Over the last few years Marcel Fengler has emerged from the Berghain shadows to join the likes of Marcel Dettman and Ben Klock as the recognisable faces of the legendary institution. While the notoriety of the club and its label Ostgut Ton have of course aided his rise, it’s his desire for diversity and craftsmanship in delivering it that has made him stand out. The ‘Berghain 05’ compilation showcased his ability to marry emotional, harmonious tracks with hard, unerring techno, and provided a window into the variety and surprising character he puts into his club sets. Earlier this year he released his debut album ‘Fokus’ to widespread critical acclaim, the personal artistry and subtle textures making for one of the most beautiful albums to come from Ostgut Ton. If all this wasn’t enough he has also been scoring for ballet productions, collaborating with Efdemin on their DIN project and even got married in the summer. Ahead of his set at Autumn Street Studio in Hackney Wick for Make Me on Friday, we managed to catch up with him to discuss all this and more.
Firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to us. I see next week you’re playing a gig in Hong Kong, have you played out there before?
That’s right – Hong Kong is definitely a highlight of my current album tour. I had heard that there was a growing techno scene in China before, but only really became aware of it after meeting people from Hong Kong after a gig I played in Tokyo – they told me a bit about how things were developing there. Volar Club, the venue I’ll be performing at has a longer standing history in the local scene there. I’m curious as to what to expect to be honest, and am all the more excited for it – it’s always great seeing new places and their crowds.
Ostgut Ton and Berghain have become global symbols of Berlin techno, have you noticed any changes to crowds or expectations when you play outside of Germany?
It’s still an overwhelming feeling, realising the impact and reputation the club and label have around the world, and of course it’s a very special thing being part of it all – no matter where you’re playing. In particular outside of Germany I haven’t noticed much of a change in the perception of it. At the end of the day, it’s about the music, and having a good time for a few hours. If anything, the only changes were rather at Berghain itself: the crowd has certainly gotten a lot more international following these incredibly successful years. Of course it’s not easy finding the right balance to maintain the regular crowd and so on. It takes a clear vision and positioning to ensure that balance continues to be struck – this has worked out well so far.
People often associate Berghain with a hardened, industrial techno sound, but as you’ve said in the past this only tells part of the story and you always try to have a more emotive or funky element in your music. How do you look to express yourself personally within the boundaries of techno?
I honestly just aim for as much diversity as possible – both as a DJ and a producer – because I get bored of monotony terribly quickly. Sometimes I feel like people need those clear cut genres and styles just to categorise someone more easily, of course that diversity makes it harder to cater to that crowd. I just prefer following the concept of making very different pieces blend together to something almost uniform. At the end, the most important aspect to me are the intersections which have more tension that way – and personally, at my own gigs, it’s about the moments in which I surprise myself; those are the ones that give me a huge boost and that I take away from the experience.
Your personal profile has been on the rise in the last couple of years, has the attention changed the way you go about things at all, either musically or personally?
It’s definitely been a very pleasant experience so far, and I’m grateful that things have been working out. Barring a few exceptions, I’ve been extremely happy with how the past few years have been going in general and really can’t complain. At the same time I maintain my focus and drive toward the future and trying new things – always looking for the next step. In hindsight, I don’t think I would change much about the way I did things. Of course, the increased exposure has taken its toll on my time management – I just find myself having to organise my time much more now than I ever had to before. That includes everything from listening to music to planning birthdays – my wife, parents and friends know all about that by now. It’s alright though, I found that at a certain point you develop certain routines in how you allot your time, which allows for some liberties and space for your own creativity. That last point is especially crucial because I have a hard time being creative in tight time constraints, so managing to find that free time by better planning was key.
Your debut album ‘Fokus’ landed in the summer to a great reception. Has the process inspired you to make more LP’s?
I found the entire process, from start to finish, extremely inspiring – and telling – because I learned a lot about myself. There’s that aspect of having to work on music in a very conceptual and “focused” way. I really quite enjoyed the feeling of delving into a project in such depth and detail. The result ends up being a part of you, something very personal, with all the ups and downs of the creative process flowing directly into it, beginning with the underlying stylistic ideas, to the inevitable doubts whether something fits just right, to that feeling of success when you’re in the zone and something just clicks, when everything kind of flows and the pieces fall into place. It’s definitely an extremely fun experience, and “Fokus” definitely won’t be the last LP I’m working on – be it as Marcel Fengler or as part of other projects.
Earlier this year you also collaborated with Efdemin to score Evolve, the 3rd piece of a contemporary classical project for the Berlin State Ballet called MASSE, which was then performed at Berghain. How did that come about?
“MASSE” was such a great experience, and I’d love doing something in that area again. For this project, we worked with some real professionals from the Staatsballett Berlin, especially our choreographer Xenia Wiest who is an impressively talented person. As for Efdemin, “MASSE” was the first time we’d collaborated – with the exception of some DJ sets before – we actually only discovered how well our sounds complemented each other during the production process. Ostgut Ton ended up being instrumental in getting the whole idea going.
Was it surreal watching the ballet perform to your music at Berghain?
I think in the end it was a natural fusion of contemporary Ballet and electronic music – two things that had existed in completely separate worlds for decades, despite obvious parallels. It was really interesting seeing the mingling of crowds as a result, the mix of theatre-/ballet buffs and clubgoers alike. Philip and I were especially excited to see how the whole thing would affect us, since we actually hadn’t seen the whole production prior the premiere. Finally seeing the result, the combination of the light, stage and costume production absolutely blew us away. My parents attended the show with me which made the experience even more emotional for me. In the end I was very happy with the result, and by extension, quite proud – it was just an amazing finale to the months of work that went into it.
Berghain recently played host to a Lady Gaga record release event and is now allowing some official photos from inside. Along with hosting projects like MASSE, do you think the club could be heading into a new era?
No, I really don’t think so. I think the clubs exclusivity will remain as it is. In any case, by this point there are so many private photos and videos floating around on the internet that it doesn’t really make any difference whether or not some official material gets released.
On your collaboration with Efdemin you’ve spoken of how complimentary your styles are, and you’ve done another track for the ‘Various’ compilation for Ostgut Ton. Do you plan to do more work together in the future?
Working with Phillip (Efdemin) was fantastic. In the meantime, it has developed into real friendship, so we’ll definitely be continuing our efforts as DIN. Phillip is in Japan right now for a larger project but will be back in December – we’ll be off touring South America together then and start figuring out what we’re going to do in 2014.
You obviously enjoy taking on diverse musical projects. Are there any other areas you would particularly like to explore?
To be honest, with the projects I’m working on at the moment are just right in terms of workload. Along with the ideas for DIN, I really want to get back to putting some time into my label IMF and open it up to other artists. There’s plenty of promising material so far, but it’s still a bit too early to say anything definitive on that. I’m also currently working on a possible new project for Mote-Evolver with Luke Slater, which I find very exciting from both a personal and musical point of view. Luke being a good friend of mine I’m looking forward to spending some more time together and working on music.
Your DJ sets have a relentlessly dynamic energy about them. Is there a specific motivation you have when you’re playing in clubs or a certain atmosphere you are trying to create?
I don’t really have a strategy when preparing for a set – of course I pack according to genres and so on, but the decision which track to play next is very spontaneous. Like most, I have my go-to tracks to help get into a set and to kick it off right, but I find it hard to get into the groove when it’s too premeditated. The biggest motivation and source of energy for me, as well as the deciding factor in where a set goes, is the feedback I get from the crowd.
I saw you play at The Hydra in London last year – the music was great but it was easily the hottest club I’ve ever been to and there was still wet plaster all over the floor, we all came out looking like builders! Have you had any other experiences in clubs where conditions have been ridiculous?
Yeah right – I remember that one vividly! That was quite possibly one of the hottest gigs I’ve ever had. I mean, I’ve never played in a sauna or anything, but I assume that’s what that must feel like. Something like that can happen of course, but to be honest I’d rather that than some irritating problems with the sound or sound system, unfortunately those occurrences are much more common. At the end of the day all that matters is that the vibe at that party was fantastic and I ended up having a ton of fun – and still enjoy working with the guys from The Hydra.
It was certainly a night to remember! Finally, congratulations on getting married this year. Which was harder, making an album or arranging a wedding?