Jan Blomqvist: Live Wires
For years, there was a common misconception among those outside the global dance music community that live music and electronic music are at odds. Militant rockers and pop campaigners alike could not reconcile the link between the “button pushing” sounds of the genre and the instrumental chops of their favorite artists. This delusion has changed drastically over the past two decades, thanks to rapid advances in music technology and pioneering artists who have made it their mission to merge dance culture with live instrumental play. Enter Jan Blomqvist — the German musician and bandleader who played a vital role in bringing what is now loosely defined as “concert techno” to the main stage.
“Over 10 years ago, back in Berlin, I was one of the only electronic artists who would bring a drum set and piano to the clubs,” Jan says. “Now, the live electronic music community is huge. I meet so many amazing artists backstage at festivals and concerts, and now I’m having nerdy conversations about equipment when I only used to be surrounded by DJs.”
Growing up in a small German village in Lower Saxony, Blomqvist’s love of music was nurtured by his parents at an early age when they exposed Jan to a plethora of classic rock records, and showed him the magnetism of rock stars like Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury. He formed his first band when he was 10 years old and continued to perform rock, hardcore, metal, and pop music well into his early 20s. It was in 2005, during his time studying mathematics at University, that Jan met his friend and future bandmate Felix Lehmann, and was first exposed to Berlin’s techno scene.
“I’ve been playing live music my whole life, but electronic music felt so new, and it was something I really wanted to do,” says Jan. “From my perspective, I always saw myself as more of a pop musician. I was never a DJ. Don’t get me wrong — I have a huge amount of respect for DJs, it just wasn’t for me.”
Subsequently abandoning his ambitions for a career in aerospace technology to pursue music full time, he dropped out of University and fully committed to creating a presentation and sound that could set clubland aflame. When he started teasing his solo-live act around Berlin 2008 – 2009, the city quickly began to take notice. Combining delicate, cinematic melodies with obscure lyrics and minimalist drum patterns, Jan locked into an emotional groove that was a harsh contrast from the city’s aggressive techno leanings, but worked just as well. He released his first EP, Big Jet Plane in 2011, and the following year, he was filmed performing his track “Something Says” on a rooftop in Berlin. The video went viral, racking up millions of views and sparking international intrigue in his sound and live set.
Sonics aside, Jan Blomqvist and his band’s effervescent stage presence is a big draw for fans. “Some DJs try to do some weird stuff to get that level of attraction,” says Jan. “For example, EDM performers sometimes dance on the DJ booth and stuff like this. In my opinion, it all feels pretty weird. If you want to entertain the people, you have to do something genuine, and for a live set, that’s easy. We don’t have that problem. We don’t have to play roles, and we can just be super authentic on stage.”
Following a handful of blissed-out EPs and singles, Jan linked up with Armin Van Buuren’s Armada imprint in 2016 to release his debut album, Remote Control. Two years in the making, the 12-track LP marked a crescendo in his sound that would begin to cater to larger audiences at bigger venues and festivals all over the world. With lyrics that touch on the overwhelming barrage of media that his generation is subjected to daily, its overarching theme paved the path to his second album, Disconnected — a three part album released in 2018.
Photo: Felix Lehmann
“I’m really motivated to give every album a concept,” says Jan. The essence behind his sophomore LP was spurred on by his time at Burning Man in 2016, which he has visited every year since and enthusiastically refers to his “favorite festival.” Its intention is as candid as its title and the ethos of the famous desert gathering — a cry for action that encourages us to escape from our digital tendencies and to seek alternative ways of living. It’s a fitting theme that plays to the escapism that so many dance floor enthusiasts practice, and Jan has gone on to spread its intention beyond the desert with his Disconnect residency at HEART Ibiza. Showing appreciation to the live electronic acts that mirror his style, last year saw performances from Rodriguez Jr., Liset Alea, Giorgia Angiuli, and the young German virtuoso Ben Böhmer, with whom Jan is currently working on new music.
“I love Ben. He’s so young and talented that it sometimes makes me jealous,” Jan laughs. “It’s been really nice working with him. His style is different from mine, but after not collaborating much in recent years, it’s been perfect for me. Our minds connect, and I think that’s something I’ve missed out over the years. I don’t understand why I didn’t do this earlier.”
Besides this new and exciting collaboration, Jan has a new album in the works, but the concept behind it is still being developed. Without being able to divulge too many details, he says Ben Böhmer has inspired him to step away from the “typical bass bronchus melody” style that he invented and dive into something new. “I’m really excited about where it’s going right now because I want to change it up a bit,” Jan says. “I want to get harder.”
In addition to spending time in the studio, Jan Blomqvist + Band continue to bring their gusty and dynamic show to venues all over the world. In total, they’ve performed in over 40 countries and average about 80 shows a year. Despite his love for the stage and his fans abroad, Jan’s says his concern over the environmental impact that touring can have on the planet can be haunting.
Photo: Jan Kopetzky
“Sometimes, it’s frustrating that we find ourselves traveling constantly,” Jan says. “I don’t want to tell my kids that I played a part in fucking up the world because I was flying too much, so these days I very conscious about my carbon footprint. I’m just one person, and I know I can’t change a global problem alone. Still, musicians need to be more vocal about this problem. There’s a responsibility that musicians and especially DJ have these days, especially since the electronic music scene’s social media following has so much more of a community to it than other music scenes. If artists can rally their fans to push change, maybe we can help make a difference.”
With this in mind, Jan was more than happy to accept an invitation to take the train to Kitzbühel, high in the alpine region of Austria, and perform at the Audi Electrified showcase to celebrate the car company’s brand new, purely electric, and emissions-free SUV, the 2020 Audi e-tron. Beatport was there in full support to offer up a live stream of this brilliant performance, which can be watched in full below.
As Jan Blomqvist continues to soldier forward with new creative projects that advocate healthier lifestyles and environmental protections, he took the time to highlight some of the live electronic acts that he’s most excited about in 2020. These artists include Apparat, Kiasmos, Satori, HVOB, Monolink, Giorgia Angiuli, Rampue, Parallels, Maga, RÜFÜS Du Sol, Bob Moses, and more. From this list alone, it’s evident that the number of internationally renowned performers that blur the line between live and electronic music has increased tenfold since Jan Blomqvist first took to the stage. One can’t help but recognize the trailblazing role he’s played in giving new varieties of live performance a place to shine in the world of dance music and beyond.