"Let's go to my apartment," he says. "It's just 15 minutes walk from here." The ensuing conversation is somewhat awkward, as I try to dodge all the topics I want to discuss when the recorder is running. I'm unsuccessul though; within five minutes he's telling me how bored he is in Stuttgart, where he came to study architecture a few years ago. "I'm living here, studying here, working here and making music for myself," he says later. "I don't go to many parties here, because I don't like the music they play in the clubs. There are some cool parties and cool DJs, but in the main, it's not good. Or, maybe it's good, but I don't like it," he concludes, laughing. As we're crossing the grounds of his university, what was previously a light patter of rain quickly resolves into a heavy downpour. Neither of us have an umbrella, and I'm reasonably certain my dictaphone isn't waterproof, even inside a denim pocket. He doesn't live on campus, so we still have a fair way to walk. Alternately laughing and swearing good-naturedly in English, Krüger starts jogging ahead, but it's entirely futile. By the time we reach a small underpass where several miserable groups are already huddled, we're soaked to the skin. Waiting it out, he batters me with questions about myself, and it's clear he's a bit awestruck someone has even come to interview him.
Several minutes later, we delude ourselves that the rain has eased and make a break for his place. He shares a small, white-tiled flat with another student. His room is like a little boy's, but in place of the train sets or plastic dinosaurs there is a set of Technics 1200s, his collection of vinyl, an Underground Resistance poster and his MacBook Pro; the visible result of a hobby gone wild. A MIDI keyboard sits on the desk. "I got the keyboard from my brother, he already had it for three years, and the keys were already yellow," he says. "My brother cleaned them, and now I've had it for five years." His production mixer cost €15 from eBay, and his speakers are old and—by his own admission—shit. He's a student who works part-time and earns very little money. It's amazing to think that the low-end tools in this tiny room have brought me all the way from Berlin. Or, more pertinently, that their output has gathered the attention of names like Sven Väth and Laurent Garnier.
Krüger grew up in Stockach, a German town of 6,000 near the border of Switzerland. His first forays into music weren't with piano or guitar lessons. At age ten, his parents encouraged him to start something less conventional. "My brother played the accordion, and there was this accordion in our house," he says with a little smile. "This was really, really uncool as a teenager. With the girls, 'What are you playing?'—'Guitar.'—'And you?'—'Accordion.'" He deadpans the last word with absolute seriousness, causing us both to burst into laughter. "I think [when I was] maybe 16, or something, I broke my arm, and I said to my father, 'No accordion anymore!'"
Around this time, his taste in music was far from auspicious, consisting mostly of punk rock, gangster rap and hip-hop. It wasn't until later that his brother handed him mixtapes from Monika Kruse, Pascal F.E.O.S and Chris Liebing, sparking his interest in techno. He soon moved on to Paul Kalbrenner, Alexander Kowalski and Joris Voorn. Digging deeper led him to Detroit's seminal producers, which is why today almost all his productions use D16's Drumazon, a plugin which emulates the 909, a machine far outside of his price range. His first attempts at techno were at 19, though he'd produced other genres prior.
In many ways, Krüger's story is much the same as other post-Internet artists; obscure young producer sends tracks via email, tracks get signed by label, producer gets recognition. In this case, the label was 200, a Cologne imprint started in 2009 by Kai Sasse and Dirk Middeldorf. As per their demo policy, Krüger dropped them just one of his 15 completed tracks, resulting in his first EP, Wrong Shirt. For many producers, this process can be repeated several times before something further comes of it, or indeed, anything at all. Several months after his initial signing, Krüger was more blessed. "Dirk from 200 just called me on my mobile," he recalls, shifting excitedly in his desk chair. "He said, 'Till, I just got this licensing contract from Cocoon here, for Sven Väth's Sound of the Eleventh Season,' and I said, 'Uh-huh, it's a joke.'"
The track to be featured on the mix was "Wrong Shirt," the same he'd sent to 200. "I just couldn't believe it," he says. "I just thought, 'Don't think about it, you can be happy if you really see it on the CD.' In this scene, you can always have somebody say something but he just doesn't—you know what I mean?" Less than a month later, he got another phone call. This time, "Wumme"—the second track on his debut EP—had also been licensed for the same compilation. At that point he said to Middendorf, "If the tracks are really on the CD, I'm going to my hometown when it's out on the release date. I'll go there, I know they'll have just one Sven Väth CD." So he did exactly that. "There is only one store where you can buy music," he says of his tiny home. "I went there and bought it; it was amazing." Since then, Krüger's music has gone on to receive praise from Laurent Garnier via his Twitter account, and also found airtime on John Digweed's radio show.
The ironic part is, recognition may never have materialised at all, as Krüger's talents were ignored for a depressing amount of time. "I picked a lot of labels, but nobody was interested in my music," he says. "They didn't write back—no one—200 were the only guys." I ask him whether this hurt. "I knew I liked my music, but I was so upset that just nobody said anything to it," he responds emphatically. "Not that it's bad or good, just nothing." At one point he contemplated just posting it all up on his website for free. And now? "I just wrote my name into YouTube some weeks ago," he says with delight, "and I saw this guy who uploaded 'Wrong Shirt,' and there was 10,000 views or something like that." Despite this, and a second release on 200 last January—The Green/Last Track—he's still not absolutely confident. Krüger always sends everything to his brother for review; the same music-loving brother who passed on the keyboard and mixtapes. "The level where I'm happy with my music is much higher than it was five years ago," he says by way of explanation. "I think I'm confident with my music now, but the thing is at the moment, not this much music comes out of my soul which I'm really, really happy with. At the beginning of the year it was OK, but since the last two months, just nothing happens."
He's in a funk, essentially—one that he hopes the coming summer will resolve. In the meantime, there's his upcoming live set at Nature One, a large festival held near Essen. "I've never been to a techno festival, never been to a festival at all," he says. "So, I'm going to a festival for the first time and...I'll play there, which is amazing," he laughs. A friend that attended last year's edition joked that Krüger probably can't handle a dance floor that size. It's not a particularly cruel joke, as he estimates that he's only played about ten gigs in total, fully admitting he's more of a producer. Though he does have a soft spot for DJing with both real and timecoded vinyl, Krüger prefers live performance, as he feels it's closer to the studio than it is to playing records.
His biggest set thus far was a warm-up for Funk D'Void, whose tracks like "Diabla" had an indelible influence on him. "It was really exciting, I was moving the fader and always looking at him [to see his reaction]," Krüger says. "He'd just taken a drink at the bar, came back, was just walking through the stage behind me, and just shouted in my ear, 'That's amazing!'" Though that particular gig was held at Climax Institutes in Stuttgart, Krüger reiterates that he's not part of the city's scene. It's an unsurprising statement; the city is not Berlin, Frankfurt or even Cologne. Just how unhealthy things are in ultra-conservative Baden Württemberg—Stuttgart's home state—is somewhat shocking though. "I played in Pforzheim, which is some ten kilometres from here," Krüger says. "I played a live set from 2 to 3 and they had that the party would go until 11 o'clock in the morning. They had to turn down the music from 5 to 6. And couldn't give out any liquor, so the people stayed there—one hour in the club—waiting, because of the sperrstunde." (He's talking about a government-imposed curfew which essentially shuts clubs down for an hour each morning.) I can hardly believe it. "No music, no alcohol?" I ask incredulously. "Even no Fanta, no Coke, nothing!" he responds. "So it was really the stupidest thing I've ever seen in a club. All these guys were wasted and just waiting for the music to drop again."
Still, this curfew seems only a small part of the problem. After-hour venues remain an intergral part of the region's scene, even though Krüger isn't impressed with them. "For me a party is cool when it's seven, eight o'clock, and when the party's over, I don't want to start again," he says. "I don't take drugs, and I always have my difficulties with the people at these after-hours, if you know what I mean?" His disappointment seems to lie more with Stuttgart's lack of diversity, something probably caused by the city having only 600,000 inhabitants. "It could be house, it could be drum & bass, it could be anything, but they play—all over the clubs—they play the same shit," he says matter-of-factly. "Everywhere the same thing." For most, this kind of predicament usually involves a move to somewhere more happening— Berlin, for instance. On our way back to the station, Krüger tells me he has no intention of moving north though. He's not even sure what he wants to do when he completes university. For now, he likes being just "some kid," an inexperienced, isolated soul finding his own way.