Last June, in the cold and rain, in open-air venue Konigsplatz, a square in Munich, German techno enigma Paul Kalbrenner was casting his spell over a 21,000-strong crowd. He practically brought them to their knees with his butterflies-in-the-tummy-inducing, joyous live show.
“When I walked up onstage it was kind of unreal. So, to say it could be even bigger, even more, I really don’t think so!” ponders the maverick producer.
His career stretches back over 17 years, and recently, his live appearances and fanbase have been rapidly gathering in momentum, peaking last summer. His music is powerful, awash with emotion and euphoria, deeply rooted in techno, splashed with dizzying rapture. Breathtakingly beautiful.
You’d be forgiven for making the assumption that he’s a DJ first and foremost, and that’s where you’d be wrong. The wowing of the crowd is done with his own music. And he joins the ranks of Daft Punk in their constant ability to annually enter the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll, despite not actually DJing. It’s a misconception he’s not so stressed about these days, though. “At a certain point I really didn’t care anymore. People can just say what they want to. I am pretty relaxed about it now and don’t get worked up.”
Wanting to make and play his own music is something that appealed at a young age, just about as soon as he started to flex his clubbing muscles as a teenager in Berlin.
In the early '90s, he began DJing with his friend Sascha Funke, firstly playing in local youth clubs, soaking up and collecting techno records, before heading to iconic clubs like Tresor, Planet and E-Werk. Swiftly he became part of the Bpitch Control family, releasing singles, EPs and long-players, including his seminal and highly-revered ‘Self’ album.
Off the back of this he landed the lead role in the edgy cult movie Berlin Calling and recorded the blissful soundtrack that accompanies it. His is a compelling performance that’s both gripping and harrowing at the same time. Watch this movie! The title track ‘Sky And Sand’ produced with his brother Fritz went gold and the whole episode led to Paul stepping into the limelight — under his own terms.
There’s something consistent and stoic about Paul’s music and his left-of-centre outlook on the craft. Stubbornly refusing to listen to, or be influenced by, anyone else has helped forge his position as one of the world’s most extraordinary performers.
His current album ‘Guten Tag’ follows on from his 2011 corker, ‘Icke Wieder’ (attached to the cover of this issue) the first studio album after his deep, bass humming soundtrack to Berlin Calling. Offering this album to DJ Mag readers will go some way to introducing the man, his music and his forthcoming gig at London’s Roundhouse on 29th March. But for those already familiar with his techno tones, alles gut. Let’s hear it word-for-word from Paul Kalkbrenner…
You are obviously really popular, but there will be a lot of people who are listening to you and certainly this album for the first time. How does that feel?
“In the beginning it was a little bit difficult to understand. Just so many kilometres away and completely different, but you can’t complain that you are smaller in one market than another, it’s up to you to change it.”
It’s a gorgeous album. What do you think of it now it’s a couple of years old?
“It’s from June 2011. If someone gets this and hears this album, and then sees in the magazine that there’s another one, a very new one, come on, that’s the best thing that you can do!”
Any plans for another one?
“At the moment, in January, I’m preparing for the new tour.”
What albums are you listening to at the moment?
“I’m not a music listener. If I listen to something, I don’t hear my music anymore. I hear it, it comes from the inside, so music influences me a lot, and then towards my own production, in a negative way. It’s like a trace of dust on top of what I could hear inside of myself. I’m not a big music listener at all, because it’s the luxury of the non-DJ act that I don’t have to know what’s going on. A DJ needs to know, I don’t want to know, I can work like an artist.”
So is that a purposeful thing, that you try not to listen to other things or you just really don’t?
“Not because I want ignorance, but because, if I listen to the other stuff I don’t hear the silent music inside of myself.”
Your career goes back, is it 17 years? Does it feel like 17 years to you?
"Yeah it does! (laughs) Sometimes when the weekend is over it does. Also it doesn’t. How the time passes by...”
You started your career when you were quite young...
“Yeah, I started to DJ, at East Berlin Youth Club age 14 or 15.”
So you started playing records before you really started experiencing clubs for yourself?
“It was [from] 14 to 17, but very early I realized I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to play my own music.”
Music seems to play a large part in your family, your brother Fritz is a producer and DJ. Are your parents musical too?
“No, they’re journalists! But I come from a household where there are also painters, let’s say a household where art was appreciated.”
It sounds like your mum was quite strict with you when you were young, you’ve mentioned in the past that she gave you 11 o’clock curfews...
“Absolutely! But the thing is, that’s why I like to read that in interviews that I have said this, so that other mums can say, ‘see?!’”
Do you have a large record collection?
“No. I actually have no record collection anymore. My wife is a DJ and they all go in there. Because I don’t have anything around here to play. I don’t want to be ignorant or anything, it’s just that it’s better for me, I realized that very early. The thing is, not knowing or sounding mainstream, because you don’t know what the mainstream is.”
That’s interesting, maybe it goes some way to explaining why your music is so beautiful...
“Sometimes the sounds are different, but it’s the same story that I’m telling with music. But this was only possible with not hearing all the other [stuff].”
Congratulations for being in the Top 100 DJs again [in 2012], how do you feel about it?
“I actually don’t give a shit about that thing. My journey, until two years ago, was already doing what I’m doing. It won’t change anything, in fact.”
What live acts are you excited about?
“I don’t go to concerts. It’s not possible to go out privately to a club because I’m too known. And playing show after show, when I get home on a Sunday…”
You obviously give a lot when you perform in front of a lot of people…
“And take a lot too.”
You have described yourself as a loner, is that how you feel?
“I mean, I’m married, but somehow I’m definitely alone. Like, only when I’m alone in my mind, my music is created, like the painter is not only painting when he stands in front of [the painting].”
Congratulations on getting married this year! You’ve married someone who is also a DJ and a producer, that’s quite an unusual thing...
“Is it? It’s nice, also on the concert tours, on selected ones, she can open my show.”
Your song titles are often in German and are sometimes hard for even Germans to pronounce, you’ve said that it’s ‘dada’. What does that mean?
“The funny ‘dada’ of the situation — when we’re all stoned and talk some bullshit — is manifested there. But you can force a radio DJ to say it, and I can show that if it’s good, it can be named forever.”
Do you prefer German titles?
“I think German titles are beautiful. What should I say? I think German titles are beautiful because it, on the one hand, shows my bond to my home country, and on the other hand, not all techno albums have to be called ‘Energy’ or ‘The First Rebirth’, or names like that. It is just not my style.”
You’ve described your music as ‘art music’…
“Yeah, but it’s also craft, or crafty music. When I sit there, it’s not like I remember the sunset I saw in India, it’s all bullshit, it comes while you’re working. It’s from my cosmos, it’s from within. But yeah, for sure it’s an arty thing. You make it there on the computer with the machine, but it’s also with your hands.”
You’ve made music for the film Berlin Calling, do you have films in mind when you’re producing, or do you want to make more music for films?
“No, not music for films, but maybe Berlin Calling 2 you’re talking about? We have not decided yet, sometimes we think, yes, there are some nice story lines [for a second movie], but I also think [of] just keeping it how it is as the one Berlin Calling movie.”
But your music is very filmic…
“Yes, but if I do something, I will choose to put it into one of my albums, not someone’s production of a movie. If someone calls today and says, 'Can you make this movie?' I could, but I can’t!”
Your music is very emotional and you’ve described techno as sad. When you’re performing, is it an emotional experience?
“Oh, absolutely. It’s all I have to give, it’s all coming out there.”
What about your label?
“It’s not a real label, because nobody else can release on it, it’s just my legal platform to release my music on.”
What plans do you have for the year?
“A concert tour in January and March, and we will also come to London to the Roundhouse.”
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