LWE’s Prosumer & Murat Tepeli interview

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Achim Brandenburg (better known as Prosumer) and Murat Tepeli make no bones about their love for house music’s deep and formative days; and you won’t hear them apologizing for churning out irresistible tunes reverent to the classics and relevant to modern clubbers in equal measures. Serenity, their debut album recently released on Ostgut Tonträger, finds this spirited duo (with newfound muse, Elif Bicer) pushing emotion and soul back into pallid European house music with jacking, vocal-heavy tracks. But the tone of their ambitions is much lighter than man verses machine, as this laugh-filled interview reveals. It’s a long one, to be sure, so we’ve decided to split it into two posts in order not to sacrifice content for space purposes. In the first half we discuss the duo’s origins, their classically-influenced sound, and the benefits of drunken, on-stage decisions. [Interview by Steve Mizek]


How did you two meet and start making music together?

Achim: I’m from Saarbrücken in southwestern Germany and Murat was studying there. I spent most of my time in the Hard Wax record shop in Saarbrücken, so that’s where we originally met.

Murat: That was 10 years ago.

Achim: We hung out together at the record shop, but not too much. We didn’t really get to know each other until I moved to Berlin and Murat moved to Cologne.

Murat: Actually, we didn’t hear any [music] from each other. It was only the guys from [Hard Wax]…

Achim: They said, “You guys should hook up and do something together.”

Murat: So we sent each other our music. And then we fell in love… with the music we made *laughs*. We started doing music, he did some vocals; and I did the first record on Playhouse with Achim’s vocals. It was very quick. We really got the feeling that…

Achim: It’s a feeling of understanding. I hear his feelings in his music and that triggers something similar in me, so I can come up with vocals. He sings, representing what he’s doing and it all comes together — it fits.

How were each of you introduced to house/techno?

Murat: I started with a lot of hip-hop music. I have three elder sisters, and one of my sister’s best friend’s brother was a DJ and got all these mixtapes which she gave to me to listen to – a lot of hip-hop and R&B. Later I got into house mixes — I listened to a lot of jungle and drum ‘n bass — but I stuck on to house music.

Achim: Where I come from there were not good record shops before Hard Wax opened, so the only access to music I had was the radio. I always preferred the electronic, dancey stuff which was running on the radio, and I was really impressed by the first house tracks being played on the radio; all that acid stuff coming from England, but also stuff like Inner City’s “Big Fun,” I really liked that. I tried to buy these records but it was next to impossible. In 1994, Hard Wax opened in Saarbrücken, so it was easy to access all this wonderful music. When I first went there I didn’t dare to go in right away. I was very shy and it felt like the Promised Land even before entering. I was so shy it was like going to a porn shop or something. When I entered there was all this music and people who were really friendly and eager to show me new music. And Hanna, who started the shop, was really good about stocking all the essential stuff. When they were sold out everywhere else I could still get them there. The still sold sealed copies of Prescription records in 1999. I’m really thankful to Hanna for doing this wonderful job of making all this music available to me.

Murat: One important thing about both our backgrounds is that we grew up in small cities.

Achim: Yep, we’re small town boys.

What were your musical backgrounds prior to your current project?

Murat: I started by playing the Turkish guitar, my father brought me one from Turkey as a gift and he wanted me to play it. I started playing when I was five or six years. I still have the guitar, but I only played it for one or two years.

Achim: I’ve never heard him play it.

Murat: The sound I wasn’t really crazy for, so I dropped that and afterwards I got into the school band, playing the trumpet and trombone.

Can we expect any horn-playing on upcoming records?

*both laugh*

Murat: No, no…

Achim: I would actually like to hear this, it would be interesting.

Murat: He has never seen me play a real instrument *laughs*. I gave it up when 12 or 13 and then I got my first computer and got into the software. That was really interesting to me. I got a keyboard, but you couldn’t do much stuff, it was just presets. Later I got into programming computers and I started doing music, but that was really late, maybe eight or ten years ago. With DJing, I got started in 1994-95, which was when I started to get into electronic and house music especially. Now to you. What did you play?

Achim: I was playing the flute as a kid like everyone else.

Me too!

Achim: In Germany, everyone does it in primary school. I was really bad at this. I was singing in choirs. I was a cute kid, so I was always pushed on stage to sing old, smelly people Christmas songs.

*both laugh*

They came up to me and said [takes on an old lady voice] “Ahh, you’re such a cute boy, you sing so nicely!” I hated it, so I was traumatized. For me, starting to DJ was in 1995 or something like that. Starting producing music, well, the first time I really had money in my life was 1999, 2000, so that’s when I started to buy equipment.

Your productions are often marked by a signature sound that has vintage 808 feel to them. Why did you choose these tools to make your music?

Murat: Like Achim said, the first time I had money was also the late ‘90s, beginning of 2000 and I started with the computer and software. I knew when I had some money I had to have a drum computer and the first thing I was thinking about was an 808. It has such classy sounds and you can do a lot with them. For example with the bass drum, you can do a lot of stuff but putting it into a compressor or distortion. It’s very class, very simple, that’s what I liked most. That was the reason I started buying these classic computers.

Is it a challenge to use old tools in ways that are interesting?

Murat: In the heydays guys bought all this stuff because it was the cheapest to buy, so it was just a basic drum computer, synth and maybe a 303 and that’s it. Also, the recording quality was different from nowadays. Nowadays it’s no problem to have a really good recording quality. But that’s what I think makes it very different because it sounds different. Even though it’s the same gear, it sounded different 20 years ago. If you put it altogether and you record it very clearly, you still realize it’s all separated.

Achim: I would say we like some dirt. For me, I’m always happy when we have some device in our set up which bring in some roughness, some dirt. We recorded the album on old reel-to-reel tape, it makes it sound a bit dirtier, there’s always a bit of noise in the background. It brings a lot of warmth, also, and that’s what we go for. During the show yesterday we again used the Memory Man effect device and we were so happy with it.

Murat: It’s so simple!

Achim: It’s a simple, dirty device, and it makes it sound much more… human?

Murat: To come back to the sound quality of the recording, we don’t really try to sound new or fresh. That’s what we miss in the music nowadays. Like Achim said, it’s very technical the music nowadays. Anyone who makes electronic music can really get lost into making music by plug-ins and softwares and this and that. You really forget to really make music. We want to make music and party with the crowd when we are on stage, to be rough and real, that’s what we really want to do.

Serenity features more full-on songs than many other house/techno albums presently which often compile tracks. Did you set out to write in this style or does it come naturally?

Achim: When were thinking about making an album, we thought the tracks we can put out on EPs; but if we do an album, we want to really do something that feels like an album that has a story to tell, that has a storyline in itself — something you would want to listen to at home. At home I listen to dance music, but a lot of stuff I play in the club while DJing I don’t listen to at home. It’s perfect for the dance floor, but at home, I go for something which is more song-based.

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I noticed that the CD is arranged so the first half is primarily instrumental tracks and the second is more song-based and lyrical. How much of this was planned and how much just came together that way?

Achim: It all came together, in a way. Very quickly we decided that “Serenity” would be the first and last track. The rest basically just happened. We did the short interlude with Elif, “Drama Baby.” We had been doing it during our live shows for a while, but it never had vocals. While we were rehearsing for a show, she started improvising this [sings] “Drama, baby,” so that’s how this happened. She really liked it, so it was her idea to put that on the album. When we were thinking, where do we put it in the story line, it was obvious it had to be in the beginning. It came nicely together that the first song was me singing about my depressions, the second one singing about my fucking boyfriend, and then she’s singing, “It ain’t no drama, baby,” and then the happy, more dancey/party side of the album starts.

Murat: I think a lot of stuff just happened. That’s what makes it so nice for us. “Turn Around,” for example: I made the beat, I introduced it Achim and Elif and everyone’s just jamming, we rearranged it and it was done. If I was on my own, I wouldn’t have the strength or confidence to do it. You have a dynamic if you have three persons and you, “Let’s do it. Let’s do some ‘bah bap bah!'”

Achim: That’s the great thing about working together [if] you are always shy about what you do. It’s good to have someone like Murat for when I’m not happy about something who says, “Hey, this is perfect like it is,” or the other way around, Murat often goes, “Ehh, I’m really not happy with this track, I want more vocals on top.” And sometimes I really have to stop him and say, “No, not more vocals on top. It says it all, just leave it like that.” Making music is so intimate, and with Murat, I found someone I can be open to and trust, that’s really perfect. Doing it on my own, I would probably never put out the lyrics for “Serenity.” It’s very personal; I had a hard year because I had to deal a lot with my depressions. With Murat by my side, I can be open about that.

Your lyrics are something I really wanted to ask you about. With a lot of contemporary house and techno, the few lyrics it has are often quite impersonal. Serenity is quite the opposite. What is it like to really put yourself into the lyrics, both personally and artistically?

Achim: Actually, that’s why we do it. For both of us, it’s some escapism from “real life.”

Murat: Not just escapism, it’s also to talk about real life, because that’s real life. That’s what we talk about. Not every word is meant to be that serious, like, let’s say “Butterfly.” What does the track mean? *laughs* It doesn’t mean anything if you listen to the words. It’s also the emotion in the way someone sings. The old tracks from the 80’s — back to Chicago house music — there were a lot of lyrics. You just didn’t listen to the lyrics, but also to the emotion that somebody was singing about.

Achim: The feeling which was transported through the music. For us, music is a lot about expressing ourselves. We could have a bigger output, but it would lose its quality then. We want to do something we’re happy with.

Murat: It was a bit difficult for us to think, “Well, what would the people say about this?” There was a lot of minimal stuff in the last few years and of course we were also listening to minimal, but we also got bored from it because everything was so technical. So cold.

Achim: It was theoretical, it was not physical. For me it was very empty. It could move my body but rarely touched deep inside. Listening to house music I can smile on the dance floor, I can cry on the dance floor. With minimal I can dance…

Tell me a little about how the song-writing duties are divided. How do songs come together?

Murat: There are a few tracks we produced separately. There’s more on the vinyl version [of the album] that were done that way. The CD…

Achim: Some tracks are by Murat, some tracks are by me. For the tracks we do together, it starts with Murat sending over the instrumentals.

Murat: I sent him all the ideas I had over the years and sometimes he had some vocals, other times he didn’t. We rearranged it, added more parts like a 303, for example.

Achim: A lot of it came together spontaneously while mixing the album. With “Butterfly,” we actually did the track the day before the mastering started.

Oh wow, that’s really late!

Murat: We had the instrumental for a while and had performed it with Elif together, and we knew we wanted one more track with her, so we decided, “Let’s do it.” We didn’t find the time until one day before the mastering started. We said, “OK, Elif, let’s record it.” “I don’t know what to sing,” she said. “I don’t know, just something about butterflies.”

Achim: We played for her a recording of one of our live shows and she was writing down lyrics. But at one point while she was recording she just started to improvise, and that’s when it got really, really interesting.

Murat: She just let herself go and sang and closed her eyes. And we were just so… fucking… blown away. We tried to stay still and not make any cracks or noises.

That sounds exciting and inspirational.

Achim: It was. It really was. Since we were all mixing it down through my big mixing counsel to the reel-to-reel, while playing the tracks from the computer I added spontaneous drum tracks with my 707. We had done that in our live performances, but we’d never tried it out. It was the second take. It’s always a thrill to work together. We know that we will come up with something we’re going to be totally excited about.

Murat: We don’t see each other so often, so we really enjoy our time.

Achim: Us making music is really selfish, it’s really about us enjoying making music. From a logical point of view, saying, “We’ll record a song one day before the mastering starts,” that can go awfully wrong. But we’re having so much fun doing this together and enjoying the moment. I think that’s what translates in the music. If we were to say, “Let’s work five more days on the song,” it might be produced more smoothly, perfectly, but I think a lot of the feeling we get out of that would be gone.

How did you start working with Elif Bicer?

Achim: She works at the bar at Panoramabar. And when Berghain started its booking agency in September 2006, it was clear they wanted to do booking for me as a DJ and for more live shows. I was doing shows alone but it was more fun to do it with Murat: so I decided that I wouldn’t play alone anymore. We had a show at Weekend Club in Berlin and Elif and our other booker came over and they were… I don’t know the word in English. Far more than drunk, really, really pissed. Nicole was coming over to me and saying, [takes on a female voice] “Ahh, she’s such a good singer, you have to have her singing.” I was drunk as well and I said, “Yeah! Why not, let’s have her sing.” *laughter* I said something to Murat but he didn’t realize, so I just passed the microphone to Elif at one point.

Murat: I was really concerned about the music because we hadn’t had that many live performances by that point, so I was concentrating on the computer and I knew that he was talking to me but I didn’t know what he was talking about. I just said, “Yeah, OK.” And then, suddenly, this voice appears. I looked to the left and the right, searching for the person who is singing and there was Elif.

Achim: That’s how we had our first night together – our first threesome *laughter*. If we listen back to it, there are definitely some moments where you think, “Oh, this is definitely improvised,” but there are moments where I think “wow, this really has potential.” We were really impressed, so it was clear we wanted to do more together.

Murat: It wasn’t just us, it was the whole place, the whole Weekend. Everybody was really enjoying it. We were having a big party and that was so great. People came up and asked said, “Hey that was great, who is she?” and I said, “I don’t know!” “You didn’t rehearse?” “No we just jammed.” [Achim] did some parts on the 707 and I rearranged some parts spontaneously…

Achim: It was really the first time we started improvising. We had room to improvise, but it was still an arrangement and with her coming in spontaneously we had to make some room for her voice. It was the first time we really just took bits and pieces of different tracks, put drums together to create something totally new and just follow her vibe.

Murat: For me, it was the first time I really felt like a band. You melt with the crowd. It’s so great to give something to the crowd and get something back, it was so great. I thought I really wanted to have that as much as I can.

Do you plan to include her in future projects?

Both: Definitely, of course.

[Go to Part 2 of LWE’s interview with Prosumer & Murat Tepeli]

Joe H  on February 14, 2008 at 6:12 AM

Quality interview! Looking forward to part two.
I think everybody must have played flute or the recorder as we called it i remember playing it also haha.They seem like really nice guys very talented. Serenity has been in constant play over here.Timeless album.

iied  on February 10, 2011 at 12:35 PM

nice

Trackbacks

LWE Podcast 200: Prosumer – Little White Earbuds  on June 2, 2014 at 12:01 AM

[…] with other people’s tunes. Prosumer (born Achim Brandenburg) was one of the first artists I interviewed for LWE and is someone whose career we’ve followed closely ever since. We recently caught up during […]

LWE Podcast 200: Prosumer | electronic podcastselectronic podcasts  on June 2, 2014 at 6:07 AM

[…] with other people’s tunes. Prosumer (born Achim Brandenburg) was one of the first artists I interviewed for LWE and is someone whose career we’ve followed closely ever since. We recently caught up during […]

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