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In Conversation: ATB & Topic

In Conversation: ATB & Topic

We caught up with both ATB and Topic to discuss their new track 'Your Love (9pm)', its legacy and the music industry as a whole during one of its most turbulent years
Jonathan Coll | Features & Interviews

German DJ and producer ATB has teamed up with Topic and A7S for his new single 'Your Love (9pm)' - an updated version of 90s dance classic '9pm - Till I come'. Their collaboration marks the first time the track has been remixed or remade, and brings its sound firmly into 2021 with the help of two of dance music's most talented emerging artists.

There are few tracks which have left such an impression on the entire dance music scene. Faithless’ 'Insomnia', Oxia’s 'Domino' and Daft Punk’s 'One More Time' are comparable in their impact, but there are few which have stood the test of time in quite the same way.

We caught up with both ATB and Topic to discuss the track, its legacy and the music industry as a whole during one of its most turbulent years.

Having grown up so close to each other, are you surprised that you have not collaborated with each other sooner? And what similarities do you think you have as artists?

ATB: We didn't really realise we lived only 30 minutes apart until our first phone call. When you're on tour a lot, sometimes you don't even notice details like that. Otherwise we might have worked together sooner. But I think the timing was just right. 

As for what we have in common as artists, we both love the melancholic in music, but always with a positive underlying vibe.

Topic: '9pm (Till I Come)’ is a dance classic that I've known and loved since I was little. It was a coincidence really as I didn't know until then that we lived so close to each other. ATB heard 'Breaking Me', liked the style of the production and the "melancholic dance music" sound and got in contact with me through a mutual friend. 

The biggest similarity is that we both put the music first and not necessarily what comes with it, such as fame and fortune. If I love the track I put it out. When others connect with it - even better. If not - it's still a great track.

With ‘9pm Till I Come’ having already been a number one single in the UK and across the continent, how did the new collaboration come about? And why was now the right time to put a modern spin on the track?

ATB: Actually, I never wanted to touch '9PM (till I come)' again. On the one hand because it is such a classic, on the other hand because I have heard the melody over and over again for almost 24 years now and I lacked the distance to pack it into a new garment.

Then when I heard Topic's ‘Breaking Me’ I thought to myself: the combination of both sounds, combined with A7S voice could be exactly what brings the song to new life and what makes my guitar melody accessible to a new generation of music lovers.

In the past, I have received countless requests for collaborations and cover versions and have turned them all down. It just never felt right. With Topic I had the feeling for the first time: this is the perfect symbiosis. And that's why it was the right time to revive the song.

Topic: It was only a few days later after ATB called we met up in his studio and got to work. After we were satisfied with the basic structure we brought in A7S via video call for him to work on the track. The lyrics were even created in a one take – just how it was with 'Breaking Me'. It was a really organic development.

I'm not the biggest fan of just remaking or covering songs. ATB and I are on the same page about that so it was clear from the start we were going to make a completely new version of it and it worked out great.

A7S’s vocals are fantastic and really bring a new dimension to the track, why was he the right choice for the collaboration? And can we expect more collaborations in the future?

ATB: Alex (A7S) has a very unique way of songwriting. He has his own style and perfectly understood how to alternate his voice with the guitar melody. And apart from that, I simply love his voice. You can recognise it from the first note, just like the guitar.

And regarding another collaboration with Alex, we don't have anything planned at the moment because the focus is on the current single. But you should never say never.

Topic: A7S and I started working closely in 2018, since then we went on several songwriting trips around the world and built a close friendship over this time. Since then I mostly work on my songs with A7S. He's a genius when it comes to songwriting. Which does not inevitably result in him singing on the tracks but for 'Your Love (9PM)' he was the perfect fit again.

What can you tell us about the conception of the music video? Was it Marvin Stroter behind the idea or did you all have some creative input?

ATB: That was definitely teamwork. We had the initial idea of a dance performance and then we worked out the details together with Marvin. It was important for us to show that we often work better together than alone. Like the two main dancers, who only really harmonise when they dance together. And in the end, it was teamwork that made the
video that way.

Topic: Yeah, like ATB says, it was teamwork. Everyone brought their ideas to the table and Marvin worked out how this could be transferred into a music video with a story behind it, which is subtle but with great meaning.

Having successfully collaborated to recreate a trance classic, are there any other artists you hope to work with in the future? And are there any emerging producers we should be keeping an eye on?

ATB: I'm a big fan of Post Malone and Khalid. But also Dua Lipa's and Khalid's voice and their style of singing I find absolutely outstanding. With Post Malone it's the mixture of
very trance-y and atmospheric sounds in the background of his productions paired with his unique voice and his melodies.

I think the lockdown will have given many young producers a lot of time to create new sounds. There will certainly be some new and exciting things coming our way. And as for young producers: Barkley comes to mind. An incredibly talented young producer from whom you will still hear a lot. 

Topic: There are a few. Impossible to name all of them but there is one who stands out particularly. I would really like to collaborate with Jon Bellion in the future. 

What I've seen quite a lot with emerging producers is a lot of them are trying to produce tracks, which sounds like such and such. Of course it's always good to get influenced by styles, sounds and vibes. I do too! But the real art is to take that and then go and create something really fresh and new.

The UK has just announced its roadmap out of lockdown, giving huge hope that festivals, events and clubs will be open again this summer. Do you have any particular memories of shows in the UK? And how do UK clubs, festivals and crowds compare to the rest of Europe?

ATB: I still remember well my appearances on Top Of The Pops at the end of the nineties. I was number one in the UK charts with '9pm - Till I come' and those are unforgettable moments for me. I was 25 years old that time and it was simply impressive. And in the last few years I have often enjoyed playing at the Ministry Of Sound in London for example. I love that club and the atmosphere there. 

What I really like about the fans in the UK is that they are extremely into the music and tear the place down like hardly anywhere else. 

Topic: I've never played in the UK before but would absolutely love to. I've heard that the crowds in the UK really party hard. As soon as the borders open and it's safe to throw events I'll definitely be there. I've been working on a lot of new tracks and am preparing for the time when we all can hit the road again.

It is difficult to do any interviews these days without mentioning the effect COVID has had on touring and the music industry in general, but have you taken any positives from the enforced break? And ways that the industry may have changed for the better as a result?

ATB: The scale and consequences of COVID have hit all parts of the world hard. This is the first time since I can remember that there is an issue that is present in the whole world and not only in individual countries. Maybe in the future we will have a broader view of the things in the world that do not affect us ourselves, but that present many other people with inconceivable problems. I think COVID forced us all to stop, take a breath and rethink our everyday lives.

Personally, I think that 'You Love (9PM)' would not have been created at all without this forced break. And besides, in April 2020, in the middle of the first lockdown, I became a father for the first time and was able to experience the first 10 months of my son. That would otherwise have been unthinkable with all the touring.

Whether COVID has improved anything for the music industry is hard to say at the moment. We are the industry that has been hit the hardest among others. So many jobs are tied to events. Musicians, technicians, catering companies, transport companies, all the helping hands and many more. We can all only hope that the spook is over soon and that we can finally party together again.

Topic: With the success of 'Breaking Me' in 2020 that would have meant being on the road for quite a long time. Now I've had much more time in the studio to create music than usual. So yes of course I've lost important live gigs like all musicians during the pandemic but luckily as a producer it didn't hit me as hard as the artists, who have to rely on live gigs. It gave me a lot more studio time to develop my sound and work together with other artists. 

I think I (and many other people) will value playing or going to festivals and clubs even more in the future. Let's hope many promoters, clubs, live engineers etc. have survived the pandemic economic wise.

How have you found performing at virtual and online shows? Is it something you’ve found enjoyment in? And how does having a crowd influence the tone of your set and the track selection?

ATB: I'm honestly not a big fan of online concerts. I just miss the closeness to the audience. I also try to be as close to the people as possible at shows. That makes a huge difference. And when I'm standing alone at the players in my living room or some other place it's not nearly the same for me. The audience always drives me. To be honest, I've only ever done one live show in the planetarium in Bochum, which was shortly before the birth of my son. There I played very relaxing ambient music and there was an incredible show with images from outer space. That was a lot of fun and I could also present my other musical side.

Topic: The last months there were many different ways found to still have concert-like experiences in compliance with the guidelines. Such as live streams and drive-in concerts. I’ve done a couple and that's OK but I need the personal touch and this special feeling you only get while playing gigs in front of real people.

Having a crowd in front of you makes the whole set. I always leave the set really open and don't plan it through because I like to interact and react.

What will be the first track you play at your first show back after the pandemic?

ATB: 'Your Love (9PM)'

Topic: 'Your Love (9PM)'


‘9pm (Till I Come)’ was the first trance track to reach number one in the UK, but you started out producing techno with Sequential One. Why did you switch to making trance? Did you think about continuing with a similar sound to Sequential One after the group broke up?

Sequential One was my first project back then. And that was also quite successful. It was a relatively hard sound combined with catchy melodies. Then I wrote '9PM (Till I Come)' and at that time I still thought "that doesn't sound like Sequential One". I had to come up with another name, so I decided on ATB (derived from my real name Andre Tanneberger). I thought back in 1997 that I wouldn't get a record deal with that song, and then suddenly the song was number one in the UK. That was unrealisable for me at that time. Funny anecdote: The version of '9PM' that went to number in the UK was the Sequential One remix.

Later I continued Sequential One as SQ1 but at some point there was no time left and I concentrated on the ATB project.

Your early days also involved live performance and talking on the mic, are these elements of performing that you still enjoy? And how did those early days in Sequential One influence your style moving forward?

I actually like to use the microphone at my gigs to cheer people on. This really comes from the time of my gigs with Sequential One. It sometimes adds a certain something to the show. And what I'm sure I've kept up: I'm completely sweaty after every show because I always give 110 percent even on stage.

Your own signature sound has changed a lot since '9pm' was originally released in 1998, how does this remake reflect more modern sounds and tastes?

After '9PM' I released some songs with the typical ATB guitar. At some point I wanted to dare something new and not be reduced to this sound. In 2001 'Let U Go' came along and I released a full vocal song for the first time under ATB and it went extremely well. So my sound has already changed. Songs like 'Ecstasy' or 'What About Us' always had the charm of a pop song but remained danceable. That was my basic idea.

I released ten more albums after '9PM' and continued to develop my sound. When I heard Topic's ‘Breaking Me’ it was clear to me that the guitar has to come out again. Because this combination of my melody combined with his sounds and the typical ATB atmosphere in the background transports the song from my point of view into today's time. And what’s really special is it is not a cover but a remake, because A7S' vocals make it a whole new song.

How important was still being able to do your Planetarium show during 2020? How different were the visuals and production process for last year’s edition? Do you have plan to do another Planetarium show in 2021? 

The show at the Bochum Planetarium is for me every time the highlight at the beginning of the year. Therefore, we were a little lucky in 2020 that the series of events could take place before the eruption of Corona. Since the demand was so high, I did eight shows instead of four and all tickets were sold out within a few days.

Regarding the visuals, you have to know that a planetarium actually only needs equipment to display scientific events. It is all the more amazing what the team always gets out of the equipment. That fascinates me every year anew. In 2020, completely new images were added by NASA and that was a real highlight.

In 2021, of course, we haven't been able to put on any shows yet. But the Planetarium Bochum has used the time to carry out a complete technical rebuild. So I'm super excited about what has changed and how the next show will be. And one thing is for sure: as soon as it is feasible we will plan and execute the next edition of ATB under the stars.

Do you prefer producing trance or ambient music? And which is more enjoyable to play in DJ sets?

It all depends on the mood of the day. Sometimes I feel more like very energetic music with beautiful melodies. Then it becomes more trance-y. Although I do not think in pigeonholes. Not every electronic music with melancholic melodies can be called trance. But sometimes I feel more like calm ambient tracks. That happens mostly in the evening.

For the stage, of course, energetic music like trance is more suitable to put the audience in ecstasy. Ambient music fits much better at shows like the ones at Planetarium, because there is exactly the right backdrop to present my quieter tracks.

You must have had countless DJs and producers asking to remix '9pm', why had you always previously refused, and what was it about the chance to remake the track with Topic that felt different?

Indeed. I've been sent countless remakes and remixes over the years. I even played a remix at a few shows now and then. But none of the versions felt right. And one thing was always clear to me: if I were to remake '9PM' again, I have to be 110 percent convinced of the result.

Then, in the first Lockdown, I came across Topic. His sound, especially on ‘Breaking Me’, totally inspired me. I felt like our two sounds would be a perfect match. A mutual acquaintance then connected us and two days later we were already sitting together in the studio. It just fit so well together that we finished the track very quickly and then worked with Alex on the vocals via a Zoom call. It had been my dream for years to find vocals that, in combination with the '9PM' guitar, would transport the song into a new era. And Alex succeeded perfectly.


Was ATB an artist you were aware of when you first started producing? And did his style of trance have an impact on you forming your own sound?

‘9pm (Till I Come)’ is an absolute dance classic that I've known and loved since I was little. My parents used to have a party room and always bought compilations for it. I remember listening to them and that ATB was on nearly all of them.  

When I started producing I got influenced more by artists such as Timbaland and Dr. Dre. But ATB is a pioneer when it comes to the EDM scene. One of my biggest favourites is 'Ecstasy'.

Having become a DJ a while after you started producing, is DJing something you now enjoy or do you still see yourself primarily as a producer?

Not being able to play during COVID-19 really brought me closer to DJing as I started to miss it so much. Before I would have said I'd see myself primarily as a producer but now I'd say I enjoy both the same as it gives myself a huge variety as an artist. I basically get the best of both worlds.

You really burst onto the scene with ‘Light It Up’. How important was that track in shaping the rest of your career? And which artists were inspiring you around the time you made it?

'Light It Up' was my first single that came out in November 2014. Prior to that release I was only producing for other artists. I didn’t really have any expectation of what was going to happen with this song. It gained over one million streams on YouTube pretty quickly. So this song was kind of my foundation to start everything and a great kick off into the music career.

I got inspired by Timbaland, Avicii and Swedish House Mafia, just to name a few. My taste in music is quite diverse, so I could probably name much more, depending on the genre.

You first started collaborating with A7S back in 2017, how did you first start working together? And what is it about his vocals that make him such a good fit for your productions?

We got to know each other in a songwriting session, basically hit it off straight away and have been working together ever since. We have a very similar mindset and working together is really fun and easy – as it should be.

His vocals have a great recognition value. Even pitching his voice like we did with 'Breaking Me' and 'Your Love (9PM)' sounds kind of natural, which is rare.

How important was the success of 'Breaking Me', and the partnership formed with A7S, in working on this remake?

I think it was most important. As without the success of 'Breaking Me' ATB most likely wouldn't have even considered me as an artist for the remake of his dance classic as he heard the track on the radio and then checked out my other productions. 'Breaking Me' didn't change me personally but it definitely opened a lot of doors, which I'm very thankful about.

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In Conversation: ATB & Topic

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