Throughout the week, Electronic Beats has rolled out the final segments of our five-part 72 Hours in Antwerp series, exploring techno’s Belgian roots. The Flemish, as A.J. Samuels and Mark Smith note, have been moving to mechanized rhythms and partying for days on end since before the concept of rave even came into being. In fact, music from Belgium made up a major proportion of the records circulating through Berlin’s early techno scene. In his guide, former Tresor resident and Berlin techno pioneer Tanith helps us navigate some key tracks from the heyday of Belgian rave.
This track remains a Belgian anthem, and may be the boldest example of Wagnerian techno yet. Its release led to countless imitations, and the style quickly became overused and went out of favor.
Zsa Zsa Laboum “Something Scary”
New Beat par excellence. Bold and dark in a post-acid rush, with clear roots in EBM.
Agaric “I’m Gonna Beat Dis”
The title says what I always enjoyed about this music, which I like to call “positive aggression.”
Edwards & Armani “Acid Drill”
A combination of acid and drill from Belgium—the absurdity knows no end. I still laugh out loud when I hear this.
Ravebusters “Mitrax (In-Fluid)”
Contrary to popular legend, Belgium stood alongside Detroit and the UK as a pillar of the early Tresor sound. This is Belgian techno as it was at home in Tresor.
Photon “Doin’ Our Thang”
For me, still something like a techno freedom anthem.
The Second Wave “Let the Groove Move (Dub Mix)”
This track is still the perfect soundtrack for coming out into the light after eight hours in a dark club and taking your transport of choice through the Berlin streets, looking for your next kick. Try it out!
Liaison D “He Chilled Out”
It doesn’t have to be nosebleed all the time. This track proves the Belgians’ versatility.
Lhasa “The Attic”
This 1990 track laid the blueprint for what would become trance from ’93 onwards, without too much sugar and kitsch.
The Age of Love “The Age of Love”
Better known for its equally brilliant Jam & Spoon remix, this track is an Age of Love original.
It’s always a bit sad to watch the blue skies and warm nights of summer fade into the crispy chill of fall, but there’s still plenty to be thankful for. There’s the promise of warm new clothes, the thrill of Halloween, and of course the newest edition of Electronic Beats Magazine to keep you warm. Not just any edition, either, as this marks the tenth edition since we revamped EB Magazine in 2011. To celebrate, we’ve lowered our annual subscriber prices down to 6 euros in Germany and 12 for the rest of the world. Pretty darn cheap, considering that each issue is packed front to back with all of the conversations and articles on essential issues that you’ve come to expect in the last years. Take a look at what’s inside this one:
— MGMT, who you can see gracing the cover of this issue, speak to us about their increasingly experimental path.
— Canadian-born, Berlin-based artist Angela Bulloch tells us about her obsession with rules and John Cage.
— Editor-In-Chief Max Dax manages to have a civilized conversation with Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie.
— Bianca and Sierra Casady of CocoRosie talk to avant-garde director Robert Wilson about eternal youth and the suicidal tendencies of Peter Pan.
— London-based, Brazilian-born musician Cibelle tells us how she spends 100€.
— We report on our 72 hours in Vienna, including interviews with Peter Kruder of Kruder and Dorfmeister, Patrick Pulsinger, Peter Rehberg of Editions Mego, Viennese actionist Hermann Nitsch, sound artist and Wittgenstein House expert Bernhard Leitner, director of the Arnold Schönberg archives Therese Muxeneder and more.
Pretty sweet, right? We think so, and we can’t wait to share it with you. The new Electronic Beats Magazine is out in just a few weeks, so why not order a copy or four? It should accessorize nicely with your new Autumn wardrobe.~
The first (West) Berlin Atonal Festival in 1982 belongs to the category of events that have the power to change our perception of a city entirely. Founded by Dimitri Hegemann (who is also the founder of the Tresor Club, Tresor Records and the director of the Kraftwerk in Berlin), the festival coined (West) Berlin as a city that originated serious, existentialist music—as performed by Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or the early Depeche Mode. After pausing for 23 years, the Atonal Festival returns to the now reunited city of Greater Berlin with a stellar cast of concerts (featuring Glenn Branca, Moritz von Oswald & Juan Atkins, Vatican Shadow, John Hassell, Actress and more), public lectures and other activities that deal with the unique space of the Kraftwerk. The festival runs from July 25th until July 31st. Check out their website for more details. Electronic Beats is proud to be Berlin Atonal’s 2013 official media partner.
Electronic Beats: Naturally all of the acts playing all make up an important part of the whole, but are you looking forward to any acts in particular?
Paulo Reachi: I think the fact that there are three of us booking the festival means almost everyone performing holds a place with at least one of us. Theres no filler and everyone who is performing almost had to be there. For me, seeing the collaboration between Murcof and Simon Geilfus is something I’m really excited about. It will no doubt work amazingly well in the space.
Harry Glass: I’m looking forward to hearing the debut performance of Paul Jebanasam. His recent record Rites on Subtext Recordings was brilliant and I think that this sound is going to bring out something nice about the space.
Laurens von Oswald: I’ve been a big listener of Kangding Ray for a while, so I was happy that we were able to bring him to Atonal to stage an exclusive performance in such a setting. I’m also looking forward to hearing Samuel Kerridge live—his recent releases have been great and I know he and many other performers on that Sunday as part of the Contort lineup have been working on some special live shows.
There’s currently a resurgence in electronic music toward industrialized techno, harder sounds that echo the early days of undefined genre boundaries. Atonal’s Sunday presentations seem to reflect that, with showcases from Contort and London’s Blackest Ever Black. How do you see the evolution between previous Atonal artists like Test Dept. and younger acts like Vatican Shadow?
LVO: To be honest, I feel this is relevant to a lot of different styles of music. Everything comes full circle in one way or another. I guess it’s also one of the major through-lines that we’ve tried to uphold from the original editions of Berlin Atonal. However, we think that trying to get extreme reactions just by showing extreme content which unnerves and shocks the audience is now almost worthless—or at least doesn’t feel like anything new. Its a much more obnoxious way of performing these days.
PR: Its more about the music than the acts that accompany it—for better or worse. Over the years between the previous Atonals and now, the musical landscape really has changed and seen a lot and we should try and emphasize the positive directions rather than just looking back at what has been lost, or what has changed.
PR: I think it will be a really special night. All of these artists should feel really at home at the festival and we really feel like they belong here too. It will be a great opportunity for them all to push the audience and show things that they feel represent them as artists and people. Mark Reeder will also be there—it’ll be amazing.
You mentioned before that spaces are integral to the things that happen in them. Tell us about some of the installations being created for the festival, and the spaces they’re changing.
HG: A really bright, loud and spectacular piece is coming from Belgium and the guys at ANTIVJ: a large cube made from hanging layers of silk is projected from all sides and can be used as a fully three dimensional medium for spatial construction through beamed light. We have also commissioned David Lettelier [Kangding Ray] to create a kinetic audio sculpture which uses the unpredictable movements of autonomous metal objects bumping, touching and fighting with each other to create interesting sound patterns. At the moment, we are working with our buddies Gio, Dani [Dadub] and Danielle [GRÜN] on something quite unusual. We explored in the basement of the power plant and found a long 80 meter long corridor that the lads worked out how to turn into a kind of pulsating tunnel of sound. At the far end they are setting up an entirely analog audio system using some old subs we had lying around—some as speakers, some as inputs—which creates an open feedback loop that interacts with the entire space and the bodies within it. Some nice stuff!
What is your connection with the independent avant-garde space N.K.?
HG: I only met Farah and the other guys behind N.K. quite recently, but they are really open and nice people. Because they are so enthusiastic about what they are doing, they are fantastic to collaborate with. We worked on creating an afternoon [Wednesday July 31st] of seminars and live presentations based around the interface between sound and graphics: how one can be represented in terms of the other, how they can translate into each other. They also program some great stuff at their own space—I saw a lecture on early Soviet sound movies there which included some of the best archive footage I’ve ever seen.
Give us a guide to the aftershows taking place at Tresor and Shift; what can people look forward to?
LVO: We’ve managed to organize some really nice collaborative events. We’ve already spoken about the opening night aftershow party hosted by EB and Max Dax. Then we team up with a new label from the UK, Liberation Technologies, for a great afterparty on Sunday: Powell, Will Bankhead, DJ Richard and Raime return after their live show to DJ. The Tresor parties are also going to be great: Juan Atkins, Thomas Fehlmann, Moritz von Oswald with some major new talents like Shifted, DJ Deep and Neel. For our closing night afterparty, we got together with the ever excellent MUTEK who put together a classic Canadian lineup: Deadbeat, Mike Shannon and Jeff Milligan. We really took it as an opportunity to offer something different than to what people will experience in the Kraftwerk over the week.~
In this conversation taken from our Summer, 2013 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine—ahead of their appearance at Berlin Atonal—the two techno pioneers discuss their decades-old friendship and their new collaboration. Photos by Luci Lux: Juan Atkins (left), Moritz von Oswald (right).
Juan Atkins and Moritz von Oswald are two of techno’s most central figures from two distinct eras: Atkins of course, was one of the genre’s co-pioneers in the early eighties under the Cybotron and Model 500 monikers while von Oswald, working in tandem with then partner Mark Ernestus in the early nineties, was an originator of techno’s dub-inflected and minimal manifestations under the guises Maurizio, Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound. Somewhat inevitably, their relationship has been a feedback loop of influence, with early remixes and co-productions on Tresor Records helping to establish the historical Berlin-Detroit axis. Now, after a long break that’s seen tectonic shifts in both artists’ personal lives, as well as opposite developments in economic progress between Berlin’s boom and Detroit’s bankruptcy, Atkins and von Oswald have reunited to make Borderland. The LP is a continuation of sonic conversations dear to their respective oeuvres: music without beginnings or ends and tracks in endless variations. In the latest issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, the two spoke with von Oswald’s nephew Laurens at the German family’s West Berlin residence about music bridging time and space.
Laurens von Oswald: Moritz, do you remember how you and Juan first met? I mean, I know your history goes way back. You met way before in Detroit, no?
Juan Atkins: Yeah—I’ve told the story a couple of times, but I’ve never heard it from your perspective, Moritz.
Moritz von Oswald: In Detroit in those days, you just needed to look around the corner to bump into someone you knew from the records we were getting in Europe, because so many releases came from that city. I would even go so far as to say that in the beginning of the nineties, all the important records came from there, from Underground Resistance to Juan and so many other artists. So, I wanted to go to Detroit because I was curious, and I wanted to meet people like you, Juan. I knew who you were and when I finally saw you, I thought: that’s him. For the first trip to Detroit, I had actually followed my former partner [Mark Ernestus] who was interested in the important labels from Detroit—Fragile, Metroplex, you name them. Basically, we’d listen to a record in Berlin and then wanted to really know who the artist behind the track was. And this meant that you had to book a transcontinental flight to Detroit to find out and to get to know all these people personally. So, that’s what I mean when I say I met Juan around the corner.
JA: I remember that corner. You were not only carrying records with you, but also real instruments. You were busy buying musical gear, keyboards and sequencers from all these pawnshops. Man, you dug out some obscure instruments.
LvO: Does that still happen? Can people still find stuff cheap in pawnshops?
JA: No, you can’t. Everybody knows the price of these instruments nowadays. Besides, we have eBay for that now. But I remember that smile on Moritz’s face when he’d got hold of a rare synth in some basement in central Detroit. It was like Christmas for him.
MvO: [pulls out incredibly obscure looking old filter] In fact, I still own some of these old devices— filters, drum machines, synthesizers . . . But it was exactly like you said: we would buy the most obscure instruments for little money and eventually use them as add-ons to our productions.
JA: And I was most curious what you guys would get out of these machines. I mean, I had some imagination, but do you remember we didn’t have MIDI back then? This meant that we couldn’t synch our gear. The different manufacturers didn’t care whether their instruments would interface with instruments from other manufacturers. The fact that you could use a Roland drum machine only together with a Roland keyboard and a Roland sequencer did actually effect a lot of pre-MIDI productions. That’s why some of us would sell gear that was actually great—because we couldn’t use it properly. And we were quite impressed that you had built this customized system that nobody else in the world had and that would synchronize all the old instruments. We called it German engineering! And that’s one of the reasons why I went to actually see you in Berlin: to see all these keyboards that you’d bought in Detroit synchronize and in action. I was quite impressed because it meant so much more freedom.
LvO: Do you remember your first visit to Berlin?
JA: I was invited by Dimitri [Hegemann] to play at the Tresor that was then still located on Leipziger Straße. I ran into him at a record company in the UK and he arranged my first trip to Berlin where I recorded 3MB with Moritz and Thomas Fehlmann. I remember quite clearly that this first stay in Berlin was during the time when the Wall came down.
LvO: Ha, quite a coincidence!
MvO: Of course that wasn’t a coincidence. I knew it two weeks in advance. Actually I had just moved to Berlin myself to witness the fall of the Wall.
LvO: How did you know it was coming?
MvO: That was a joke.
JA: I immediately thought Berlin and Detroit had a lot of similarities. There wasn’t much development happening in either city and Berlin reminded me of the bleakness of Detroit. Back then it still had that dark kind of feeling. I’m talking about the time before Sony and Chrysler and all those big corporations that built their tall buildings at Potsdamer Platz.
MvO: When I came to Detroit for the first time I had this feeling that I had arrived at the end of the world. It was like the civilized world’s last outpost. In Europe you don’t see wastelands like that. I mean, you could look through Detroit’s abandoned main station without seeing a single person. It felt like you could fall from the edge of the earth if you’d walk towards the horizon.
LvO: As if the world was flat…
MvO: Exactly. Detroit—and beyond that the infinite universe. On the streets, everything was empty. It was a lost city. Of course, there was activity but it was almost invisible. And as we all know, Berlin and Detroit have gone in two totally different economic directions since then . . .
JA: But at that time there were a lot of similarities. And when I came to Berlin the next time, all I remember is that they had so many cranes in the sky, more than I’ve ever seen before in my life. Berlin to me was like the biggest building site in the world. Today, a lot of this work is finished and it strikes me as amazing to see how fast you can actually build a city. I’ve been fortunate to have seen a lot of cities in the meantime. Unfortunately, there is still no direct flight from Detroit to Berlin, which is a strange obstacle considering the unique story these two cities share. I really don’t get it. I sometimes wonder how a direct flight would have changed things.
MvO: You always had to change at Schiphol or Frankfurt am Main or New York. It was never easy getting to Detroit. But it always was worth the pain because it was a real creative challenge to meet the friends I had there. The funny thing is that the city never really changed in all these years. Detroit is definitively struggling hard. Everybody is trying to develop the city, but you can’t change the fact that there is simply no economy.
JA: Detroit even had to declare bankruptcy. It used to be the Motor City. But Detroit closed when the industry closed.
MvO: As far as I know, Chrysler is finally profitable again.
JA: That’s what I heard too, but it’s all automated now. It’s robots making robots.
LvO: Let’s talk about the album for a moment. I know that Dimitri approached you both about doing something together. Did it need him or would you have collaborated anyway?
MvO: I would agree that Dimitri was the driving force behind Borderland. I think he is obsessed with bringing people together he thinks should collaborate.
JA: He’s probably someone who thinks in jazz terms; you know, like some visionary producer who wants to hear how it would sound like if certain jazz musicians would decide to work together. He has always been someone who tried to make things happen. The Borderland project reminds me of collaborations where you would constantly seek out different configurations of musicians. It’s like listening to a George Duke album and he has Billy Cobham on drums and Randy Jackson on the bass. And these guys are cool musicians on their own, but whenever they record in different configurations, something totally different will come out. Same thing with Miles Davis and his decision to invite Joe Zawinul to play with him, Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland on In a Silent Way. But coming back to Moritz and myself, of course it helped that we’ve worked a lot together in the past. I recorded most of Model 500’s Deep Space with him, as well as my Sonic Sunset EP and, as I mentioned before, the 3MB project and a couple of other things. That made everything unfold pretty easy.
LvO: Yeah, but now it’s Moritz von Oswald and Juan Atkins—before that it was all about anonymity and hiding behind monikers, wasn’t it?
MvO: Yes, but these are different times. And something that’s especially important to mention is the fact that there has been a long break. In fact it’s been more than twelve years since the last time we worked together. That’s significant. During this off time, the energies on Juan’s and my part were constantly growing, and the resulting collaboration reflects exactly that. It’s as if we had to wait that long to successfully bundle all that energy and then let it out in a series of long jams, which, of course, were carefully edited.
LvO: I think these jams sound really cohesive.
JA: The funny thing is, we didn’t plan this cohesiveness. Not planning it actually marks the beauty of this experiment. If we knew in advance exactly what would be coming out, it wouldn’t have been so much fun recording Borderland. I mean, we knew what each of us was bringing to the project. But during the process of recording we couldn’t predict what the result would be. I think that we both have that type of personality where we just can work together. I can only explain for myself, but when I work with somebody—and this is not limited to music—I have this tendency to work harder for other people than I’d do for myself. That’s why I like collaborations so much.
MvO: I agree.
JA: And on the other hand, I’ve been in situations where I worked with other people who were overbearing. I don’t like people who behave like that. Moritz, you are not like that at all, and that’s probably why this collaboration turned out so organic in the end: because we both always knew when to give and when to take. We didn’t listen to other music, either. We would only listen to the music we just had recorded and what we were working on. We were busy doing what we were doing.
MvO: That’s correct.
JA: Right now, in electronic music, people have overcome the novelty of the electronic sound. Artists should put in more of an organic feel into the music they make.
LvO: So, you’d describe the “organic” sounds and compositions on Borderland as a progression?
JA: Yes. I mean, you witnessed the recording process from the beginning. How did you perceive the whole thing, Laurens?
LvO: I remember the setting seeming kind of weird. At first you didn’t say much to each other. You were just sitting together. It was days and days of sitting around and jamming. And then, at a certain stage, we just put it together. It seemed like a really comfortable collaborative process, as if you’d done it a thousand times before. Not necessarily talking about the music, but just making it. Occasionally I noticed nods of approval between the two of you.
MvO: You noticed one of the capital rules of music and especially in jazz: music is always about development. It’s as easy as that. You pay respect to another musician when you choose to collaborate with him or her. It’s because you’re interested in the way the other person plays their instrument and because you’re curious where the collaboration will lead you. It’s about freedom—the freedom of reaction. As a musician you always react differently to what somebody else is playing.
JA: The difference to jazz obviously is that we are more like multi-instrumentalists when we work with sequencers, drum machines and keyboards. But this is just a minor difference. The concept is still the same.
MvO: As far as I am concerned, I find rest in loops. Whenever and wherever there are loops, I am happy with it. I would extend this even beyond techno music: I also like loops in human relationships. I like the daily business. I like repetition. I accept everydayness.
JA: Everything is a cycle, a wave, a vibration. I truly believe in cycles too. Techno is music that’s based on just that.
MvO: It’s also a cycle that we have met again, Juan. I really like the loop as a metaphor for everything I enjoy in life and in music. Life is not only about exploring but also about revisiting.
LvO: I hear both of you on the album in unexpected and very interesting ways. Having been there with you in the studio engineering the record, I feel that the tracks are very much a result of reactions to what you were both doing and hearing.
MvO: For me it is like this: a sound is a sound. Whenever we hear a sound, we change. When I hear a sound made by Juan, I change. So, you are absolutely right when you put emphasis on things like that. We of course do everything with respect and openness towards one another. I should add that I have to respect the musician in order to be open to being influenced by him.
JA: Admiring an artist and listening to his music are closely linked. I wouldn’t be here in Berlin in Moritz’s studio if I didn’t admire his work and attitude. And at the same time, it’s not a conscious thing. It’s hard to explain. Let me try to give you an example: if you succeed in turning the recording process of an album into a natural process, your perception of time becomes blurry. You either perceive time as if it was running, and you achieve a lot in almost “no” time. Or you lose yourself in the process of making music and you don’t even notice how it passes . . . at all. Every time I work with Moritz things come easy. If it’s right, it should be easy. If it’s hard, something’s not right. ~
Moritz von Oswald and Juan Atkins‘ Borderland is out now on Tresor. This text first appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N°34 (Summer, 2013). Read the full issue on issuu.com or in the embed below.
The first (West) Berlin Atonal Festival in 1982 belongs to the category of events that have the power to change our perception of a city entirely. Founded by Dimitri Hegemann (who is also the founder of the Tresor Club, Tresor Records and the director of the Kraftwerk in Berlin), the festival coined (West) Berlin as a city that originated serious, existentialist music—as performed by Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or the early Depeche Mode. After pausing for 23 years, the Atonal Festival returns to the now reunited city of Greater Berlin with a stellar cast of concerts (featuring Glenn Branca, Moritz von Oswald & Juan Atkins, Vatican Shadow, John Hassell, Actress and more), public lectures and other activities that deal with the unique space of the Kraftwerk. The festival runs from July 25th until July 31st. Stay tuned for updates and more info or check out their website. Electronic Beats is proud to be Berlin Atonal’s 2013 official media partner.
Electronic Beats: How would you describe the spirit of the Berlin Atonal?
Harry Glass: A little paradoxical. In order to escape tradition and explore new territories, the festival has to embrace some traditions—the tradition of electronic music, the early versions of the festival itself. At the same time we are aware of the danger of over-intellectualizing things.
Paulo Reachi: We want to have the festival as open as possible in its musical approach. To us, music is definitely a positive force. In this day and age, the festival’s function is perhaps somewhat different to what it was in the 1980s. Its not so much about confrontation, but rather about exploration. The festival should be a chance for people to see things in an alternative light—in different surroundings and perhaps with a new outlook on the future. This, combined with the new technical possibilities that changed our world completely in the last ten years, are the parameters of Berlin Atonal.
Hans Ulrich Obrist is currently meeting all the artists and musicians who were born around the time when the Atonal Festival stopped. He calls the people who were born around 1989 the “diamond generation” who basically grew up with the internet and take the evolutionary process that comes with the ongoing inventions—from computer to smartphones to borderless communication—as a natural thing.
Laurens von Oswald: I don’t know that term. But that is our generation. We use and like computers. [Harry and I] were both born in 1988. It’s a funny coincidence that we are basically the same age as Dimitri Hegemann when he started Atonal in 1982.
Dimitri Hegemann: The Atonal Festival is a statement against the mainstream culture and marketing-driven curation. It is a statement against typecast line-ups and the formatted radio that we all know and that destroys our capability to listen. It is basically a statement against any kind of manipulation via the media. People love to listen to white noise, but you still can’t hear it on the radio. I mean, of course you can, if you listen to the right internet radio channels, but this is actually a prime example of how certain people still have not understood how our modern times function.
Do you try to change the world?
DH: No, we aren’t reinventing the wheel. And that’s never been the point. We do however need new ways to express ourselves—and to connect the various disciplines. We yearn for new sounds, uncharted, unexplored new sounds and territories. I personally want Berlin Atonal to be an event where music, art, film, architecture and science merge. I understand the world as a space that consists of a thousand plateaus, and one of our primary goals is to offer a way for the people from the various disciplines can exchange with each other. That’s how new ideas and new sounds take shape. But we’re not changing the world.
You are known to believe that the spaces where things happen are very important.
DH: Spaces are most important. It’s not a coincidence that the Kraftwerk is one of the most stunning spaces in the world. I think that ideas will unfold easier in inspiring environments. Conversations too. I mention this, as an integral part of the Atonal Festival will be panels and public talks. You know, I believe in passing on information from one generation to the next. Public talks can serve this purpose. We can transfer ideas.
Social media starts at the lunch table we are sitting at.
DH: Exactly. Before it was called social media, it was called word of mouth. As I said before, people tend to forget that Berlin is unique at this particular moment because it attracts so many people from all over the world. Atonal tries to consolidate these people for a couple of days in one huge and inspiring space. Thirty years ago, our approach was even more radical. Program wise, we were confronting our audiences with pure noise and never-heard-before sounds. Today, we are much more diversified.
One of the signs of our times is that what used to be atonal music has become a common taste. You said it before, but people listen to white noise for breakfast. Eliane Radigue would probably be happy about this development.
LVO: Being shocked is not that shocking anymore. It’s more difficult and more interesting to use limits and traditions to create something, rather than just rely on the shock of tearing everything down, which is maybe an old-fashioned and now lazy type of art.
DH: Yesterday, I listened to Alban Berg’s Lulu. He wrote it in 1937, and even though it is only a fragment as he never completed this piece, it was just like a series of explosions in my head. It was just wonderful. Since yesterday I have been thinking how we could include Lulu into Atonal.
DH: Because I want to share this series of explosions with everybody.~