My new album, Limited, is the first hybrid vinyl/7-inch/floppy-disk techno record. The concept behind it is to reduce data, ideas and file sizes to their absolute minimum in order to cope with limited and forgotten technologies like the floppy disk—and to make fun, kicking and pretty raw-sounding tracks out of these limitations. The floppy disk format is something I’m using extensively at the moment—even when DJing in a club! The tunes I generated with this special method aren’t minimal techno in the classic sense of the genre; they’re limited techno.
For me, techno was always related to technology in an almost scientific way. The first inspiration I ever got for a track was the experience of disassembling and reassembling a VHS-recorder as a kid, quickly switching channels on TV or radio or modding game consoles and altering the sound. I never got much inspiration from warehouse raves, beach parties or open-air festivals—but hey, I’m totally aware of the fact that most people listening to techno don’t have the same “technologic” approach that I do.
My first memories of holding physical music are actually more linked to video games than to recorded music. My parents bought me a Commodore C64 home computer when I was five years old, and I have fond memories of dozens of floppy disk games that I loved mainly for their soundtracks. It was often tedious work to get these games and the music to run; after typing several lines into a blue screen and long loading-times, I would finally be rewarded with a running program. Working on something and getting rewarded in the end when you see and hear something—that procedure still turns me on.
Later on, my dad introduced me to cassette tapes. He had some obscure acid house mixes in his car, all of which were pretty hissy and distorted. I loved the imperfect sound aesthetics and handwritten labels, like “BOOM, in your face house music!” or “Hard stuff 1988”. I wouldn’t say that I grew up in a very musical household—none of my family members were musicians—but my parents always encouraged me to dive deep into technology, synths and computers and the things I love. They let me be a nerd, and I’m really thankful for that.
Funnily enough, I was introduced to vinyl and CDs quite late in my teenage years and never developed a very deep emotional bond to these formats. Vinyl is a charming and amazing collector’s item that sounds awesome. But I never was a fan of CDs. I like formats that force you to put in some effort to get them to run, like floppies, cassettes and vinyl. The CD was always just too easy and trivial for me.
I was collecting floppy disks with games and music on them for a very long time before I ever entered a record store. Some I bought; others I shamelessly pirated with my friends. We downloaded a lot of data from the early incarnation of a brand-new thing called the internet. At beginning of the ’90s, when the internet was slow, ugly and mostly text-based, a handy music-file-format called “.mod” was the way music could be shared without waiting hours to download. They could be played back on all contemporary PCs and home computers, and were so small that many of them could fit on a floppy disk.
When I started making music at around 13 or 14 years old, the scene was way smaller than it is today. But it was already highly commercialized and organized—a not-too-big, very well-run system with some very powerful gatekeepers, like labels and record companies. You had to send out a lot of demos in order to get heard. By the end of the ’90s, when the MP3 format hit the mainstream, I was able to showcase my recorded music to a wider audience in the internet. Specialized forums and pages like mp3.de or technoforum.de had very dedicated community networks that provided amazing platforms to share ideas and meet other artists and labels. And that was all nearly a decade before Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud and billions of bought likes and plays. So it took several years for me to get signed. I finally put out my first record, Hypnoconsole, in 2002. I was 18 years old.
I worked with many free music programs when I was starting out, including a bunch of trackers and early, clumsy emulations of Roland synths. These programs were quite restrictive, and I had to find a way to work around issues in order to create the sound I want to. Memory was also always a huge issue. The size of a common hard disk back then was around 200 megabytes—that’s the size of a short mobile phone video you make today when you’re wasted in a club! So I had to compress and decrease the data size of the samples I used a lot, which made them sound gritty and raw. The music projects were saved in memory-saving formats because hard disks were too small and MP3 hadn’t been invented yet. CD recorders were too expensive, so I ended up recording my demos on cassettes.
I always loved to archive my music on floppy disks. I love the sound it makes when it slips into the drive and makes the infamous click. I love the little handy boxes I put them in. While others may have a heavier emotional bond to their record bags, I stick to my little floppy boxes. Sure, the floppy disk cannot hold up to today’s data sizes, as the 1.44 MB provided on one aren’t even enough to save a contemporary digital album cover. But it was enough to save five or six average .mod files created with tracker music programs, which generate music in real time and therefore save a lot of memory. I use floppy disks and trackers for my dirty and gritty tunes that need to sound raw, hard and banging.
I also like fellow musicians and labels that harbor a similar love for various formats. Take, for example, Trevor Jackson, who put out his last album on 2-inch, 10-inch and 7-inch records, cassette, DAT, VHS, 8-track, and reel-to-reel tapes, 5- and 3-inch CDs, MiniDisc and USB drives. Or check out labels like CPU or DataDoor. They release some tunes on floppy and cartridge, too.
Jeff Mills once said that techno wasn’t designed to be dance music—it was designed to be a futurist statement. I kind of agree with that, but for me it’s also a retro statement. I also get my kicks out of exploring old technology and putting it into a new context. So even today, I’m constantly curious about interacting and communicating with technology. I don’t like to be the passive consumer or use perfect-sounding, streamlined sample libraries, and I usually avoid gear that forces you to go the preset way. I always ask myself “How does it work?” and “What’s behind the curtain?” This curiosity is my main impulse when making music. I like to master technology—I don’t like to get mastered by technology.
Published November 06, 2017.