Originally from Moscow, Area Boy AKA Michail Stangl is both a long-time member of the crew around the infamous Dense Records store in Berlin and one of the minds behind Leisure System, the legendary resident party for state-of-the-art music at Berghain. His sets are eclectic and well-picked oddities, constantly moving on the edge between subtle experimentation and eclectic insights into bass-driven dance music.
Area Boy’s mix takes us through an ominous rhythmic journey of dark undertones and loops. Featuring tracks from Tim Hecker, Alva Noto, Plastikman, Scuba, Seefeel, Surgeon, Tommy Four Seven, Robert Hood as well as a forthcoming Lando Kal track on Leisure System, this is an extensive and intricate mix for the Berghain inclined. Tabea Mathern kindly provided the mix artwork.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell us what you’re currently up to?
My name is Michail Stangl, I’m a promoter and music addict currently residing in Berlin. I was born in Moscow and grew up in some pretty exotic places, like the border region of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, but moved with my family to the most rural area of Germany in 1991. I’m currently organising and promoting a couple of regular and one-off nights in Berlin, mostly somewhere in the field of electronic dance music.
Over the years artists like Oni Ayhun, Modeselektor Frank Bretschneider, Africa Hitech, Cylob, Drumcorps, Blue Daisy, Ikonika, Kuedo, Dälek, Addison Groove and even Moby played at those shows, to name only a few. I’m also part of the Leisure System crew, where I’m mainly responsible for the label we are opening up.
I also run a tiny label called Contortion Records with my friend Hecq. You might have seen the (quite successful) video that was made for “Spheres of Fury”, our first release. I also DJ quite a lot. Music’s been a hobby of mine all my life, however now it’s turning into my main profession, which will hopefully not sap out the love and the passion I have for it.
What’s your musical background? Did you grow up surrounded by music?
I must admit that I’m a late bloomer, when it comes to music that I’m involved with nowadays. I grew up in a environment that made the acquisition and discovery of new music quite hard. There were no real record-stores or radio-shows and most of the other kids in my city were either into hippie music, hip-hop or metal.
I still cringe, when I hear Cat Stevens on the radio or long-haired girls singing Beatles in unison. I remember, that when I saw Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy” on MTV the first time, it took about three months until I was actually able to hold the EP in my hands, which was a tape, made by a friend’s older sister, who lived in Cologne. When I was about 14/15 years old, I got by (a lucky) accident in touch with extreme electronic music, such as Power Electronics and Industrial, which turned my perception of what music can be and what physical and emotional impact it can have.
Later on I had the same experience when I saw Coil playing live for the first time, which was the most important and mind-changing musical experience I’ve ever had. I explored this whole world of conceptual and experimental music first, before I got in touch with Drum n’ Bass, IDM and Breakcore. I got interested in dance music quite late, not before I moved to Berlin, even then it took me a couple of years until I began to understand the mechanics and inner workings of 4 X 4-music.
What was it like growing up listening to music in Moscow, Russia? How did you get your hands on new records and American beats?
To be honest, the only memory of music I have from my time in Russia is, besides some pretty catchy tunes from the Russian version of “Winnie the Poo”, Joe D’assin, a French crooner, who was incredibly successful in Russia in the 70s, and Modern Talking. The first time I heard music and consciously knew, that it was from outside Russia was, when “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” was first shown in 1990.
You’re part of the Leisure System family, can you please expand on this and tell us about your role behind it.
Leisure System is a resident night at Berghain, which takes place every three months. It was founded in 2008 by Ned Beckett (DJ N>E>D, who is also runs the the LittleBig booking agency) and Sam Barker (aka Voltek). Leisure System is a party for forward-thinking dance music, standing on one hand in the tradition of what Reynolds described as the ”Hardcore Continuum”, the (inevitable) influence of Detroit and Chicago and the experimental sounds that emerged from everything that happened right and left of that over the last 25 or so years.
A big part of Leisure System is about adding some kind of fresh and new sound to break with the “dance-floor habits” of our audience. Not because it’s some kind of sensation mongering or the search for the “next big thing”, but rather because a lot of the music we refer to was ground braking and changed the perception of what was aesthetically possible until then.
My first involvement with the night was, and still is, being a huge fan boy. Seeing artists like Clark, Richard Devine, Otto Von Schirach and Surgeon at Berghain was the party I’ve always been dreaming about, but have never been able to find, simply because there was nothing comparable in Germany until then. Sure, there were other great parties with comparable line-ups (especially the nights that were run by the RockPaperScissor crew), but nothing came close to the energy you could witness, when attending one of the Leisure System nights (and everyone who has ever been inside Berghain at a party, where the music meant a lot to him, surely knows the feeling I’m describing).
I joined the crew last year together with Peter Puzzle, simply after hearing about the plans to start the label and offering our help. But being part of it means being also responsible for everything that comes with running such a big night: Spreading flyers and posters, writing (a lot) of e-mails, making sure that the DJ has enough beer on stage and sometimes even playing at Berghain. But Leisure System is way more than that!
We also started our own radio show, which is hosted by Peter, broadcasted every first Wednesday of the month over at Hivemind.fm and we also began hosting a Leisure System night at Corsica Studios in London (the next one being 22. October), hopefully adding more events all over Europe in the coming months. Leisure System is in our eyes more like a network for like-minded artists. The label is more the cherry on top of it, giving us the chance of providing a platform for music, that we’d like to see being released.
You were also part of the Dense Record store crew. How did you get involved with Dense and what’s your most treasured memory from your time there?
I remember entering Dense Records for the first time. I was looking for the limited edition of the debut album of DJ Still (ex-member of Dälek), which I couldn’t find anywhere. At a club I was hanging out a lot back then (a place called the “Zentrale Randlage”, one of the victims of the gentrification-kraken, that recently also ate up another favorite venue of mine, “Maria am Ostbahnhof”) I heard, that there was this little record store, specialized on leftfield and strange music. So I went down to the place, opened the door and the first thing I saw were two large format oil-paintings of the “20 Jazz Funk Greats” by Throbbing Gristle and a Moondog record cover. And they even had two copies of that album and also a huge back stock of records I never thought to see with my own eyes or never knew that they existed. If you have any love for music how can you not fall in love with a place like that?
Dense Records is pure passion for music as a physical object, something that is rare to find anymore, unfortunately. Daniel (Reisser), one of the owners is not only one of the best DJs I have ever met, he has also a knowledge of music that never ceases to amaze (and frighten) me. Nicolas (Chevreux), the second owner runs a label, that was essential for my musical socialization, Ad Noiseam (which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary) and Thorsten (Lütz), one of the staff members runs Karaoke Kalk, a label that like no other managed to form a distinctive sound from Techno, Electronica and Krautrock, even bringing artists like Hauschka into our attention.
In the end I was hanging out so much at that place, that the boys thought that they could as well pay me for being there. I’d say that a record store is less work than more of a commitment. It’s a dying business model that needs a lot of enthusiasm, to be maintained. The problem is, that it’s not vinyl that is dying as a new format, but rather that the new generation of DJs and music listeners don’t go to record stores to explore new music. I’d say that maybe every 10th customer is younger than 24.
The most treasured memory is not particularly from the store, but from the store’s monthly party night, that we run together at a club called Chez Jacki. In January we had Byetone, Kangding Ray and Loops Haunt performing, it was freezing cold and snowing and my winter jacket got stolen just a few days before.. Kangding Ray slipped on his way to the venue, because it was snowing and icy and even though we tried to convince him to go home, he didn’t have any of it and insisted on playing the gig. He thought that his shoulder was dislocated and tried to relocate it with somebodies help, which not only looked horribly painful, but also didn’t work out, mostly because it was not dislocated but fractured twice. On top of that, somebody managed to snatch Loops Haunt’s laptop off the stage, but was luckily unlucky enough to run into me on his way out. Anyway, it was our most successful night, maxing out the venue’s capacity at 1am already, which is more than early for Berlin standards.
Who are your musical heroes and inspirations?
As I said earlier, one of the biggest influences for me were and still are Coil, which are sadly no more. “Musick to play in the Dark I + II” are amongst the most powerful, enigmatic and perfect albums ever recorded. I’m also a huge Current 93 fan, even though I’m having a hard time finding out what David Tibet sings about. I’m also incredibly inspired by Ben Frost and his extensive body of work, especially his last album “By the Throat”, which I think is the best album recorded in the last decade.
Generally speaking I take a lot of inspiration from intransigent music, music that doesn’t leave room for choice and works on a primal level, so that it’s either subtle or complex, it has to take over my conscience and has to challenge my artistic and aesthetical preconceptions.
I’m particularly fond of the following record labels: Raster-Noton, Miasmah, Night Slugs, Sandwell District, 50Weapons, Hymen, Ad Noiseam, Southern, Neurot, Detroit Underground, Subtext, Fonal, Svetlana, Modern Love, Auxiliary, Denovali, The end of all Existence, Objekt, only to name a few.
What’s your DJ history? Have you been into the same music since you began and what is your DJ set up?
I use a laptop with Ableton or Traktor, preferably combined it with an Allen & Heath Xone:92 mixer (I simply adore the filters on it!). Lately I added an APC40 to the setup and will most likely get an S4, after playing around with it a bit and being heavily impressed with it’s possibilities.
I slipped into DJing by accident. It started for me with dubstep around 2006, at a time, when not many people in Berlin were playing it. From the beginning I tried to add something new to my sets, mixing up genres and styles that I hadn’t heard mixed together before and by incorporating tools and techniques I knew from music production. I never oriented myself by A/B mixing, since I never had any connection to that. I wouldn’t say, that my taste changed, but my sets became way more nuanced and refined, mostly because I became more experienced over the years. One could say that it’s ironic, that both of the labels I’m involved with release vinyl, but not only that I do own a lot of the tracks I play out on vinyl myself, but I also think, that releasing something on vinyl is the most serious commitment you can make to the music you believe in, because you have to go through all the trouble it takes to create a physical object.
What was your inspiration behind your mix?
I have actually never released or recorded a public mix before, so I’m really curious about the feedback! I did a lot of mix tapes for friends, but those were mostly themed and quite personal, more like gifts than like a showcase of my “skills” as a DJ.
In the first half I tried to build up a bit of a narrative, going from really deep, almost threatening soundscapes over to slowly evolving and subtle changes in tonality and texture. The second half is a bit more reduced and focused on impelling music. Most of the tracks in the mix are edited in one way or the other, parts being exchanged or cut into place, looped or filtered and most of the time there are (at least) three tracks being played in parallel.
The initial inspiration for the mix was actually when I heard the incredibly emotional last track on Machinedrum’s new album, and knew, that it has to be the last track of the mix. I also knew, that I had to start with Hamlet Gonashvili, an album that I discovered last year and am overly obsessed with, it is available on Spotify, for the rest of the mix I’ve tried to make as coherent and interesting as possible.
What was it that brought you to Berlin? What would you say makes Berlin such a special place for electronic music?
Music brought me to Berlin! After looking for years through a really tiny (metaphorical) window on all the exciting things that were going on there, I had to go there! It’s one of the few places in the world, where both the cities history, socio-economic structure and infrastructure allow you to make things happen, that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else, even if your ideas are absurd and totally asinine.
It’s not like, that you can’t walk down the street without bumping into someone you always wanted to meet, but it’s definitely easier to make the right connections here, besides the fact that the city is full of an incredible amount of inspiring people. I guess, what makes Berlin so special is the fact, that it’s like an enclave for people, who wouldn’t be able to survive anywhere else. A lot of things have changed in the last years. Even though it is still significantly cheaper than the rest of Europe, it got way more expensive, than it used to be two or three years ago. So, before you move here, better make sure, that the things you do outside Berlin, finance you enough, because finding a job here can be quite tedious (Berlin is still one of the poorest cities in Germany, especially outside the Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg/Mitte hipster ghetto).
Leisure System hosted a night at Corsica Studio, London. What’s your history with London and what are your top 5 places / hot spots to go to in London?
My history with London is brief. I’ve been there a couple of times only. I find the city fascinating, because it combines a rich and fascinating history, with the threatening appearance of a Metropolis like my hometown Moscow and an inspiring special quality of living that Berlin has to offer. I definitely want to spend more time in London. To be honest, the only two places I always end up, when I’m in London is Forbidden Planet and Lock Tavern on Sundays, because they have amazing Sunday afternoon line-ups. This years plan is to make it to Boiler Room soon and to one of the Night Slugs parties! And maybe get a decent booking!
What do you envisage yourself to be doing in the next 5 years?
There is a quote by Brecht that impressed me a lot, when I was younger, and that describes it the best:
“A man, that hasn’t seen Mr. K for quite a while greeted him with the words: ‘You haven’t changed the slightest bit.’
‘Oh!’ said Mr. K and turned pale.“
Any words of wisdom you’d like to share?
“Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil”.
1. Hamlet Gonashvili – Orovela
2. Tim Hecker – Aerial Silver
3. Gjöll – Way through Zero, Part II
4. Alva Noto – u_08
5. Plastikman – Psyk
6. Anstam – Carmichael
7. eLan – Bleep Bloop Brrrrmmp (Byetone remix)
8. Scuba – Latch (Will Saul & Mike Monday remix)
9. SND – 05
10. Seefeel – Fracture
11. Scuba – Tracers (Deadbeat Remix)
12. Traversable Wormhole – Superluminal (Chris Liebing Remix)
13. Tommi Stumpff – Ich will gewinnen
14. Hecq – 0003
15. Bleak – Bold
16. Surgeon – Those who do not
17. Blawan – Kaz
18. Pluge – Duty to Work (CYP Remake)
19. O/V/R – Post-traumatic Son
20. Tommy Four Seven – Sevals
21. Robert Hood – Alpha (James Ruskin Remix)
22. Tessela – You give me something (edited loop)
23. Instra:Mental – 8 (edited loop)
24. I-F – I do because I couldn’t care less + Spiegelbeeld
25. Foreign Beggars – What’s good (ft. Lazer Sword)
26. Roel Funcken – Koortshond
27. Synkro – That Girl
28. Objekt – The Goose that got away
29. Faust & Dälek – Erratic thoughts
30. Ruckspin feat. J. Sparrow – Shikra
31. Phon.O – il62
32. Ghettozoid – Boy Toy
33. Quentec – My Safe Harbour (edited loop)
34. Knight Terrors – You think I Do (Forthcoming Leisure System)
35. Lando Kal – No half Steppin’ (forthcoming Leisure System)
36. Machine Drum – Machine Drum (Riveurs Enjienrd by Brothomstates)
37. Inigo Kennedy – The Shard
38. BNJMN – We are the Weather (Kelpe remix, edited loop)
39. Machinedrum – Where did we go wrong