We’re beyond happy to welcome Philipp Senkpiel AKA DJ Kitsune on our podcast. The German DJ, music producer, label owner and editor at TIDAL shares his journey through various fields of the music industry and goes back to his early days as a DJ in Frankfurt. We also touch upon the difference between DJ-ing and curating playlists and how fluid genres have become nowadays.
In this hour-long conversation, we also discuss the foundations, growth and strength of the German Hip Hop and Instrumental Beat scene, the rise of new sounds from South America (Latino Music), Africa (acrobats) and Asia (k-pop)his way of making it and surviving in the music industry all these years, and last, but not least - a few of his guidelines when comes to managing artists, running your own label and publishing company.
Stream the whole podcast below or read highlights from our episode transcription (full disclosure - some things are skipped and we used AI tool for this, but it has been humanly checked & adjusted). Whatever rocks your boat!
Ivo: So, to quote jetzt.de - "the hardest working man in German hip hop music"
DJ Kitsune: Oh, yeah. I'm not sure if they still want to give it to me, because that's a while ago. But yeah, I think it just stems from doing so many multiple things that somehow are connected, but not necessarily the same thing. Whether it's being a DJ, a person on the radio or managing artists - it goes hand in hand, but it's still different jobs at the end of the day. And I think that's what they were referring to because I was just wearing so many hats at the same time.
Are you the kind of person who likes to work on multiple things at the same time? Or more like you focus on one thing and when it's done, it's done?
My wife would say I'm horrible at doing multiple things at the same time. I think since all of these things are somehow connected to music in artistry, it's just a natural element of joy that's instilled in there. And whether I'm like switching in between these gigs that I hold and have helped has always been the reason why I could do it for such a long time. Maybe because it never got boring.
Like, maybe I was on tour with the rapper for 3 / 4 weeks straight, then come back home. Of course you miss touring and you miss the daily adrenaline rush when going on stage, but then you're back home and you can focus on other things, like doing radio shows or starting to play clubs again, which is totally different than being on stage with an artist. And I think the constant change has been the reason why I'm still here.
Is it easy for you to balance between those different things I saw in your Instagram? You posted, I think, last year about the importance of mental health, which is obviously a big topic in the last few years. And does it help actually switching? Let's say if you get tired from one thing to switch to another and change the context in terms of balancing out, or you balance more by doing other things, which are non-music related.
I do very little things that are not music related (laughs). I'm in a very privileged situation where I could turn my passion into my job and balance comes from juggling these things at the same time and being able to be like, "hey, I don't want to play clubs for the next six months", and do other things.
But again, that's a super privileged state that I'm in and I've always been in. It comes with pros and cons because that also means that I've been self-employed in my own business for pretty much all my life. It comes with a lot of freedom and other aspects as well. And I think when it comes to the whole mental health thing, it helps being able to dictate your own schedule, but at the same time, there's a different layer of pressure that's being applied on you when you are the sole source of money coming into your household. It really depends on the individual that's doing these things.
Regarding the whole mental health thing - I really do think it's great that the issue has become more of a forefront topic for many companies but also news outlets. I think it's important to not only accept that mental health is just as important, if not more than any other aspects of our health. And nobody wants to walk around with a broken foot, so why would we walk around with a constant broken heart or broken soul, to put it that way?
But also, I think it's even more important within the artist community where so many people put their heart and soul into their artistry and for many it's the only/perfect outlet to express and deal with feelings that they feel deeply inside of them. I think it's important to acknowledge that artists can go through a lot. The challenges of being, a 15 year old superstar that has the whole world screaming for them is a burden that's almost impossible to deal with. Like, how do you deal with that? You're not even a grown up. You didn't have the chance to see the world yet. But at the same time everybody expecting so much of you and you're supposed to be a role model 24/7.
For someone like you who was already actively touring and performing in the early 2000s around the other tour back then, I guess, and maybe you can tell me, because there was not so much social media, the mobile phones were not obviously that prominent. Did you feel more freedom, so to say? Because now, as you say, like a 15 year old star can pick up the phone and post to 7 million people, but I guess you couldn't do that very easily 20 years ago. Do you think that is one of the things that is adding pressure to the current system, that you have to be always online and on top of things?
I think the Internet and social media is a beast of its own. It can do so many great things, but it can do horrible things at the same time. And it's kind of like alcohol when you're a mean person, more alcohol makes you only a meaner person. And if you're a good person, alcohol might turn you into funny. That's not always the case for everybody, but that's just an example.
I think I think social media can help in so many good ways, but it can also put so much unnecessary pressure on people, especially young people. And I think it's a demon that has to be dealt with. I don't know if times were easier back then. It's almost impossible for me to say - I just turned 20 back then. Like the first half of my youth, I kind of grew up without the Internet, and all we had was cable TV and everything was coming from there. And the other half, ever since I turned maybe 16, I had a cell phone, I had Internet pretty soon, so there was this whole online world to be explored. I was one of the kids hanging on Napster, doing stuff that shouldn't be talked about today, maybe.
I think you can become a superstar a lot faster these days and maybe easier, but it comes with its own toll. Back then you would have to work the old school machinery, probably major label, probably a lot of touring, physical copies, print, press, the whole thing and pretty much none of that is left anymore. That's pretty crazy. And that was only 2 decades ago, and yet - a completely different world.
Why did you decide to start DJ-ing, especially at such an early age?
Here's a fun fact. I never wanted to be a DJ, I just ended up being one. I was one of the latchkey kids that went home after school at one or two in the afternoon. My mom was working three, four jobs at the same time at the time, so I just stayed at home in the afternoon and hung out in front of MTV and I fell in love with hip hop culture. But back then, as a 13 year old kid, I didn't have the money to buy all these records or CDs, so I got myself a little aux cable and taped all the stuff off of MTV just to have onto a tape.
So that's what I did, recording all of my favorite songs off your TV reps and then starting little mixtapes, not in the DJ sense, but just mixed songs. Did little mixtapes just for my personal pleasure, and I would play the hell out of them on my way to school and back, and then started dubbing them for my friends because they thought I had a good taste when it comes to music.
I was on point when it came to new releases. Then I started going to clubs and all of a sudden the DJ had remixes and versions that I never heard of. And I was like, "God damn, where do I get this song?" and one of my friends told me about this DJ record store where I immediately found stuff that I heard of the club. I was like, okay, I'm starting to buy vinyl records, something that I haven't done before.
Then instead of going to the CD store 2 or 3 times a week, I started going to the record store because they had stuff even earlier, and I hung out. I eventually helped them because the record store owner who was a DJ himself and at some point, they just approached me and told me, "hey, do you know so much about music, especially current music, like, you know everything about the new hip hop that's coming out? Have you ever considered DJing?" I was like, "no, I don't want to be a DJ because I never wanted to be the center of attention", but I eventually agreed and decided to open up, and it was my first DJ gig ever at the legendary spot called Funkadelic in downtown Frankfurt. It's not around anymore, but it used to be one of the most legendary clubs in the city, with Prince playing after show parties there and stuff like that. So yeah - an insane place.
Do you remember the first-ever DJ experience?
I remember playing a couple of records and messing up almost every single transaction. It was so difficult for me to concentrate on the transitions, to have them being really in sync because of the pure volume at the club. Everything was so loud and I wasn't used to that. The second gig was more like, there was more people there and transitions were okay. I think the issue with the second gig was missing experience, like, which record to play at what time, and I did play records that only I liked, I think, and I didn't really necessarily play for the crowd, but that comes with experience and just putting the effort and years into it.
Is it easier when you are DJing for, let's say, specific tour and knowing what kind of audience you can expect than going to the club and you're not sure who showed up?
It's very different when DJ-ing for an artist. When we talk about me DJ-ing for artists, it's more like I'm playing their instrumentals to rap on, s there's a fixed set list unless there's some last minute changes coming in. Most of the times we were the headliner, so we know like pretty much everybody in the crowd was here for us, so as far as selection and the actual performance comes, it's easier because everything is pre-planned. What still is a little stressful to this very day is the pure fact that if you're providing the playback for an artist or maybe even an additional band that's playing on top of your instrumentals, is the pure fact that you know, there are five, six, seven, maybe ten or more guys relying on what you do. So let's say your record skips, everybody is messed up, okay? And that's kind of an extra pressure. Like if I play alone at a club and the record skips or something happens with the mixer or the sound, I'll just fix it.
And the transition from DJ-ing to curation came during Pandemic with you joining TIDAL as editor, right?
In the summer of 2020 I couldn't DJ and the TIDAL opportunity came along, so I was like, "yeah, that sounds perfect." For me, it's just another way to do what I love doing, which is curate music for people to hopefully enjoy it, whether it's putting together mixes or putting on records at the club or radio shows, mixtapes, it's pretty much all the same approach. I think about what record from the collection that I love personally would I play for this audience in hopes to get them engaged.
It's kind of like a modern day mixtape as you did back in the day.
Yeah, pretty much. The transition to curating playlists was super easy. I don't recommend music that I think is shitty. There's so much great music to pick from. There are so many amazing artists and songs and I try to offer art that's simply incredible breathtaking. And there's so much of that out there.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the amount of music you receive?
I would say no. But yeah, it's a lot of music, especially in the hip hop genres, there's so much stuff coming out, but at the same time, there's so many amazing voices to be discovered and to be heard and of course, amazing voices that already are superstars.
Every single week that I'm going through the music, there's a dozen of records that I'm really excited about. If it's the week before Christmas and everybody who still like last chance wants to drop a single, yeah, then it's a lot and we as editors also are anticipating Christmas and have families to take care of. So, it's a hectic week, but it's a hectic week with amazing music. I come from a family where a lot of the family members have been hardworking doing crazy jobs. So I would never complain about this being a super hard job. Like, I'm here getting paid to listen to amazing music.
Is there something you would advise up and coming independent artists they need to do or they can do better, especially if they want to get their music more in front of the eyes or ears of the TIDAL editors?
There are so many editors among us. I can only speak for myself because I think there's totally different approaches to that. And it really depends on region and territory because my amazing colleague in Denmark, for example, has a much smaller region and smaller amount of artists to cover and go through than the colleagues in the US, UK, France or here in Germany. So, there's a lot of different approaches, I would say.
I kind of keep it the same way I do with my DJ-ing stuff for the last two decades - I take a lot of pride in finding new artists. That hasn't changed. That was something that I wanted to do as a DJ and I'm still doing it as a playlist curator. I really do want to find this next amazing rapper or r&b singer, the lo-fi hip hop kid from Tanzania that has the banging beats. I'm such an advocate for new artists or new music that I still love doing it. And that means I kind of have my sensors out there to find new stuff and new artists.
That being said, I'm not putting any time aside to just go through 3 hours of SoundCloud digging or whatever. I don't do that. I hang out on all platforms, but most of the times music comes to me, kind of that's because of my network of artists and people who work in the industry and music lovers. And whenever they post something and it's an artist I never heard about, that's what makes me interested, because I was like, hey, this is my close friend. He has such an amazing taste. Why does he post about an artist that I've never heard it before? There must be something to it. And then I start going into it and going through. The first thing I do is go back on the title platform, see if they have released anything. Then, as you know, the TIDAL platform gives you all the credits like who's producing them, what record i coming up etc.
I think music lovers, wherever they come from or wherever they may be, tend to appreciate the high quality approach. I know a lot of artists these days kind of shy away from being too artsy, but I think the few ones that stand out are usually the ones that are being artsy. Like, who do we talk about? The Kendrick Lamar, the Anderson .Paak, the ones that aren't doing pop music. I don't want to talk down on anybody doing just straight pop music because straight pop music is totally legitimate as well. But I think the so-called future tone artists that get a lot of high quality press in their early days, I think that's a good approach to just make people's heads turn. And that's why I think this kind of music will come to me and to a lot of other editors as well.
Obviously there is a lot of talk about physical products, do you think that's going to return?
I think it's super hard to tell right now. I think it's super funny and interesting at the same time to see how physical products are coming back as a person that has like 15,000 pieces of vinyl sitting in the basement.
I have a hard time of understanding why kids all of a sudden start to buy vinyl again. I think it has something to do with a being something like a superfan, like being a super proud owner of something special that might as well be limited to a certain number of copies. Then the fact that you can put it on shelf and everybody and everybody, like all of your friends and your guests are going to see that you have this limited piece and it's like memorabilia. It's a mix of I have something that's limited from my favorite sports star may be assigned jersey or whatever. It's like having assigned vinyl now. I'm somewhat afraid to find out that the rise of cassette tapes might only be because people cannot press up vinyl quickly enough, because there's only a few manufacturers these days. And if you want to do a vinyl next week, you probably might know if you want to do a vinyl next week, they're going to tell you, yeah, by 2024 we might have a slot for you.
And then I think it depends on the country because it might be triggered by simple economics. For example, in Germany, the whole box set thing, which can accelerate your chart position.
Speaking of which, the German hip hop and beat culture has been historically very, very strong. Do you think that's because there have been a lot of people who migrate from abroad and that had an impact of the scene? And even nowadays with the lofi and jazzhop producers, you can see so many good producers, all German?
Good question. I think there's layers to that. I think the German hip hop scene in general has always been kind of spoon-fed by the fact that the American presence within Germany has been at such high numbers.
I think that never really has been mentioned or documented the fact that the rise of global hip hop., especially in the 90s, would not have been the same if it wasn't for American imperialism and the fact that US soldiers have been all over the world. Kids from Japan to Korea to Germany to Italy have fallen in love because at some point there have been US soldiers throwing a hip hop party in their neighborhoods and they got to know the genre and the culture behind it. I think that kind of kick-started the whole German thing, especially in my hometown, Frankfurt, where people still argue about whether it was the original birthplace of German hip hop. If it wasn't Frankfurt, it's somewhere in the surroundings, but it's in that area.
When it coes to the lofi and producer and beat scene, I think what kind of help is the fact that there have been kind of like two scenes evolving at the same time. One was very US-orientated - whatever is the zeitgeist and whatever is the newest thing around, itwas adapted pretty quickly. And then there was traditional scene of sampling and beat making. The people that came from the SPs and MPCs and never stopped using these machines. And even though they would not produce like, Pete Rock in '91 anymore, they would still understand what he did and they would go from Pete Rock to Dilla and then on to high tech and witness the growth of this sample culture. I think that's very important route of the whole beat thing because so many people that I know, that do lofi instrumental hip hop releases are actually coming from these kinds of scenes. And I think the pure fact that there was this very up-to-date whatever's hot right now seen and at the same time, this puristic scene helped to breed these kind of artists that are familiar with all styles and they can go from an Anderson .Pack beat to Cardi B within a second because there's such skilled individuals on every single level.
Speaking of the new wave of not just hip hop. But genres. Is the most impactful thing on the special. On the young producers and kids nowadays in Germany.
I would say the fact that this new generation did not grow up on the same genre categories that we got accustomed to. They leave it all behind and that's a beautiful thing, I think makes music better or worse. It's just a different approach and it's a more diverse approach. And other than that, I would say it's the quick rise of K-pop, especially for the fact that K-pop has been a thing in Korea for 20 years now, at least. Also considering the fact that J-pop has been around even ten years longer and didn't have the global breakthrough that K-pop now has, maybe blame it on the Internet, question mark.
Also, you cannot ignore the fact that Latino music, not only reggaeton, but so many other sub-genres and genres of amazing Latino music (LatinX music) is still growing at such an incredible rate. This whole world of music that's kind of been hidden away. Especially in Western Europe (unless you go to Spain). It's there and it's emerging and it's asking for its rightfully deserved spot on the map of music.
Thoughts on the rise of k-pop?
As far as K-pop goes, I think it's almost difficult these days to still call it K-pop because it's just so many different genres labeled as one, because there's Korean rappers, there's Korean r&b singers, there's straight pop artists, there's EDM artists. But we are labeled as a K-pop because it's a career person performing it. I'm not 100% expert on that, but I did get my chances in life to interact with Korean culture a lot. So there's a couple of things that I would mention.
One is that the Korean music industry, as flawed as it may be in certain parts, is perfectionism and is an insane machinery of just building stars and finding the greatest songs on earth just as much as Rihanna's team and her management or, Dua Lipa's team might be looking for the greatest songs written all over the world. These K-pop stars are doing the same thing. They get the greatest song submissions from songwriters and producers from all over the world and they pick amazing stuff and they know, like, they really got the math right when it comes to creating hit record. And it goes not only for producing songs, but also for promoting artists and building artists and finding new talent and all that stuff.
And then there's this whole cultural thing. I think people underestimate the Korean diaspora all over the world, like in my area in Frankfurt alone, there's at least 30,000 people of Korean descent or Korean families. And the fact that Korean technology, whether it be Samsung or Hyundai and so many other companies, are market leading entities in pretty much all countries these days. So, similar to Latinos being everywhere or Filipino people being everywhere, there's Korean people pretty much everywhere. And it's not surprising at all that BTS can sell out Madison Square Garden within an hour. Of course, I don't know how many people of Korean descent being in the New York City area. And with that being said, and taking it back to what we earlier said, the cultural influence that diasporas have... if you grow up in Berlin among Turkish kids, you're going to adapt and eventually fall in love with Turkish culture and Turkish music at some point. There's this one song that the mom of your Turkish friend was always playing and you hear it and you'll immediately be taken back to that instance back then.
What is the one thing, especially when you work with artists, what is the one mantra that you always try to follow in your relationships with artists? Something that's very important for the success of reaching success in the music industry.
Besides, of course, I'm always doing clean business and not fooling around with other people's money or ears. But that's a no-brainer. I think one of the things that we have told people over and over again is we can't be the ones that want it more than you when it comes to success, when it comes to artistry, if we feel that you as an artist I don't want to call it lazy. Some people are distracted, some people are going through writers block or whatever, and some people just have a hard time promoting their own stuff, which I totally get. Like, it's an extremely hard thing to do to constantly blow your own horn, but at the end of the day, it's your music and your business. And if we came in as managers or as publishers, we were the ones assisting your business, and we cannot be the ones that want the success more than you. You have to be the driving force, and it's almost like a 401K, the retirement plan in the US. The company offers to pour in just as much as you do. If you pour in $10,000, then the company is throwing in 10,000 as well.
Other than that, I think if for people who are aspiring music managers or being within the support system of an artist, I think the most important thing to know is no artists is the same. It's like with your significant other, just because you have this experience from last time, there might be similar things this time, and there might be completely different things. No artists are the same. Even if the music might be similar, if the genre is similar, if he's working with the same people, if she's playing with the same support band or whatever, it's a different approach, and every experience is unique in that way.