Torsten Schmidt of Red Bull MusicACademyTalks


Following on from our Sonar reflection/love/run down/blow by blow ness last week along comes another Sonar related piece in the form of an interview with Red Bull Music Academy co-founder and a real gentleman to boot Torsten Schmidt
In the blazing Barcelona sunshine – which doesn’t seem like too distant a memory now it’s worked itself here – we sat down for lunch with Torsten to hear about the move to the new venue, 15 years of RBMA @ Sonar and some other bits along the way… 

So how you finding the new venue?

Torsten: We had a long discussion about that yesterday. It definitely has its moments. This area is kinda nice. If they can sort out the sound issues it will be even better!

Wil: I wasnt sure about the space that you guys are in but after you give it a bit of time I think it works really well.

Torsten: I think we can only judge it after TNGHT, haha pun intended! I think then we will see how well this place works. We wrapped some of the windows up this morning.

Wil: Metro Area were great – apart from their technical issues –  I think that worked really well in there. You could almost put the night thing on in this whole venue couldnt you?

Torsten: We were extremely spoilt the past years because we had the most interactive set up there. It was big and tiny at the same time. Inside and outside at the same time. It was a dead end, you could hang out, and you could always make the decision of how gradually you wanted to be involved, or not. I mean, that will be really hard to re-create but we had a long walk around yesterday and there is a chance for improving it and I think Ive seen moments when our stage has worked really well.

Wil: Yeah! I mean, youve gotta make a commitment to it. Are there any sort of more outdoors parts here that you could use or not?

Torsten: Its kinda tough but well see. I mean, that alone is a pretty powerful backdrop (gestures to the outdoor space we’re sat in).

Wil: And its a alot easier to get to the night thing as well. 

Torsten: That kinda works really well.

Wil: Ive noticed in the last couple of years the programming has stepped up a great. There’s definitely some larger scale acts that you may not have normally expected, last year you had fat boy slim and deadmau5 and then skrillex this year.  

Torsten: Yeah I mean theyve gotta sell loads of tickets…

Wil: Yeah of course, theyve gotta sell 50,000 tickets!

Torsten: Youre not going to sell that by putting me on that stage!

Wil: So youve never done a night thing?

Torsten: A night thing, for me its a very personal thing. Ive definitely had my fair share of years in the rave trenches. The production here is really clean and theres like no middle ground for me. Theres nights when it works really well and theres nights where I have to leave after 30 minutes because I just cant deal with it…

Wil: Yeah yeah, its just basically heads down get on with it. Although there was quite a few indie bands last night as well, well not indie bands but the likes of Bat for Lashes and Two Door Cinema Club as well which I was a little surprised about at the night thing

Torsten: I totally applaud festivals like Pleasure Principle and Eastern Electrics at Knebworth Park but you look at it, it seems like every single thing on there is sound programming-wise. But theres different markets and some markets you just have to bite those bullets to get the good shit… and the crowd that it deserves. I mean, I was extremely surprised yesterday when I walked into see Diamond Version and I think there was like 5 times as many people there than there were at Mykki Blanco.

Wil: And it was pretty abstract, really interesting. I really really like Diamond Version but theyre pretty out there. In a dark hall in the middle of the day, it’s great to see theres quite an audience for it. 

Torsten: I guess in order to facilitate that, if you have the modeselektor boys on last here it will shut down every other stage.

Wil: I went to see Baris K. He was cool!

Torsten: He was cool but but I mean poor guy. Modeselektor on the one hand and the non show/no show Doom for them beforehand.

Wil: What happened with that?

Torsten: What happened? Hip Hop happened. Just the other day we went to Hot 97 summer jam and spoilt brats! Fucking do something to entertain people and dont just think that because of your mere physical presence people will just fall into it.

Wil: It seems to be the only acceptable area of music in which people can behave like that.

T: I’m not even saying put on a Madonna type choreography but at least give them the illusion that you care! All those folks that travelled somewhere because they loved your music and paid for tickets to see it. 

W: Exactly. On the other hand, someone like Jay Z is huge but hes a proper entertainer.

T: Exactly All these little things like making people stand up and pointing people out, its genius. Pure genius. Works every single time.

W: Really engages people. Youre right, rather than being like Im so worthy just for fucking being here

T: Just because you get a label now that lets you get a Bugatti for one night’s show. Dude is half a billion and he cares and he knows that its his craft.

W: He actually gives a shit. Thats the whole thing. Its a shame about Doom. Hes great on record, amazing.

T: I just love recorded music. 

W: Sure, I do like this space tho… 

T: Its about accessiblitly. Its a lot easier to get around.

W: You can go and see things. Last year when John Talbot was downstairs, it was just impossible. So have you been doing this for 13 years?

T: Oh, longer than that. About 15 years now. It gradually started with the little room upstairs with a small amount of music and then it turned into this floor.

W: Do you go to the international ones as well? Like Tokyo and stuff.

T: Quite a few of them. I didnt go to Tokyo.

W: Has there ever been plans to do an RBMA Festival or something like that?

T: Its attractive in a way but it would send totally the wrong signals. In the end, we wanna be supporting people that do good shit.

W: Almost like curators.

T: Even if we did, it would be a conjunction with people that already do great stuff. Because, it just wouldnt make sense. Weve always had a multilateral approach. If you consider TNGHT as an example (ha ha ) its just too tempting and I constantly think about it.

But if there was a sign for us to walk, who would fucking care? People need to go out into a field and please themselves. And if we can help in some sort of way we will. If you take that Fly Lo story (Flying Lotus) that only works because that track had been produced with Andrea during the academy got picked up by Warp. And then everything happened subsequently. I hope we find models that allow us to help existing structures to exist sustainably on their own.

W: Yeah, its a very fine line isnt it.

T: Thats what we tell them on their first days. If you want a recording contract your single isnt going to be number one on itunes in 3 weeks, we just offer you possibilities. I mean right now Gerard (Kidkaenvil) is playing with his friend from Japan. They met there and continued working and somewhere down the line a project naturally emerged and it seemed to work really well when I went down there.

W: Yeah, I was just talking to Mr Beatnik and he was saying obviously he did the academy what, 10 years ago, and now its only the last sort of 2/3 years hes beginning to grow. So its a good platform to build up from. Maybe not just to make your career but whats great about RBMA is that its more about evolution.

T: He’s an extremely smart character and still, by the time he did it and especially the first 3 or 4 years after he was ready for whats going on now. He was trying so damn hard that he was actually building more obstacles for himself. And then he found that he could actually just sit back and chill. And all of sudden all that chilledness translates and you get something thats extremely appealing. Ive really enjoyed is recent stuff.

W: Hes making great records yeah! Its on Benji Semtek’s label isnt it? Hes putting some great stuff out on that label. You do field day dont you? What other stuff are you doing in terms of London or the UK? You do stuff with Warehouse Project as well dont you?

T: I mean theres a bunch of stuff. Sometimes Im just like, wheres that fucking google doc. The way that booking team has evolved is crazy.

W: It’s run out of Germany still isnt it?

T: Yeah, its managed from Germany but its always about empowering the local structures as well. We kinda help them find their feet. If you look at, for example, what the UK team did before and after the academy there was a bit of a change there and to facilitate that change and use that as an example and a launch pad for their own work in the years to come.

W: Yeah, the whole studio down there has been turned into an main office.

T: Yeah, that way you leave some sort of a legacy. And it just makes a whole lot more sense than just building the Olympics and buggering off.

W: And having fucking Electric Daisy Carnival in there afterward. I was trying to understand the Studios bit, people come down and use those studios in London still to record stuff, thats a completely different thing to the academy isnt it?

T: Its like a conversation item and a Launchpad again. Its something where you start opportunities and the whole thing is about building upwards. Someone wants to record something and he thinks, oh I know those folks over there let me talk to them and so on. Then including the lecturers, the team members, the former participants, the former lecturers, you get these things that evolve in a natural way. And sometimes stuff starts there and ends up as a Coca Cola ad for the Olympics. (laughs).

W: Really?

T: I mean, Mark Ronson and Katy B do the academy in the studio.

W: Oh really, I didnt know that.

T: Good gig for her. I dont blame her!

W: Yeah, its not my sort of thing but its good, you know!

T: Its like, hey, youre in line with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Giorgio Moroder, its alright!

W: not such a bad thing!

T: The lyrics for that 1984 olympics theme tune, theyre just appalling.

W: Really? I dont think Ive heard it actually.

T: Reach Out its called.

W: Dont think Ive ever heard it. Awful yeah?

T: I totally remember it was like number one in Germany, which in 1984 is probably pretty telling! I had a lot of fun imagining, I mean because it was supposed to speak to athletes but Im pretty sure it was very big in certain discotheques as well. It unintentionally went in there.

W: He’s definitely always had a good tongue in cheek kind of humour to it. How was he at the academy?

T: I was a bit worried  as especially the classic interviews I’d read he just would not want to discuss things. He would say disco is for dancing. Making people happy. Period. But we got some shit out of him.

W: I guess hes quite well versed after all the Daft Punk stuff.

T:  Anyone who spends the last 20 years doing crossword puzzles on the side of pools in the south of france while youre worth half a billion? Its like if youre not chilled then, then I dunno. And if you feel like it you go play with your synthesizer.

W: If you dont fuck it!

T: Its kind of alright.

W: Hes done his thing, hes done all the important things.

T: Hes done a lot of questionable things too.

W: Sure.

T: I mean, if you have a back catalogue that strong its not going to be all diamonds.

W: Did you go to the Matthew Herbert talk yesterday?

T: I didn’t. Was he engaging?

W: Yeah, it was brilliant. He came out with a very interesting fact that 75% of itunes has never been downloaded. And he was like, we should stop making music until weve listened to all of that!

T: When hes on form he can really be brilliant. Theres no doubt about it. Ive had really interesting conversations with him. 

W: Do you find the whole Red Bull affiliation difficult thing sometimes?

T: I mean the thing is, from the get go, all the people that are involved technically like the idea or hate the idea the most. Everyone had to think, okay how do we need to build this in a way that we are avoiding all those pitfalls and traps. Weve had to learn a few things over the years but in general its artists first and cash is coming from somewhere. And thats part of the reasoning that we were like, okay put that name out there, its very clear who foots the bill. If youre playing a state sponsored gig by someone whos exploiting I dont know what natural resources at the same time as killing local minoritiesor I dunno massive booking corporations

W: Yeah, like Wireless festival thats sponsored by O2. At least youre being very open about it. The reputation, its actually putting something back.

And then we trail off into wanting to go and catch Mr Beatnick.. which we did and he was ace. 

Red Bull Music Academy is a world-travelling series of music workshops and festivals. More info on all their happenings can be found here: