Listening to Berlin producer Mike Dehnert’s music one would be hard pressed to imagine it to be the work of a jovial, carefree soul. Functional in the most compilmentary sense of the word, his music is exactly the kind of Techno which has helped Berlin to build a reputation as one of the modern day meccas of the genre. Prolific to a level that would put even the most ardently self proclaimed workaholics in the shade, his recent studio album on Delsin, ‘Lichtbedingt’, was his tenth to come out in just seven years. Heading up the Fachwerk imprint, Dehnert has churned out music at a rate of knots, with only the occasional contribution from friends Roman Lindau and Sascha Rydell stemming the seemingly unstoppable flow of material.
Meeting Dehnert in person before a gig in Cardiff recently, Hyponik was very pleasantly surprised to find him to be a thoroughly nice bloke-with a hilariously irreverent side to him. Sitting down for dinner (thanks again for the Caesar salad Mike), we spoke about his love for his hometown of Berlin, the ‘Horror Movie’ he tries to create with his sets and his hatred for economics…
How do you find playing out in the UK?
I like it very much, I’ve thought about it much before. I like playing in different continents because the musical language is all the same. It doesn’t matter If you’re in England, Japan or America, its all the same.
How does it differ from Berlin?
The difference is that sets are much shorter. Government restrictions mean that the parties only go on till four, five or six whereas in Berlin parties can go on for twenty eight hours. So there are completely different opportunities opened up for party goers.
Is it just government restrictions or cultural restrictions that limit the party? I mean do they just party harder in Berlin or is something different going on?
I think it’s mainly the government really. It’s a shame as many places can only go until four. That’s why I think the idea of the ‘after hour party’ has come from England. In Germany there’s no such thing as an ‘after hours party’. The party covers that. ‘After hours parties’ are fuelled by adrenaline whereas in Germany home is just for sleeping.
You were telling me you studied economics…
That was so boring.
Without being too wanky, this Berlin Techno sound has really taken off in the UK and the music is one of Germany’s biggest cultural exports. Why do you think the sound’s struck a chord with so many in the UK?
I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s differing attitudes. We have more time to consider our music. To let it breathe. Sometimes the story I hear in a lot of UK Techno is that it’s very rushed. It feels like the tracks have no time. There’s a short break then ‘Ta Da’! Our way is to sculpt one feeling into a track and then another feeling into another track. Our way is to let the DJ bring those feelings together. They can do that because they have five hour long sets. Unfortunately here it’s often the case that you’ll have a six hour party where they cram ten DJ’s into that space. There’s no space to create a story in your set. That’s maybe why the music is more compact and audiences are looking for something different.
So you think it’s really important to create a narrative in your sets then?
Of course it’s very important to tell a story in your set. The machines make the music but the story is a very human thing. Although I’m sure if you asked me the same question ‘after hours’ you’d get a completely different answer.
Cheesy question then: What sort of stories are you telling with your sets?
It’s more abstract feelings, kind of like a horror movie. You play with people’s emotions. I often go from more erotic tracks to high energy adrenaline fueled tracks. It’s very different from blinding people with three hours of industrial and hardcore tracks. You can be made to feel like a factory worker.
That’s interesting to me as one of your tracks made an appearance on Ben Sims’ Fabric mix. He mixes three records at the same time and each one will often only get a minute in the spotlight. It’s quite a different approach.
For me I like more space for the music. There’s so much space in the music already but when it’s packed it’s make the tracks so radically different.
There seems to be a lot of mythology in the UK around German clubbing culture. Half the people I hear talking about say Berghain, in the UK have never actually been there.
It’s a very free place open for unique musical experiences. It comes back to time again. Individual sets there usually go on longer than whole parties in the UK. I really love playing there.
It’s an interesting contrast to me. Often the lights will invade the dance floor at 5am saying “It’s time to go home now” whereas in Germany the iconic graffiti says “Don’t forget to go home”.
Berghain really sums up the Berlin feeling. In Germany the last DJ who plays the closing set decides when the party ends. When I played the closing set at Berghain, I played seven hours Monday morning. After that I almost collapsed – it was a long time but people were so relaxed and ready to jump into bed. The DJ has control over the decision. In some other countries it’s the security men who decide. They count you down by the minute then kick you out. I know which of the options I prefer.
It’s kind of like having sex and half way through someone marches in and says, ‘nope it’s over pull out before you’ve reached orgasm.’ Something’s wrong there… That’s a really bad feeling but it’s just what happens to the parties.
(I laugh nervously). We’ve spoken a lot about Germany, let’s focus on your music. You’re all analogue then.
(A proud) Yep
I can’t say I’m totally all analogue. For me though it’s only important what comes out of the speaker. It doesn’t matter what I use, analogue or digital doesn’t matter that much. It’s possible to sound analogue with digital and vice versa it depends how you do it.
That’s refreshing to hear there’s a lot of analogue worship going around at the moment.
(Laughs). It’s funny because so much so-called ‘analogue gear’ is actually very digital inside. That doesn’t matter though, it really isn’t as important as people like to make it out as being. It’s actually quite fun making ‘pure’ analogue gear sound very digital.
What sorts of sounds, analogue or digital, influence the music you make then?
I started with DJing as a teenager with a mate of mine. Vinyl was everywhere when I was growing up as a teen which was helpful. At the same time though there was no YouTube, no videos telling you how to be a DJ and no sync buttons. But I puzzled tracks together; that bit of a track would sound cool if it was next to this bit of a track, that’s what got me into making music. My first release was when I was sixteen years old. My parents had to sign the contract as I wasn’t old enough to. I just very suddenly started making music even though there was never any plan to do so. It was a great feeling to start.
How did your parents feel about you making music?
They thought it was a phase I would grow out of at the beginning: “This music will be over in five years nobody will be listening to it anymore.” It was a very new music for my family and a totally new thing for that whole generation. I think my grandma did music but making music with machines was still very new. That distance still exists. Making music and making money from your music are very different things and it was never the plan to stay alive from it.
Where you surrounded by a lot non-electronic music growing up?
No, Classical wasn’t around me at all or anything like that, except maybe the Bolero. There’s a big difference between Classical music and Techno for me. I find it easier to hear the feelings and emotion in Techno; you have to work too hard for that with most Classical music. I love a lot of Jazz. My dad would share some crazy music with me. Even stuff like Frankie Goes To Hollywood made a big impact on me. We’d listen it loads at home on my dad’s amazing sound system. I bought it at the airport on iTunes. Let’s have a listen.
(We listen to Frankie goes ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’ in a very busy hotel lobby. Afterwards I suggest we listen to some Kraftwerk on my phone. Mike’s not a fan)
Kraftwerk for me hasn’t aged well. It’s very much Techno for the older generations. I don’t want to go back there. It’s far too mechanical for me. Something like Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ is much more enjoyable for me at least. Even Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’ had a bigger impact on me. Growing up in the 80’s that’s the music that was on the radio, not Kraftwerk.
That’s surprising that it was Pop music that got you into underground music. How underground is Techno in Germany?
When you grow up as a child you have to go through Pop to get to the underground stuff. Cross the mainstream first then you can go further. It would be very bad if you started with the strange sounds of the underground. At school you have to learn simple things first and Pop music is simple.
What is Techno to you then? Often it appears quite cold and functional, driven by rhythm and machines. It’s like it comes from the machines itself, which I personally see as an amazing selling point.
I agree. However it’s the same as a sports car, you shouldn’t focus on the parts. You can also drive very recklessly or very elegantly. It’s the same with the guitar as much as the synthesizer. The music machines only do what you tell them to do. You are the user not the machine. The artist has to be behind it not the engineer behind it.
‘Lichtbedingt’ is out now on Delsin. Buy it here.