GDD™ Exclusive Interview w/ Booka Shade

Today, Booka Shade are kicking off their North America tour, starting in Montreal and culminating in a mammoth show at LA’s Hard Haunted Mansion. Last week we caught up with Walter Merziger, one half of the legendary German duo, to chat about their forthcoming tour, the Get Physical label, and 90s rave culture. Here’s how it played out:

GDD™: How are you Walter?

WM: I am well thanks, Freddie. It’s ten o’clock at night, and I’ve just put my son to bed, so I’m doing pretty well.

GDD™: It’s great to be taking some time to chat with you, we really appreciate it.

WM: No problem at all.

GDD™: Fantastic. So you guys are about to embark on a tour of North America later this month, which culminates with a really big show in Los Angeles at Hard Halloween. How are you feeling in the lead up to that?

WM: Excited again, it’s always a pleasure to go on tour in America. Together with Australia, it’s one of my favorite places to tour. I like the country and it’s one of the few places that you can drive with proper tour buses because the roads are long and straight, you know?! Plus, on the last US tour earlier this year, we had some of the best concerts we’ve ever played. For me, the Red Rocks concert was legendary – I hope the audience enjoyed it as much as we did.

GDD™: I saw some footage and it looked pretty spectacular, Colorado and Red Rocks in particular is meant to be beautiful in the summer. I’ve always wanted to ask you: what’s your main technical set up for a show?

WM: We just have four hands, because we only have two people on stage, but we try to do as much as possible with these four hands. So Arno is playing drums, he uses an electronic drum kit, with extra percussion sounds and percussion elements. Then, on my side there are keyboards and two computers through which we run the sequencers, as well as a mixing desk, vocoder and kaos pads to destroy or delay things.

While we really try to do as much as we can, we’re always trying to keep the music stripped down to the essence, without losing the atmosphere that people can really see and associate the stage performance with – This has been our main concept, from the first concert onwards. We’ve really increased the whole live setup, and have a beautiful light show put together by a genius of a light designer from England, we also have a great crew with a very good sound technician too. We’ve toured so far, and I think it’s been a success.

GDD™: Arno once stated that “anybody can produce a nice, okay track, one that works on the dancefloor, but to produce something personal; music that is the very essence of who you are, that’s something much more difficult”. How do you personally convey the many complex feelings and life experience that you’ve had into a particular song?

WM: Perhaps I’m not the first artist to have said this, but it’s getting harder and harder, especially when you’ve been producing music like us for 26 years now. It’s more difficult to get to the point where you are really happy with a track. I remember when we had fifteen years through the 90s to 2002 when we produced music for other artists. There were years when I produced 60 or 70 records and 10 albums – I don’t know how I did this to be honest. Put it down to age, but I am getting slower and slower, not that I am not writing; I am writing every day. But it’s hard to be happy with what you’re doing, and not to repeat yourself, or to force yourself to go a different way to the normal way. With Booka Shade, we are not trying to pursue the obvious club or commercial direction in electronic dance music. We always try to stay in our universe and in our own “Booka Shade” sound. That’s us as people, and I think a lot of our personality shines through the music of Booka Shade.

GDD™: Great answer, so you mentioned earlier that you have a son and you’ve also said that you’re not getting any younger. How has being such an illustrious performer impacted on your family life, and have you ever gotten to the point where you might have to pack all your music in?

WM: You can say that in a year, we spend six months away, and six months at home, which is not easy. So for the kids, it’s always a bit of a problem. We have kind of a rule, that we don’t wanna stay away from home for longer than two weeks in one go. So actually, we break that rule when we head to Australia for three weeks next year, but it is possible. We have very good roadies now, and great management in England, so it is possible to organize the touring in a way that makes sense. I think what’s important for me and for the kids, is that when I am at home, I am really at home, so I’m not on the phone all the time.

Also my wife is very understanding and knew before she married me that I lead this life, so sometimes they come with me to certain places. We just played in Portugal and my family and I were able to take a vacation afterwards which was nice. It works, but it’s definitely the case where we have to have these breaks. We had longer breaks between the albums and the touring, we had 3 or 4 months off, but in the future we definitely need a longer time out from touring. But at the moment we are in the middle of this, we are planning on going to Asia and then to Australia, and for the first time: India, so there are so many places we have to play – I think the earliest our tour will finish is April next year. Yet when we go off and play for a few weeks, and come home for two weeks, it’s okay, I guess we’ve established some kind of a family rhythm now. Perhaps sometimes my family are happy when I’m leaving!

GDD™: [Laughs] a bit of peace and quiet. So what has been the pinnacle of your career so far and where’s your favorite place to play worldwide? You briefly alluded to India – it’s incredible to be taking electronic music out there as it must be pretty rare?

WM: I really can’t tell. As I say, USA for sure, always, as this is the home of the entertainment business. It’s always good, I think we were actually the first Germans to play at Red Rocks, so I think it’s incredible to really have this chance, because it’s not common for German artists play foreign countries. I mean, it’s more normal than in the 80s, now that so many DJs tour the world and stuff, but it’s a different thing as a live act playing your own music. It’s an amazing situation that we have, so I really can’t tell. The concerts in Australia are always really amazing moments, as we have broken into the mainstream a little and attracted mass media, which is still a little strange as we continue to play what I would consider underground electronic music, so these concerts are amazing. And then we have the UK, there are so many places, it’s difficult to choose just one country.

The situation gets risky in many ways, as we seem to be headlining more festivals now, so it’s not like in the beginning where we were playing clubs and just trying out new things, it’s no longer possible with a headline set. Our whole crew works like a machine now. We have to make sure everything runs safely and smoothly particularly now that we are playing 130 shows a year. Everything has to run like a machine, otherwise it gets so stressful that you really can’t make it through the tour. That’s why it was a long process to find the right people, and now we have an amazing crew, tour manager and manager in England, so it’s all running smoothly and you don’t have to stress so much.

GDD™: Although you love the rave culture, you grew to loathe the formulaic nature of 90s dance music. How would you compare 90s club music, to today’s club driven techno? and how would you compare 90s rave culture, with the equivalent today? Do you prefer how it was back then?

WM: In the 90s, when everything started, there were no artists doing just techno, you simply couldn’t find it. It was actually a German magazine called Musik Express, and they wrote a little article about a new style of music coming from the raves in England which is based on German electronic music, and influenced by Detroit techno. It was fresh and unheard of kind style of mixing music, and creating one long track out of the records that you have, but mixing everything into each track. The music changed big time, the DJ created some kind of a journey with the records and so it was really new and a pioneer’s moment brought about by the technical revolution, and the fact that there were computers available for very little money, and cheap equipment, so at that point, you could make music.

Nowadays, everything works like a formula, because techno and electronic music is established in the dance world. It is established and is also kind of an oldie music – you can hear in the music from the early detroit pioneers, as well as from the Frankfurt and Berlin scenes in the early days. You could hear this “everything goes” moment in music which simply doesn’t exist in the production of electronic music in the current day, because now everyone knows how to produce a dance track. I think this is a little bit sad, because in my view, you always need to try to push boundaries and find new possibilities to create a good groove. The thing is, because there is not a technical revolution anymore – at least not at the moment, perhaps the nano-technology will bring this eventually – it’s a long time since we had a big step forward in music technology. When they first built the synthesizers, there was Kraftwerk, and they recorded the famous Die Mensch Maschine (composed and recorded it) in 6 weeks because nobody else made that sort of music. They had the concept and they had the synthesizer that nobody else had, primarily because it was too expensive, so it really sounded unique and special. Now it’s much harder to find a new style and a new aspect.

I would say that in the 90s you could really hear more of the moment, and the punk attitude to music, which I like. But on the other hand everything was very disorganized. Raves and parties – you went there, you played there, and then you wanted to have your check, but the organizer or promotor of the party had already left with the money, it was just really poorly organized, nothing worked, the PA system was shit, or the police came and closed the party, you know?! It’s not happening so much anymore, because it’s a big business now and people without any love to the electronic music world realise that they can earn money with it. And when this is the case, and everything gets more manufactured and planned, so the spirit of this completely punk and un-organized situation that we had in the early 90s is completely gone. Techno in Europe is definitely mainstream, while in America it is still considered some kind of a niche music. But even when you consider David Guetta; the playbacks he’s doing are based on techno music, he’s just combining R&B vocals with European hooklines, it’s his concept, but it’s still the base of European club music and I think it’s quite famous in America as well. So yeh, I think there’s something a little bit missing.

GDD™: So the fact that it is so readily accessible, how does that in turn affect your job for Get Physical, because I know that you guys co-run the label (with M.A.N.D.Y. and DJ T.), how do you source new talent?

WM: We are not doing so much, this is the problem. We don’t wait for the next musical revolution, because it just happens or not, it also can block you if all you’re thinking is “I need the newest and most unheard stuff out there”. If you’re thinking like that, it’s also stupid. We are looking for music that we like and that we feel, and that has some kind of character. Then we say “this is worth a try”. This is what we did when we started Get Physical as well, we just combine music from the 80s with these melody bassline things, and then combine it with a more housey groove, and then try to put it back into house again. When we started Get Physical, everything was really hard techno, and we felt that the musicality was missing, so we wanted to combine this in a different way.
Suddenly someone came up with the title “electro-house”, but then the problem was that it became so successful and Get Physical was a success, that of course people liked the style and then made it more commercial by putting a fat bass drum underneath and just took away the funkiness and the groove that we really liked – they just took it away, of course to make it more accessible for mass consumption. But in the end, this was not our aim, we always felt that it was important to have and to feel this character and uniqueness that the producer wants to present. It’s always important to feel something, after all. If a producer is just sitting there, counting things together, like putting puzzle pieces together, you can feel this but it’s not real. We are looking for real stuff, for the real music and really people who feel what they are doing. This is of course getting harder and harder, but it is not impossible. We always find new acts with interesting ideas, you know?!

GDD™: So one last question: while we’re on the topic, who do you personally admire in the world of electronic music today, and who do you think is really cutting edge while feeling “real” music?

WM: I like Caribou, I think he combines both acoustic elements with effects, which sounds really new for me. Then a few years ago there was Burial, with his dubstep thing, but in a really individual style that had never been heard before. A guy called Trentemoeller from Denmark who’s a great producer, he combines film music, spaghetti westerns and electronica, all together with a really good sound. He’s more like a sound designer than a composer in my opinion, and then in the pop world there’s Gorillaz and on top of that, there’s M.I.A. who is also doing some really good stuff. So in all different kinds of electronica and electronic music in the dance world, there is good music – It is still there, you just have to find it.

GDD™: Walter, thanks very much for taking the time, and best of luck with the tour.

Catch Booka Shade at the following dates:
Wednesday 20th – Club Soda, Montreal
Thursday 21st – Mod Club, Toronto, ON
Friday 22nd – St. Andrew’s, Detroit, MI
Saturday 23rd – Congress, Chicago, IL
Monday 25th – Royale, Boston, MA
Tuesday 26th – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Wednesday 27th – Factory, Philadelphia, PA
Friday 29th – Cow Palace, San Francisco, CA
Saturday 30th – (DJ set) Dallas Convention Center Arena, Dallas, TX
Sunday 31st – Hard Halloween at The Shrine, Los Angeles, CA
Arno & Walter were also kind enough to hook us up with their recent hour long promo mix for your listening pleasure:

Booka Shade October Mix by GottaDanceDirty

1. Ruede Hagelstein – Emergency [Souvenir]


2. James Talk – Cola Bottle [Get Physical]
3. Johannes Heil – Freedom of Heart [Cocoon]
4. Boy 8-Bit – From The Depths [Turbo]
5. Booka Shade – Teenage Spaceman (Booka In Space Mix) [BS/Get Physical]
6. Miichal Ho & Marco Riederer – Let Me Up [TFB]
7. Format:B – Dog Tag (Sebastien Leger remix) [Formatik]
8. Solomun – Sisi [Leena]
9. Mason – The Ridge (Klein & Juergens remix) [Great Stuff]
10. Booka Shade – Regenerate (Popof remix) [BS/Get Physical]
11. Good Guy Mikesh – Spare (Mano Le Tough remix) [Ki]
12. Rodriguez Jr – La Cavalcade [Mobilee]
13. Toby Tobias – Pinot Soiree [Redkids]



4 Responses to GDD™ Exclusive Interview w/ Booka Shade

  1. Dave L says:

    great interview! super interesting and i totally dug the history bit about techno in the 90's! thanks guys.

  2. bowchickabow119 says:

    Awesome interview and awesome mix! He made a good point about the pros and cons of the rave scene.

  3. Anonymous says:

    big interview Fredde. good work

  4. ick nick says:

    i love you two gents! booka shade! cheehu!!!

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