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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.