Monday 20 May 2013

TEA with Felix K

“Flowers are like explosions in slow motion” says Felix K, a German producer bridging the 50-to-60 BPM gap between drum and bass and techno. “In my opinion sound-design is more defining for music than a tempo or the way beats are structured,” he adds. With the release of his Flowers Of Destruction album earlier this month on his own Hidden Hawaii imprint, Felix K has woken to an outbreak of media praise and attention almost overnight.

Sharing this wave of excitement is former TEA podcastee and Berghain protégé Rødhåd, a founding member of the Dystopian label and party whom Felix K is involved. On top of his DJing, label and booking duties at Dystopian, and alongside other forward thinking Berlin drum and bass associated labels Alphacut and The Weevil Neighbourhood, Felix K’s Hidden Hawaii and the sonic maneuverers it’s been making since 2008 are forging a new path into a realm of techno separate from the road already paved by acts like Instra:mental, Commix and Marcus Intalex.

Over several weeks and in the lead up to his Berghain debut, TEA spoke to Felix K via email about why Germany’s small, yet vibrant drum and bass scene failed to receive the recognition it could have - drum and bass’ re-emergence - his love for limited run labels and chained releases; QNS and the 10" Solaris Series, a tacit explanation to Legowelt’s slept-on Gigla LP on Hidden Hawaii, his new album and the birth and rebirth of his multifaceted imprint.

Your podcast for TEA seems to really focus on sound design. Did you have a specific theme or idea in mind when making it? 

Not really. I didn't want to mix a set of tracks that came from just one genre or one tempo. If you focus on sound-aesthetics, it’s easier to cross genres borders'. In my opinion sound-design is more defining for music than a tempo or the way beats are structured. 

Some drum and bass features in the mix. You come from a drum and bass background; have you found there’s a newfound interest in the genre lately?

That’s a tough question. There is definitely a strong comeback of the good vibes. I see more and more people producing and going out to see good drum and bass. Don't get me wrong, there have always been good drum and bass producers out there, but I’ve been seeing the comeback of certain drum and bass labels and clubs that previously went for overproduced trancey sounds for a long time. I don't want to name names - I think everybody knows them - but it seems like it's that style of drum and bass that is starting to settle down. Of course I am not sure if my observations are totally correct, but I like to see things simply. Maybe the comeback of more interesting sounds (in drum and bass) is because people are aware of the roots of where the music comes from. I mean, the time around 1995 was a kind of a golden era for drum and bass and jungle and it seems like nearly 20 years afterwards people are opening up to those genre defining and open vibes.  

How come you chose those specific drum and bass tracks?

There are two drum and bass tunes at the end of the mix. One is taken from my forthcoming album; “Flower of deconstruction #4”, and the tune that it’s mixed with is “Torque” by Ed Rush & Nico. “Torque” was released 1997. To be honest I don't know why I chose these two tunes. They sounded right. When I started the mix I wasn't following a plan, I just wanted to listen to them when it came to the point I could play them. 

The German drum and bass scene has never really been documented to great length. What it is like and why do you think a lot of artists have recently made the move from drum and bass to housier and techno styles? 

I think it's both cause and consequence for (the German drum and bass scene) not being well documented - drum and bass only existed within local scenes. In my opinion there has never been a German drum and bass scene as a whole; there’s never been a united feel. There's been drum and bass in Mannheim, Bremen, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, of course Berlin and more, but the view of drum and bass was different in each city. It still differs I think. Anyway, if someone from Berlin would try to document the scene as a whole it probably wouldn't do justice to what happened in Mannheim or Hamburg and vice-versa. 

One other aspect is there have never really been many German drum and bass records, and the few that existed didn't get much attention. Most of the records came from the UK, and UK distributors weren't really interested in German producers or labels. I think most drum and bass fans fed off what happened in the UK anyway, same with the German distributors, publishers and labels. On the one side we contributed to the UK scene, but on the other hand, we were too egotistic and short sighted to build our own scene that could have been documented. German’s forgot to build something that’s attractive to more than a few locked-in hardcore fans. I don't know if there are so many people switching from drum and bass to house and techno as you say... Are you sure it’s that significant at the moment?

I feel like a few years ago a lot of the artists associated with bass music, be it dubstep, drum and bass or garage and other stepped styles made the transition into house and techno. This year especially there seems to be a retrospective focus on acts like Photek, Andy C and Goldie by publications that may have only touched on drum and bass in the past. D-Bridge seems to be one of the few acts that can always peak the interest of techno heads. It's people like Trevino aka Markus Intalex, the Instra:mental guys, Commix and Ctrls from Northern Structures, to the likes of Joy Orbison, Blawan and Skream who are making a name for themselves outside of the genres they first cut their teeth. It feels as though drum and bass - and bassy music - is as close to house and techno as it’s ever been?

Agreed. It seems like artists are not caught in one genre anymore. I am not sure if D-Bridge is one of the only remaining drum and bass producer to be loved by techno fans. There are quiet a lot of techno informed producers; like Calibre, CMX, ASC, Sam KDC, Triad, Ruffhouse, Overlook, Indigo, Martsman and some more that surely gain recognition outside of drum and bass. D-Bridge is probably the most famous one. But didn't he start a techno project himself lately? I also recently discovered a house record by Steve Digital, that was odd, but I bought the record anyway. The best thing to happen to some producers is if they change genres, as there’s a spill-over effect. I like it when a genre uses information from other genres and I think that's happening a lot. Maybe that's why techno and drum and bass has a similar sound design. Both genres follow different rules, but the aesthetic elements are exchangeable. As far as I am aware both share the same roots anyway. 

How did you find yourself making the transition from drum and bass into techno? 

It just felt right. I buy a lot of techno records and I like to play them. Drum and bass is still important to me, but techno is something I feel more comfortable with at the moment. It can be dark, hypnotising and existential without sounding too harsh. I like that. 

Is the sound of techno you talk about what you associate with your label Hidden Hawaii? 

Hidden Hawaii is somehow a techno label yes, but it’s also rooted in dub and drum and bass. Therefore I wouldn't say it is a techno label in a traditional sense, it’s more of a combination of different styles with similar sound aesthetics. For example my album Flowers of Destruction is a collection of soundscapes and tracks that are based at 170 BPM. Speed-wise it is drum and bass, but the design is more techno.

What's your relationship with Legowelt and how did his album Gigla album make it on to Hidden Hawaii?

Some things stay in Hidden Hawaii.

OK. You also involved with the Dystopian label?

Dystopian is a label that has a great take on techno. We have shared the same vision and passion for techno for a long time now and I'm at nearly every one of their events in Berlin. Since last year I’ve become involved as a DJ (for Dystopian) and in the near future I’ll produce for the label. 

You also helped launched the Alpha Cutauri label this year. Tell us a bit about that release and the label.

It’s a project from Alphacut Records - a great drum and bass label from Leipzig, Germany. I was very happy to be involved with this project and I did the first of the three-record series. Regarding the release, I was given a lot artistic freedom by the label and on the record you can hear all kinds of genres; drum and bass, house and ambient music. Usually labels are into a certain forms or genre, but Alphacut let me do what i like. 

Going back to Hidden Hawaii, where did the name come from and what's your relationship with Double O, Martsman and DB1?

Hidden Hawaii is a story of friends. I can't remember exactly how the name Hidden Hawaii was born, but an old friend and I wanted to do a label back in 1998. We sat down for hours thinking of a name. After thousands of stupid names we decided Hidden Hawaii was good enough and we went for it. Afterwards I played some nights under the same name with another friend, but eventually the label and event came to an end. A few years later I started a DJ-team with Wan.2 and Hidden Hawaii was reborn. We then formed another DJ collective with some other friends and Hidden Hawaii was shelved again and we played under the name Breakbeat City. In 2008 Hidden Hawaii was reborn for the second time, this time as a label, and under the new formation we actually started to release music. 

Double O's For My Brother EP was our third release, so he’s been a part of Hidden Hawaii for a long time. I was familiar with his music long before that. His sound is exactly what I like and I contacted him to see if he would be up for a release. He has great musical ideas and combines them with his personal experiences from the good old jungle days. I like jungle and drum and bass because it's one of my defining genres. Without it I'd probably being making completely different music to what I am now. As for Martsman, he is one of my best friends. I always found his music fascinating. His music has always been unique and very well produced. When he came to Hidden Hawaii he'd already released on several other known labels and already had a strong career. 

DB1 is another friend of mine. I first met him at a Bassbin Records night in London. He doesn't write that much music - not because he’s not interested - but because he’s a perfectionist. It takes him ages too finish a tune. He has released the one tune “Vanguard” for Hidden Hawaii so far. It was probably our most defining one. I asked him to do an album right afterwards. I hope it happens some day. 

Each flower - or track - on Flowers Of Destruction seems to explore a fusion of styles. How long have you been working on the album and were you trying to express anything? I'm particuarly interested in the album's final track "Flower Of Hope".

I don't follow a plan. That's why I don't know what I want to achieve with the tunes on Flowers Of Destruction. I had no higher purpose or goal in mind when I made them. That's probably why each track explores something, like you said, a fusion of styles. The tunes that are on the album just sounded right to me. Most of the tunes where produced over the past few years. For example “Flower of Destruction #2” was produced sometime in 2008, “Flower of Destruction #10” in 2012 and “Flower Of Hope” in 2006. I like to let tunes grow for a certain period of time before I decide what to do with them. They don't leave my computer for a long time. For example I don't like to upload my work to Soundcloud - especially not right after I do the mixdown. I’ve never understood artists that do that. I also don't really send my work to other artists or labels. I have to be in a good mood to pass my music on to someone. That's why there’s just a very small circle of people that know my music before it gets released. This means I get the maximum amount of freedom and the highest possible control over my musical information during the production process. I also like the element of surprise. 

There is a concept behind the title Flowers Of Destruction. It was developed after the tunes where finished. I wanted the album title to be a set of variables that works top-down and bottom-up. Each track stands for a flower of destruction, so – if you sum it up – the album is a set; flowers of destruction. Even the last track's title, “Flower of Hope”, fits into the set, because hope is also destructive – if not the most destructive – force of human nature. It just sounds more optimistic. The whole concept of the album title is dedicated to catching the beauty of destructive moments. They mean harm on the one side, but combined with slowness, they might also be a catalyst for beauty. Flowers are like explosions in slow motion. I had this in mind when I thought about the album title. 

I was speaking with Nico Deuster from Killekill and he made the point of saying that even though techno in ‘90s was still dark, it was also hopeful; saying yes to life rather than no. Do you find a lot of techno at the moment is quite pessimistic or is it the opposite? Did you find drum and bass saying yes to life in the ‘90s? 

Can you give an example of music that says no to life?

Warp Records and Underground Resistance was what he refereed to as saying yes to life. No, came from a current crop of faceless -  sometimes underproduced - black-sleeved and black-labelled records "with some reverb". I think the resurgence of industrial techno and some of the new artists it’s brought with it may have something to do with this.

It’s an interesting view on music culture, but it necessary to keep things subjective. I think music is sound first of all. It happens in our minds and is something that is an object of psychology. As an art form it is subject to preferences; good or bad. The idea that music might be connected with - be it negative or life-affirming - is more related to a cultural perception. Within this realm I'd say that a certain sound is more optimistic, if I find it less dark than other sounds. Techno surely tends to be associated with dark and moody states, but if someone says that a label or a musician - or a decade as a whole - is saying no or yes to life, then it’s probably more about an associated feeling that is connected with a sound, rather than about the sound itself. All of this is still a bit blurred for me and I’m still not sure about it all. There is a lot of music coming from producers who avoid specific marketing methods, a trademark or a face. Does this say their music is saying no to life?

Without taking it as far as saying no to life, I think people still want to have fun to this music, regardless of how gloomy some of it may sound. Left to its own devices, electronic music provokes a lot of free thought and interpretation, especially if it’s devoid of vocals. So it’s understandable that people might feel a liitle despondent to darker music. Do you find your moods effect your productions in the studio, and how hard is it to translate that into a DJ set when playing to a dancefloor?

I have fun when I listen to Bach, the classic composer, or Aphex Twin. I smile when I hear a sad song, a Basic Channel tune or a well executed amen break. It is definitely “yes-to-life music” for me. What I am afraid of is the sort of fun that’s had at festivals and stuff like that, where people just turn into drunk animals. I think this is the kind of cultural phenomenon that can be associated with a certain “no-to-life”, big-stage sound. But like you said, let’s leave this behind. When it comes to making music I am no so sure about everything, about this sound or that arrangement. I try to catch my moods when I can and it takes a long time for me to finish a track. Behind the decks I am quite a different person. Although I am still quite introspective and shy, I simply like to play great tunes. 

My DJ sets are intuitive and spontaneous most of the time. When you play a four-hour techno set you don't want to get bored yourself. That may happen if you just follow a prepared playlist. You also want to do unexpected things. That's why I don’t play my own music that much. For example Flowers Of Destruction is a part of my personality, but it left my personal sphere when it was released. Until that point it was just an album for me, and I play it only if the moment is right. What I don't really do is translate my productions into my set. I mean it may happen of course, but I don't force it. 

You also released a box set of all the music to come out on your Hidden Hawaii sub-label QNS. Does this mark an end to the label and project? How and why did it start and are limited run labels something you like being a part of - like Hidden Hawaii’s Solaris Series?

Yes it was the end of QNS. To be honest I don't know why we started it this way. We wanted to try a series for the sake of a concept. QNS just felt right and that's all I can really say about it. I don't like to limit things, but I like the idea of finding a rare record in a record shop. 

You are also a music journalist? 

From time to time I am a music journalist, yes.

How does it feel to be on the other side of the interview?

It was a pleasure, and being on the other side of the Interview is great. You have to deal with unexpected questions. For me it disproves solipsism, which may arise when you work on something of your own for too long. 

Good luck at Berghain tonight. You are playing the opening set. Going back to what you were saying about doing unexpected things as a DJ, opening Berghain seems like a great stage to do this?

Thank you. It's the best stage and the best time I can imagine right now. I am free to play my favourite techno records. But I will also have to deliver something for the floor because as the opening DJ you are kind of responsible for the vibe of the whole night. So I will have to find a balance between moody leftfield-ish sounds at the beginning and move into techno later into the night.

Finally, what is your favourite tea to drink?

Espresso. But seriously, mint.

Tracklist Withheld