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The DJ is often an unsung hero. When you’re lost in the music, there’s a reason why – and that reason is hidden up in the DJ booth. Behind their decks, a DJ fluidly commands the room, capturing the room in a back-to-back trance of anthems. Whether you remember the evening or not, someone has had you on the dancefloor, spinning tracks that have had you twirling around long into the night. 

Purple Disco Machine is one of the finest DJs in the game right now. A nu-disco maestro, the German producer slash DJ has an innate understanding of how to craft remixes and original anthems that will charm just about any crowd. He’s mastered the art of disco and is dragging it into a new realm – incorporating house, italo and deep-funk into the mix. 

Here at GAY TIMES, we can’t resist a good time. So we had a chat with Tino Piontek to get a glimpse of what life is like behind the decks…

So, firstly, you headlined Dreamland: Pride in Central Park recently. How did that go?

It was a real honour and a privilege. The promoter, Jake Resincow, has been such a huge and influential supporter of Purple Disco Machine over the years. He is also a significant reason why the LGBTQ+ community is so welcoming towards me, as a straight ally. It was also awesome to have an icon like Billy Porter come on stage during my set to sing a medley of “Menergy” and “Baby Is A Dancer”! 

When it comes to performing, do you prefer festivals or sweaty clubs? What’s the best environment for you?

I like both. Like most DJs, I grew up playing in sweaty clubs in the early hours, often playing for 4-5 hours at a time. But as my career has progressed, I now play way more festival sets, and I’ve grown to enjoy them more and more. At a festival, I do have to be more disciplined with what I can play, however, as I generally only have 90-minute set times. The longer sets in clubs definitely offer a bit more freeform, which is exciting in its own way.

We’d love to hear about how you got into music. What was your first musical love, and what drew you to disco?

My father collected vinyl when I was a kid. He had all the classic progressive rock of the 1970s and 80s, so I grew up listening to those kinds of records. But I was also excited and intrigued by the italo disco records I would hear on East German radio.

As a teenager, I collected my own records and went clubbing. I started to work in my local vinyl record shop and became my own best customer – I bought lots of records with my wages! I thought, “Hey I’m spending all my money on music, so why don’t I try to earn all my money through music?” 

Through the clubbing scene, I discovered the possibility of being a record producer and a DJ, so, to supplement the record shop work, I became a DJ. Very soon after I taught myself how to produce music. When I was DJing enough to pay my rent and getting my records signed to labels, I thought I could finally go full-time professional with this music career.

Your sound is often labelled as ‘nu-disco’. Do you consciously attempt to revitalise and reimagine that classic disco sound? Dragging it into the modern day?

Disco has been around for maybe 45 years, so it is a really established genre. People’s musical tastes change over time, and very often within dance music sounds from the past will re-appear. Right now disco is definitely back and I’m very happy to be part of it. 

In fact, I think I might have helped with this return… But, of course, it is likely that the trend will move on to something else. But, as I said, disco is such a classic style of melodic dance music that I’m trusting there will always be a place for it because disco is so positive, uplifting and fun. It incorporates songs and grooves that everyone can relate to and move to. You can listen at home, while exercising and, of course, dancing at clubs and festivals. In a way it is the ultimate melodic dance music. 

I just try to make music for now. I try to look to the future, aiming for a sound that incorporates the classic sounds that influenced me but with a modern twist. In my more recent productions, I made a decision to move away from the 1970’s classic disco sound and the 1980’s boogie sounds and explored the Italo Disco/ hi-NRG legacy which was also such an important part of disco.

In terms of reimagining, how do you go about remixing other people’s tracks? Do you ever find yourself listening to songs on the radio and already starting to conjure up a new remix in your head?

It is always a privilege to remix great records, and I’m fortunate to do so with so many iconic artists. I think that, for some reason, I’m dedicated to keeping the original song intact while still adding that dancefloor flavour. And I like to think that is why I keep getting asked by these legends!

Do you prefer remixing and injecting new life into classic tracks or is it more fun working with new songs? Does either type of project feel more rewarding?

I like to do both – originals and remixes. They present different challenges and rewards, of course. As long as I can vibe with what I’m producing or remixing, then I’m happy to do it!

Challenges aside, they clearly do pay off – you of course scored yourself a Grammy for Best Remix Performance for Lizzo’s ‘It’s About Damn Time’! How does that recognition feel?

Thank you. It was a massive moment, for sure! I was just so grateful to be nominated, I had no expectations to win the Grammy. So when it happened it was quite surreal. I’ve joined a very exclusive club, especially regarding German producers, and it will always remain a big highlight of my career. I don’t think I’ve even fully processed it yet!

I love Lizzo as an artist and this track is very much in my lane, being all about disco and funk. When I got asked, it was an instant “YES please!”

Who has been the most exciting or rewarding artist to work with?

This is a very hard question to answer… All the artist I’ve collaborated with bring their own special qualities! But, I will say, one artist I would have loved to have worked with us Prince – but sadly this will never happen.

What tracks are you most proud of?

Another very hard question to answer! I guess there are a number of tracks that are more ‘milestones’ than others, so I’ll list them… ‘My House’ was My first big club record breakthrough on Beatport. ‘Devil In Me’ was my first big radio hit in Europe.

Body Funk’ was my first record that used the hi-nrg and italo bassline which has since become a big, enduring club anthem.‘ Hypnotized’ is my biggest radio and streaming hit to date and ‘About Damn Time Remix’ – my Grammy-winning remix!

You’ve also worked with Sophie and the Giants three times now, with ‘Paradise’ just coming out. How is it working with them? Does it just click, creatively? And, if so, how does it feel knowing you gel so well with a certain artist?

Yes, we most definitely click creatively. I think she instinctively understands how to interpret my productions. As a songwriter and as a producer, that’s how we best work together and imagine her songs. She will be playing a number of live shows with me this year and I hope she will be a big part of my upcoming tours, too!

How do you work – Do you have your own studio?

Yes! I do, in my home city of Dresden. It is a very special place for me – it’s like my own ‘paradise’, which is one of the reasons Sophie’s demo song ‘Paradise’ resonated so much with me.

My DAW set-up is Cubase from the German Company Steinberg. I have worked with Cubase for more than 15 years now. I’ve also collected a lot of analogue synths like OB6, Juno 106, 303, but I use a lot of VST´s from Arturia or NI. I love to jam with my synths before I start working on ideas.

In terms of your sound – what’s next for you? Any new directions in mind, any projects you are chasing that you can hint at?

Going forward I’m looking at sonic influences beyond the italo sound, though I won’t entirely abandon it. With my successes on radio, and the collaborators and songwriters I work with, I’ve naturally been inclined to introduce more traditional pop elements into my productions to make the records more accessible. And I’m going back to the funk sound a bit more on my new album!

Speaking of – the new album is really coming together. There are some pretty cool collaborators and features on it, but I’m not allowed to reveal any names yet..! But it’s going to be very exciting, trust me.