When thinking about Berlin’s music scene, one name that immediately pops into my head is Killekill, a club night with the tagline “Kill Your Boredom”, which later evolved into a label and festival. But more than this, Killekill gives the feeling of a family which brings together people motivated by the same goals and values, pushing forward music that’s not meant for one listening, defying the expectations of what commercial success might entail.
One month before Killekill takes over Berlin once again for what will surely be another great edition of Krake Festival, we sat down with Nico Deuster, the man behind the label to discuss its beginnings, what underground means to him and more.
The Brvtalist: Hi Nico, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First, please share with us when and how did Killekill begin?
Nico Deuster: Killekill started as a weekly club night at Berghain Kantine trying to bring some diversity to Berlin's scene which was in my eyes super boring at that time. We booked everything you could think of in electronic music, literally, from break core to ambient, band music to miami bass, just everything we found and liked. Also it was communicated quite clearly what our goal was, and there was hardly any money, so it was also about who shared our ambitions.
TB: 2018 marks an important milestone for you. How do you see the evolution of Killekill over the past 10 years?
ND: I think we did 391 events by now, and if you do the math, that means a lot of artists played for us. So, from that starting point described above, a HUGE network has grown. This is also why we started Krake Festival, our annual Berlin festival. We just couldn't squeeze all that into our club nights, which are now happening every other month in Berlin or so. And since we obviously haven't lost our drive for diversity, we just needed something where we could put that in the focus.
With our club nights we have built a solid base in Berlin and have some resident djs and key artists, but there are people dropping out and new people coming in every now and then, so it's pretty vivid. Since we are active on so many fields - labels, events, festival - we have quite a big team or partners around us, which is also constantly growing. I think that's also special about us - all that personal stuff in the background. We really try to keep a scene with a certain attitude alive.
TB: I feel that the word underground is being used excessively nowadays to a point where it’s even losing its meaning. What does underground means to you and to Killekill?
ND: Haha, well, that's actually what I meant. Underground to me means, if it's not about money or personal success. If you are active, because the scene - or whatever you want to call it - provides an alternative concept of society for you. If values have a worth, like loyalty, togetherness etc. Unfortunately this often means, that you can't be as successful as others, because obviously living these values eats up time, energy etc, which you can't use in full effect for your "success". Also it means you can't compromise on some things. On working with certain people, because they stand for a certain behavior you don't want to support, so all in all it means, you have to be clear with a certain attitude and that means you might have to let certain chances go as well. so you could also say: Underground means under the Armutsgrenze, as someone put it recently. :)
TB: Boidae, Death by Rainbow, Killekill House Trax, Vanta Series, these are all part of the Killekill family. Why did you decide to split the releases into different sub labels?
ND: The idea was to be able to put out more music more easily, in that sense that if you have several platforms you can just shoot out stuff, there will never be other releases scheduled before or so. But it didn't really work to be honest. Since I take every release serious and usually love it, and I can't split my attention anymore than I already have to with all my activities, it didn't really happen. Which is not a problem though! We released some amazing music recently, and particularly working on the released for our album label Boidae I have been enjoying very much.
TB: If you were to pick a record for each of the sub labels, which ones would you see as representative of the sound? Or which ones would you recommend to those who would like to get an idea of what each sub label is about?
ND: Well, I didn't really define them by sound, it was a bit more conceptual, like Death By Rainbow which aims at releasing techno and other dark stuff by queer artists, but anyway, if I had to pick one, for Boidae it would be Umwelt - Days of Dissent, for Killekill House Trax it would be Affie Yusuf - I'm Free, for Vanta Series it would be Alex Cortex - Mindconcern, for Death By Rainbow - Furfriend - Polytuna.
TB: Do you think it’s possible to keep growing as a label and festival in order to reach out to more people, and, at the same time, still remain true to an underground and diy ethos? If so, how?
ND: Oh, that is the big question of my life!
To be honest, that is a big challenge. I have a daughter, I am not getting younger, so obviously you are asking yourself, how long can I go on with burning myself out in unpaid working hours, endless nights etc, but on the other hand, I can't change it. I have tried to compromise to make some money here and there, but I must admit, I hate this so much, that I prefer not to do it at all then. I did study, so I have some other options, and I have picked this life, because the "bigger" meaning behind it means something to me, so compromising just doesn't make sense really to me.
So I don't think I can really answer your question. Time will tell...
TB: Let’s talk a bit about Krake. What made you want to start a festival?
ND: The main reason was, that we learned that playing totally different music every week, didn't really work in the long run. We had tons of respect from everyone, but it was difficult to build up a crowd, as people were really surprised by what we set up sometimes, and maybe came one more time, but maybe not a third time. So we needed to change this. I mean, for our club nights we still book much more diverse than many others, but compared to what we did back then, it's homogenous. So we needed another output for the other stuff we loved, and so I joined forces with Holger Hilgers and we founded Krake, a festival for experimental dance music, a wording which doesn't exist really, but we thought that nailed it down for us. Also the picture of a Kraken, a huge octopus coming from the depths of the sea with all his arms we found suitable for our festival, which is organized in a similar way: different branches of music, different venues etc.
TB: Coming from a punk-rock background and then starting an electronic music label, while throwing raves for the past 10 years, why do you think it’s important to merge scenes and get rid of unnecessary genre limitations?
ND: I can no answer this in a general way for others. I can only speak for myself, and I must say, I literally have zero interest in genres and categorized artists. This concept just doesn't work for me. For me it's all about the energy. I need something real, ideally also original, but even more important is the realness. It can be a house dj slamming his records, it can be a punk rock band or a gentle solo musician. It needs to touch me, and then I am all ears, whatever genre it is.
TB: I really enjoyed the vibe of the label market last year at Urban Spree. How did the idea of the label market and raffle came about?
ND: We were thinking: How can we include even more people from the local scene? How can we develop our festival into a platform for the local scene, which is so diverse? The label market seemed a very good starting point for that! Every year we have like 70 labels there, presenting their stuff, and it's also a great get-together, a huge meet-and-greet-and-drink-and-stuff.
The raffle just came up as an idea one day. We could collect gear and otter interesting stuff from sponsors, give it away to people of the scene and in the end donate money to a social institution - how cool is that?
TB: Krake is not just about music, it’s also about art, performance, A/V shows and installations. How do you discover the artists you are working with and what are you looking for from an aesthetic point of view?
ND: Well, with a lot of people I am in touch constantly and it's more about finally finding a slot for them, where it makes sense, but obviously we also discover new artists and do a lot of research as well. Particularly my wife Katinka is active on that field and has brought some really cool discoveries to the festival already.
From an aesthetic point of view, what we expect differs from year to year. It's not that we have different concepts every year, but let's say we start with one idea, then this automatically means, we can or can't do other things on other days, and then the concept just grows very organically. As described above, basic concept is to skip hypes, stay real and stay away from arseholes.
TB: With so many events and festivals happening in Berlin, how would you persuade someone to come to this year’s edition of Krake?
ND: We don't have big pullers, like "ah, they have this and this and this, and that's all the artists who play everywhere now, so I want to hear them!". We do have a lot of stuff you might not have heard of, and we do have a fucking cool crowd, who appreciates exactly that, so if you want to have the real Berlin experience, this is where you should go.
TB: What's the single most motivating thing about Krake (and Killekill in general) that keeps you going even when things don't really work out at first or when you don't get the results you've expected?
ND: Oh, sometimes I feel like giving up as well. Usually it's the good experiences which keep me going. And until now they come often enough. :)
But also I must say, I run most of my projects with my wife and partner in all crimes Katinka, without whom it would be much less fun and also probably I wouldn't want to work so much, if it wasn't with her being around me. So to be honest, most probably she is the reason why I still do all that.
TB: What have you lined up next for 2018?
ND: Oh, phew, Krake Festival! Killekill Summer Camp, a line of midweek events which we run at Grießmühle all through July and August, a reminiscence to our wednesday nights at Berghain Kantine, 10 years of Killekill tour dates all over Europe for fall, Ick mach Welle, the project mentioned before, where we build a studio which is meant as a space for people with disabilities to give them access to our culture, our scene.
This year, Krake will take place from 23rd till 29th of July,and you can buy your tickets and check out the full line up over here: http://krake-festival.de/