Following our in-depth feature in October 2014, in which Stefan Goldmann discusses his album “Industry” in-depth with Olivier Lamm of The Drone, we got back in touch with the Berlin based producer to discuss his bi-monthly column for Berghain’s flyer-zine and forthcoming conversations with Carsten Nicolai, which will feature in Berghain’s 10 year anniversary book. Stefan also shares details about new releases from KiNK and Elektro Guzzi on Macro, and discusses his “Remasters” series on sub-label Victoriaville.
Hi Stefan thanks for recording your mix for Inverted Audio, can you tell me more about it, the atmosphere you’ve created, the tracks you’ve included, where and how was it recorded?
Some time ago we had a floor at a club in Berlin called Wilde Renate to run and I was supposed to spin all night with two friends. In Berlin, this can easily mean 12 – 14 hours. One had played a long gig the night before and dropped out around the middle of it, so two of us remained. At some point while I was on, I took the tempo down to 120 or 118 and began playing these sparse, yet heavy techno tracks: DVS1, some old Jens Zimmermann, Robert Hood, a few bits of early Cristian Vogel – I was constantly hitting the far low end on the pitch scale of the turntables. A lot of that stuff is pretty fast, but taking the tempo out put it in a very different perspective.
Monomaniacal mixes are quite an untypical for myself, but the music, the crowd, everything was totally in sync. Everything made total sense right then. My other DJ friend refused to take over and kept dancing, so I ended up playing for seven hours.
I’m not Villalobos, you know – it’s probably the longest I have ever played. I wanted to capture the spirit of this mix here; I just raised the tempo a little bit and made it a bit more diverse. It’s still comfortably slow and straightforward to get the idea across. I play out a lot of techno, but I’m also aware that most of my mixes online are made with the idea in mind that people listen to these at home or on their phones. So it was about time to get a proper techno mix out too. I recorded it at home.
What have you been up to over the past few months?
Most of January I locked myself in the studio to produce as much as I could, since I’ll be working on some very time-consuming projects throughout the rest of the year that are not exactly dance-related. I wanted to have new tracks to play out and release in the meantime.
For the last couple of weeks I have been working on some texts though. One is on the aesthetics of techno and quite flattering for Jeff Mills and Robert Hood: I believe somewhere in there I compared their particular explorations of the charms of FM synthesis to the discovery of central perspective by the artists of the Renaissance (not the label, mind you – the 15th century revolutions in art).
I read your bi-monthly (January 2015) column for Berghain. What’s the basis of these stories, random thoughts or explicit facts?
There is no such thing as a fact. But there are explanations that are better than others. That’s the closest we can get to anything. Because we can’t ever know anything beyond doubt – do we exist? Do others exist? How much does our perception bend things, and how much does it deviate from that of others? Do we mean the same thing when we use the same word? I mean, just talking to me you take a bet that I probably do exist. I could be just a bot with some text recognition skills. You could be a bot. All of these things you can’t possibly know beyond doubt.
There is a field of ideas surrounding techno, the club, our social position, and I look out for the best explanations, the best heuristics, making these ideas manageable. Usually people talk about techno and clubs in simple narrative fashion (“… and the Juan Atkins said to Derrick May…”), with introducing some clever metaphors or analogies at best. I’m not a fan of that – I’m rather trying to identify principles why things might be happening in a certain way instead of another.
Do you know this feeling of how you sometimes find an explanation for something and it makes you feel good that you gained a particular insight into the workings of the world? Most such explanations don’t really affect the courses of our lives in any meaningful way, yet we still appreciate them. It’s probably something similar to this: it has repeatedly been shown that you can walk up to random people and make them comply with things just by offering a reason for your request.
If you say, “May I use the copier before you?” you’ll probably just hear “fuck off!” But if you add, “It’s BECAUSE I need to copy something“, you’ll get through with it significantly more often, while anybody queuing there needs to copy something. We just love getting reasons.
This doesn’t work with skipping the line at Berghain though because all the bouncers hear all night are reasons: It’s my birthday, I came all the way from Melbourne, my friend is in there, I am famous you aren’t, I’m really drunk right know and can’t possibly walk home … So you read the column, and go “so the spread of techno into US-mainstream is related to a principle that had people refer to naval clocks as a model of the universe in the 16th century.” This doesn’t give you shit, but still you appreciate being supplied with a reason for stuff whose defining forces are totally in the dark most of the time.
It’s quite interesting to see how much tolerance people will have at reading this kind of stuff – I mean, at the end of the day this is a club where people tend to be in a “state”, not a university class in cognitive psychology.
When I arrive at the club, usually the bouncers are the people who recognize me and are pretty cheerful when they see me. I haven’t asked them, but my guess is that there are odd hours when nobody is queuing and then they read the flyers to kill the boredom. So I guess I’m doing my job. OK, sometimes I just tell a story too, so there’s no hard guideline.
How did this column writing for Berghain begin? Was it a case of playing there and then being approached by the organisers to write a column?
Sort of. I began playing at Berghain back in 2005 I believe. When I was looking for a way to present an experimental project I was about to release in 2008, I found that the owners were quite interested in expanding the scope of events in that place. This is how the more experimental Thursday night events began. On the first such night we had Ricardo Villalobos and Mika Vainio, and the only rule was there’d be no 4 / 4 bass drum. I had also written some pieces for Little White Earbud’s, and I guess they thought I might be the guy for the job who wouldn’t just write bullshit about how great the place is and how wasted everybody is.
“Berghain 10” isn’t really a book about the club, but more specifically a catalogue book of last year’s art exhibition “10” that took place there. Carsten had a piece in the show, so that’s the reason why he is featured in the book. I was doing another book about Presets last year (it’s coming out in April 2015), looking into the question of to what degree presets and the design of music technology define the music we get.
I interviewed people like Robert Henke and Native Instruments’ Mike Daliot for it. Carsten is very interested in technology, in the influence of gear beyond just creating music, and most of his work has this tech-aspect to them so it made total sense to talk about these things to him too. The editors appreciated a broader view rather than just texts on the particular works of art, so we spoke about his whole attitude to creating music and art. It’s really rather a straightforward interview where I keep asking questions and Carsten supplies the answers.
Following the release of your album ‘Industry’ have you been back in the studio, meddling with presets, or have you had time to work on new projects and writings?
Working with presets was so much fun, such a liberation. For most of my time as a producer I almost felt guilty if I used anything that could be anybody else’s effort. I’d use the most obscure samples, I’d make simple patches even more complex… this dogma of individualized sound is so instilled in the culture of this music that many people forget to make music over sound design.
OK, nowadays presets are so ubiquitous and it got more accepted – maybe because people are running out of ideas and try to replicate old ideas instead anyway. But when I began producing people who were fed up with presets – you couldn’t act like being in Chicago ’87 anymore and just flexing cheesy chords on an M1 piano preset. Still, after the album I was kind of done with it and wanted to do something that is totally anti-preset. I tried to question all the “presets of the mind” – do these keys have to be in tune like this? Does the reverb need to come after the sound that goes through it? That kind of stuff, doing sound research.
How’s your label Macro coming along? Do you have any forthcoming releases or new artists in the pipeline?
Yes we do. We have a 12″ where KiNK and Elektro Guzzi remix each other. Both are really great live acts in very different ways, and both have very smart real-time approaches at creating very dynamic tracks. We figured it needed to happen that these guys rework each other – and I believe the results are pretty stunning.
We also have an Elektro Guzzi CD release after this as well and new 12″es by some of the people who release for us. You know, our roster is pretty small. We prefer to work closely with a few artists instead of scattering our attention across lots of one-offs. So you’ll be seeing the same names again, since we pretty much select the people with whom we work by the likeliness of their future output to be continuously engaging and relevant.
Still, every now and then some truly great demos come in and thus we’ll be adding new names to the roster. Last year we added L’estasi Dell’oro and Anno Stamm, and right now I’m very excited about a new band we found. We are very interested in good live acts, and this band is special as they pretty much invert the usual electronic music-based extended live act (electronic foundation, added voice or instruments): they perform the rhythm section, but add vocals cut up by an MPC.
As well as Macro you release records through ‘Victoriaville’ – Is this a sub-label of yours as well?
Yes, I had to create Victoriaville to release a track whose legal status was a bit uncertain. It was a track of mine and a label had paid an advance for it, but it was obvious they wouldn’t release it because it was linked to a specific B-side by somebody else, and I knew for a fact that that B-side would never happen. Once I had the label installed, I saw it as an opportunity to re-issue some of my early tracks since my original contracts had expired and I was holding the rights to all of my music again. This is how the “Remasters” series came into being and some unreleased early stuff too. Gradually I’ve been opening the label to artists who do great stuff that doesn’t fit on Macro though. Like the Môme record for instance.
Do you keep your eyes peeled for new talent much these days? Who’s productions do you admire at the moment?
Oh yes. And usually we try to release these people on Macro. I really like people who have a pretty idiosyncratic sound and a vision – where it’s more than just good tracks: good for a reason. L’estasi Dell’oro is such a producer. I’d like to keep the names of new discoveries, which we are about to sign to myself though.
What’s your number 1 remix of all time?
This is a pretty hard one. I have the feeling that the era where remix culture was at its pinnacle is somewhat over. It just doesn’t have the same weight anymore. Ten years ago everybody would go nuts when a new Carl Craig remix came out, but now there’s nobody enjoying this level of influence anymore.
One might guess that “democratization” has somewhat limited the peaks, the individual standout remixes, because people just scatter their attention across too many releases. But people seem to more often agree on certain original tracks than on remixes – that’s something I believe to notice.
So I’d say my number one favourite remix didn’t happen within the last two or three years. If I look at my record collection, I was very fond of the remixes a drum’n’bass guy named Matrix did between 1998 and 2000. His stuff was really pushing the envelope then – unfortunately drum’n’bass took a bad turn soon after and I feel it lost its incredible drive to innovation that had made the genre so attractive between 1996 and 2000. It’s very hard to single out a particular Matrix remix though.
I also really love Mad Professor’s remix album for Massive Attack. Within house and techno, obviously Carl Craig has quite a few under his belt… From a DJ’s perspective, the one I play out the most is probably Pépé Bradock’s remix of Candi Staton. Especially in smaller clubs there will always be a moment where this is the only right thing to play. There is this super small club in Tokyo, which I really love: Bar Bonobo. This is the one record I will play there each and every time. For big rooms, DVS1’s remix for Joris Voorn is a more recent favourite.
If you could change one thing in the universe, what would you do?
I would double hydrogen’s atomic weight.
Finally, do you have any words of wisdom or warning that you’d like to share?
Never, ever attempt to mess with hydrogen’s atomic weight.
Berghain 10 is available to preorder via Amazon. We also suggest you read our in-depth feature with Stefan named “Stefan Goldmann discusses Industry, presets and the democratization of electronic music“.Stefan GoldmannMacroTechno