“I’m not a music listener. I stay away from music, especially when I make my own,” says Berlin based producer Paul Kalkbrenner. These are not exactly the words you’d expect to hear from the mouth of an artist. “Another guy asked me can my music change. ‘No, it can’t,’” Paul adds. Again, this is not an interjection you’d anticipate hearing from a producer. For Paul, his discovery of techno took place in the early ’90s. His decision to own that genre has resulted in playing sold out shows to thousands of people, landing the film score for Berlin Calling (certified Platinum), and above all, an untarnished reputation amid the dance music industry. Paul’s aforesaid words call to mind DJ Snake’s statement in a recent interview where he stated “there’s nothing wrong with limiting yourself to one type of music…just aspire to be the best producer in whatever genre you’re creating in.” Paul is no poster boy for the standardized EDM platter, but his consistency in technique and fiery on-stage presence (Analog 24 mixer, thank you) has made him an inimitable icon.
Life+Times: Last year, you released Guten Tag and I appreciate that album because it conveys emotions in a storybook format. What helps you to create a musical narrative without it becoming something redundant or boring to you?
Paul Kalkbrenner: The experience after a while you begin to feel it more especially when the song is ready. It’s just something I can’t explain. I don’t know. My songs are just me making music. It’s work, not so much art – also crafts. I don’t like that it’s so divided nowadays. The dividing attitude mostly comes from the art side, but I think they belong together. So when I finish a song, I have more like a craftsman’s pride because I do it with my hands in there. It’s just on a computer, but largely you do other things – you cut and glue together and you do this or that. Somehow I see it as handwork. Handarbeit, as they say in Germany. Craftsmanship…that’s how it feels like.
L+T: Now, when you said “divided” – divided in terms of different genres having a label?
PK: More like – for me back in the day arts and crafts belonged together. Now they just belong together on the kids’ arts and crafts table. Usually, they belong together. Actually, the two belong together. The greatest artists and the greatest sculptors in the world [were] in the first place very good craftsmen. That’s what the people forget.
L+T: I agree. You can’t truly be a master of an art without having the skill-set to know how to create the art. Very interesting. Tell me about your plans for 2014. Will there be a new album?
PK: Yeah, I want to release a new album in a year. I want to take more time than the last ones. I put them together in 3 ½ months each. I’ll have more time for this, that’s why I’m already on it. I have also asked other guys to remix my [album]. It’s gonna be, like, a remix album with some singles that we’ll maybe release from February to May. Also, Vitalic, Pan-Pot, Fritz [Kalkbrenner], and my wife Simina [Grigoriu] will make remixes and we will release them in the springtime.
L+T: Oh, nice! Will this be a collection of remixes from your past work or just Guten Tag?
PK: No, well, everyone was allowed to choose.
L+T: When was the last time you were in the States?
PK: One year ago I was on tour with Sónar [Festival]. I was on tour with Die Antwoord, Tiga, and Seth Troxler. You know what’s kind of funny? It’s almost the same routine as this year’s US tour.
L+T: Full circle. I particularly like the Berlin techno scene – ranging from the atmosphere at underground venues like Suicide Circus to Berghain. There’s such a difference between the club cultures in Europe versus here in the States – history being a key distinction. In your travels, what would you say is the stark contrast between the US and European dance music culture?
PK: In the one place it’s like much more freedom in total, but the people have to go home at 2 [AM]. While people here (Europe) get regulated very much, but get to party until the next day. Everyone can decide what’s better. For the ravers – absolutely here, better place. I agree. If the US was allowed to have the clubs open until nine in the morning and serve alcohol until nine in the morning, the same kind of club scene might have been established. Back in the day, it used to be something special partying until 10 [AM] or 12 [PM] and then it was over. Now, nothing ends or begins anymore. It’s just all of the time. It’s like with the TVs! Back in the day, there was no broadcast at like 2 or 3 [AM]. (Makes beep sound effect) I like that better than this endless loop of everything.
L+T: Yeah, it is a non-stop party. While we’re on the subject of the electronic dance music scene – you’ve been producing since the ‘90s. Personally, what are the highs and lows of producing now versus when you first started out – or just the overall changes?
PK: The main thing is that you can work on two things at the same time. Back in the day, I had no computers. I was recording it on a dubtape. In order to make a new song, this one has to be recorded first. Otherwise, you used an analog mixer. Nowadays, it’s absolutely great. It was also expensive. I paid 1,500 Deutsche Marks (approximately $1,038) for 16 MB of more saving space on the sampler. Unbelievable.
L+T: With Ableton Live, for example, you can crossfade multiple sounds and you have unlimited space. It’s so different. I end my interviews with all producers on the topic of DJs and definitions. The term “DJ” has such a different definition than it did 10 years ago. Many DJs now produce their own tracks. Do you feel a DJ is a musician?
PK: I realized early on that if you wanted to get around as a DJ you had to have your own productions. The guy who disappeared was the so-called “only DJ.” I am not a DJ. I deejayed when I was 15. Now, I play for so many years live my own songs and rearranged them every time on stage – like a studio on stage.
L+T: So, going into 2014 do you think a DJ-producer is a musician?
PK: I would say so.