One quick skim over the names to have played at Berlin's Grounded Theory parties and you'll know that this is one serious soirée of the techno variety, and refreshingly one that's not held at Berghain.
Grounded Theory is a Berlin based techno event, booking agency, artist management and soon to be record label run by two close friends Henning Baer and Micha Mueller. Since 2009 Grounded Theory have booked a slew techno's most influential and sought after names including everyone from Adam X and Joey Beltram to Redshape and Sleeparchive, as well as Fachwerk and Ostgut Ton techno stalwarts, not to mention residents Milton Bradley, Vault Series and Henning Baer.
Slowly pushing through the ranks though is Henning Baer, whose name is slowly demanding as much respect as the aforementioned. Blessed with a chance encounter at Hardwax and recommendation from then record store clerk Marcel Dettmann, Henning Baer and Milton Bradley hooked up through Henning's admiration of Milton's Do Not Resist The Beat series which would later form into a friendship and K209, the label and production alias of the two.
Henning Baer recently released his impressive debut solo EP Fierce Hundred, K209's second release thus far following up what TEA considers to be one of the best releases of 2011. TEA caught up with Henning Baer via Skype to talk of bootlegging gabba records, Wu-Tang, techno projects and Green Tea ahead of Grounded Theory 12 with Ben Klock, Delta Funktionen and Vault Series Live.
So you are a Berlin local?
I was born and raised in the western part of Germany, near Frankfurt am Main. I actually moved to Berlin 8 years ago.
What brought about the move to Berlin?
Things in the west are a little different than here in Berlin, I always felt I wanted to move to a city like Berlin. Berlin is a very special place, here you can do pretty much whatever you want, you can fulfil your dreams, there is no pressure for you to perform to certain expectations and you can define the space you are in. The cost of living is lower and there is a big scene for clubs and musicians. I am very happy to be here and I’m not thinking of moving, everything feels perfect here.
Berlin seem to be quite accepting of the constant influx of foreigners into the city. Are Berliners used to this and how long do you think this internationalism will last?
Berlin will always be a magnet and I don’t think the internationalism in Berlin will ever end. I’m not an original Berliner but I know a lot of people who are and I think they are used to it, people have always been moving to Berlin. Berlin has and always will be a melting pot of characters and individuals that are looking for something different. Berlin is constantly changing and the people moving to Berlin are often the ones helping shape the city.
Tell us about discovering electronic music to hitting the clubs?
I was 13 or 14 when I first heard electronic music. My sisters boyfriend was a DJ and one day he and my sister were playing records in her room. I was always intrigued to what they were doing with these strange black discs, so when they left house I went into their room, took some records and then went into my parents room and recorded one of them, it was the Christmas Edition of the Rotterdam Termination Source, which was pretty hardcore gabba. I listened to this tape over and over throughout the summer and that was really my first contact with electronic music. A few years later I bought some turntables and a mixer from a magazine catalogue called Elevator, things were quite affordable and more and more people were buying turntables. I started buying records and was buying a lot of hip hop vinyl, stuff like Wu Tang Clan and KRS-One. I was always into the rawer styles of hip hop and to me Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is the blueprint of raw techno, even today this record has everything in terms of rawness. A lot of my sound design has taken inspiration from this album. I started spinning at parties when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, but it was still a hobby. When I moved to Berlin my idea and understanding of techno began to take shape. I was going to clubs like Tresor on a Wednesday night and Berghain when it first opened. It’s here where my appreciation for electronic music really began. I then started Grounded Theory with my friend Micha in 2009. We wanted to do our own parties that were more of a project, a techno project, and things have been going from there.
Were you running parties before Grounded Theory?
I did one when I was 17 but I was more going to parties as opposed to throwing them. There was always the idea of hosting parties but I thought other peoples parties would be better than mine. I think you have to be very committed and focused to come up with a project that will be there in years to come, rather than just doing one or two parties. Before Grounded Theory I wasn’t doing parties worth talking about.
Were you DJing in clubs before Grounded Theory?
Yeah totally, I had played at Tresor and some other clubs around the place.
Tell me about how Grounded Theory has grown?
September 25th 2009 was our first Grounded Theory. It started as an idea, we never sat down and planned out a certain concept, we are not following a concept. We are doing what we want to do and we are doing what we feel is best. We had the fist party with Steve Rachmad, Function and Norman Nodge. That line up came from us sitting down and thinking who would we like to hear play at our party, who we would like to book for our own party? The first party went well, Berlin is not a techno wonderland where you can just turn up and throw a party and thousands of people will come. I think in Berlin compared to other cities in Germany, you have to work harder to establish something if you want to be in the game for more than one, two or three parties. Every weekend there is a minimum of two or three parties where I think yeah I would go there, or yeah I would go there. In other German cities there may be one good party to go to on the weekend and here its like Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. At our second party we had Convextion, Oliver Ho, Don Williams and Milton Bradley and from there we new we had a project to work on.
I think a lot of people want a party that can trust now as opposed to names on a bill.
Totally. Let's for now call people who go to parties consumers, they notice if something is real and they can identify with a party that has a reason behind it. When you are at a party you want to feel it is organic, I think that is what attracts people. We were never thinking of making money off what we are doing, we were just thinking - how can we have a good time and showcase some good music.
How happy are you with the Grounded Theory parties at the moment?
I am very happy. When I look at the line ups and see who has played for us within the last two years I am proud of what we have achieved and how we have gone about doing it. Our line ups come from browsing through our records and picking out artists whose music we are enjoying. Every DJ that has played on our line up we fully stand behind. Grounded Theory 12 is coming up next and we have so many more artists that we want to get involved and bring to Berlin and Grounded Theory.
Tell us more about your Grounded Theory partner Micha Mueller?
Misha is a Berliner and I met him 7 years ago. Misha is not a DJ nor a producer, he is a music lover, a music connoisseur. We went to the same gym and I always saw him around but we were never really close friends. I then started seeing him at the clubs I was going to and we got talking. When I broke up with girlfriend I called him and he invited me to come along to Bar25 with his friends, I think that was when our friendship really started.
Tell me about the artwork behind Grounded Theory?
The artwork is very important to us as we want to get across a certain feeling. Our flyers are A5 and are printed on a very organic feeling and smelling 300gsm paper, the combination of the feeling ,the smell and the artwork combines everything together perfectly. Misha is in to his art and he was taking some very interesting pictures and we decided we would use his shots for our parties artwork. The first flyer’s artwork was a black and white shot of some escalators in Prague taken from the top looking down. That shot definitely provokes the type of feeling we were going for, the second flyer was very reduced shot of a single bird in the sky. There is always an idea and meaning behind our artwork, we like to have an interesting image where people can interpret what they want from it. Our earlier art work was darker and gloomier because that is our idea and vision behind electronic music and techno. As we are now up to our twelfth party we thought we would go with something new. The concept behind our artwork is done by a friend of ours called Toby from Panic Studios Berlin.
What you were saying about the texture, feel and smell of your flyers seems to be a parallel with peoples fondness of vinyl. Is this the case for you?
Yes there is a connection and your right it gives off the same feeling. The touch and the smell of vinyl is something very specific and something that attracts people some much that they fall in love with it. That was never the idea behind our artwork but it all seems to tie in together well. What we do is based on a natural human dynamic not a structured concept.
Tell me about your relationship with Milton Bradley and K209 the project?
I was at Hardwax shopping for some records and when I was at the counter about to pay two guys walked in and put a big box of records on the counter. This was when Marcel Dettmann was still working there and he said to me - you should buy this record, I was like - yeah sure, because Marcel knows his records. I didn’t listen to it at Hardwax I just bought it. I got home and put it on and was like - whoa what the fuck is this, I was totally into it. I never really looked into who it was but I knew that it was a dope release. Then the second record came out and I bought it a Hardwax and then the third record came out and it sold out. So I contacted Milton Bradley on Myspace and wrote to him in English, he wrote back saying you can talk to me in German so from there I learnt he was German. We organised to meet up out the front of Hardwax so he could sell to me personally Do Not Resist The Beat 3. The third release was the only one they did in the clear blue vinyl, so I bought both the black and blue copies. We met at the front of Hardwax and he was with DJ Zeal, who is doing the Do Not Resist The Beat label with Milton. At that stage we had done one Grounded Theory and we were planning our second party. I was looking for a resident DJ and asked if he DJ’ed and if he wanted to play at one of our parties and he said yes. Now we are friends, we hang out together, we do music together and I represent him with Grounded Theory bookings and management. He was the first artist on the Grounded Theory roster but it is all based on a friendship. We always catch up and have a coffee and talk techno as well as make music on our K209 imprint. Milton and I have a very strong relationship, we try and keep the business side of things as low as possible because sometimes that can kill the passion for the music.
So from there how did K209 start?
The room number of my studio is K209, that’s why we have the door sign as the artwork, that is the actual door sign. I was making music and Milton came around and we ended up writing a track together. We new we wanted to put it out but we weren't sure who to release it with, so we decided to come up with a new imprint of our own. First came the track, then came the label and then came the release. There was no plan of making track together to kickstart a label, we just had a track and thought - ok cool lets release it on our label. K209 has no release schedule as such as we are going to release music when we feel it is right.
Milton Bradley seems to be someone that likes to do things on his own terms.
That is true. The great thing about doing something on your own is you can do it the way you want without any interference. Milton is a very special person, I think Milton is what you hear in his music. I wouldn’t say that he is an unhappy person, but he is a very reflective person, he notices things that other people might not. To him making music and being in the music business is very important, he is not someone that will produce a track a week, he has to be in a perfect state to sit down and do what he does. To me that is very special.
Have you thought further about what K209 the label may become in the future? Do you have plans on opening up a roster?
Of course we have thought about it as people are sending us music, but at the moment it is only a platform for me and Milton Bradley. Milton Bradley’s tracks on K209 will be will be tracks that may not fit in with Do Not Resist The Beat or his other project The End Of All Existence. It is a extension for Milton and a platform for me to release music. We created this platform to have the freedom to do whatever we want to do.
You also just released you own Fierce Hundred EP, tell me about that.
This is my first solo ep. I have made tracks before and have a lot on my hard drive but these were the first to be released on a EP dedicated to me.
So were these tracks made specifically for the EP?
I had an idea of making an EP but I never thought I want to have an intro track, then a more experimental track then a rework and then a dancefloor track. I had been writing music and when I was compiling the EP these four tracks made the most sense to use. I think it is a well balanced EP. It has a intro track followed by Fierce Hundred which is a very intense track. The way I produced it was very intense. I make my music using mostly hardware and Fierce Hundred was a one shot take. It was made with one analogue drum machine and some effects, I recorded it in about three to four hours. The feeling I had when producing Fierce Hundred I think can be felt when listening to the record. I really enjoy and appreciate music when you can feel the emotion of the maker come through on the track. It’s nice to know that the music you listen to is not made in front of a shiny white computer screen in a super sunny apartment. I like the imperfections of dirtiness and rawness, of course it should be well produced and a pleasure to listen to but I don’t want a tight and fancy track that tells me everything. I want people to be free to interpret music however they want and this is what I try to do when I produce music.
I think that goes back to what you were saying about Wu- Tang and their rawness.
Structure is very important. Rough or raw does not mean it is rough or raw. There is always a subjective interpretation of what rough, raw, clean or dirty actually is.
Cold Sun is the more experimental track on the EP. More techno artists these days are pushing sounds further from the dance floor. Is this something that you have always been interested in?
Its funny you say that. I buy most of my records from Hardwax because to me they offer the best selection. Last week I noticed lots of ambient, electronica and beatless stuff was coming in. I wouldn't say that I was into it or that I wanted to do something that was beatless, I just did it. When you are surrounded by certain things you are influenced by them, but there was no point where I was like I want to do something ambient. I was sitting in my studio and I was playing around with my machines and thats what came out.
How come you chose to include you rework of Sawf on the EP?
Sawf is the latest signing to our roster. I got to know him through Perc and my friends Subjected and Moerbeck from Vault Series, they did a remix for his Ninio EP on Perc Trax. I also did a rework. I really liked the track and had a copy of his original stems, coming back to Wu-Tang once again, the track to me sounds very Wu-Tang with the vocal, strings and that rawness. I can really identify with the track. Perc couldn’t release my version due to the space on a record and I didn’t want my rework to be released as digital only, so I thought why don’t I release it myself. K209 002 was close to coming out and I spoke to Perc and Sawf and they were both cool with it being on the record.
How did you go about reworking a track that you already really enjoyed?
There is a really thin string sound, what I consider to be the main part of the track coupled with a subtle vocal. Sawf’s version is very raw and stomping so I wanted to come up with something that had a little more groove. I came up with an 808 beat and some thinner hi hats. The beat is mine and I pretty much took two parts of his track and reworked his idea. That’s why I call it a rework, the percussion elements are all mine. I took the string and the vocal sample and based on what I heard from the original reinterpreted his track. That why I like seeing people rework tracks because remixes can be a totally new track inspired by the original. That’s why it was important for me to call it a rework rather than a remix.
And the Vault Series guys, tell me about your involvement with them.
Subjected runs Vault Series and Moerbeck releases on the label. Sawlin, who released on the first three Vault Series is doing his own thing now. Grounded Theory is representing the Vault Series in terms of bookings and management and we are all friends.
What does the future hold for Henning Baer, Grounded Theory and K209?
There will be more K209 releases but nothing is set in concrete just yet. The second release is out but it needs time, every release needs time to establish itself. I’d rather do this then pump out releases and kill the dynamic of the label and its music. I just did a remix for Justin Berkovi which will come out on Other Heights. We also have our twelfth Grounded Theory party at Arena Club of the 28th of October with Ben Klock, Delta Funktionen, Vault Series Live and myself playing. We have looked into having a label associated with the Grounded Theory events and by the end of the year there will be a Grounded Theory release. For me it makes sense for the label to have - various artist samplers to represent who has played at Grounded Theory. We want to represent the artists we have booked on our own imprint.
So Grounded Theory the label will release tracks from those who have played for the party?
Yes. People who have played for us will release on the imprint as well as Milton, Vault Series and myself. It is a step forward and it feels good to have the music we like on a medium that we appreciate.
So vinyl only?
Not totally vinyl only. When K209-2 was released we released K209-1 as digital. This is what I think we will keep doing. With Grounded Theory Recordings the focus is on vinyl, I only play vinyl and of course I want to offer people who are playing digital only the possibility, but to me vinyl is the centre of the label, so it’s vinyl first then digital. When I do release digitally it won't be a week after the vinyl release either, this doesn't really make sense. There will be digital releases just not at the beginning.
And finally Henning, what is your favourite tea?
I am a big coffee drinker but when it comes to tea I like green tea, plain and simple green tea. I do like a green tea with jasmine as well. Green tea can pick you up as well as calm you down.
This Friday 28th October Grounded Theory plays host to Ben Klock, Delta Funktionen, Vault Series (Live) and Henning Baer. See here for further details