|Shed: Imperfect killers
One of techno's most fascinating producers (and frustrating interviewees) takes time out from staring at a wall to talk to RA's Todd L. Burns.
At this point there's not much more to be said about René Pawlowitz. And, to be honest, the producer more popularly known as Shed doesn't want to help much either. He's one of the more taciturn interviewees we've encountered in recent years, prone to cut off conversational topics before they have a chance to begin. This wouldn't be such a problem if his music was similarly featureless. As anyone who has heard his lauded trio of albums (Shedding the Past, The Traveller, The Killer) can tell you, he makes some of the most powerful and colorful techno around.
Pawlowitz's recording career began via Hardwax. The Berlin record store was the first one willing to take a chance on his Soloaction imprint. He's paid tribute ever since, both musically and literally. He's an unapologetic devotee of early rave and hardcore—much like the store itself—and his modern dance floor updates of the sound as EQD, WAX and Head High have inspired an uncommon fervor and even more uncommon Discogs prices once they inevitably sell out. It's under the name Shed, however, that he's found success in the album format. The Killer, his first album for Modeselektor's 50 Weapons imprint, is a distillation of his modernist nostalgic sound: Each track on the typically curt full-length is an (im)perfect killer.
Why The Killer?
Actually, The Killer title comes from an internal term at Hard Wax store. "The Killer" is a description for records which are not so bad.
I thought that was "TIP!"
"Tip," "highly recommended" and "killer" is something special.
It's the highest version of "tip."
I think so, yeah. It's not my opinion that this album is "The Killer," it's just that I wanted to say something about the Hard Wax internal things.
It seems like you always have a little nod to Hard Wax on your records.
It's my hood. [laughs] I feel at home there.
You got your education there, I guess?
No, not really. I think I got my education in the early '90s. I started working at Hard Wax in 2007. The person who educated me was actually Fiedel from Berghain, the DJ. I lived in Schwedt at that time, maybe 70km to the northeast of Berlin. I started to buy records and listen to techno, and he was always the DJ that had the cool records. He had the cool stuff from the US or the UK. He was too cool for me.
Do you feel you're listening to the cool records now, that you know what's hip?
I don't think that there are really a lot of cool records out there anymore. The cool time for techno was in the early '90s, so it's very hard to make cool records today that are cooler than the other ones. I think that's why it's a bit over, the really cool time for me was when I was a teenager and I discovered the techno thing.
And is that when you started making music as well?
No, that was later. That was ten years after.
When did you first start putting them out?
It was 2003. I made the first record together with a friend but it wasn't the result that I...how can I say it? This record sounded bad. I didn't know that there was a difference between making music, which is on a CD, and music on a vinyl record. I thought it was a failure of the pressing plant. So I had these 500 records at home and I put them into the basement for half a year I think. After that I went to a lot of record stores in Berlin and tried to sell some copies to the record stores. None of them were interested except Hard Wax. That was the first Soloaction record.
"I don't buy many [vinyl] records anymore."
When did you make the jump from amateur to professional in your opinion?
In the first three years of making records, the Soloaction label, I really didn't know what would happen. I never did this to get famous or whatever. It wasn't very successful as well. I had a lot to do to sell 400 records. I think in 2007—when the first EQD came out—was the first point when I started to think about all of these things that I wanted to do a bit more professionally, to make it more than this small thing.
Is it important for you to make music for DJs? I know on albums it seems like you don't care about it in the same way as on the 12-inches.
That's why there are these side projects like EQD or Wax. Those are for DJs.
Was The Panamax Project for DJs?
There was only one record, and it was the worst selling record I've ever made. [laughs] There are still some copies at Hard Wax. I don't know why, I like it. It's for DJs, yeah.
Are you DJing much these days?
No, not anymore.
Did you decide not to DJ, or did you just not get booked?
It's a mixture I think. [laughs] I don't know.
What do you do when you play live?
It's actually very easy, it's Ableton with some controllers and a drum machine. I try to keep it that way so that I can play a lot with the files. I don't want to have the full track in Ableton and just press play, I want to have a lot of improvisations. I try to do it, but I only have two hands and sometimes I can't do what I want in that moment, and sometimes it sounds a bit messy but I try to keep it live.
Would you like to do more with a live show?
Yeah, definitely. I want to do a bit more when I play live. I want to have some videos live on a second computer with Ableton that I can control. You can start video samples as well as audio samples at the same time. It's still an experiment.
What kind of films are you into in general?
Movies? Whoa, that's a big genre. [laughs]
What was the last movie you watched that was good?
I don't watch a lot of movies or go to the cinema.
So what kind of films would you maybe have with your live show? What would you want the image to be associated with your music?
I don't want to have any computer things, animations. I want to have real pictures because my music doesn't sound like a typical computer 8-bit sounds. I want to have it real, it's better for my music.
Have you done any filming for it yet?
Yeah, I've recorded a lot. And now I have to bring it together with the music.
Why did you decide to release the new album with 50 Weapons?
To keep it interesting [for me]. It was a logical step to go somewhere else. It wasn't the decision that it is better or worse. For me it's better because when you release your records on Ostgut Ton, it's always associated with the Berghain club, always. And also when you DJ or you play live, the name Berghain or Ostgut is always bigger than your name on the flyer. And the people go there because they want to have the sound of Berghain. That's not me. I don't do this music that they play there every weekend.
How did you meet Gernot and Szary?
The funny thing is I played for them in 1993. We were talking about the early '90s in Rüdersdorf and I remembered that Szary used to DJ under a different name. But actually we've known each other since we met at Hard Wax when they bought some records and I was working there.
I think for a lot of people, especially Americans, they don't associate Modeselektor with techno, and it's very interesting to see them releasing records form Marcel [Dettmann] and yourself.
And we all came from the same area, all from the east of Berlin.
Is there anything that's new that's really catching your ear these days?
It's not easy for me, I have to say. I listen to a lot of radio but I don't buy that many records that much anymore. The reason is because I'm not DJing that much anymore. When I buy records it's an album, but not that much vinyl anymore.
Are there any particular bands or anything that have caught your ear recently?
Last year I was into The Drums or White Lies. It's indie music, actually I hate guitar music but that's OK.
Why do you hate guitars so much?
Because guitars have been out there for hundreds of years now, and I think it's enough. [laughs] No, it's OK...
Has there been enough techno then?
Yeah, I think in 20 years it should be OK to finish this techno thing.
So when are you done then with what you're doing?
I can't tell you. What I do now is very old school, it's not new. It's already been out there for 20 years now.
I think when people talk about your music, though, they talk about it being the past and the new being brought together.
It's actually only the past. [laughs] It's all old school. For someone else, it sounds new. But, for me, it's done. It's the Power House stuff. It's old school, it's a '90s house sound or UK hardcore. It's been done for 15 years now.
Why do you think people are so excited about what you do then?
I don't know. [laughs]
"I don't take my music very seriously."
Did you use any samples on the new album?
Actually no, only when I need the old school feeling, I will sometimes use drum loop samples. But not for pianos or melodies or something like that, I don't use samples for that.
At the beginning of the album, you have a voice—I won't spoil it—but is that a joke, a warning, both?
It's fun. [laughs] It's not that serious.
It's seems like you have a better sense of humor than a lot of people might think.
I don't take my music very seriously, so it's not that serious. This whole music business is not that serious for me.
Do you have a full-time job outside of music?
I'm a full-time musician. Sometimes.
I remember you saying around the last album that you went into the studio when you had an idea of what you wanted from it.
That's true, same this time.
What was the idea that you had? Was it a melody?
No, it was actually an imagination of a sound. That was my inspiration. I wanted to have it very raw and very noisy and that's going through the whole album, always with crackles or noise.
Isn't that always the idea with your music?
I like noise. [laughs] There's so much stuff out there which is so clean and so... Pffft, that's not interesting. I like it when it's not perfect.
What do you do when you're not making music?
Nothing. You just hang out and stare at a wall all day?
That's it. [laughs] That's why I'm making music, for doing nothing.
Are you going out at all? Are you going to parties in Berlin? The last time you were doing interviews you said that there's not a place for breakbeat and other sounds here. Has it got any better since then in your mind?
Actually I don't know, because I don't go out that often anymore. When I play at the weekend and I don't need play one weekend, then I stay at home or go to the countryside or whatever. I'm not that interested in music anymore that I go to a party or a concert when I don't need to play.
Published / Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Photo credits / Portraits - Will Bankhead
With Marcel Dettmann and Modeselektor - Modeselektor Instagram
Live - Alec Luhn