CEE, or Christian Schwanz, resides in the lush greenery of the Berembun jungle with his family where they run The Dusun, but it is also a bit like the headquarters for CEE’s many other arms of work. In addition to managing The Dusun, he has a niche booking agency called Detour Asia that has brought down the likes of Daedelus, Phon.o , and Perera Elsewhere. He also works on SoundLab – the joint initiative with Goethe-Institut, BorderMovement, The Dusun, and Detour Asia that brings together musicians from 11 countries to make music in the tropical jungle, and he is Mr. X for RBMA here in Malaysia. In spite of his many responsibilities, it’s all connected to his love for music. Now, CEE returns to making the music he wants to make with the release of his EP diversions 01.
Images Nikt Wong
Two hours away from Berlin, CEE grew up in a university town called Greifswald – “it’s a tiny, tiny place, but not unimportant,” he states over a Skype call. The town is where CEE produced his first album and where he learnt how to run events – a skill that proved to be useful with Detour Asia. The connections while running events had an influence on his music-making too, but as did his older brother, Steffen, whose taste in music has always skewed to the left, no matter the genre. The Al-Haca Soundsystem, which he was a part of in the ‘90s, had broadened his notions of dub and reggae music as well.
Still, he tells us that the soundsystem never strictly followed the classics, as they had the habit of mixing up their selections by dubbing punk, techno, and industrial music. This philosophy bled through the songs that made up Inevitable – his first album released in the early ‘00s on a Birmingham label called Different Drummer. “It was a fusion and eclectic, not classic,” he explains, “the genre is undefined, but it was related to dub music.”
Although CEE was bred in a university town and came from a lineage of teachers, he didn’t find academia appealing. “There were less and less seminars, and the music got better and better,” he laughs, “When I moved to Vienna, I did it under the cover of university, I said I would pick up university in Austria but I never did – and the rest is history.” He jokes that even till this day, his father would praise the vocation in hopes of persuading him to pursue a career in teaching.
Even if the method in how he earns a living isn’t favourable to his family, one cannot deny that it takes hard work and persistence to be a viable musician. CEE has purely made music for a decade and he is quick to confess that it is difficult to survive as a musician, even in Europe. “I was short-sighted to put it all on music,” he professes, bearing in mind the many bills (rent and insurance) he had to pay. “I figured it could not be music alone. I tried my luck with a 360° approach to music management with Crunchtime with my ex-partner Stereotyp, and started working part time for VICE Austria doing events for them.” Before he moved to Asia, he seriously considered surrendering his musical pursuit. “I was gonna leave this life, I don’t know what’s gonna happen – my love for music will remain, but I didn’t see myself making my living through music when I left Europe.”
“I was gonna leave this life, I don’t know what’s gonna happen — my love for music will remain,
but I didn’t see myself making my living through music when I left Europe.”
“I always thought of it in terms of Bass Sekolah
or creating other artiste projects, but I finally realised
it can be CEE featuring other artistes.”
Thankfully for him, he has managed to find a way to include music in his life here. Seeing that he makes music at home in the jungle, there is no escaping nature in his beatmaking. “It naturally affects the music I make because the jungle never shuts up. I don’t have a soundproof studio. You’re always writing music with nature,” he shares. Beginning in last November, he started working on one of the four songs on diversions 01, ‘Night Falls’, with Cuba-based Polish artiste named Sound Traveler. After SoundLab, he subsequently finished the rest of the EP with Singaporean singer Vandetta, soul singer Najwa Mahiaddin, Bassment Syndicate’s Fook, and American musician Solomon Dorsey; the EP is released under Dubai’s 264 Records.
Being a musician who also does a good amount of promotion for his fellow musicians, CEE recognises the benefits of having a good PR team. “I was never a fan of throwing stuff on SoundCloud after finishing it because it disappears in the noise. Everyone in the team understood my vision – it’s not just about the songs, it’s about how you push them.” With the number of international press he has received for diversions 01, it seems the strategy has paid off.
CEE recognises the niche quality in the projects he’s passionate about, be they his music, Detour Asia, or even SoundLab, they do bring about their consequential difficulties. But, he is never deterred by these issues. He is happy that with the release of his EP, it has ignited a confidence that he, too, can fall back on his own artiste career, as he explains, “I always thought of it in terms of Bass Sekolah or creating other artiste projects, but I finally realised it can be CEE featuring other artistes.”
With a baby on the way, developing his own live shows, and a collaboration with Wonderfruit Festival, CEE is venturing on his own loudly and proudly. “After focussing on DJing and functionality, maybe I lost [a little of my confidence], but now people are listening to it and talking about it – it’s uplifting.”
Keep an eye out for more diversions releases. Listen to diversions 01 via lnk.to/Diversions01.
The Dusun, together with BorderMovement, will host a new residency with Modern Sky Festival Helsinki to bring a Finnish artiste to Malaysia next year.