, it just turned out a lot more tender and melodic than I ever planned. I know that there are people who followed my work during the last years who won’t fancy the feel of the record due to its pop appeal. I somehow made music that reflected how I felt by the time and I did my thing even though I wouldn’t do it that way again. I’m grateful for every person listening to it and feeling it too.
Julian Stetter Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Where would you like this album to be played? What image comes to mind when you listen to the tracks?
It’s pretty much a home listening album, a companion for long walks, train and car rides at night. I hope enough people take the time to listen to it as a whole and listen to it more than a few times. I guess the power of the record really lies in the atmosphere it generates throughout the whole forty-four minutes. Hopefully, the track Mornings will also fulfil its potential as a sunrise heart melter on a few raves to come.
And which is the most significant one for you? And why?
Mornings is special for me because I really like how it evolves and how the production works with so little happening in the high end. Ambush was somehow educational because in a way the better I mixed the track the more I lost its feeling so, in the end, I had to go back to a very early version to finish it and get rid of all the engineering gloss I had added in the meantime.
The feel of the tracks with Aydo Abay’s vocals is so different due to being so defined by his singing. The fact he is such a big part of the album was totally unplanned. We were just hanging out at my place, having coffee and showing each other music when he at one point said: “I guess I had a few ideas for that.” I then explained to him what the whole record was about, which made him find the right words for my feelings about it. After collaborating on one track, one thing led to another and the whole album got this pop appeal. All the other tracks have certain meanings too. It feels like if you had various kids, they are all different but you love them all the same.
It seems that the health situation is finally improving and we are retaking many of the plans and activities that had to be cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. What can you tell us about your next projects?
At the moment, I have a lot of compositions for film, theatre etc., and I try to be in different places. I am very happy about the fact that I have these jobs because after going through the process of finishing and releasing a record, I felt like I needed a break to get new ideas and not just go to the studio again and being in danger of repeating myself. Getting some distance to my own work, whilst being surrounded by artistically inspirational people, projects and requirements is at least for me the best way to find new paths I want to go as an artist. Furthermore, I had releases of club tracks being postponed due to Covid. They will see the light of the day pretty soon. Most likely the next thing you will hear with my name on it, even though I made them some time ago.
Julian Stetter Metalmagazine 2.jpg