By Noah Hubbell
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At the century's turn, when he was transitioning from club sensation to full-fledged recording artist, German DJ and producer Timo Maas spent much of his free time collecting wine. Thanks to his peripatetic lifestyle, which took him to world capitals and exotic locales on a regular basis, he was able to build an eclectic, world-class collection that's lovingly preserved in his Hannover home. But these days, he no longer devotes the hours he once might have to hunting down the perfect Pinot.
"The priorities in life changed," Maas says in a heavily inflected voice that sounds eerily like that of a certain Governator. "I became a father four months ago, and I've got a super-sweet daughter -- and I've been married for half a year, as well. Now I go to baby stores, not wine stores."
But just because the thirty-something Maas has gone from the world of candy pacifiers to the real things doesn't mean he's no longer interested in bringing his version of the dance gospel to a wider audience. With the help of his longtime creative partner, Martin Buttrich, he's just completed a new collection of original songs called Pictures, and when he's asked about the CD, which he's been tinkering with since 2002, he says, "For us, personally, it's a maasterpiece."
There's no telling if his delivery of this last word is a self-referential joke or an amusing fluke caused by his Germanic accent. Still, Maas appreciates the pun potential of his moniker -- he's put out two mix sets under the catch-all title Music for the Maases -- and he uses it to differentiate himself from generic deck masters around the globe. He hopes his forthcoming disc, which contains vocals by an intriguing cast led by Neneh Cherry, Placebo's Brian Molko and "Milkshake" maker Kelis, will continue that process. "We tried to do something that we feel is cool and that we think has a pop appeal, because we want to sell albums," he notes. "We invested so much money in the album that we, of course, want to get something back from it. We didn't spend two and a half years of our lives to put it in the cupboard and never look at it again."
Such comments are sure to irritate purists who think DJs obsessed with broadening their fan base betray the dance scene. While Maas concedes that defending his approach "is not a discussion that is really interesting to me," he does so anyhow. "Let's come back to the basics," he says. "As soon as you start releasing records on a label, it is a sellout already. Unless you're only making music for yourself, everything else is commercial. But when you've got a good song and that song is successful, that's a good thing, not a sellout, as long as you are happy with what you're doing -- and I am very happy. My sense of quality, my sense of coolness, is right there where it always was. Trust me, I'm not selling my ass."
Nevertheless, Maas has been around the block a time or two. He got into music through an older brother with artsy tastes before discovering the '80s version of big beat. By his early teens, he was already deejaying on a semi-regular basis, and he stuck with the trade through the early rave years before finally landing a marquee slot at the Tunnel, a major venue in Hamburg, circa the mid-'90s. His initial single, 1995's "The Final XS," led to a series of efforts under his name and others' throughout the remainder of the decade, but it wasn't until his reimagining of Azzido Da Bass's "Dooms Night" that he wound up on the remixers A-list. The track, which kicks off the initial Music for the Maases, made for Hope Recordings and issued in the States on the Kinetic imprint, still sounds great thanks to a moody opening that blends into spare, inventive trance rhythms that quicken heart rates on contact.
The double-disc Maases, which also features some effective solo joints and numbers from previous Maas projects, including Mad Dogs ("Better Make Room") and Orinoko ("Mama Konda"), established him as a mixer on the come, and celebs began seeking him out. Over the years, he's done dance-floor makeovers on ditties by Madonna ("Don't Tell Me"), Fatboy Slim ("Star 69") and even Tori Amos; he and Buttrich were nominated for a 2004 Grammy award in the "Best Remixed Recording (Non-Classical)" category for their variation on Amos's "Don't Make Me Come to Vegas."
Yet Maas wasn't satisfied with being merely a behind-the-scenes savior, and with 2002's Loud, he stepped into the spotlight. He describes the CD as "an artist album," and indeed, the focus is on actual songs, not just lethal grooves. Kelis -- whose Neptunes-penned "Young, Fresh n' New" (from the U.K.-only disc Wanderland) had previously received the Timo treatment -- croons lead on "Help Me," a mock sci-fi number that manages to be simultaneously seductive and sinister, while idiosyncratic soul man Finley Quaye hops aboard the evocative "Caravan." The disc sported its share of "Old School Vibes," as one cut was dubbed, but it also demonstrated that Maas was more than just an expert dial-twister.