ABOVE: BRANDT BRAUER FRICK
Together, Berliners Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer, and Paul Frick are known as Brandt Brauer Frick. Their musical project—an accurate description of their studious, philosophical approach to experimentation, rather than avant-garde aloofness—is the vanguard of the city’s dance music scene. Their formation in 2008 was preceded by up to 20 bands’ worth of experience each, and the trio’s original affinity for techno quickly morphed into innovative electronic miscellany grounded by classical structures. Appropriately, Brandt Brauer Frick are the latest to release a DJ-Kicks album, a series of mixed albums curated by selected artists and sponsored by independent Berlin label !K7 Records. Since its inception in 1995, the DJ-Kicks albums have reinforced the vast breadth of electronica with the participation of a variety DJs, producers, remixers, bands, and solo artists ranging from straight techno to electronic amalgams of folk and jazz.Brandt Brauer Frick inches this umbrella still wider, producing music that ensures that technical skill remains a creative medium, rather than a crutch. As a result, all three of the album’s original Brandt Brauer Frick tracks, like all of their music, were made with tangible instruments and without the help of anything resembling a drum machine, synthesizer, or computer for a humanized, imperfect sound—case in point, their song “Bommel” beams out laser-precise beats that scatter and bounce off each other in tightly calculated crescendos, and yet feels more giddy than robotic. A far more laborious process was recording the entire mix of 30 old, new, and exclusive tracks to vinyl at the studio of the famous Watergate nightclub in Berlin. As 25 of the tracks are the work of their closest friends and collaborators, vinyl editions had to be tracked down, and dubplate pressings made.
But in the liminal space between theory and practice, a mix album presents the ultimate challenge of creating something greater—and altogether different—than the sum of its parts. “You want to maybe have new thoughts or things open up or lose your frustration,” Frick explains, but he also makes no promises of abstract catharsis, only measurable change. “I think it’s interesting, these moments when you switch from your interior world to the social world, to communicating with people, and how music can make that happen—music that gets you when you’re in a melancholic mood and somehow it starts to liven you up,” he muses. “I think [the DJ-Kicks album] should also be a CD that can change your mood in one hour.” We spoke to Brandt Brauer Frick (minus Brandt) over Skype about these things, and others, including Mozart superfans, Detroit’s early techno scene, bad Berlin club nights, and something called “Brauer’s Towers.”
HANNAH GHORASHI: When you’re developing a track, what kind of sounds do you start with?
PAUL FRICK: We basically try to capture the atmosphere that’s in the room with us three. We jam a lot and we produce a lot of material, and of course we look for the sounds that surprise us, ones that sound dynamic, rough, dirty. This way, just sounds that the microphone and some object can produce are this magic that adds what you can’t add when you sit behind a computer.
JAN BRAUER: I would say it’s a rich sound, because the sounds which we are using need to have a lot inside of themselves. Sometimes we go off the track, because we have one sound and we’re like, “Okay, this is going to be it.”
GHORASHI: The album’s first video teaser up on the website was composed of mostly unrelated, dramatic scenes of people either about to do something or having just done it, whether it be taking a bite of an apple or opening the gates of a horse race. Is this kind of tipping point a concept that you keep in mind when developing sound?
FRICK: We have done quite a lot of different styles, and there is always something in the music we do which is exciting for us. I wouldn’t believe that we would be able to make a completely chilled-out track.
BRAUER: Then again, maybe what you say about the moment before or after doing—maybe the association comes with the big commercial electronic music that’s out there, like EDM stuff, like you have the break exactly where you expect it and then there’s this drum roll and the siren kicks in and everyone’s happy. I think our approach is not so much that and often our pieces try to make more of a hypnosis in a slower way that it doesn’t at any moment prescribe, like, “Now jump in the air! Now do this or that.” Rather it’s building this emotional vibe that carries you on and on and maybe doesn’t need to always have such a big impact.
GHORASHI: Right, so it’s not instant gratification. I saw a video of you performing live with additional instrumentalists and it was really interesting to me because it looked like a tableau—everyone was focused on performing in their own private space, but everyone also seemed connected as well. Is this kind of particular deliberate visual effect really important for the band’s live performances?
FRICK: Yes, it is. We don’t have a big visual or light show. Many times when we play, we feature visuals—I mean, you’re onstage and many people looking at you, and so even if we don’t use video or anything, I think always the visual appearance is one of the most important things for the people watching. It had of course a lot of musical reasons, but the reason why we never use a computer in our live shows is also because we just didn’t want to associate it in any way with computers; and of course, we create our own music videos. It was Daniel, the one who’s not here right now, he’s a director too, and Jan has worked in film a lot, and so by now we have this team of people that sometimes we try to get a lot of work for free. [laughs] And in anything like a record cover or anything that’s controlled by us we would never, ever give away any power to somebody or to some label to just do it the way we want. So for the ensemble, what you described, sometimes it does disturb me a lot that because we read the scores, sometimes the interaction between the musicians cannot be seen so much. We all love the way it looks—this kind of ensemble formation—but still I think if we only did that we maybe would have searched for other ways to communicate onstage. We have this nice exchange within the trio [Brandt, Brauer, and Frick] where we improvise a lot onstage, and this is what the trio is about, improvising. And then we have this ensemble thing where the music is written and we stick pretty much to that. I do think that there should be more possibilities to open this up, not only make it look classical. That’s what I think. I don’t know if Jan agrees?
GHORASHI: Do you have any ideas now?
FRICK: Actually, we do have an idea. We are planning now—I don’t know if I can really say that—but we are planning now a slightly different formation, which involves singers. We are looking for new ways, but we are people that grab other musicians that are in town that we want to work and record stuff with them, sometimes little side projects that were not even planned. For example, we just made a hip-hop song.
GHORASHI: What are your backgrounds, before you created Brandt Brauer Frick?
FRICK: I studied classical composition, at a conservatory. That’s what I did for eight years after finishing school, and meanwhile I was working in a different music project and started to make dance music and that’s how I got to know Jan and Dan.
BRAUER: I was studying media design, and now I’m doing sound design, and quite often sound engineer/sound artist kind of stuff. Like Paul, I was playing in bands since I was 15 or something, and I always wanted to keep doing this. Actually, it has been quite a bit of time since we started, and I didn’t do too much stuff before.GHORASHI: Which bands or artists originally made you like music?FRICK: My mother had a great taste in music, and so when I was a little kid it was her records. When I was four and five, I was really into anything Motown—GHORASHI: Really? You liked that ’60s sound then.FRICK: Yeah, like the Supremes, like “Baby Love,” you know? When I was four or five I was always running in circles in our flat with that.BRAUER: I think for Daniel and me, the big thing was Michael Jackson. He was big when we were young boys, but there’s loads of different artists which make us love music. I think for me it was Herbie Hancock, when I discovered him at maybe 13 or 14 years.I’m continuously listening to his stuff—he’s actually one of the musicians I’ve listened to the longest time in my life. FRICK: My first really big music love was Mozart, actually, when I was eight. I don’t know, I just got into it so much, and my parents had all these records, and somebody, like some uncle, had given me a tape about the life of Mozart. And I think now from our perspective, it was total crap. It was like, “Yeah, this man is a genius! Everything he’s done is amazing! His life was a golden—” you know. It made me feel like, “I want to be somebody like that.” I was really, honestly, so much into his music that I remember really freaking out by the thought that I would never meet him.GHORASHI: [laughs] Not realizing he had already died?FRICK: I mean, I knew he had died and that made me so sad. He has created this thing that means so much to me, and now I can never meet him.GHORASHI: So most of the tracks that you curated on this album are from your friends, right?BRAUER: Right. GHORASHI: What kind of criteria did you have for selecting these particular tracks? I assume there’s a lot of music that you like but chose not to include on this album. FRICK: With the tracks from our friends, we of course asked the ones we really admire, and some of the artists whose music we released on our little label, which is called The Gym. It was just people that we trusted and we knew could give an interesting perspective for the mix. Of course, we couldn’t use [just] anything that our friends made for us because his is a big thing; we’ve known about the DJ-Kicks series since our adolescence and you don’t just put a track on it where you’re not totally sure. Those people are people that we are close with and that we DJ with; and from the rest, yeah, we just had each one propose many songs that were important for them and we had this big listening session. In the beginning we had way too much and at first it was a bit unthinkable, like what is this mix going to become? And then we made lists, voting yes or no, until someone made an X on their sheet, and that’s how it started but it also became more natural—just one of us sitting there: “Hey guys, what do you think?” and then the other one saying, “Yeah, it’s great,” or “No.” BRAUER: And sometimes it was like, “It was a great song but we have already something which is similar” and “we should check that we don’t have too much old stuff and not too much new stuff.” It’s always good to have a lot of fresh stuff, but we also wanted to have some really old stuff or have some more obscure stuff in it. It’s always important to make a good balance between all these different directions.FRICK: The great thing about DJing and mixing is always this moment when it becomes more than two tracks—when it becomes this meeting point between two tracks where the thoughts and emotions of one song goes into the other and a third thing is created. Obviously, it’s a lot of trial and error. These songs just go into each other so well, so that the whole thing can become something like a mind travel where you have an A and a B and when you’re at the B you have no idea how you got there but it’s somehow like travel. Not just switching between things, but traveling with your whole body. GHORASHI: How would you qualify this album compared to your other ones?FRICK: The DJ-Kicks is completely different from producing an entire album, which takes much longer and you’re much more into the details of the individual songs. Here, the songs are already done, and you just need to select them. BRAUER: We did three of the songs ourselves, but it’s not much work compared to an album. FRICK: For the CD being only a mix, we made quite a lot of effort because we did it all on vinyl, which was tricky to do—we had to press dubplates and stuff like that—but still compared to an album this is actually no work at all. GHORASHI: Some track titles are in German, some are in English. Is this because you use both languages equally often?BRAUER: It’s very random.FRICK: Yeah, these titles on the DJ-Kicks, they’re all just totally random. BRAUER: There’s nothing really to say about these titles. [laughs] English and German are mixed up anyway for us, we don’t even realize we do this. It feels more or less natural.FRICK: English feels like the natural thing—someone can tell me a super-cheesy lyric with a great voice and I will maybe still like it. But the same thing in German, I would hate it. On the last album we had five different vocalists, but they also have really simple lyrics. One is called “Fantasie Mädchen,” which means “fantasy girl,” and the lyrics translated only mean “fantasy girl you rock my world,” but in German, so that was not such a lyrical effort.GHORASHI: Do you perform as a trio more because you share the same specific vision or because you just feel really comfortable creating together?FRICK: I think it’s both. Each of us is only doing what he wanted to do anyway, [laughs] but at the same time, we all feel like we don’t need to talk about certain things because it’s all clear in each of our minds. So I think we have kind of a shared vision.BRAUER: Which is also a chemistry. Each of us played in many bands before, and some of them were amazing, but in a band, everything can be great, and only one little thing needs to kill the band. No wonder so many bands end up fighting. For me, with these guys, it’s probably the first band where there really was no such thing. FRICK: You never needed your lawyer, did you? [laughs] The social thing and the music, that cannot be divided. Music is communication, and it’s unthinkable if people don’t get along together. Maybe they are lucky and have other people that force them into a room for an hour and maybe this tension can create something, but I think on a long-term basis, you need to be able to work together. GHORASHI: Do you fight about anything?FRICK: Sure, yeah. Our fights are quick, if maybe a bit loud, but they never last. GHORASHI: I know you’ve said you appreciate the imperfect quality of early techno, but would you say that you’re perfectionists at all? BRAUER: When we make music or even during a performance, some mistakes always lead to quite interesting results. FRICK: But then when it comes to what it’s supposed to be on an album—BRAUER: Then we’re quite perfectionists. We wouldn’t like to have a whole show disturbed by anything or not mixed in the perfect way. So we do a lot of effort for recording, mixing, and the whole quality thing is always a perfectionist thing. But during the creation of the music, we’re only concerned with the aesthetics. There’s a lot of imperfection, and that’s always good.FRICK: In the beginning, we kind of cleared some technical imperfections and made the music more mechanical than we had played it to make it sound more like techno, and our taste has just changed a bit. For example, I think we got much more into ’70s Krautrock and into punk and into many things where the expression and the main gesture becomes important. At some point, you can say, “Do we want to be a group that has the skill of some nerd sitting at home who collects stamps and puts them all really neatly into a little pocket and then he has the perfect stamp collection, or do we actually want to talk to people?” I think I’m talking about myself, because I was always somebody who was sitting at home and trying to make it just right, and I think with the years and through playing live, we have learned more about other ways of making music, which has made our music become more raw, with maybe more of a rock aspect. Also, we moved away from the techno that we started with, because we just loved the certain human aspect every time a bit more, I think. BRAUER: The early Detroit techno, you could actually hear that there’s still somebody making decisions, making weird decisions, and messing something up or making something turn into an entirely different thing. Compared to the techno productions nowadays, this old stuff had more human elements. FRICK: I think you can hear it music when somebody dares to put something that they still aren’t sure about onto the table. I think that’s a feeling that’s exciting. Music that feels safe doesn’t appeal to us. GHORASHI: Do you feel that this sub-genre of electronic music is more welcoming of new artists than the rest of the music industry?FRICK: In general, I would say yes, because now the electronic field is so connected in thousands of directions. For example, while we’re working on other things we listen to NTS radio—if we can make a bit of publicity here—and they just play all types of music. Experimental electronica is somehow linked with very original, unknown music, and now is a great time to listen to music and make music. There are no big companies, so we’re working more on a human level.BRAUER: But I think at the end of the day electronic music is still an industry, and it maybe enhances the fact that there are new artists. There are a whole lot of new artists and everybody goes really crazy for them and two years later they’re just gone. FRICK: It’s true—that carousel is becoming faster and faster, and it becomes harder for the musicians because of that, but that’s the thing about capitalism. Competition kills people, and it brings some great products. I’m not talking about EDM because obviously we have nothing to do with that, but the music industry we know is less capitalistic. On the other hand, in jazz, there are really few things happening, it’s very retro.GHORASHI: Yeah, you mostly just hear about jazz-infused hybrids. FRICK: There are exceptions, like Thundercat, but mostly the genres are melting. GHORASHI: Which city’s music scene do you like best, London or Berlin?FRICK: We would probably choose London, because in London there’s such a cultural mix, but also because—well, first of all, so many English people sing and sing well. We went to Glastonbury and played there, and on the main stage was Coldplay, and it’s not even totally my music, but there was like 100,000 English people all singing along. GHORASHI: You should go to a football game, everyone’s singing there too.FRICK: I imagine. Berlin has great times, and for making music it’s still an amazing city—there are a lot of people making special things, but a lot of tourists come for that one certain Berlin style, that [makes repetitive duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh sound] that for us has become really boring. They don’t add to the tempo or anything, and somehow there are a lot of DJs out there that manage to buy the same record over and over again. Berlin’s club scene is quite famous, but I don’t think most people in this club scene are really into all kinds of dance music or really into the music side, they’re more into a scene. For us, since always, London has always been much more important. Just the coming together of, say, British and Jamaican culture, from our perspective, seems like an endless source of great new things to come. Luckily we are there quite often; we probably know more about the London scene than the Berlin scene. [laughs]GHORASHI: As opposed to London, does the Berlin club scene remind you of the early techno scene in Detroit? FRICK: In Berlin, the clubs are much more raw—like the security stuff, all this law and order kind of thing, which is great—and there’s definitely a lot of heritage from the ’90s and from the Detroit techno idea and there’s a lot of people still here who are into this kind of thing. But at the same time, there are so many parties. All the clubs are kind of the same, generally speaking, and there’s a lot of boringness. [laughs]BRAUER: You can definitely have a lot of fun; the things that are possible in Berlin nightclubs—like how long it opens, what you can do there—for us that has become normal, but that’s really something special when we go to a party with other people who are not from Berlin. But in the past years it wasn’t really so fresh for us—when clubs are open for so long, it’s all about drugs. You want to go into a club and have that community vibe and maybe have new thoughts or things open up or lose your frustration—so it’s weird that some drugs in Berlin clubs, you go to a dance floor and apparently everyone’s really having fun, but the fun happens more in them and you don’t see it. That’s the cliché—”bad Berlin club night”—and there’s also many of them. GHORASHI: Which other cities are you excited about? FRICK: I wouldn’t mind being in Montreal, because I think it’s a really cozy atmosphere. You can really relax, and there’s a big music scene—there are festivals going on each week in summer. BRAUER: Moscow?FRICK: Music-wise? I wouldn’t say so. BRAUER: They have crazy rock stuff. Really dark.FRICK: I wouldn’t mind being in Tokyo. BRAUER: But good music you can find anywhere.FRICK: Yeah, more and more we’re interested in music that is not so accessible. I think that comes out of everything being on the Internet and also because vinyl has come back big-time—which is great, we really like that—and through the re-press or re-edit culture, I think that now music that hasn’t been accessible becomes more interesting for anybody because we are all so fed up with the mainstream. GHORASHI: I saw that you [Brauer] have a blog called “Towers of Brauer,” where you post photos of airport towers from around the world. BRAUER: [laughs] I would be really happy if you could mention it, I only have what—seven followers so far? GHORASHI: [laughs] Do you update regularly? BRAUER: No, I actually haven’t updated it since March of last year. FRICK: But there’s many beautiful towers on there.BRAUER: I have more, since I always take pictures when we play a show, and sometimes my friends send me pictures of the towers they’ve seen. I have a lot of stuff in the pipeline. [laughs] I really have to do it, it’s on my to-do list. It’s getting bigger, and it’s getting to be a bigger and bigger to-do with every tower I see. FRICK: You should really be quicker, because soon some other guy will make a blog about towers. And maybe he’ll do more work than you.GHORASHI: Maybe even taller towers.BRAUER: [laughs] I think Chinese towers are the tallest, and I have photos of those.GHORASHI: How much do you keep setting in mind when you’re making a track?FRICK: In the beginning, we were thinking more about dance-floor-esque nights. Then we stopped thinking about that, because we played live hundreds of times and we felt more like a band, and we didn’t let our music enter totally into this functionalism of dance music. It was just natural that we wanted to do slow songs or songs that were too fast, but yes, for me making music is—it sounds esoteric, but I believe in it—trying to create an imaginary space. If you feel that space and that vibe that you have while making music then you start to dream about social situations in which this song could actually do something. For example, sometimes listening with only a few people or having something really intense with maybe five or 10 people in a room can also be amazing. I actually think it’s interesting, these moments when you switch from your interior world to the social world, to communicating with people, and how music can make that happen—music that gets you when you’re in a melancholic mood and somehow it starts to liven you up. GHORASHI: What would people ideally take away after going to a club and listening to Brandt Brauer Frick all night?FRICK: Good music can always open you up. Our senses of the world are always limited to the streams and floods that we are used to, and they sometimes broaden or get more narrow. What we would like to achieve, of course, is to open up this perception—this is the best thing music can achieve. BRAUER: On a more emotional level, when your music manages to bring people together, that’s amazing. On the other hand, sometimes when we make music it’s created out of really bad feelings or out of frustration or whatever, but when the music somehow hits people, that’s really great for us.