Developing an identity as a musician is often an arduous procedure, rivalling the creative process of the music itself. While music offers up an element of identity, artists look to take further steps to single themselves out and draw deserved attention to their creativity. Producers and DJs are faced with the further hurdles of being cloaked by extensive time in the studio, only to emerge for enigmatic appearances from within the confines of a DJ booth. For Kölsch, the last 5 and a half years have been spent trying to detach from an identity. Moving away from the Rune RK moniker and taking up his surname as the next vessel to explore the world of music, Kölsch has opted for a personal approach. “I decided to close down everything and do something I really wanted to do. One of the big factors in that was making it more personal; opening up and for once letting myself become part of the story”, Kölsch explains.
An ever present on German label Kompakt, the Danish producer has carved out a reputation for being a deft hand when it comes to emotive techno. An identity carried onto the DJ circuit where he can often be found fusing heartfelt four-to-the-floor beats with swirling tech house while at the helm of the biggest clubs in the world. Following an extensive residence in Ibiza over the summer, Kölsch makes a return to the UK later this month coinciding with his latest single release.
Your latest release on Kompakt’s sub label Speicher comes out on September 30th and fuses some pretty powerful horn and string samples. What mindset were you in when the original idea for the track came about?
For a long time I’ve been working with the traditional orchestra arrangements, and I think the only thing I hadn’t really touched on was brass. There was this one amazing hip-hop record from a few years back that I was crazy about that has these hefty big brass samples called Simon Says.
Pharoahe Monch – Simon Says?
Yeah! That dun, dun, dun, dun sample was so powerful and led me to think about how I could transfer that sound into techno.
As you have put a lot of work into making full length records in recent years, was it is a conscious decision to release a more dancefloor orientated track?
It’s always a balance between dancefloor and listening experience, battling to get energy and melody into a track. I think if you have a track that is predominantly drums it will have a lot of energy, but as soon as you mix in a melody it softens everything up and becomes harder to deliver an energetic impact.
Kompakt is obviously a label you have been heavily associated with for the past 5 years or so. Do you you feel it is the perfect place for you to indulge your creativity at this moment in time?
Absolutely. Kompakt is the perfect label for me as they allow me to be creative, but they don’t shy away from something melodic or with a slight pop feel to it. They’re not afraid to challenge what the general perception of electronic music shall be, should be or can be.
What’s next after this release?
I’m working on my new album at the moment. I have a couple of demos ready but it’s going to be a while to start finishing off the album because it’s another big project. Looking at bringing it out for May/June 2017, but of course things can change.
As Kolsch you have been producing records for 6 years now but on the whole you have been producing for the best part of two decades. Where do you look to for inspiration to take your new projects forwards, and what has provided the desired results so far?
Inspiration can be a terrible thing, it creeps in from everywhere. It can be from a book, movie or conversation; it’s something you always have to be open to as an artist. A lot of times I can be in my studio listening to old records ranging from classical or early electronica. There is no clear definition of what inspiration is and where you might find it.
When making your two full length albums you cited your childhood experiences and the ideas you had when younger as strong inspiration for the music. Do you think producers are sometimes too fixated on the future and progression, and as a result unaware of how useful their past is in helping develop new sounds?
The point of those two records was to indulge in my past and figure out what it was, who made me who I am.
I find it really interesting to dig into the particular preferences we have as humans, not only in genres, but also musical instruments. For example, I am not particularly fond of electric guitar and I can trace that back to the fact my dad was a guitarist and he would intrude on my space and start playing. When I was in my early teens listening to hip-hop, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, he would come in and jam over them which was annoying, especially in the fragile teenage years.
I have always wondered why I like organs, or particular clean sounds. That’s what I wanted to get into on 1977, and dig back into the stories from my childhood. It is not necessarily about not looking to the future, it was more about processing memories through a different filter. Your perceptions are always changing, so even if was to make the 1977 album again now, it would probably sound completely different.
Looking back at the two full length albums 1977 and 1983, why did you feel Kölsch was the right persona to tell the stories within the songs on each records? Was it merely just a matter of timing rather than a significant feeling within yourself?
Well I closed down all monikers because I’d had enough of the confusion. I’d spent a lot of time trying to produce different types of music and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I came to a point where I told myself whenever I’ve embarked on a new project it has become a creatively blocking process. I would have a lot of ideas and they would either be shot down by big labels or It didn’t work out like I wanted it to. So I decided to close down everything and do something I really wanted to do. One of the big factors in that was making it more personal; opening up and for once letting myself become part of the story.
Did the albums allow you to be personal on a level you had never experienced before?
That’s what the albums were all about, and still are. For me it is storytelling and trying to convey the feelings that I had at the time to the listener. I love the idea of transmitting feelings with instrumental music. With electronic music you can give something so emotive away without having to explain it through lyrics.
In terms of your own production, do you believe that full length electronic albums lean more toward emotive documentation whereas single releases are an outlet for the expression of raw feelings?
Full length records would generally be more or a concept or expression, but a lot of singles I have put out have ended up on the full length albums I have brought out. So they’re definitely part of the same idea.
Moving on from your productions, you have recently had a short residency on BBC Radio 1. How’ve you found the experience of playing music to thousands over the airwaves rather than in front of hundreds in a club?
It’s great, I used to make a lot of radio back in the day in Denmark. What I really like about it is I can actually showcase music I wouldn’t necessarily play in a club, music that is a little more interesting and complicated. I have a whole folder on my computer with these types of record that I’m completely smitten by and so it’s a great feeling being able to share this beautiful music with people on the radio. It’s also an opportunity to talk about inspirations and what music inspired me; for instance, last programme I had a really long talk about Arthur Russell and Phillip Glass who I feel are some of the early electronic music pioneers. It is important that we see electronic music as a real art form. A lot of people hear the kick drum in techno and see it as a buy and throw away style, but through the residency I want to show people there is more than just dance in electronic music.
So it is more of a musical discussion than a regular residency?
Yes. I’ve asked people to send in demos for instance as I think it’s interesting to find out what kind of music they are into and what they are making. I tend to pick one and play it each show. The residency is also great for interaction when recorded live; I can ask a question and have someone send an answer in via Twitter a few moments later. When I’m not all that encyclopaedic about a certain subject, there is this broad mass of intelligence there to dip into which is beautiful.
Do you think there is a different pressure between the two when it comes to track selection and execution?
Playing clubs and festivals is so different to the residency. Playing festivals in front of thousands of people, you need to be focussed on a more pure or primal experience. However, the finesse of electronic music sometimes does not translate well through enormous speakers, which, coupled with set times, can make a big difference given the amount of variables that can change, often altering people’s experience. With the radio show I have opportunity to delve into something that is not generally club or festival orientated music.
Your original formative experiences in electronic music and dance trace back to Denmark. In terms to the scene that was available to you back there, did you find this to hindrance at a young age but a benefit to your music when you had begun to develop you career?
I have been thinking about this a lot and I haven’t really decided. I started going out in 1993 and the electronic scene in Denmark was extremely small, probably around 200-300 people. It seemed to be everything mixed together - breakbeat, trance, Detroit techno and some house - but there wasn’t really that much distinction as the scene was so small. Back then I had an Amiga 500 computer which I made my first record on around 1995. In that same year I experienced how big this scene was in the rest of the world when I went to Love Parade in Berlin. I couldn’t believe how many people liked that style of music. Going from something underground to several thousand people walking the street listening to the same thing was a great experience. Even now the scene in Denmark is really small, there is one great club called Culture Box but there rest of country is primarily into rock and indie.
On a creative level, it was probably healthy to be somewhere where I wouldn’t be heavily influenced by the scene going on around me. If I had been in London in the 1990s where the popularity of genres would shift rapidly, I would have found it much harder to find what I wanted to create musically. I never really knew if it was a good or bad thing coming from a small isolated scene as it took me a long time to develop a sound. Whether that would have the same case had I been in Berlin or London, I’m not so sure.
Are there any less famous cities you have visited in your career with a distinguishable club scene that has always stuck with you since playing there?
In the 1990s there was an amazing scene in Helsinki. There was a guy called Kim Rapatti who would put out the most amazing techno records, almost legendary. They were in total isolation up north in the middle of nowhere and yet they were still producing amazing records and that to me was just incredible.
Finally, I’d just like to ask. Compared to all of the moniker’s you have adopted in the last 20 years, how closely does Kölsch reflect you as a person?
100%. It is me in music. There is no distinction between the music Kölsch makes and who I am.
Interview by Elliot Ryder
Photos courtesy of Kompakt / Kolsch