The good days of Paul Kalkbrenner
As much as he’s a superstar, Paul Kalkbrenner is still an enigma. In conversation, he doesn’t go for slick sound-bites: he’s concise and occasionally cagey. It could be the language barrier, interview fatigue or just that the music speaks best for itself, but getting expansive isn’t his thing.
When inthemix gets Kalkbrenner on the phone, he’s on a circuit of North America put together by Sonar, Barcelona’s premier electronic music festival. Sonar’s Stateside touring party also includes Tiga, Gesaffelstein, Seth Troxler, Nic Fanciulli and Azari & III, a flipside to the ‘EDM’ hysteria we’re accustomed to hearing about. While he’s ““a 72-pt bold font festival headliner in Europe, the U.S. is somewhat new ground for the Berliner.
For a good ten years, Kalkbrenner’s releases on Ellen Allien’s influential BPitch Control label revealed his standout talent, but it wasn’t until the Berlin Calling film and its soundtrack that his reputation went stratospheric. His single Sky And Sand stuck for 107 weeks in the German single charts. Its success sent Kalkbrenner around Europe on a large-scale tour in 2010, a watershed year that’s captured in his live DVD. In November this year, he released his new album, Guten Tag, through his own label Paul Kalkbrenner Musik.
In his own estimation, it’s consistency that has taken Kalkbrenner from a guy playing at Berlin’s Watergate to the guy playing for 50,000 fans. As he tells inthemix, what he’s doing is “exactly the same thing” as 10 years ago, only now with the budget to bring a trailer-load of production. With two ‘In Concert’ shows approaching for Sydney and Melbourne (“Last time pulled all the Germans out,” he says of his club tour here in 2011), here’s where the mind of Paul Kalkbrenner is at.
So you’re in America now. How’s the tour been so far?
It’s going quite well so far. The response is better than I expected, the venues are nice and due to the fact that I have my production team with me it also sounds and looks good. Some cities like Montreal were like a home gig in Europe.
Do you remember the first time you went to America?
Before I played just a couple of times, just now and then in small clubs. This is the first bigger appearance here, with video, light, sound guy – the full team.
How does Guten Tag feel different from the last one you did?
It’s more like the Berlin Calling in terms of form; it comes somehow a little bit wider and somehow it’s also like a résumé of all the other albums I’ve made before. That’s why it’s black. It’s the album.
But it is different from Berlin Calling, in the feel of the tracks…
Yes, well, I’m also more advanced in doing them.
Do you think about the live show when you’re making tracks for the album?
You don’t think of the dynamics of how they would work?
If I make something that’s a little bit longer than an interlude and it has beats, it will work on the dancefloor, so I actually don’t have to think if it will or not.
In your live shows are you still reaching back to earlier productions as well?
Yeah, absolutely, it’s always a mix of all the times.
How does that work for you? Do you still find a new way of presenting those tracks?
Yeah, because here on the U.S. tour, all the shows are exactly one hour so I had to make a short set. Since I started playing in Chicago, the first shows have been quite funny.
Right, so it’s funny because you just had to really condense it?
How long can your live show go sometimes in Europe?
I think the record is three hours, 45 minutes. And they are three hours; the real concerts. I think also in Australia, it’s going to be two hours or two and a half. Yeah, I think it’s 150 minutes for those shows. When you pay that price for a ticket, you shouldn’t just appear for an hour or 90 minutes.
Last time we interviewed you, you said if you don’t play Sky and Sand you’d have girls crying because you didn’t play it. Is that still the case?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t find it problematic anymore.
I know you’ve said before that consistency is the main factor in why you’ve been so successful. Can you expand on that?
People say, “Why you? Nobody is singing, we really don’t understand!” I just watched me playing maybe 10 years ago. It’s exactly the same thing, what I’m doing up there. I had much fewer songs than I have now to play, and so at that time I played one hour to 90 minutes, but what I was doing then was exactly what I’m doing now. But now it has all the videos and the lights and the big sound and colour. But I’m doing exactly the same. This is maybe what it is about.
Has the way that you’ve made music changed in terms of the gear that you use and the process?
In the last 11 years, not at all. Exactly the same.
And that doesn’t ever feel restrictive?
No, I dive into it like I have never done it before, only because I’ve known it for so long.
Are you still based in Berlin?
Yes, same as ever. For me, personally, perhaps the apartment is nicer, there’s less stress on the day and the off time is better quality but no, there’s not such a major change.
Paul Kalkbrenner’s Guten Tag is out now through Paul Kalkbrenner Musik. Tour dates below.
Friday Dec 14th Melbourne – Billboard
Saturday Dec 15th Sydney – Hi Fi Bar (formerly The Forum)