The Journey

Markus Schulz's growing DJ empire has been a lifetime in the making

"Yeah, Kraftwerk and the Backstreet Boys," chuckles Markus Schulz. The Phoenix DJ is laughing at the juxtaposition of the two, shall we say, diverse artists. For Schulz both have played important, though vastly different, roles in his development as an internationally respected DJ and music-industry player. The former -- the German electronic pioneers -- served as a seminal influence on a young Schulz when he first began merging dance and hip-hop tracks with the harsher Teutonic sounds emerging from his homeland. While Schulz's relationship with the boy-band cheese-makers was economic rather than musical: "They [the Backstreet Boys' record label] came to me and said, 'We've got this group' -- this was at the very beginning of their career -- 'and we want to have the clubs play them. They're very Top 40 and very commercial, but we want to do some remixes that club DJs would get into,'" remembers Schulz. "So I went into the studio with that, and I ended up remixing three songs for them that ended up being pretty successful. The band is obviously kind of lame, but the remixes helped pay for the label."

The label in question is Schulz's Plastik Records. Just back from a European jaunt, Schulz is understandably enthusiastic about the prospects for his growing DJ empire. Plastik Records (and the Plastik Records store in Tempe), which Schulz started in 1994, has just released its 19th record. And Schulz claims the label is selling out each pressing (somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 copies).

The original impetus for starting Plastik was his own growing creative restlessness as a remix guru. Schulz became a sought after remixer with the international success of 1994's The Journey. European labels came calling, and, along with onetime studio partner C.L. McFadden, Schulz remixed tracks including Blue Amazon's "No Other Love," Bedrock's "For What You Dream Of" and Jayanne Hanna's "Lost With You." He also scored a series of domestic assignments reworking cuts by Poe, Madonna and the aforementioned Backstreet Boys. "I just got tired of doing remixes," says Schulz. "I wanted to experiment more. I really wanted to develop a unique sound and just experiment with sounds in general. That's why we started the label."

Bearing the torch: DJ Markus Schulz.
Bearing the torch: DJ Markus Schulz.
"Glam-Country": Chicago's Blacks.
"Glam-Country": Chicago's Blacks.

What started as a creative outlet has turned into a profitable and growing enterprise. During his recent European trip, Schulz finalized arrangements on a deal to license Plastik releases in Europe, began negotiations with a "major British underground label" to distribute in America, and confirmed the opening of a U.K. branch of Plastik Records. Add to that the start-up of a domestic Plastik offshoot label that will focus on "trancier" sounding fare, a track on Risk Records Torchbearers disc (a compilation that brings together top club DJs from across the U.S.) and a spot at the upcoming Zen Fest in L.A. -- an event that is expected to bring 20,000-plus -- and it's easy to see why Schulz is enthusiastic.

Born and raised in Germany, Schulz moved to America just as he hit his teens. His family settled in Boston, where he was immediately taken by the rich culture of the inner city. He first began to DJ by playing hip-hop at Beantown break-dance parties. "I started out listening to a lot of hip-hop. A combination of German electronica and hip-hop is what I started with when I was young," recalls Schulz. "The hard German sound has continued to influence me a lot. I've tried to play more of the soulful garagey stuff, but I could never get into it. My stuff has been getting harder and harder as years go by. That's what the German sound is all about."

From there Schulz began spinning in the Top 40 clubs. By the late '80s, he found that it was a life he was no longer suited for. "I got absolutely burnt out on that. Paula Abdul just worked my nerves," says Schulz with a laugh. "So I started DJing in the gay clubs. That was the only place where you could play good, progressive music."

Schulz's tenure in the gay clubs coincided with his move from Massachusetts to Phoenix in 1989. His timing was fortuitous, as elements of the rave and progressive scene that Schulz preferred had begun to find favor in larger clubs. "From there it just evolved into the underground stuff I play now. The gay scene evolved into the rave scene and that's what's basically turned into pop culture," notes Schulz.

In 1992, Schulz became resident DJ at The Works in Scottsdale. It was a spot he would hold from the club's opening night until its closure last October. Not long after the Works opened, 106.3-FM The Edge, then just starting out, approached Schulz about putting on an all-night dance/DJ program for the fledgling station. Schulz's The Edge Factor (which runs from 1 to 4 a.m.) on Sunday morning is the station's longest-running specialty program. The success of The Edge Factor has opened a number of doors for Schulz professionally, but the DJ regards the program as a labor of love. "The Edge Factor is my outlet. It's a release for me. It's frustrating for me sometimes because there's so much great music that I want to expose people to that I hear from all over the world, and that's really my kind of outlet to give back."

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