The Parisian artist shares some personal thoughts and song choices from his recent set at Berghain.
I know it's become pretty boring to hear about how awesome and unique Berghain is. DJs congratulating themselves about playing there, describing how they "killed" it and so many other social media ego-marketing statements it now feels almost cliché to read comments about the Berlin techno temple.
But still i feel I have a few things to say about my experience there, especially because I’ve never really felt like a techno DJ and playing Berghain confirmed it. In a good way.
Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the most intense and joyful live performance experiences of my life, but it was kind of a risk for me to play there and I was very stressed about how it would go.
The first time I played at Berghain was a year ago, in January 2017. When I heard from my agent I was booked there, like every DJ, I freaked out and thought it was a joke. It's a huge achievement to play Berghain. I’m sure you all already know the place and have already been there several times but Berghain is still, even after a dozen of times visiting, a shock for me. The building, the total freedom inside, the 36 hours of mad rave, the looks of the crowd, the quality of the line ups, the sound system, it is still the absolute raver’s experience and the Holy Grail for every techno DJ.
But the thing is, as I said before, I’m not a real techno DJ. At least I don’t feel like I am. I mean, I don’t play only techno - i’m very versatile and I like a wide range of electronic music styles, from electro to industrial, dumb and weird synth wave, cyberpunk EBM, acid, goon techno, etc. I can’t play loopy techno tracks for 4 hours and i’ve often felt stuck in this tricky position of being too "weird" for techno people and too "ravy" for fancy selectors.
So for the first time, it was pretty logical that Berghain booked me for the opening slot of a Klubnacht party, warming up the room from midnight to 4am, an exercise I cherish since my beginnings. I love warm up sets. It went very well, it was quite magical to see that mythical room filling up and getting to play a lot of weird noisy beatless music for the first two first hours on that gigantic soundsystem. It was a crazy feeling.
In a way I thought that if they booked me again they would offer me the opening set once more but a few months after, they contacted my agent to book me to play from 10am to 1pm - on a Sunday this time and surrounded by some of my favorite artists and DJ’s and friends too.The February 3rd lineup was myself, Reka, Phase Fatale, Vatican Shadow, Ron Morelli, Function and more.
After being ecstatic for three days, obviously very excited by the news, I wondered if I would be able to play "my" music, the music I usually play in clubs and festivals? I mean, most of the sets played during the klubnachts Sundays at Berghain are pretty tough techno; the audience goes there to rave and dance hard. I know the stuff I’m playing is dance music but will it be "hard" enough for the rough techno mecca? Are vocals, weird melodies and punk-ish proto techno going to work there ?
I chose to sleep before playing and arrived there fresh after breakfast, thirty minutes before my set time. When the elevator (the one that goes from the first floor to the booth for the people playing there) opened at 9:30am in the Berghain booth and I saw the dance floor packed and going crazy to Dominick Fernow/Vatican Shadow's intense live set, anxiety kinda kicked in!
I stayed in the corner of the DJ booth and observed. Fernow was playing a great set and the energy was very, very high. I actually never saw the floor so busy at 10am. The crowd was going mad and I was on in 10 minutes now.
I started with a vocal track as an introduction (a silly interview of a girl saying she likes to have sex with dogs) as Dominick’s last notes faded out. People clapped and graced him with big applauses as I was waiting to play my first beats. I was very nervous but the atmosphere was great and i felt the crowd was very nice and friendly that night. The provocative words of this absurd recording started echoing between the floor’s columns.
I decided to take the intensity down a little bit for the first half hour to set the mood of my set and mark the transition. I couldn’t have competed with Vatican Shadow’s set energy anyway.
Boris Barkdale’s "5.0.5" was the perfect first beat track to open up with. It is stripped down and tense but has a nice dissonant synth melody that i really like. And those drums are quite representative of the sound i play, halfway between techno and 80’s drum sounds.
But soon it was time to hit those speakers harder and give the angry ravers what they wanted, a bigger kickdrum and a more straightforward track. Umwelt’s "Nocturnal March" never sounded better. A real beast.
I still wanted to play some nasty vocals throughout the set and not go with the big techno guns too fast so I also played this Smersh track I adore. It is such a great transition to launch a techno track right after, the tension of the track is amazing.
As Smersh’s track has a very lo-fi beat, I always like to play a more hi-fi sounding track right after, especially with a big drum beat. I needed something wild and simple and Regular’s "0.33ms" was just on point. People got pretty mad, I was less stressed and started to get more into my set. The heat was on.
I knew for months that I had to play harder than usual and I had a pretty precise idea of how I wanted my set to sound. And this Giant Swan new track on Contort Yourself kinda sumps it upperfectly. Wild, goon, trashy and dark. It sounded like it was made to be played on a sunday morning at 11am while leather half-dressed people were half dancing half fucking. The track is called "Dare".
In the middle of the set, I had to play that Bigod 20 tune I've been obsessed with for almost two years. I play it in almost every sets. It is the perfect combination of new beat structure, 80’s basslines, rough deadly vocals, with a hint of ‘jackin’ drum machine elements. I always like to balance a "techno" set with this kind of tracks.
In the last hour of my three hour slot I played some electro tracks to break the 4/4 monotony. I always play a wide range of music and electro is definitely a big part of it and always has been. I like how robotic, rough and melancholic this music usually sounds. Maelstrom’s "No Escape", which i’ve been playing for months is great. I love these vocals, it reminds me of some Bunker Records releases.
I had a few goals during this gig and playing Boy Harsher’s "Motion" was one of them. I had to. I was dying to hear that beautiful song in the techno temple, on the gigantic sounds ystem. I played it after Alessandro Adriani’s "He Who Harnesses The Souls" which fits perfectly with the bells in the first part of "Motion". I pitched it up a lot (around 132 or 133bpm) and I was afraid it would sound bad but it actually still sounded great. I looped it, and when I unlocked the 8 bars loop and the vocals came in I must say I had goosebumps and people went nuts. A lot of people knew the song and was very surprised that I was playing it. This moment will be burnt in my memory for a very long time.
When I went out of the booth I was so tired I had to sit for half an hour, shocked by such a beautiful morning. I felt very privledged to play there, alongside so many great people. I cannot wait for next time and I already have a few new goals in mind.