Frank Timm, the man behind Soundstream, is a producer who is close to our hearts at Thunder. The disco sample heavy, tightly spliced, looped up trademark sound is instantly recognisable and has made his records staples at Thunder parties. Despite the popularity of his sporadic releases and Soundstream, Soundhack and in partnership with Errorsmith, Smith n Hack, and his regular bookings at Panorama Bar in his native Berlin, he shuns both most remix work and regular DJ gigs, picking and choosing carefully parties carefully, and concentrating on releasing his own music as vinyl only releases. There is something of purity to his approach that is rare in today’s heavily saturated scene. This edition of Sound of Thunder explores some of the music and thinking that makes Frank special.
Frank production debut was in 1997 with this self-released EP. Its rawness compared to later releases might suggest a different approach but Frank claims the records all start the same way – a disco sample that he plays around with and sees what happens. Berlin is not renowned for its disco scene now and it certainly wasn’t in the 1990s, but during the 1980s a young Frank’s mother’s friendship with an African-American soldier based in the city exposed him to American soul and disco records that your standard Berlin primary school would never get the chance to experience. It was sound that made its mark and trips to record shops across Europe built the aspiring producer’s record collection and sample library.
The name ‘Soundhack’ came from a friend and reflecting the ‘hacking’ style of the sampling. Rougher, choppy, almost stuttering and definitely more uncompromising, reflecting Frank’s Chicago and Detroit influences than the Soundstream records that followed these releases are slightly less accessible and as such, maybe haven’t quite retained their popularity in quite the same way. But they do stand up and one of the few remixes completed under an alias, the Soundhack mix of Auto-Repeat’s ‘Auto-Disco’, is a work of borderline, but demented, genius.
Soundstream - Good Soul EP
This is where it all started for Soundstream release, back in 1999. It set out the template for the distinctive Soundstream sound, tiny disco samples, such as Salsoul Orchestra's 'It's Good for Soul' and El Coco's 'Cocomotion', both classics in their own right, chopped up and housed up beyond any recognition. 18 years old now, it still sounds perfect and the formula works as well as it ever.
it was also one of the first, if not the first, record to be distributed out of Hardwax in just a paper inner sleeve. Ubiquitous in more recent times, Frank claims that rather than a marketing ploy, it was simply pragmatism. In a time before USB sticks, before CDJs were commonplace, he and his DJ friends would take records out of their card sleeves to fit as many as possible into their record bags.
Soundstream – Freakin’ EP
This record is a bit of funny one. If I’m honest, three of the four tracks don’t appeal. A little bit too like they’re stuck somewhere between French filer and a mid ‘90s DJ Sneak record. They just don’t grab you. But there’s another track on this record, one that makes it worthwhile, one that makes everything worthwhile. It's quite probably the most played record ever at Thunder. It the one we reach for when all else fails, because it never does. The passing train sample, taken from a sound effect bonus track on a forgettable boogie record by a forgettable band, and the oh-so-simple but oh-so-effective Tamiko Jones samples, then hold on... here comes that train again, far off in the distance, getting closer, and whooooooooosh there it is, and BOOM, there's the kick! ‘Soul Train’. It's one of the best club records you’ll ever hear.
Soundstream – ‘Live’ Goes On Ep
This was one of the most successful Soundstream releases. The title track was huge and rightly so, with its stop-start piano intro adding weight to Frank’s assertion there is little between a Soundhack and a Soundstream record in the production process, before it settles down into the hypnotic warmth that sees the track out. However, the real gem on this records sits at the end of the B-Side. Drawing on Tons of Fun "Do You Wanna Boogie, Hunh?", "Dance with Me” is a smoother affair than the better known “Live…”, demonstrating that a disco sample sample can be pretty deadly in the right hands and sounding a lot like Moodyman , DJ Sneak, and Alan Braxe might have if they were stuck in an elevator together... in 1995.
Sound Stream – All Night EP
This is one of the strongest Soundstream EPs, with the undoubtedly Moodymann influenced and Masterjam sampling ‘All Nite’ ranking up there with the best of Frank’s releases. ‘Tease Me’ tips its hat towards the Soundhack style but, for me, 'Deeper Love' is the stand out track. Unlike many of his records, this isn't disco based, this is just a straight up killer house track. Are the drums from Baddest Bitch? Are there any other samples in there? Who knows? Who cares? It's damn hot though.
Soundstream – Julie’s Theme EP
When this record was released, I was completely nonplussed by the A-side and headed straight for the absolute fire engine banger on the flip, 'Inferno'. A cut up of the Constellation Orchestra's 'Cosmic Melody’ with a whopping looped up sample, a massive kick drum AND a huge rave siren. It's a simple idea but the execution is prefect, which is the Soundstream trademark really. Massive, massive record at Thunder, and that siren sounds AMAZING loud. Oh and it turns out I was wrong about ‘Julie’s Theme’ too, it’s less obvious then some of this productions but an absolutely fantastic track.
Smith N Hack - Falling Stars
Frank met his Smith N Hack production partner, Eric Wiegan, who is probably better known as Errorsmith, via a mutual friend’s radio show in the early 1990s but it wasn’t until about 10 years later that they started to put records together. For short period, they were fairly prolific and even a released an entire double album based around Bohannon samples. Their most renowned track is probably the remix of Herbert’s ‘Moving Like a Train’ but my personal favourite is without a doubt, ‘Falling Stars’. Unlike much of of what either of two producers were involved with elsewhere, it’s best described as deep space disco with a vocal from partner, Julie van wart. It’s a record used to go for big bucks before repeated represses, it’s easy to see why too, it is timeless.
The first Sound Sampler snuck out in 2011 and caught everyone by surprise. The typography was distinctively Sonndstream but there was no other reference to the artists. The opening track, 'Just Around', which apparently samples Herbie Hancock is wonderful. In true Frank Timm style, the sample just a little lick, looped up into a laid back groove, underpinned by those driving Soundstream drums. It's one of the lesser known Soundstream tracks because of how it was released, but it's certainly one of his best.
On the flip is a cut up of 'On and On' too, which is a very effective track too and featured on Prosumer’s Panorama Bar mix. Another Sound Sampler followed 5 years later, containing four solid, if not earthshattering productions, including Frank’s homage to Chicago house label, Relief, which he cites as being one of the key house labels to influence him between 1989 and 1994.
This SSOL release wasn't officially credited to Frank when it was released but it is so unmistakably him. Less choppy than most Soundstream releases, this has bigger chunks of the originals, both Salsoul release. The A-side, which is the standout, uses Skyy's Paradise Garage classic, 'First Time Around', as the basis for the track, with the B-Side is reworking Instant Funk’s Salsoul staple, ‘Got My Mind Made Up’. It’s similar in style to those Mood Hut edits that came out last year, so it’s very, very good, and harder to find than some of his records, simply because it’s never been repressed.
Soundstream's Dusty Machine Mix of Prosumer and Murat Tepeli 'Serenity' is one of a mere handful of remixes Frank Timm has been involved in during the last 18 years and it sounds absolutely nothing at all like any of his other tracks at all. Sparse, deep, melancholic house, that compliments Prosumer's vocal so well the whole thing could just a be a beautiful dream.
The only other Soundstream remix committed to vinyl, is Frank’s nigh on seminal remake of 1 - Rhythm and Sound ‘Free for All’ which somewhat bizarrely featured in the Sex in the City film. Apparently the film’s producers really wanted to include, how they knew about the record is anyone’s guess (maybe Sarah Jessica Parker is a Berghain fan?) but do you a mix-up at the film company, the wrong track details feature in the closing credits. Genuinely bonkers.
Soundstream plays Thunder’s first party of 2017 on Friday night. Tickets are available HERE.
With thanks to Dave Stenton and To The Bone, for the in-depth and rare interview with Frank from 2009.