NEEDS Music: A Retrospective

The sound of soulful jazz roared once again in the ‘80s, as the funky grooves of jazz legends like George Duke, Eddie Henderson, Larry Heard and Herbie Hancock revolutionised America’s music scene. For the Frankfurt-based music label, NEEDS, it was these jazz, boogie and funk influenced artists that catalysed an interest in music from the other sound of the pond. Under the name ‘Lamaya Productions’, Lars Bartkuhn and his brother Marek’s ongoing collaborative search was complete when their final puzzle-piece came in the form of DJ Yannick Elverfeld.

Unable to find the right label for their early tracks, NEEDS was created in 1999 out of creative necessity. Other than the occasional significant appearance from the likes of Anthony Nicholson and Inga Lühning, the trio have released almost exclusively their own material. Regardless, the label gained widespread critical acclaim, with their tracks enchanting dance-floors around the world. With this material, along with a number of celebrated remixes, this small underground label gained a fiercely loyal fan-base in their seven years on the scene.

Perhaps the originality of their tracks can be credited to their varied musical backgrounds. The trio impressively combined the gift, enthusiasm and experience required to create classic, soul-infused, house-inspired tunes. Indeed, DJ Yannick and Marek Bartkuhn both started their careers against similar underground backdrops. Yannick obtained residencies at highly acclaimed clubs like ‘The Box’, ‘Omen’ and ‘Robert Johnson’, enrapturing the era’s passionate clubbers with early house and disco jams. Marek’s affair with deep house began after a renowned night in ’92 at the well-known XS club. Previously focused on hip-hop, Marek became absorbed in the soulful melodies of early house music and began to hold parties in the Frankfurt countryside, and he would invite Yannick to mix with him. Lars , on the other hand, had walked a different road en route to his arrival at Needs. Lars was heavily influenced by classical jazz and aged 13 he acquired his first guitar. Playing 8-10 hours of jazz guitar a day in a bid to study at university, it was not until the mid-90s that he became fixated on the limitless and free-flowing nature of house music at one of his brother’s parties. From the combination of these three musical talents came the unique melodies, the killer bass lines, and the lazy vibe that came to epitomise NEEDS music.

Although influenced by classic deep house and garage sounds, NEEDS effortlessly created something distinct. Dissatisfied with the repetitive nature of much of the house music produced in the early 2000’s, it was with some reluctance that NEEDS had to accept the baggage that came with the deep-house label. Their sound is indisputably something more than just house. Whilst the NEEDS aesthetic was clearly influenced by legends such as Kerri Chandler, Ron Trent and Blaze, their unique style took on many other diverse elements which go beyond house – from jazz and soulful techno to funk. As the creative driving-force of the trio, Lars can be credited for much of the unwavering individuality of the label’s sound. As a self-proclaimed ‘romantic’, Lars’s commitment to harmonic and melodic experimentation allowed for instrumental arrangements which extended far beyond the confines of popular dance music.

NEEDS have produced a wide array of 12”s. Released in 2000, ‘So Many Things’ and ‘Brother’ were heralded as essential underground beats for their soulful, funky groove and rhythm. In 2002 the label released the ‘Worlds’ EP. by ‘Passion Dance Orchestra’. Although ‘Worlds’ was co-produced by Lars and Marek, ‘Passion Dance Orchestra’ was very much a solo project for Lars. This absorbing, jazz-funk beat was commended as a powerful anthem, central to the scene’s evolution, after plays from top selectors, like David Morales, Timmy Regisford, and Master’s at Work, despite its 15 minute length. Another of Lars solo projects released under the NEEDS label was Laurentius and his ‘Over the Sea’ EP released in 2003. Described by Lars as conveying how he would feel if he were ‘over the sea’, it comprises of 9 minutes of textured layering and soft background beats. Further expressing commitment to laid-back, jazz-inspired house tracks was the 2005 collaboration with Inga Lühning, titled ‘All Over’. This captivating song was completed in a day, and conveys Lühning’s unlimited vocal abilities as a jazz singer, essentially epitomizing the NEEDS sound: fresh, upbeat and enriched with soul.

But NEEDS have also been remembered for a list of iconic remixes which enhanced their reputation as a label committed to producing high-quality and ambitious music. Their insistence on devoting significant time and thought to their output has meant many remixes have been turned down by the label, but those ultimately put out show a high-level of creative integrity. Remixes for Francois K, Playin 4 the City, Ennio Morricone, Ian Pooley, AtJazz and Russ Gabriel, along with labels such as Clairaudience, Especial, INFRACom, Compost, and Groove Attack, are among the most renowned. Combining influences from Italian classical to tech house, collectively they express the NEEDS craft, in producing consistently fresh sounds through tireless musical experimentation.

Since 2006 the NEEDS label has sadly disappeared from the music landscape. Perhaps their frustration with modern house music can account for this. In Rome in 2004 Lars Bartkuhn explained in a lecture that he was frustrated by the “tons of crap” increasingly evident within the scene. He was disconcerted at hearing the “same song over and over again”, explaining that such music just failed to inspire him anymore. Furthermore, all three members of the label were unable to make a living solely from NEEDS, so perhaps tragically they lacked the time to consistently produce in line with their very own high standards. Whilst not a household name, the label has an impressive legacy; their music remains iconic and in many ways has been absorbed into the cultural fabric of the genre, which silently influences new fans on a daily basis. Their releases were created with longevity in mind, and have an ability to always sound simultaneously classic and new. No two NEEDS tracks are the same.