Artist of the Month: Butch
Artist of the Month: ButchOctober 9, 2023
Butch is a DJ.
This may seem obvious, but it’s something he emphasizes several times during our conversation. It’s what informs his productions—he makes music for DJs—and has been his passion since he first fell in love with DJing at age 11.
Butch, born Bülent Gürler in Mainz, Germany, is known for funky house and techno and has painted widely and freely within those genres. Frankly, he doesn’t care what’s trending in dance music. Sure, he’s aware of it and intrigued by it, but never beholden to it. He is a tad bitter about “the DJ police” that deemed him uncool and kept him out of certain spaces at certain times, but that never stopped him from continuing on his own path. This somewhat defiant attitude paired with an ever-evolving, never cookie-cutter sound is a large part of his appeal and what’s allowed him to maintain his in-demand DJ status 13 years after “No Worries” took over dance floors.
“I made a version of it which was actually really bad. And I made it another version was also bad. This happened during the beginning of the pandemic,” Gürler explains. “I couldn’t , so I just gave up working on the track and left it on the side. And one point, Nic was like, ‘Hey, do you have any music we can finish together?’ I gave him a folder and he found this one. And then he nailed it—way better than my version, more accessible.”
Fanciulli knew they had a heater on their hands and played it out once parties opened back up. But it wasn’t until right before the track was released that Butch started playing it in his sets and finally realized it’s pretty good.
While the sample features Marvin Gaye’s 1976 classic “I Want You,” it’s not actually Gaye’s voice. It’s a playback, a.k.a. a faithful reproduction that’s easier to license. Gürler figures that soon this will be something that producers can do with AI instead of through a playback company, although the legality of that is yet to be determined.
Butch’s latest release is “Go Brooklyn,” a funky track he describes as “a nice club tool.” As we already established, he makes music for DJs, and approaches production similarly to a DJ set, in terms of mixing and combining elements to create danceable sounds. The “Go Brooklyn” chant in the song comes from Brooklyn rap group Stetsasonic, which has lived in Butch’s mind ever since he heard it in LL Cool J’s 1995 classic “Doin It.” The chika chika chika ah is from Timbaland, and there are some vocal snippets from Fatman Scoop. Similarly to “No Worries,” it’s a funky, repetitive-yet-layered house tune that’s probably a lot of fun to mix into a set.
“I prefer to use those [kind of] samples because there will be nobody else sampling the same track a week later. I know many people that do digging on YouTube — also I do it — but if I listened to it, [because of the] algorithm, there will be 1000 other people listening to it and five of them using the same sample. There will be another release a week before [mine with] the same sample. That’s why I’m trying not to use any samples which are shown to me on YouTube. Having a good record collection from back in the day always helps,” he explains.
Back in the day, as all “old-school” DJs did, he dug for samples at record stores, a rather expensive and time-consuming habit. He doesn’t buy records anymore because it (rightfully so) feels like more of a collector’s habit than an effective DJ / producer practice. Still, most of the music he listens to daily is for sample-hunting, so he listens to a lot of ’80s boogie. When he’s not digging for sounds, he’s listening to the music he first fell in love with: ’90s hip-hop, including Wu-Tang Clan.
“This is the magic of limitation. If you go to the record store and buy 10 records, then you have to really listen to those tracks several times to make sure you don’t miss out on a sample because you paid 20 euros for that. Now everything’s free and accessible so you just listen for 10 seconds and go, ‘Ahh, this must be shit. Next one.’ Maybe you lose something. Before, every record I bought, I listened to several times to make sure I didn’t miss any samples,” he muses.
We’re in a moment in dance music where ’90s dance and pop classics are being regurgitated into “new” chart-topping dance hits. Butch reasoned that this lazy sampling isn’t really anything new and producers generally pull samples from 10 or 20 years ago in a cycle that continues on and on.
“The easiest way to make a hit is to take another hit. If that song was already a hit before, you cannot really fail by redoing it. That’s the biggest reason why popular samples that were hits before are being used,” he says.
“I see a lot of people sampling my music. Whole bars, or just copying the whole arrangement, which makes me kind of proud and I don’t really want to complain about it. I’ll wait until there’s a big hit released with a sample of mine, then I’ll sue. But if that’s not happening, then it’s fine.”
On the topic of questionable trends in dance music, he mentions how it thinks it’s funny that the hard techno that’s hot right now sounds like the stuff of Thunderdome, a Dutch gabber and hardcore techno mix CD and party series whose cheesy commercials he saw on TV growing up. He relates this to what Germans refer to as “amusement park techno” — mainstream techno for the whole family, that during its heyday, could be heard in every German grocery store. But as he points out, these big trends always incite a response by artists who want something different. The anthesis to amusement park techno was minimal techno, developed and made popular by legends like Robert Hood and Richie Hawtin. (Butch loves Hawtin’s productions from 10 or so years ago and cites them as some of his favorites.) From there came a brief initial explosion of minimal house, which Butch was a part of, and that is when he had his breakthrough.
It was another moment on TV in his youth which made Butch first fall in love with DJing. When he was 11, he watched Germany’s DJ David mix and scratch with a fervor at the DMC World DJ Championships final. He was mesmerized by how he manipulated the music by touching the records and was able to make hip-hop music without needing to rap himself. He’d always been interested in learning music in school, but struggled with it. Now, he had an instrument he could master. “I want to do this!” the young Gürler declared, claiming the family turntable as his own but soon breaking it.
He briefly tried breakdancing but wasn’t good at it, and knew better than to attempt to rap, so graffiti was the final element of hip-hop to try out—and he was good at it. He was one of the youngest graffiti artists in his town and became well-known for it, which got him in trouble with the law. By 16 or 17, he was able to afford some records and DJ equipment and was reunited with his dream of DJing, which he’s been making come true ever since.
Butch, under a different name, started out as a hip-hop DJ and continued on that path for a while before getting into and playing house. Sometime around then, he started producing dance music and beginning his journey experimenting with different styles. As his tastes and sound evolved, at times, he was part of an emerging trend — like minimal house — but he never felt beholden to try to fit in with what was in style.
“My first productions which were kind of successful were at the end of the minimal era. That was the time when it got cheesy and polluted. I was one of the guys who made different types of it. I had different names, but under Butch, it was the more accessible stuff,” he explains.
“Let’s say 2006, ’07, ’08 was minimal. Then I was one of the first doing minimal house because I was doing house before and then I got into minimal and had the idea to mix those. In 2009 and ’10, minimal house was the biggest thing ever, super popular… Then I switched to full old-school house and then techno again. I did almost all different style sites all the time without adjusting to any hype. [The genres] were really pure back in the day, they complained a lot when it came to electronic music. It was just a bunch of people complaining. Most of the DJs were haters, and they just hated everything which was not cool,” he reflects.
He feels that minimal house is more accessible than minimal because of the samples. Eventually, it — and his Butch alias — caught on, and dance music opened up beyond straight-ahead minimal techno.
“Also, if you didn’t follow a line of always doing the same kind of music, you also get pushed out. That was the DJ police, which was super stupid. People were kinda scared to do anything accessible. For a few hours at a festival, not much happened besides a bass drum, high hats, and some effects. Weird times. And then someone like me comes around and uses a house sample, and it worked. Everything opened up again. But now we’re in some kind of chaos where everything’s [allowed].”
The moment he felt like he made it was when he started getting booked for “Amelie,” a track on his 2008 debut album Papillion. It even went to number 19 on the Belgium all-genre chart. “It was really confusing to me that I was getting booked for that song. Then I felt like ‘Oh, wow, cool. I’m here now. I’m a DJ now. It works,” he reflects.
Two years later, he had an even bigger hit with “No Worries.” It was one of the most-played tracks in Ibiza that season and named one of the top tracks of the year by Resident Advisor and Groove. His music was moving the White Isle, but, strangely enough he only played there once that season, even though he was already touring the globe. He’s lived between Ibiza and Dubai for a while now, so it’s a little harder for the local bookers to ignore him. He’s always felt a doubt from others that he couldn’t craft another big tune, which motivates him to keep aiming high.
“When I got those awards and the compliments of my colleagues and my music was really everywhere, I was like ‘Oh cool. I kind of made it.’ But there were always people saying, ‘He made it once, it’s not going to happen again.’ Then I made sure that the next year I had the song of the year again in Groove magazine. I always tried to prove that I can do it again, which was difficult. It puts you under pressure, but the pressure is good. You keep working. I also don’t try to repeat myself.”
Ana Monroy Yglesias is a freelance writer and editor living in New York City. Find her on X.