April 21, 2016Feature

James Kenny sat down with Felix and Aaron, two thirds of Berlin-born and based techno collective FJAAK to talk gigging, music, their city and football.

“To be honest when he wrote to us we were smoking joints like, man Modeselektor is writing us an email…”


FJAAK have become poster boys for discerning techno in the past two years or so.

Their likeable persona, mixed with their mesmerising live performances means their fanbase transcends the archetypical ‘techno fan’.

They’re coming back to Dublin on Saturday October 28 to perform at the Opening Concert of Metropolis Festival 2017.

Ok so I think first, Danke schön, thanks for coming – and welcome to Ireland!

Thanks a lot man – thanks for having us.

So I suppose one of the things we really wanted to ask about firstly is your dedication to your craft and to the very distinct use of hardware. There are a lot of pictures of your studio doing the rounds, and you’re really developing a name as guys who are focusing on this. So, our first questions is; using hardware has this really unique way of making music that’s imperfect and that’s ultimately more human. Firstly is this a fair reflection of your music and secondly if it is, do you see this as an essential part of your music – is it something that you try to do? 

Felix: Hmmm. Good question. I would say definitely yes! Because the way we do it is like, ok we could, I’m sure we could do the same stuff with only a computer or machines because we really know how to use all these modern plug ins and modern day digital shit and use it but the way you get ideas for the track its like: push buttons and just try out.

So the random will bring out something great that you will never have in your head before.

Aaron: So I would say you can do the same sound just digital with your PC but also if you’re three people like we are it’s impossible to just hang off one PC. If everybody’s just on a machine and doing some stuff you can make quicker new ideas. So it’s just like sounds after sounds and then you have a track and it can be much faster, you know?

Staying with music and your outputs as producers, I mean we have to talk about 50Weapons. How did you first hear about them, when did you first get involved, what do they mean to you seeing as it’s such an important label?

Felix: We know 50Weapons I think now, more than five years. From the beginning they had this unique style and layout you know? The artist had just one colour and there was always this one crazy filter on it. When you saw those records you straight away knew, ok, this is a 50Weapons record.

For me it was something that was super professional and to be honest a label I always thought didn’t need anybody else. It was like they were full or something or like there was no possibility to make a release on such a label. Jumping a little bit forward when we started to make music and get much more into playing live we completely forgot about buying vinyl because we were hanging around in the studio for twelve hours a day. We would make stuff and then we realised that this sounds really similar to some of the stuff on 50Weapons. So then we started to send some stuff – I think we sent like 40 tracks to them and they were just like: “Nice stuff. Send us more”. And this was going on and on.

And then suddenly we got an email off Gernot from Modeselektor [50Weapons joint label boss] and he was like: “I don’t think we know each other” and we were like: “no no, you’re right, we don’t know each other” and he goes: “OK. I wanna come ‘round” and we were like: “Yeah of course, we live here” and he was like: “OK, I’m gonna be there in 10 minutes”. It was funny because we thought, ok we’re maybe going to meet in a month – if we’re lucky! At that moment we were sitting super stoned on the couch. A friend brought some nice Mango Haze and we’re just smoking the biggest joints ever.

To be honest when he wrote to us we were smoking joints like, man Modeselektor is writing us an email (laughs)! And now this guy from Modeselektor is sitting beside me talking about the music we were making and I’m like, is this fucking real? And this is actually how everything started with 50Weapons. And now there’s this really special thing that has happened to us.

We planned to make our own label and the first record, you know, ‘Don’t Leave Me’, the one that’s out on 50Weapons? That used to be on our own label! I mean we printed it, we mastered it all, we made like 500 copies in our living room, and he saw them literally sitting in our living room. He asked us “what’s this” and we showed it to him and he was like “please don’t do it on this label”.

Aaron: It was already in every online store like Decks, Juno, it was everywhere. Our name, FJAAK, was up on these websites!

Felix: And the guy from Modeselektor was like “put it out on 50Weapons”, “We’ll put a stamp with 50Weapons on the back side”, “it’ll be so easy, we’re going to put out the record tomorrow” and we were just like…

Aaron: We were like, what? They want to sell our record?!

Felix: Yeah like what? Because to be honest we never wanted to just sell. We just wanted to make music. You know, if I want to do a label, I want to do everything but not the distribution. If you do the distribution you’re going to be working a lot, man. And it has nothing to do with music, you know?

Aaron: You have so much less time for music…

Felix: Exactly! And we’re just here for the music – And believe us we are pretty crazy and if we have to do anything else than music, it just won’t work. Maybe you will have to make this part shorter or something but it’s a long story! (everyone laughs)

Aaron: Also I have to say the Shed LP (The Killer) is one of the most influential sounds I’ve ever heard. And the first LP of ‘Bambounou’ also on 50Weapons was sick! It was fucking everywhere. It was in Berghain, Panorama Bar, all of these places and now I look back and I thought this guy was a freak and that I’d never get to know him but now we are actually good friends.

Also 50Weapons wasn’t the only label we were writing to. We were writing to maybe 40 labels. Every big label we were writing to.

All based in Germany?

Aaron: No no. Everywhere. Every big label like Hessle Audio, Hypercolour everyone…

Ok so you know when you guys are creating these tracks, you’re going through this process, I think one of these ideas that a lot of people like to talk about is this idea of a ‘Berlin sound’. And I think a lot of people who speak about this are people who speak about it from the outside so what I was going to ask you is as people from Berlin – who make music, does this thing actually exist?

Felix: I can say that there is no Berlin sound. You have Berghain, the most famous club in Germany, of course, and a lot of people follow that sound but the people don’t actually produce the music that get’s played in Berlin. So if you talk about the ‘Berlin Sound’ I would say there is like 10 or 20 people who are producing this music compared to 600 DJs playing there, you see it’s a super international booking, Berghain you know what I mean? So there are people coming from all over the world to play there – from the US, from the UK a lot, from Italy, you know?

Ok so and maybe this is a kind of a weird question but, given all of this attention that the city has gotten lately, like, do you think Berlin has changed?

Felix / Aaron: Oh man for sure. Yeah it’s changed so a lot. And super fast!

For good or for bad?

Aaron: That depends. It really depends. I would say both: In good ways and in bad ways. Before you could say, the club scene in Berlin was much better because there were so many clubs – so many good clubs and a lot of good bookings. Every two weeks there would be a new club in Berlin and it was a great time, but then Osgut was starting and now Osgut is now Berghain. For ten years it was growing and first it was an exclusively gay club and then there was KaterHolzig and Sisyphos, and now these clubs are all closed.

Felix: There is like two points, and it’s a complicated question but it’s a really good one, but there are two points that need to be mentioned. One point is that much more tourists come than before and tourists don’t really think about what they want you know and this is why you have really bad restaurants in the best locations around the city you know what I mean? Because idiots will go there for the next 20 years and it feels, kinda shit you know? – Because the scene could collapse. Berghain is so big and because of this everybody wants to go there, it could become bad that all of these people want to do this. But this is not the fault of Berghain, you know?

We love Berghain and we are proud of it. I think one of the problems is that a lot of people can’t divide their mind and they think ‘Ok, if they like it, then I like it too’. So the problem is with attitudes not the club. People are talking about Berghain but if you look at all those other clubs at ‘Technostrich’ (translated as Techno Line – the Friedrichshain area of the S-Bahn Line, where some of Berlin’s other major dance clubs are situated) even it’s more random those clubs have great guests and parties. We’ve never played there because it’s not so much our sound but these clubs are like, really going sick.

I have friends who say these clubs are better – Others who prefer Berghain. But that’s Berlin. They’re Berliners. They think about what they like. You know because you can go and party and be high for 5 years, 6 years, or some people can do it for their whole life and for this you have to think, ok what do I like, what should I expect from a club, what music makes me happy? And this is what makes a club a club and a fan a fan. Because one guy likes his dark big room and this other guy is loving this bar atmosphere where he can talk to his friends like even on the dance floor you know like pick up a call or whatever. It’s completely different, man. And that’s cool, I think.

I know you’ve spoken before about this idea that you’ve kind of been your own influence in electronic music, your own pioneers in the electronic world, but outside of electronic music, who were you listening to?

Felix: I would say that we have completely different roots. Everybody was listening to Hip Hop and this is one thing which shows that we had a connection from the beginning, you know we’re still listening to hip hop together a lot.

I mean if we are chilling on the lawn or in the sun somewhere RARELY are we gonna be listening to Techno or House. We’re gonna be listening to some old Hip Hop tracks or even some new scene German stuff, because it’s just fun to listen to those guys. I would say that guys who had a really big influence to me for example would be like Bone Thugs N Harmony in like 91. But even like all of the biggest hits from like the 2000s. Everyone was listening to this stuff! It’s crazy if you listen back like you’re brain will remember every track, every single melody – none are coming into my head but it’s very late in the night but you know what I’m talking about…

Aaron: I think that an important influence doesn’t always have to be a special producer or something, but it was more like, we were young, we were going to make parties, to Techno clubs, and we’re thinking “WOW that’s a big sub” because maybe at our home club we don’t a sub whoopher that size, and maybe the first time you hear the big kick drum and you get into it and you are like “whooooo that’s nice energy” and you want to reproduce it like you know?

It’s like the moment when you got fucked and it’s like you feel high or something and you need to reproduce it. It’s like the feeling in the club more than a special producer or something like that.

Felix: Like what he said, a guest in a club can also have the same powers to influence you. It’s the same with the first beer, it’s the same with the first kiss, the first joint, the first record, it’s a very special thing but it’s also the atmosphere. Like the moment when you go into the club for the first time and you feel the big base drum for the first time in your life and you feel like you’re in kindergarten with your parents again. You’re whole chest starts vibrating and it hits you and you think ‘oh my god, this is such a good feeling!’.

We go into a club now, our brain remembers – we already know what’s going to happen, but the first time? Man, it’s like flashing your senses, all of your senses and you’re like oh my god, what is going on? Like there’s all this power coming from somewhere but you don’t know where it is, and like he said, this is something that we want to reproduce at home. And this is what we like, ok we listen to rock, hip hop, jazz, whatever and we started to make music and someone was like that sounds like Techno and we were like ‘hmm?’

I guess so in keeping with this idea of reproduction and atmospheres, you’ve been booked for Body&Soul this year, so firstly congrats on that, I think its fair to say that it’s one of the outputs we’re proudest of here…

Felix: Man, we’re looking forward to coming to Ireland again after this tonight!

Yeah so we actually spoke earlier off mic about small rooms and creating music that is maybe friendly for a club, em, approaching a festival, do you step to this differently? – actually Kieran and I had a conversation earlier that you know speakers are so much better so you maybe don’t have to approach it as differently as you might have in the past, but is it some you do as artists?

Felix: No, you’re completely right but I think you still have to play completely different tracks at a festival than you do in a club. Like ok there will be some club gigs that you can play the same exact tracks as maybe you did at that one festival but usually you have to do something different. I don’t know like, for example, in a club you have the people there focusing on you like they will smoke, take a drink, go to the toilet, talk to someone, or at least dance to your set, and it doesn’t matter what they do because all of those points that I mentioned, is always combined with listening to the music at the same time.

During the festival it’s such a different thing. There will be someone and he will just join the set in the middle, he will just come and didn’t listen to the first hour, and then some people will only just listen to the first hour and then go maybe to another stage or their tent or whatever, where they stay or made a friend or whatever.

Like the festival is in general a different feeling for us because usually we play live; we try to play live at festivals. Because people watch us and they’re looking at us like we are a band and this is what we do because we jam with hardware machines together and at the festival you can see how different it is to the club because basically we have the same machines, the same equipment, and just because we have so much influence to the music, because it’s not only a record – a finished record, we have the kick drum the hi-hats we have everything, like so we can change everything or anything so you can really hear the difference. I don’t know how to explain this. Like we play the same tracks but completely different. And it’s really like, I can say this, like we have all the samples, individually you know all set up and in a spontaneous way it’s not like doing it at home. You know because now you can put the clap right now, or later. With the festival it’s like more progressive -more changes. It’s like, let me say ..more colourful I’m sorry I’m not doing a great job of this explanation right now. (laughs)

Maybe another way of asking about it, you guys are still doing Machine Vibes, right?

Aaron: Yeah.

Ok so if you take one of those shows and a regular FJAAK show, is there a difference there? Other than maybe a focus on approaching vinyl…

Felix: Ah ok! Now I see. Yeah so with Machine Vibes we do this not to make the most amazing, most serious show on the planet. We do this just to make good parties with our friends. Usually we book friends, and do it in clubs where people are enthusiastic about certain venues that they like to party in so we take it there, why not? Or we meet some people and we say ‘OK those guys are nice, we want to support them and make something with them together’ It’s a big influence if you do parties with friends because you’re like more free, more relaxed, not so structured you know? Like you might play 30 minutes later than you’re meant to and it’s all cool and maybe one guy was supposed to play a DJ set and he’s gonna now play back to back or something because we’re just in the moment and it’s so good.

Aaron: I think it’s harder to make a person happy in a festival than in a club. Because in a festival you have like 100 DJs, in a club you’ve got like 3 Djs. So you have to focus and play tracks that everybody can focus on and everybody can understand and enjoy, ok that’s big, and if you’re in a small club you can play more special tracks – one’s that not everybody will understand but if they are like 3 hours there they will notice it, like ‘OK, nice track!’. Ok maybe it’s not the biggest kick drum ever, but still, nice track man… So I think you can play more special tracks in the clubs. In festivals it’s more the big tracks that everyone can understand.

Felix: And at the same time when you want to play those big tracks you still need to play tracks that you like you know? So it’s like at the festival it’s like I would say the selection is harder. I would say it’s more intuitive in the club. But every DJ is different and maybe if you become used to these big stages than it will change totally for you.

When parties are coming through to your booking agent, you know maybe it’s important to say no to more than we say yes to, what makes you say yes to a certain promoter over another one? What attracted you to the guys here at TRIBE?

Felix: Well I can say that these guys really really made a good party!

Words: James Kenny 
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