Many artist release their debut LP’s, when little is known about them beyond their music – with judgements still waiting to be fully formed. Not so with Nick Höppner. A name familiar to most astute fans of electronic music, Höppner has hardly kept a low profile over the years – with his day job as the label manager of Berlin Techno institution Ostgut Ton making him one of the most visible figures in the business. A DJ of high repute, few can weave a narrative on the decks the way that he can – with his flair for storytelling translating into his all too sporadic forays into production.
Now over a decade into his career, Höppner has finally found time to release his debut album – with the resultant record ‘Folk’ fulfilling the tantalising promise of his acclaimed run of 12″s. Trading in lush textures, dense layers and gently coying forward momentum, ‘Folk’ is an album that burrows into the back of your mind and ebbs further to the front with every passing listen. Below Höppner details the techniques, methods and emotions that went into its making…
This is the first track I’ve written for the album. I was in the studio just before going on my first Australian tour in December 2013. I had just committed to doing the album and the track came together really quickly. It only took two days to lay it down, which by my standards is very fast. It maybe took two more days of polishing it and mixing it down. I was very happy with it and thought it was a good omen for what was ahead of me.
2. Mirror Image
This one went through quite a lot of stages. The beats were the track’s strongest point from the beginning, but I couldn’t get the melodic content right for forever. One day it finally clicked when I was looking for a pad sound and found the one you can hear on ‘Mirror Image’ now. It pushed it in a very lush and deep direction which inspired the other synth patterns and sounds. In the end it made for a melancholic yet optimistic vibe that reminded me of a vocal sample I had in the back of my mind and finally I used it here. I lifted it from a sci-fi movie which was rather hopeless and gloomy, but I think I turned it into something more positive with this.
3. Out Of
When I started writing ‘Out Of’ I was in the mood for something wilder and less structured. The first version of this was just that – unfortunately, it was a bit too unstructured, so the remaining work on ‘Out Of’ was more or less taming it until it took its current form. Writing ‘Out Of’ has also been one of the rare occasions where I went to the studio with a genre in mind. In this case I was inspired by Electro. Obvioulsy, this is not Electro, but I think my inspiration is shining through anyway.
4. Rising Overheads
Similar to ‘Mirror Image’ this one went through endless incarnations. It’s originally based on something I started many years ago. Eventually, I erased everything except for a few percussive elements and started building the rest from scratch. It’s definitely the album track I’ve worked on for the longest time as I didn’t seem to get it right at all. It was a real struggle, to be honest. Usually, I wouldn’t stick to a track that is so difficult to finish for so long, but there was something in there I just couldn’t abandon. Once I had the arrangement down, the fight for this track wasn’t over, though. Getting it to sound right was equally hard. Generally, engineering and mixing my tracks is the hardest aspect of making music. There is still so much to learn, which is great and which keeps my studio work so interesting.
5. Grind Show
‘Grind Show’ is based on samples I took off a vinyl album compiling vintage recordings of Caribean steeldrum bands. The quality of the recordings is pretty poor, what actually was the reason why I found it so appealing to sample it. It doesn’t resemble steeldrums at all, it is all undefined rumble and hiss. The samples I made then actually reminded me of some of the elements of one of my first ever tracks I made on my old G4 when I got it in 1999. As I didn’t have the Logic file anymore, I sampled little bits from the actual track. So in a way, this track brings my production career full circle. You can also hear me clumsily play a Melodica I borrowed from Emika on here – I had listened to Augustus Pablo’s “Original Rockers” a lot during that time.
6. Come Closer
This one came about early on and was mostly inspired by a KORG DVP-1 vocoder sitting in our studio. I’m sharing it with Barker & Baumecker who are some of the biggest hardware afficionados I ever had the pleasure to meet. In fact, if it wasn’t for them and their gear, ‘Folk’ wouldn’t sound the way it does. So both of them had a massive influence on my album without having played a single note. I have never used my vocals on any of my tracks simply because I cannot sing at all. The KORG DVP-1 gave me the opportunity to process my voice in a way I actually liked to use it for my own music. It has a very unique texture and timbre. When it comes to lyrical content I’m quite apparently not the biggest talent, but then I really didn’t need many words for what I tried to capture here: That moment a flirt from the distance turns into something physical.
7. Airway Management
About six weeks into making ‘Folk’ my dad got seriously ill and eventually passed away two months later. There was no way for me during this period to make music or even think of it. Once my sister and me had taken care of his concerns, it still took me some time to get back into the swing of things. ‘Grind Show’ marks the start of the second phase of working on Folk. I still hadn’t really been back to the studio much, but wanted to make music again one day. So I just took my laptop and sat down on my balcony sometime in early summer last year. I have a vast collection of old tracks and recordings I have never released. That afternoon I browsed through my archives and tried to find matching files from different sessions. A few hours later I had laid out the core of ‘Airway Management’ which I took to the studio a few days later to give it its final form and sound. In a way, this track is essential to the general completion of my album. The circumstances of my dad’s passing have been quite a nightmare. I am not so sure I would have ever finished ‘Folk’ at all, if it wasn’t for this track coming together rather pleasantly and quickly.
With this one I simply wanted to explore a slower tempo. Usually, I hardly ever dip below 120 bpm, this is 113 bpm. It’s quite a different experince to be honest, as the gaps between the beats are bigger, so you have to look at filling them differently than at higher tempos. Somehow it made me go for really short micro-samples on the one hand, and big dense chord progressions on the other. I really can’t reconstruct well how ‘Relate’ came together. Sometimes making music feels more like dreaming than actually producing it, which clearly was the case here. I really love getting into these dreamlike states in the studio.
9. No Stealing
I had this as an instrumental for a while. At first I was thinking of looking for a real singer, as I felt this would go well with a vocal, but when I discovered the potential of the KORG DVP-1 I just stuck to processing my own. Again, the lyrical content is pretty minimal, but there’s a story behind it nonetheless. The night before I went to the studio to record them, I saw my friend The Black Madonna quoting her fellow Smart Bar resident from Chicago Olin on Facebook. It simply said: “There ain’t no stealing in dance music.” This ticked off a train of thought in me about copyright, sampling, sharing and that pool of Techno and House standard sounds and patterns which have been used so many times, they kind of have become collective as opposed to individual intellectual property. So this was still reverberating in me when I got in the studio and that’s how it ended up on Folk.
‘Folk’ is out now on Ostgut Ton. Buy it here.