Thanks to the wonders of Skype, here are the guys in Prosumer’s Berlin flat during the interview.
In part two of our conversation, Achim and Murat talk about their influences, the future of vinyl, and that geil gay crowd.
“What Makes You Go For It” was one of my favorite songs of last year. Can you tell me a little bit about how it came about?
Murat: That was the first time I played at Panoramabar — that was 2005, I won’t forget that. I made the EP on the Playhouse label and they invited us to play there live. I was so flashed by the place, by the crowd. And when I got back home I was like, “OK, I have to fix this moment somehow,” and I recorded the instrumental track and I introduced it to Achim.
Achim: It’s a Berghain track. You haven’t been there?
No, not yet.
Achim: It’s a very intense place, it’s very sexual place, it’s a very free place, which can be great, but can be totally intimidating. There are days when I go there and it’s the perfect place to be and there are days when I go there and I have to leave after half an hour. It happens rarely, but I think “I’m not really happy with myself tonight,” so this place can be very intimidating and show the dark side.
Murat: For me, this track has so many parts. It has some roughness, some hard parts, some romantic parts with the melodies and the backgrounds. That was Panoramabar for me.
Achim: For me it really reflects some nights in Berlin. You go out and you enjoy the attention you get. Sometimes you think, “I’m the hot guy, all the guys go for me,” but sometimes it leaves this shallow feeling. I’ve had dates with guys where I felt really empty afterwards. They just project something onto me, it’s not about me, and that’s what I tried to capture in the vocals.
Murat: It wouldn’t have been the same without the vocals for me. I was so happy when Michael from Ostgut said, “Let’s do it.” The track was already existing for one year.
Achim: We had a rough mix of it, but I did the vocals and didn’t record them right away, so I tried to record them in a very theoretical mood and it wasn’t right. It took a while for me to recapture the same emotion. It felt like giving back something to [Panoramabar/Berghain]. Personally, I’ve had so many great nights there. DJing there has given me so much confidence. I cry a lot while DJing there ‘cuz it’s so great.
So I gather that you, Achim, are gay. Are you gay as well, Murat?
Murat: Yes, I am.
OK, that makes this next question a little easier to ask. In America, my experience is that techno and house really have no role in the gay club scene. I was curious how you felt they fit into the gay scene in Germany, or maybe Berlin’s in particular.
Murat: Well I live in Cologne, so that’s totally different. I’m only here once every few months or so, but I used to be here every month.
Achim: I’m sick of the gays always being the ones who have the “good taste in music, ha ha.” Most gays [here] spend their days listening to the ABBA music or stuff like that. The same goes for Berlin in most parts of the gay district you have Madonna or ABBA playing constantly or you have this porn dance stuff, this pumping dance sound with no soul which goes perfectly as a background for a porn movie. It’s not that the gay scene in Berlin is one big, great influence on music, but if you take Berghain, Berghain started through gay sex parties. They still have the basement where they do sex parties four nights a week, they have the Snakes party where only men can enter and it’s all about sex. I think it effects the kind of audience goes there, the people who are very tight and stiff with themselves won’t go – a straight audience.
Murat: Besides the sex parties… on normal days.
Achim: You have an audience which is more open minded. At Berghain, most people running the club and working there and most DJs are gay. It’s not planned like that, these people just come together and being like a family.
Murat: I’d say it’s more 50/50.
Achim: Mmm, for Panoramabar upstairs the percentage of gay DJs is bigger. Downstairs at the techno floor it’s more straight. It has to do with the music, because the people running it, especially Michael, they’re really music lovers. They could have just made stupid gay parties and not care about the music at all. But they’re music lovers, so they mixed it. Berghain could do safer booking with bigger names, but they don’t.
Murat: Music comes first at this place and that what I love about it. It doesn’t matter what they play, the sound is so great there.
Achim: You enter the place and right away you know where the focus is. It’s
definitely not standing at the bar and being fabulous, it’s being on the dance floor.
So let’s switch gears for a bit. Who are some of your musical heroes?
Achim: For me it’s Prescription: Ron Trent, Abacus and releases on Balance. Prescription and Balance were the first two labels where I bought everything. I was really thirsty for new releases like that. Also, Relief from about the same time. Producers like Boo Williams and then discovering the earlier stuff, definitely like Mr. Fingers, Marshall Jefferson. His track with Kym Mazelle, “Taste My Love,” the first time I heard that I was really amazed. I really like Blake Baxter. Some Detroit guys I really go for.
Murat: For me, I don’t have specific producers because I listen to a lot of stuff, both hip-hop and house, there’s a lot to mention. There’s not one superhero. I always discover new old stuff, it’s always afterwards that it’s influencing me. A lot of hip-hop and new jack swing stuff meant a lot to me, in the late 80’s a lot of Soul 2 Soul and Diva. That was really my time, I listened to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest. That were my big influences, very funky, groovy stuff. Of course I also love the guys that Achim mentioned, but that was later and not really a part of my influences – not the roots. I also listen to a lot of Turkish stuff you wouldn’t know *laughs* so I won’t start talking about that, but it was also a big influence.
What contemporary artists do you admire?
Achim: To talk about Cassy now would be really obvious. We really love her. It’s hard to separate [the music] from the person. If you ever see her performing live, you will never be able to separate her music from the way she moves. It’s really worth it. She has this really subtle back and forth, very slow movements, very sexy, very groovy – I love it. I’m busy dancing when she DJs, but I could as well stand there and enjoy watching her. I really like this producer called Stephan Laubner, he’s releasing the name STL on his label called Something, I really like that. There’s this Italian guy called Lerosa in Dublin, I guess, he released on Real Soon and Enclave Recordings.
Murat: For me I only know Cassy well. I don’t know a lot of producers personally, a lot of producers don’t know me because I don’t have many releases. I’m not really into the scene because I have another job [as a surgeon], so making music is my part time job. But I know Cassy and I really love her.
Achim Brandenburg, the main Prosumer, belts it out live.
Based on Achim’s charts and your music in general, American dance music seems quite important to you two. And yet it seems like a lot of America is “over” dance music, especially in Chicago where being into house and techno is surprisingly rare. Why do you think this style still holds so much appeal in Europe/Germany while it dies out in its homeland?
Murat: A lot of people tell us this, especially about Chicago. They say, “You’re interested in Chicago music but you’ve never been there. There’s nothing there.” Of course I still want to come over and see that all. Of course it’s not ’85-86, it’s 2008, that’s also what counts. In Europe, electronic music has been huge for the last 15 years, it’s grown so much. My influences are of course the 80’s, those were the years that I grew up, especially the late 80’s.
Achim: For a lot of people electronic/dance music goes hand in hand with a party scene. I think it has a lot to do with that. If you look at Europe, Berlin is usually considered the party capitol nowadays. The reason is, in Berlin you can get away with so much stuff you can’t do in other cities. Berlin is really cheap in a lot of aspects, rents are low, to afford your basic stuff every day is easily done, so it’s easy to run a club.
I was doing an illegal club with some friends for some months. The first time the police came by we were so scared, we said, “Ahh! We’re going to jail,” it was obvious we were doing an illegal club there. They just said, “We had some complaints from a neighbor saying his pictures were falling from the walls, but now we hear what’s going on here so he must be exaggerating. We just have to show up here.” One of them gave us his business card with his contact and said, “If you have any problem with drug dealing here, let us know.” That was some years ago, but it’s still about the same vibe. You have authorities respecting and leaving alone a subculture. So we have a broad basis of things going on and it’s easy to get a license to open a club.
If you compare Berlin to New York, for many people for so many years New York has been the city, and now so many people move to Berlin from New York. If you look at what’s going on in New York, people are not allowed to dance, you have to have a license for people to dance – that’s killing a lot. I don’t know about cities like Chicago, but that’s one approach to explain why it’s like that. It’s very difficult for party organizers to just do something and here it’s very easy.
Murat: You have to have the opportunity to have a subculture, and if you don’t let people party, you don’t have a subculture.
As technology grows more advanced, the requirements for producing electronic music have shrunken dramatically. Some artists and critics have bemoaned this “over-democratization” of producing. How do you feel about these advancements?
Murat: We all have to try harder now!
Achim: Democratization is never something bad. I’m definitely not complaining about everyone having access to the production tools which are becoming the standard nowadays. New techniques, new devices, new programs, in the beginning when they come out a lot of people tend to use them blindly. A program like Ableton Live offers you so many possibilities and you can make a track from scratch and it all sounds very professional and impressive, but it offers you too much. You lose yourself in the options the program gives you, that’s more the problem, in my opinion. People tend to use it blindly and tend not to do something that has to do with themselves [and instead] tend to copy current production styles. It’s great when everybody can have access to stuff. It would be great if everyone would have 808s, it’s so much fun to play with it.
Murat: There’s a lot of fault in the music industry. People do have a lot of output nowadays, everybody can do music, everybody has this output, everyone makes releases and labels. You don’t know what anybody is doing. The music industry pushes the artist, saying, “You have to do a release because nobody will remember you, talk about you half a year later if you don’t do a release.” The artists are very pushed by the music industry. That’s what I like when we do music. Michael of Ostgut asked us if we wanted to do an album and of course we wanted to do that. We collected our ideas from all the years and we put it together and we did this album. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I’m not thinking about the next months to having this and this output.
Achim: The original contracts we were given from Playhouse included having to deliver them new tracks within a period of six months so they could have a follow up release. Both of never signed this contract because it’s…. Hello, I’m making music, what do you want from me? The problem that the music industry, especially the vinyl industry has at the moment, I don’t think it’s based in the people making the music, it’s based in the music industry. They’re all complaining about how bad everything is going. I mean, it is very bad and it makes me very sad that so little vinyl is sold nowadays and that so many tracks are just downloaded illegally. But they were over-professionalizing a lot, “We can do more, we can do more,” there’s so many labels… it’s just too much output. Nobody can follow that, so the market must collapse.
Murat: I never treated music when I was young like I do nowadays, and that’s what I really worry about. When I used to buy a CD, I remember my first CD was a De La Soul album and I listened to that record every day – every day for a fucking half a year. I wouldn’t do that nowadays. I treated music different in those days. It’s like everyone downloads it, listens to 10 seconds and then throws it away.
Achim: I think nowadays you are just trained more and more just to consume music. The aspect of valuing music definitely is fading. If you have a file you download from Beatport or something similar, you just have a name and an artist. It’s something very virtual somewhere on your computer. It doesn’t come with a package, it doesn’t come with any information; with a lot of tracks people have no idea who the actual producers were. So many techno artists don’t do shit, they have people producing it [for them] and the people buying it don’t even know about it because they read the small print on the record anymore. It’s just for blindly consuming, that’s what it’s made for. That’s why it’s so important for us to include – like with “What Makes You Go For It,” we were so happy when we found the artwork of Gaia [Zebellin] which became the artwork for the single because it fit perfectly. It’s important for us to find something we can link to our music.
Murat Tepeli’s smile lights up the room.
What do you think the industry can do to keep vinyl relevant for the mp3 generation? Is there anything it can do?
Achim: I don’t know if you heard about it in the States, about the Pro Vinyl Alliance?
Achim: All the German distributors got together and said, we don’t want to turn back the hands of time and mp3 is a reality, so we’re earning money from that. But vinyl comes with a package, usually you buy it at a record shop, you get a musical education and a social background, that’s why they really want to save vinyl, because it comes with all of that. They tried to figure out solutions to save the vinyl and they decided that all stuff from labels which joined this alliance the vinyl release is always two weeks before the digital release so it’s equal chances for a record shop and the mp3 websites. It’s really putting money and love in the artwork again. If I see a record with artwork that I love and I can feel the paint, smell the paint, I love that. I go for that immediately. Putting the focus on making something unique again and not just a mass product.
When it comes to DJing, what’s more important: the quality of the set or the set-up itself? That is, does the way a person DJs (laptop v. vinyl v. Serato et al.) impact how you feel about their set?
Achim: If I see somebody setting up Final Scratch, Serato, whatever, to be honest, I’m always suspicious. That reputation is definitely earned by people like Troy Pierce or somebody like that. It doesn’t do the job to me. I’ve heard people play with mp3 and it was a great set [even though] I was very anti-it. People who say they want to fully express themselves and it works better that way, if that’s how they feel that and I can hear it in the sound, I’m totally fine with it. There are DJs who do a good job and I can see they’re busy putting effects on it and stuff like that, I can see the point. I saw Claude Young DJ years and years ago and he was magic with vinyl. He was playing with three decks and it was amazing. I heard him not too long ago when he was doing a digital set and all the magic was gone. If the only reason you to do the mp3 set up is to save luggage, to be more healthy to your back then I have a hard time accepting it. If people put more into the set then I’m totally pro.
Murat: In my opinion it’s actually bullshit. I don’t mind what anybody is playing as long as it’s a really good set which pushes me. I am suspicious because of the way we treat mp3s nowadays. If I see someone is worrying about and collecting vinyl, he treats his music in a different way and that’s what counts.
Achim: You often get mp3 DJs who play really disposable, exchangeable music.
Murat: It’s very subjective to say someone has to push me and make me feel like dancing, but the DJ has to have a personality.
Achim: I have heard people expressing personality through mp3 set ups. If that comes across I like it. DJing with vinyl is always a challenge because something can go wrong.
The reason I ask is because I DJ with Traktor. Not because I don’t want to DJ with vinyl, but because it’s incredibly expensive for me to buy singles at $10-12 a pop, and I’m not willing to drop a couple grand just to have the opportunity. It’s also increasingly difficult to find stuff. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Murat: I can understand that.
Achim: You’re definitely right. If you go to places like Mexico, they have a luxury tax of I think 60% on top of vinyl, so you have to pay for shipping it plus the tax. If they all go for digital, I can totally understand it. Living here where they have the access to a lot of music for a decent price on vinyl I don’t see the point that much.
What can we expect from you two in 2008 and beyond?
Murat: We’re definitely going to tour and we’re going to release a 12″ with some remixes from the album. We don’t have a deadline now.
Achim: We do.
Murat: We did! *laughs*
Achim: We had one, we have a new one which is months later which feels much more relaxing. Now we’re going to play some live shows. My DJ schedule is busy. I hope we will make it to the States this year, it looks good, but it looked several times before. Till I have a signed contract I’m not going to be too excited about it. Going to Chicago would be… wow.
Well, don’t get your expectations too high. The audiences here…
Murat: Yeah, everyone is telling us this.
Achim: But I heard there’s still shops where you can find records you would never have a chance to get here.
Definitely a lot of dusty Chicago house records here, that much is true.
Achim: We’re coming to dust them all off!