In a revealing interview with Local Spins’ Looking for the Perfect Beat columnist Todd Ernst, the U.K. DJ talks about his music, his blue-collar ethos and his upcoming tour stop in Michigan.
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Those that were around in the 1990s to experience venues such as Twilo in NYC, Groovejet in Miami and Crobar in Chicago likely fully understand the dynamic of 8- to 10-hour sets from legends Carl Cox, Danny Tenaglia and Sasha & John Digweed.
These marathon sets as they’re called weren’t for the faint of heart, but once the lights came up as the rest of the world was going to work, you knew you were part of something bigger than that just that night, something that was etched into your soul even — an effort that was so massive, there are very few DJs that even dare attempt as much.
That said and perhaps even a bit closer to home, a four- to five-hour set was sort of the norm for many DJs that came out of the ’80s into the ’90s. Here in Grand Rapids, Shannon Williams and I would turn in weekly five-hour radio mix-show sets during our respective residencies at The Orbit Room. For us, this is just what you did; we never really gave it too much thought.
But the mid ’90s brought about a new culture in what is now ubiquitously known as raves. Often held within underutilized commercial spaces or warehouses, often with less than desirable amenities that humans tend to take for granted — clean restrooms weren’t exactly the norm, air flow driven by a fan or two was always a treat, and if you were lucky, illuminated exit signs might direct your way out.
For what these raves lacked in creature comforts, they made up for in their expansive talent offerings, which often included a DJ roster so massive it generally only allowed each artist to perform for an hour or so.
Stateside, when the early purveyors of rave culture like Insomniac’s Pasquale Rotella went legitimate and brought us massive events like Electric Daisy Carnival and Electric Forest to name a few — along with Paxahau’s underground warehouse efforts that eventually led to Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival — these one-hour superstar sets became and remained the norm.
Fast forward to today, where more-better-faster-now ADHD culture drives many if not almost all decisions, the marathon sets of days long past are almost non-existent, with the exception of places such as Stereo in Montreal, or anything that progressive titans Hernan Cattaneo and Nick Warren touch in markets like South America.
So how exactly does a seasoned festival DJ, with a rock-solid touring schedule no less, decide to embark on a bit of an unprecedented O2C (open-to-close) tour — with little regard to whether he is playing until 5 a.m. in a city such as Chicago, where he launched O2C back in October, or Detroit’s 2 a.m. market, where he is performing this Friday at Magic Stick? (Doors open at 9 p.m.; tickets, $15-$20, available online here.)
U.K.’s Cristoph laughed heartily at that very question when Local Spins had a chance to talk to him over Zoom, not long after his tour launch at Chicago’s seminal night called “Serum at Prysm Nightclub.”
“I suppose it comes from those early days of attending DJ sets over on Ibiza, the crowds were rapturous just waiting on the DJs next record, and it would go on like this for hours at a time until the lights came on the following morning,” he said.
(Consider that for most major concerts, the headliner typically plays two hours tops. So playing an extended O2C set like Cristoph is doing here isn’t without risk or peril. When you’re in front of a crowd during a multi-hour set there is literally nowhere to hide, and that in of itself can be a very lonely place to be.)
We agreed there’s something about that magic about this that is hard if not impossible to replicate. “I wanted to do something that was like those early days in my career when I dreamt of DJing in venues like this,” he said.
GROWING UP IN A WORKING-CLASS NEIGHBORHOOD, PLAYING PARTIES AS A TEEN
Drawing inspiration from even earlier days while listening to the sounds of Chicago house, NYC’s Masters at Work, and industry heavyweights, including the aforementioned Sasha & John Digweed, it became clear during our chat that Cristoph’s journey had a bit of a blue-collar tilt to it.
“Oh for sure,” said Cristoph. “We grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Newcastle (five or so hours northeast of London), and when my dad got home from work, he always played records for my brother and I. My dad was a DJ himself that was always playing Motown records, and he also bought me my first set of decks.”
It felt appropriate to share that my own father passed away earlier this year, only because he was a bass player in a band that played Motown covers. At this point, it also became clear that in all of the artists I have met and interviewed over the years, Cristoph is as real deal as it gets. We even talked about his affinity for American hockey and his love for the Chicago Blackhawks.
This allowed for the opportunity to joke about the Bears playing the Lions, where he laughingly stated: “Americans are as crazy about their football as Brits are about their football (soccer) clubs.”
Cristoph went on to credit his brother for his first gigs in Newcastle. “I was maybe 14 or 15, and we would put on these parties at a social club, my brother would handle the business and promotion, and I would handle the music side of things.”
While mastering the craft of mixing live on vinyl is every DJ’s foundation, Cristoph received his first big break with a bit of a chance moment after honing his talents in the studio. “I sent a few of my tracks to (English DJ) Hot Since 82 through a direct message within Twitter, and almost immediately he responded saying, ‘Send me everything you have.’”
It was that first release of “Guffaz” on Hot Since 82’s label Knee Deep in Sound label that put Cristoph on the map. With a steady deliberate swagger that would have a home with Tenaglia at the helm of NYC’s Twilo as much as it was in the hands of global selectors, “Guffaz” still sounds amazingly current, fresh even.
With a steady stream of what can best be described as Masters at Work-inspired, tribal-infused tech-house, Christoph’s “next moment” came when he released an eight-track EP, aptly named “8-track.” This release garnered the attention of Eric Prydz, and with a new place on Prydz’s “Pryda Presents” imprint, Christoph’s rank within the world of progressive house was firmly cemented.
It was the summer of 2019 when the rest of the world latched onto Cristoph by virtue of his release with CamelPhat of “Breathe” featuring Jem Cooke. “Yea, no question that was the record that took things to the next level for me,” Cristoph acknowledged.
This past summer, I had a chance to see Cristoph at ARC Music Festival in Chicago. His Friday evening sundown set playing b2b with Frankie Wah unfurled as an amazing launch to the weekend, as each leans into atmospheric sounds with dripping angelic vocals.
“That set was harder than anyone could have imagined,” Cristoph laughed. “The sun was cooking the gear, Frankie and I were struggling to see the screens on the CDJs, then we find out they need us to play longer as something happened with Jordi’s (Tinlicker) flight.”
WELCOMING TO DETROIT AN ARTIST WHO’S HAD ‘A TREMENDOUS IMPACT’
I’ve written previously that it seems all roads lead to Detroit. Local Spins first met emerging promoter Brie Clark back in the spring of 2023 leading up to the Tinlicker show, and it’s clear she’s onto something.
“I’m thrilled to welcome back an artist that’s had a tremendous impact not only on our local scene, but myself as well,” Clark, one of the talent buyers at Detroit’s Magic Stick, said of Friday’s show.
“As one of our first progressive house acts to hit our stage last year, Cristoph has encouraged and shown the way for local artists. They are stepping outside of their comfort zone, and now dabbling in new genres. Many incorporate his tracks in their sets regularly.
“His last time playing here opened my ears to others in the progressive house realm, especially the up-and-coming artists. We’re ready for this open-to-close set. It’ll be a night to remember.”
While Detroit as a market has always had a precarious relationship with many things progressive, the sold-out Tinlicker show at Magic Stick back in April — along with Yotto’s sold out performance at Leland City Club in September — has clearly demonstrated that Detroit is ready to embrace a more melodic sound nearly 40 years after exporting techno as a genre to the rest of the world.
Hot on the heels of his most recent release, “FaCet Vol. 2,” Christoph unquestionably has the catalog for an O2C set within the motor city.
When asked about the significance of playing Detroit, Cristoph takes the question seriously. With his head dropped a bit while rubbing the back of his neck, Cristoph’s aforementioned blue-collar ethos once again emerged along with his trademark smile: “I’ll be ready for Detroit, no worries there, mate.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Todd Ernst has been an electronic music DJ and promoter for 30+ years and is half of the DJ duo DiscoBrunch. While his days are spent as the owner of an indie real estate brokerage, he also owns EXSIGN which is a creative concept that designs and manages corporate, non-profit and nightlife events. Todd is also one of the founding team members for TEDxGrandRapids.
VIDEO: Cristoph (Live)
LISTEN: Cristoph, “Come With Me”
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