“We don’t orientate ourselves by the vanguard beats of others” – Max Dax interviews Tosca

 

As Tosca, Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber released their first album, the wittily titled and groundbreaking Opera, in 1997. However, their friendship began much earlier, in school, where their shared love of musical experimentation, particularly with tape machines, proved a fertile basis for long-term collaboration. Their music while highly exploratory is also hugely popular; a distinctive take on downtempo and ambient music, uncoupled from the formal imperatives of electronic music made for the club. The duos latest album Odeon is released this month and Electronic Beats editor-in-chief Max Dax met up with them to discuss, among other things, the emotional resonance of Vienna, the joy of soundscapes and the essential records of Miles Davis. ~ All photos by Luci Lux

Even though you travel the world, you still consider Vienna as your hideout and refuge. Do you consider Vienna as an epicenter or is it more like a city on the periphery?

Richard Dorfmeister: The world is a ghetto. I strongly believe in the idea that home is where your roots are. Home, to me, can be the town where I am currently based; I can work with my laptop in New York, in Dresden or on some remote Austrian glacier. But for seven years now I have lived with my family and my three kids in Zurich. So, frequently coming back to Vienna to work there together with Rupert on new Tosca material always feels like really coming home—from a place I now call home.

How did Tosca’s music change as a result?

RD: I wouldn’t say that Tosca’s music changed as a result of my traveling schedules, but certainly our working patterns have altered. Now every session has an end after three or four days. We both consider the time we have as very precious and valuable. So, as a result, we’re probably more focused than before.

Rupert Huber: As opposed to the days gone by when we could endlessly work on new material as there was no time budget involved.

RD: I like the term ‘budget’. Time has become a currency to us. But besides that, coming back to Vienna always triggers childhood memories—as well as more recent ones—as this is the capital I was born in. You can’t erase strong feelings like that. The mood is present even if we encapsulate ourselves in our studio in the basement of the house where I used to live. Our studio is like a cosmos: once you enter the studio you’re cut off from the world that surrounds you, there are no seasons and there’s no time of day. I really love to be separated from the world like that when it comes to work. But I can’t shake off the feeling that I’m home.

RH: A studio has to be, by definition, sealed off from the outside world and not only for acoustic reasons. I couldn’t focus in a studio that offers me, say, a beautiful view. I prefer working in seclusion.

I recently interviewed Irmin Schmidt of CAN fame and he loves to have a view. When it was hot in summer in Weilerswist they would even leave the studio door open—you can hear children playing in the distant background on some of their recordings…

RH: If you left the door open to our studio you’d hear people yelling at each other, car accidents and street traffic.

RD: It never crossed my mind to sell the studio and build a new one in Zurich.

Tosca’s Opera album from 1997 started as a pop album but tilted over into a dystopian soundscape after a couple of tracks. The album certainly helped to define how we perceive Vienna today. I remember having dinner with Arto Lindsay when Opera was just released and he remarkably stated that he’d forever link the musical freedom you’d expressed on the album with the city of Vienna.

RD: Wow! He said that? Great! I too love these soundscapes most. The deluxe version of our new CD Odeon has a bonus live disc of pure ambient soundscapes. Whenever Tosca comes close to this kind of music we are getting somewhere particular. Unfortunately, you can’t perform these kind of ambient concerts everywhere. People are still not that open.

Why is it you like the soundscapes so much?

RD: I guess it’s the cinematographic quality they have. When you listen to forty minutes of sound without beats it gets trippy and I’m fully aware of the fact that there’s only a fine line between boredom and absolute trippiness.

RH: It took us some time to create this atmosphere on stage. We needed special equipment to do so and now we’ve assembled all the gear we can perform like we want to. The Odeon live bonus CD is a first glimpse of what you’ll hear from us in the future.

What seemed to have been the obstacle?

RH: We didn’t have the new version of Ableton Live. Now that we do it allows us to intuitively alter the tunings and the tempos of our pianos and everything else while playing live. This piece of software enables us to be rid of pre-set patterns.

RD: The different tunings of the sound sources proved the biggest problem when it came to live performance in the past.

RH: It’s never easy to tune a piano to start with, but even when you’ve finally fine-tuned your instrument you have to sync all the other audio sources with the piano tuning.

RD: I envy real musicians for that reason. Take Miles Davis’ band from the ’70s, when they went electric. They didn’t have to bother about midi or whatever. They’d tune their instruments and then play.

 

 

Which Miles Davis albums do you consider essential?

RD: The usual ones: Agartha, Pangaea, Live Evil. That kind of stuff.

What about The Cellar Door Sessions or The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions?

RD: I’ve heard about them. They’re the original sessions that were then treated and edited by Teo Macero, right?

Right.

RD: Didn’t they release The Complete On the Corner Sessions as well?

Yes, it’s pure dope. I’m not at all surprised that almost every musician or producer who works in the field of electronic music calls these ‘making-of’ box sets an incredible source of inspiration.

RH: That’s uplifting to hear because I’m actually, more often than not, disappointed when I try to talk with people about this exact kind of music. They haven’t even heard of that body of work. All they come up with is Brian Eno. I mean, nothing against Eno, but Miles Davis is, well, miles ahead.

RD: I recently had this discussion about the sources and roots of Kraftwerk and CAN. How come that electronic music in the ’70s went through the roof in West Germany of all places…?

Stockhausen probably, and his WDR Studio für Elektronische Musik in Cologne certainly was a major reason.

RD: I think so too. If you talk about electronic music you have to talk about Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Miles Davis too. That’s when the tape machine came into play.

Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay of CAN were students of Stockhausen. Whereas Kraftwerk were heavily influenced by the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie, namely Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter—even though they didn’t do music at all. 

RD: I understand what you mean. It’s probably the spirit of that particular time and place which made things possible. I mean, it’s obvious that Kraftwerk didn’t try to enhance the musical ideas of other musicians who went before them. It’s crystal clear to me that the concepts came from the art world.

Now Kraftwerk are taking their music into the museums. They performed at the MoMA in Manhattan, at the Kunstsammlung NRW and are due to perform at the Tate Modern. This raises an interesting contradiction: If they consider their music as an artistic performance that can be exhibited then how does improvisation fit into the equation?

RD: The unforeseeable element is the key essence when making music. Especially when you don’t only improvise but also start to use dub effects. Then the whole set-up finally becomes totally unpredictable. But regarding Kraftwerk, I think the essence is that they have a strong framework of pre-set structures, but in between those they are allowed to improvise. I don’t think that art performed in a museum implies that improvisation is not allowed.

Richard, you’ve been one half of Kruder & Dorfmeister. By what means is Tosca a counterpart to K&D?

RD: Well, obviously Rupert and I don’t even try to do club music with Tosca. Even if we use beats we don’t orientate ourselves by the vanguard beats of the others. Tosca is more about style than about beats. As a DJ I could easily include dubstep into a set of mine, but even if I like it the sound wouldn’t become part of Tosca.

What kind of music does rub off when it comes to Tosca?

RD: It’s basically music from the ’80s. I’ve probably heard too much music in my life so now most of the new music that comes out leaves me completely unimpressed. When you’re young and your memory is a blank slate you’ll fall in love with every kind of good music that you hear for the first time. Don’t get me wrong—I envy the beginner’s mind for its openness and naivety. Every impression you get as a beginner is a strong impression. Of course I do envy anybody who experiences such a strong impression.

Can you recall such a strong impression in your own life?

RD: Of course. Watching Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads for the first time blew my mind. Nobody had ever seen such a thing onscreen before. I liked Some Kind of Monster by Metallica and Everyone Stares by Stewart Copeland of The Police fame too. But as I said before, I’m mostly impressed by the music that hit me when I was still going to school—The Doors, Serge Gainsbourg, Arto Lindsay, black soul music, funk and Studio One reggae. It was the heyday of new wave, only a couple of months before hip-hop and rap blew everything away. I mean, there were musical revolutions going on!

What about Falco, to name another musician from Vienna?

RD: Falco was pop. We didn’t care about pop.

RH: He was commercial.

But didn’t you often spin Falco’s hit “Ganz Wien” as part of Kruder & Dorfmeister’s DJ sets?

RD: Of course! That’s his best tune. We had the pleasure of meeting him one year before his death. We respect him. Why shouldn’t we? But when we were young we were so much more strict than we are nowadays.  ~

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Afrika Bambaataa on Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk-Electronic-Beats-Max-Dax

It’s always interesting for me to see a crowd dancing to music that’s ‘foreign’, especially if the lyrics are in a foreign language. Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, Salsa, Falco—you name it. That’s why when I first picked up a copy of the English version Trans-Europe Express, I made sure to pick up a German copy too. I love the crossing over. That’s what electro-funk was all about in the beginning. I actually listened to it for the first time on one of those little record players—the ones that have their own speaker. I liked it, but only when I put it on my big sound system was I really blown away. All I could think was, “I’m gonna jam this mother!”

 

The first time I played it was at the Bronx River Center and immediately people understood. I always had the most progressive hip-hop audience. Most of the other DJs waited to see what my audience was into before they played anything at their function. They knew: Bambaataa’s crazy and he’ll play anything, so I was like the one in the laboratory doing the experiments first, and at a special place. In the beginning, Bronx River Center had mostly black and Latino partygoers from the Bronx and north Manhattan. Then as things progressed and we started playing on different systems and downtown and all that, that’s when all the new wavers started coming and it became a whole mixed atmosphere from all over the city. But most, like, ‘famous’ people came to see us—Zulu Nation and Soulsonic Force—at the Roxy. That’s how the electro-funk spread. But it’s not exactly where it began.

To me, Kraftwerk always sounded European. Trans-Europe Express especially. But I understood the train and travel as a metaphor for transporting the sound through the whole universe, and so was their influence and power. Whenever I felt the band’s vibration all I could think of is that this is some other type of shit. This is the music for the future and for space travels— along with the funk of what was happening with James Brown and Sly Stone and George Clinton. Of course, I was listening to a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Gary Numan, as well as Dick Hyman’s Moog sound, and music from John Carpenter’s Halloween. When you put all that together, then you get electro-funk, which is what we were doing. Freestyle and Miami bass— that’s where it all came from. That’s the true techno-pop.

With ‘Planet Rock’ I was hoping to stretch the hip-hop community’s musical spectrum on the one hand, and the new wavers’ on the other. It was about channelling the vibrations of the supreme force, of the universe, to maximum effect, even beyond earth to the extra terrestrials. Kraftwerk, James, Sly, and George played exactly that. But Kraftwerk brought the funk with machines and computers. They might not have thought they were doing funk, but they were doing funk. When you see older movies about space and the future, it’s filled with stuff like spaceships and rayguns. The newer ones like The Matrix or whatever have their own vision of what’s next. Kraftwerk does all that with music.

When I met Kraftwerk in a club in Paris in the eighties, there was mutual respect. We talked about doing something together, but that happens all the time. Unfortunately we never got to make that happen. But I did get to record in Conny Plank’s studio with Afrika Islam. It’s interesting to think about how Kraftwerk was reinterpreted in America, and then through a very different filter came back to Germany to influence all sorts of electronic and techno acts. The name WestBam, short for Westfalia Bambaataa, says it all.

I’m definitely glad I had the opportunity to catch them at the MoMA. Of course, I’d seen them play live before and I have all sorts of live recordings from back in the day, but this was a different thing. I really enjoyed it, but to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the same as hearing them in a club.~

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwer Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more – Read them here.

Photo: Max Dax

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A week in the life: 168 hrs Kraftwerk, NYC part 2

Read part 1 here.

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Photo: Max Dax

 

Ruza ‘Kool Lady’ Blue, producer, promoter, and founder of legendary club The Roxy, NYC’s first hip-hop club

I originally came to New York in 1981 from London to run a fashion store for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood called Worlds End 2 in Soho. At the time I had been living in the Chelsea Hotel and fashion and music for me were always intimately connected, something that both Malcom and Vivienne understood very well. In the eighties, the burgeoning hip-hop scene wasn’t really that organized, and there was no hip-hop scene in downtown Manhattan. But there were DJs, MCs, B-Boys, B-Girls, dancers, and graf artists scattered all over the place up in the Bronx, so I basically went up there and brought them all downtown, and organized them. They had no idea where this journey would take them, nor did I.

I had first been exposed to hip-hop through watching Afrika Bambaataa and The Rock Steady Crew open for Bow Wow Wow at The Ritz, which was a show Malcom had actually organized. That was when my mouth dropped and hip-hop replaced punk for me in terms of main musical interests. In the early days it was all so experimental, and it was never about making money or bling-bling, or shareholder meetings, but more about unity and fun and dancing to incredible music. My contribution was, I guess, combining all of these elements into the electronic dance club context, and it worked. It was mad. You could feel an overwhelming sense that things were shifting into a new era of explosive creative freedom and change in NYC. Mash-up culture was born and DIY was the name of the game. You could do anything and no one would judge you.

The hip-hop and downtown scenes mixed fantastically; like the perfect cocktail and a brilliant sense of humor. I had this gut feeling it would work and after a short spell promoting parties at Club Negril, which got closed down, I had the idea to move the scene and start the Roxy parties, which ended up being game-changing. I always wanted to open a massive dance club in NYC on the euro-electro music tip— people dancing to the sounds of Kraftwerk, Ultravox,and the like. But I wanted to do it with a twist. I was particularly inspired by the blitz-electro-new-romantic scene in London and what DJ Rusty Egan was doing, but I didn’t want it to be so exclusive.

I think the Roxy was the first racially diverse electronic dance club ever, and it became the blue- print for so many important clubs. We had everyone from punks like John Lydon, to serious couture fashionistas like Carolina Herrera, to Madonna, to twelve-year-old B- Boys, DJs like Bambaataa, to Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Mick Jagger, Leigh Bowery, Debbie Harry, Julian Schnabel, and the ubiquitous Glenn O’Brien. And then there was all the people from the Bronx . . . All barriers came down and there were absolutely no age limits. We shunned Studio 54’s elitist policy, and we knew we were on the right track because the juxtaposition of these diverse sets of people was so mind blowing. At the time, hip-hop culture was all embracing: no one cared if you were a tranny, had blue hair or wore spandex or a Sex Pistols t-shirt. This was the party where white people first saw all four elements of hip-hop culture showcased in one place in downtown NYC and in a massive dance club environment.

There are so many stories to tell, I can’t think of them all . . . I remember booking Malcolm McLaren to perform his hit ‘Buffalo Gals’ at the club, and he went missing the night of his show. He had serious stage fright, but I managed to locate him in a bar somewhere in Midtown and convince him to come to the club and that things would be all right. It turned out great in the end, of course. Prior to that, I managed to convince Malcolm to give me a copy of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle to show at the club. That was the first time the film was ever shown in America, and what a pivotal night that was; when hip-hop met punk face-to- face. The right chemistry was there so I ended up screening the film every other week for a laugh. I felt like a mad scientist mixing and mashing up cultures to create a new conversation.

Kraftwerk were very, very important to my club. Everyone danced to Kraftwerk—and I mean everyone. I made sure their songs were played every week, and it quickly became part of the soundtrack. I find it extremely difficult to rate their output, because virtually everything has been so influential and so high quality. But if I had to choose, I would say Radio-Activity, Trans- Europe Express, and Computer World are my absolute favorites. I’ve also had the chance to see them live a couple of times, most recently at the MoMA retrospective. All I could think is how timeless and relevant this band is, especially in today’s Apple computer culture. And I loved the idea of wearing the 3-D glasses. I attended Trans- Europe Expresstogether with Afrika Bambaataa, and it brought back a lot of good memories of the Roxy and ‘Planet Rock’. Of course, ‘Numbers’ and ‘Trans-Europe Ex- press’ were classic Roxy anthems. Musically, I am not sure you can overestimate Kraftwerk’s influence. Like hip-hop, Kraftwerk is everywhere and still miles ahead of their time. For me, Kraftwerk was the perfect mash-up band as far as representing the future goes. And they had a message. Even though their lyrics were minimal, they remain incredibly poignant, even today. ‘Radioactivity’ is perhaps the perfect example.

 

THURSDAY

 

Photo: Max Dax

 

Afrika Bambaataa, producer, DJ, and founding member of Soulsonic Force and founder of Zulu Nation

It’s always interesting for me to see a crowd dancing to music that’s ‘foreign’, especially if the lyrics are in a foreign language. Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango, Salsa, Falco—you name it. That’s why when I first picked up a copy of the English version Trans-Europe Express, I made sure to pick up a German copy too. I love the crossing over. That’s what electro-funk was all about in the beginning. I actually listened to it for the first time on one of those little record players—the ones that have their own speaker. I liked it, but only when I put it on my big sound system was I really blown away. All I could think was, “I’m gonna jam this mother!”

The first time I played it was at the Bronx River Center and immediately people understood. I always had the most progressive hip-hop audience. Most of the other DJs waited to see what my audience was into before they played anything at their function. They knew: Bambaataa’s crazy and he’ll play anything, so I was like the one in the laboratory doing the experiments first, and at a special place. In the beginning, Bronx River Center had mostly black and Latino partygoers from the Bronx and north Manhattan. Then as things progressed and we started playing on different systems and downtown and all that, that’s when all the new wavers started coming and it became a whole mixed atmosphere from all over the city. But most, like, ‘famous’ people came to see us—Zulu Nation and Soulsonic Force—at the Roxy. That’s how the electro-funk spread. But it’s not exactly where it began.

To me, Kraftwerk always sounded European. Trans-Europe Express especially. But I understood the train and travel as a metaphor for transporting the sound through the whole universe, and so was their influence and power. Whenever I felt the band’s vibration all I could think of is that this is some other type of shit. This is the music for the future and for space travels— along with the funk of what was happening with James Brown and Sly Stone and George Clinton. Of course, I was listening to a lot of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Gary Numan, as well as Dick Hyman’s Moog sound, and music from John Carpenter’s Halloween. When you put all that together, then you get electro-funk, which is what we were doing. Freestyle and Miami bass— that’s where it all came from. That’s the true techno-pop.

With ‘Planet Rock’ I was hoping to stretch the hip-hop community’s musical spectrum on the one hand, and the new wavers’ on the other. It was about channelling the vibrations of the supreme force, of the universe, to maximum effect, even beyond earth to the extra terrestrials. Kraftwerk, James, Sly, and George played exactly that. But Kraftwerk brought the funk with machines and computers. They might not have thought they were doing funk, but they were doing funk. When you see older movies about space and the future, it’s filled with stuff like spaceships and rayguns. The newer ones like The Matrix or whatever have their own vision of what’s next. Kraftwerk does all that with music.

When I met Kraftwerk in a club in Paris in the eighties, there was mutual respect. We talked about doing something together, but that happens all the time. Unfortunately we never got to make that happen. But I did get to record in Conny Plank’s studio with Afrika Islam. It’s interesting to think about how Kraftwerk was reinterpreted in America, and then through a very different filter came back to Germany to influence all sorts of electronic and techno acts. The name WestBam, short for Westfalia Bambaataa, says it all.

I’m definitely glad I had the opportunity to catch them at the MoMA. Of course, I’d seen them play live before and I have all sorts of live recordings from back in the day, but this was a different thing. I really enjoyed it, but to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the same as hearing them in a club.

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Ken Hayakawa know his roots

Ken Hayakawa know his roots Once upon a time Austria was famous for Mozart and Haydn. Then there were G-Stone, Kruder&Dorfmeister and lounge music (it wasn’t a happy time….or maybe a bit too happy and relaxed…at least that’s the way we see it now…) In 2011 Vienna is all about Affine Records, the home of such electric wizards as Dorian Concept, Ogris Debris and The Clonious. Don’t get me wrong, music journalists all around the world have every right to praise the great label with its even greater artists (and of course we will give you insights no one else can give you over the next few months), but there is so much more interesting new music in Austria, which will also be covered here. So why not start with it today?

Ken Haykawa was born in Salzburg and like every good kid in the city of Mozart he had to learn to play the piano as a child. He swapped the instrument for a skateboard a few years later, but his love for music didn’t change. In 2003 Ken moved to Vienna and had already been a techno DJ for four years at that time. He played at several clubs like Tunnel in Linz and Flex in Vienna, which was one of the finest clubs in whole Europe for many years; It seems like djing wasn’t enough for Ken Haykawa or maybe he wasn’t satisfied at all with the techno records out there, so he started to produce his own tracks. Lucky us. Now, in 2011 there are already more than a handful of tracks and even a hit.

Take a look at his soundcloud page or watch the video of his interpretation of Reinhard Fendrich’s Haben Sie Wien Schon Bei Nacht Gesehen.

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