This is the second part of a two-part interview. Click here to read the first part.
How do you fit in improvisation in live performance? Do you think there’s more scope for improvisation in DJing than in the live set?
In general, in electronic music, there’s not that much room for improvisation. Some people go onstage just with drum machines and start from zero, but I don’t think that really goes deep enough.
I’m still searching for a way somewhere in the middle. My live set is completely divided into loops, and I can do whatever I want with them, but most of the time I end up doing the same thing because it just works.
I think also, I’m not a good enough musician to improvise onstage. I hope that changes with my band, who are really good musicians.
But then for Moderat, we always played the same set because of the visuals. But sometimes we would play a song for four minutes, and sometimes it would go on for eight minutes, so there’s definitely some kind of improvisation. Not in a jazzy, crazy way, but it’s definitely necessary to have some freedom.
The Moderat sets are pretty firmly divided into specific songs.
That was our choice. We wanted to do something more like a concert, more like a presentation.
And is that what the new Apparat set is going to be like?
Pretty much. The record is mostly mellow. It’s not really possible to have transitions. It’s going to be pretty old school. We’ll play a song, and then people will clap or boo.
Is Raz Ohara still playing with you?
No, he’s not. Raz is an amazing guy, and I had such a fun tour with him. But now it’s only me singing on the record. And I think maybe it should be focused on one singer. I don’t want to be like the crazy band leader guy, but the concept right now is that it’s me, I mostly sing, then it’s a band of new people.
One of the guys, his name is PT, he helped me produce the record. He is a very gifted musician, he can play every instrument. He helped me make the album a bit more musical. Because I approached it in an electronic way, like cutting patterns. But he came at it like, ‘No, fuck this,’ and started cutting stuff off the grid and so on. And I was like, ‘Oh god he’s destroying it!’ But in the end it’s about what you hear, not about what you see.
So is this a collaboration, or is this your record?
Well it still feels like it’s my record because this is the first time that I’ve made a completely song-based record. I wrote this music mostly at home on the piano, or the synth, or whatever. This is the first record I could reproduce even if I lose the harddrive – because I still have the idea in my head.
With electronic music it’s really hard, because you have to reprogramme everything and it’s all about the sounds. But this time it’s songs. I came into the studio with songs already arranged. Of course I’m really happy to have found PT and to have the band, but in spirit it still feels like my songs because they happened in my head, then we went to the studio and formed them.
So Apparat is still you; it’s not ‘Apparat the band.’
I think it’s always going to be my project. But I also really like the idea of having a band that I stick to, and we grow together. I want a community feeling on tour. Who knows, maybe the next record is completely a band album, and them I’m just a part of Apparat. It’s all about development and change at the minute, so who knows, maybe that’s where it leads.
Where did you find this PT?
My manager connected me with him. He’s a guy from Berlin. He’s mostly in the German independent scene. He has a big studio, and big German bands record there. So he’s like a real musician, on the other side of the musical world. And it’s really cool to meet in the middle.
Is Berlin still dominated by minimal techno?
We just talked about that today. I told my video guy that a few months ago I had this moment where I realised, maybe this one chapter of my life is over. For me, the last chapter was moving to Berlin like ten or eleven years ago. The city was really rough, lots of gaps between the buildings, then there were random bars. That’s mostly disappeared, maybe in the last three years. But I finally realised it’s gone like two months ago. This isn’t the Berlin I found when I moved there.
That’s the normal way of things. It happens to every scene or city. Gentrification.
Are things moving to other parts of Berlin, or are they just vanishing?
They definitely move to other parts, but this freedom, the gaps where people would just open a bar for summer, even without a license and nobody gave a fuck – this has gone, it’s disappeared. And this is a shame.
Also, Berlin isn’t like London. London is a giant city, lots of districts, really spread out. But in Berlin you can still walk from one side to the other.
Lots of cool people move to Berlin – artists, creative people. But also, particularly in the area I live in, now you have all these happy families. And they’re not people who moved to Berlin eight years ago, had a child, grew up. It’s people moving into the safe areas of Berlin – but then it’s like, ‘Oh no, it’s too loud, call the police, the club must close.’ And this shit happens too often. It’s narrow minded.
Of course, you can drink beer on the street, there’s no curfew, but somehow the freedom vanishes.
Is that reflected in German politics?
Not really. It’s not the politicians’ fault. They came and they didn’t change shit. They tried to ban smoking but it didn’t work. They had no money to send people to check, so after a couple of years the clubs started putting ashtrays back on the bar.
I don’t blame the politicians. It’s just a natural development, because for some reason too many people of the wrong kind move to a certain area and destroy it.
Do those scenes still exist in other German cities? Did they ever?
Not really. There are some people in Hamburg, and there is stuff happening even in Munich, which is a really uptight city. There is some kind of techno scene, but it’s always been different. These are all West German cities, and you couldn’t really have a club in a random location. The police would shut that down.
But the Berlin thing, the illegal party scene, that was unique. And I say ‘was’ because it’s gone, it doesn’t exist anymore.
In a live setting, which do you prefer now – the DJ KiCKS style shows, or the band shows?
Man, it’s all about the contrast. It’s completely different. We just talked about the Moderat tour – it was really great, but for two years we did the same thing, and it was mostly electronic. And this is the reason that now, I chose to release a record that isn’t electronic, and we’re going to play it in a new context. I just need to entertain myself, and change things from time to time.
Also, now I’m kind of fed up with the club thing. I’ve been doing it for so long. I’m always saying, ‘It’s over! I’m just doing the band thing!’ Who knows, maybe in three years I’ll be back in clubs. But for the first time in my life I really feel like I have a major plan. I know I’ve done the record, I’m going to tour with the band for quite a while.
And in the meantime we’ve already started a new Moderat record. We have two very good tracks already. So maybe we go to Mexico and work on the Moderat record. At some point Moderat will come back from the dead, but it will look totally different and sound totally different. I’m not a fan of repeating. Repetition is a basic element of electronic music, but maybe not of an electronic music career.
I watched an interview you gave in Teufelsberg, and you were saying that your manager had told you that you needed to find something else – something that wasn’t music.
Yeah, some balance. I do some yoga. It’s so good! I’m such a nervous character, and the whole fucking nightlife thing wears you out. Then yoga is such a contrast. Again, it’s a contrast. It’s so quiet, and you have to be slow and concentrate on things.
And also, it has this little spiritual element, which I never thought I’d be able to get into. I thought it was just hippy shit. But I got into it somehow. When I was in Thailand I went to a yoga teacher every two days.
Maybe it depends on the teacher too, I guess. I just try to open up and understand, even if it doesn’t make sense initially, I think, OK, let’s trust this guy. And I did that with great results. It makes me feel better.
Do you still do any graphic design?
No. It was my job. I moved to Berlin and became a graphic designer. Then I did that and music at the same time, but at some point you have to decide. And I think I made the right decision, even though now my life is only music.
In some ways though, that work was more rewarding because you do the work, then someone takes it away from you and it’s done. But in the studio, nothing is ever finished. You just give up on something.