|Âme Interview: Where We At
If you've been anywhere near a club in 2006, chances are you've raised your hands in the air to the synth stabs and unforgettable melody of 'Rej', the track that has ruled dancefloors from Miami to Ibiza to Tokyo and beyond since it was released. Yes, hype merchants will tell you a lot of tracks ruled clubland, but this one truly did. Created by the German duo Âme, 'Rej' introduced the sound of two relative unknowns to the world at all sorts of parties: it was caned at house, techno, minimal, electrohouse parties – heck, even the neighbours downstairs from us play it (and they don’t get much clubbier than ‘Blue Monday’ usually). Recently ‘Rej’ has been picked up by major UK house label Defected and rereleased with new remixes, so expect to keep hearing it for a good while yet.
But tracks like 'Rej' don’t just spring out of nowhere. Behind the big single is a pair of producers who have been quietly, carefully putting out records since 2003. Kristian Beyer and Frank Wiedemann have a string of releases on Jazzanova’s Sonar Kollectiv imprint, and they already have one full-length album in the bag. This summer they also followed up ‘Rej’ with big rerubs of Akabu's 'Phuturebound' and 'Where We At' (together with Henrik Schwarz and Dixon), the latter of which came out on Innervisions, a new label run by Âme and Dixon which breaks with Sonar Kollectiv’s deep house past and looks toward a more electronic, yet still soulful, future.
After the meteoric success of ‘Rej’, you could be forgiven for thinking that Âme rode in on the wave of love for all things Berlin that’s been sweeping through clubland, but you’d be dead wrong. In fact Âme are not even from the German capital; they mostly live in the quiet city of Karlsruhe on the French Border, and they’re quick to disassociate themselves from the minimal scene, the capital’s twenty-four hour party culture and the trends and hype surrounding the genre.
RA's snoops were keen to know: So what’s the real story behind the mysterious duo Âme? RA talked to Kristian Beyer and found out.
Where are you from in Germany?
Me and Frank both live in Karlsruhe, which is directly on the French border. We’ve both lived here most of our lives. I grew up in Heidelberg and moved back to Karlsruhe to study and then opened my record shop here. I never finished my studies to become a civil engineer. I had one exam left but was too busy with the record shop and other things.
How did you meet Frank?
Frank used to come to my shop. We starting DJing together at some places in the area and then Frank asked me to join him in the studio.
You obviously had access and were exposed to a lot of new and old, international and local music with the record shop. Any major influences?
I've been influenced by the main U.S. sounds, including traditional New York house and also sounds from Chicago and Detroit by artists like Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, Robert Hood and Underground Resistance. I also like old U.S. garage music, and German artists like Basic Channel and early Mike Ink work, German style minimal music but not how minimal is known today. Frank was also in many bands and Frank’s dad was a jazz musician so Frank also has a lot of influences.
You mention a lot of styles but many DJs will not mix music across styles at all. What are your views on this?
In the beginning, it was natural for us to mix up all the music, from Strictly Rhythm to Basic Channel, but now with this "new minimal" it's possible to play all types of music together because over the years the BPMs have dropped a lot. Five years ago, the BPMs were 130 or 135, but now it's around 125 to 130 bpm, and this is why you hear Richie Hawtin play different sounds in his set.
Your earlier work came out on Jazzanova's Sonar Kollektiv label. How did this happen and how do you know the guys?
The Jazzanova guys played in our area and they came to my record shop, so we've known them for a while. I also know Dixon very well. Once I gave him one of our productions and he said he wanted to release it. Then he gave it to the Jazzanova guys and from there things went really quickly for us. We are all still good friends, you know.
How did you, Dixon and Frank arrange to manage the label Innervisions independently of Sonar Kollektiv?
We are all friends and I felt the Sonar Kollektiv label was more of a freestyle label. We're strictly house producers and we always wanted to do a sublabel. Our releases, and with Dixon, on Innervisions have been really big for us this year so it made sense to keep the name because of those and also the success of 'Rej'.
"We never really DJ together because usually the promoter cannot pay for two flights and two hotel rooms."
Going back to your phenomenal hit 'Rej', there was an interesting story on the Test Industries blog in regard to the making of the track. Can you explain what happened a bit more?
Yes, I had a chat with Richard, the guy from Ireland, and he slightly misunderstood what I said. He asked me something in regard to 'Beau Mot Plage' and I said, "Yes, I love Beau Mot Plage. It's one of my favourite tracks". Rajko (Isolée) lived with one of my friends for a very long time so the similarities between 'Beau Mot Plage' and 'Rej' were only comments and that’s all.
We finished the track but we both weren't happy with it. I felt it sounded a little like 'Beau Mot Plage'. I spoke with Frank and we agreed the melody was nice but the rest of the track we weren't happy with. In the original the melody was actually in the background, so me and Frank worked on the track and finished it very quickly. We really changed the track from the original so only the melody remained and it now sounded like a completely different track. Isolée had nothing to do with the final track 'Rej'. I know Rajko very well and respect his work.
Defected Records then got involved and released a remix package of it. Do you still play 'Rej' or any of the remixes?
The 100 Birds remix is cool with its idea of using a full orchestra instead of synthesizers. The others are okay, but I prefer the 100 Birds version. The Pasta Boys version is very similar, but if it means people buy and support the music, this is definitely a good thing. Sometimes I play the original of 'Rej', other times I play the beatless version, which has the original melody but completely different beats. The rest of the track is also completely different, but people always remember the melody. The Defected CD has the beatless version not the original; they are two completely different tracks.
Most people know you guys for 'Rej', but what would you say is the Âme sound? Your earlier work or present work like 'Rej'?
We like a lot of Detroit techno as well as everything from Blaze to Basic Channel so I would say 'Rej' is our more Detroit-influenced sound. But for Frank and I, 'Nia' is the track we like the most because it's where we both meet musically. In the end we are always happy with everything we do because we take so long to finish our own productions, and we don't rush our music.
Some artists work for many different labels and release a lot of music at the same time that it dilutes their integrity and quality of their work. Now you must be getting a lot of requests from other labels and to do remixes. Have you turned down any projects?
Yes. We work for a really long time on tracks and that’s why we'll never have three or four releases out in one month. Ninety percent of the remix offers we get, we have to refuse. Sometimes we would like to do them but because we are so busy we might not finish them until in two or three years time, and by then it would be too late.
We got asked to remix 'Timbuktu' and we thought, “This track is a hit. What can you do with it?" You have to take it in a new direction. We are not making tracks every day. We will never be over-represented because with every release we always take time over the direction and style we want to produce. We have just finished a remix for Mr. V 'Da Bumps' that we started last September. We worked for a long time on it because we felt that there are a lot of records – I don’t want to say they sound like our production because we also have influences – but we felt there were a lot of records out that sounded like this or like that. We had to think really hard about how to approach the Mr. V remix. With this remix we automatically gave our own ‘note’ to the music. When we started we were inspired by classic house music so we used analogue machines, then different machines for the mix down, and this is what makes it sound different. It’s also a modern interpretation taking inspiration from German artists including Basic Channel German minimal music, Studio 1, early Mike Ink, a mixture of stuff.
I wouldn’t say our music is entirely new but we have received nice emails from Quentin Harris and Underground Resistance, and everyone says we are putting a fresh vibe into house music. We are very happy to receive these emails but we are only producing the music we like. You can try and copy the original but you will never sound like the original.
Your first album was very original and fresh, underpinned by the groove. Do you think people are now more appreciative of house producers from the deep house scene, including guys like Atjazz, Osunlade, Bugz and Domu?
The quality will not be the same with guys who solely use computers and those that use analogue machines. I too like early Domu releases, but the problem with this music is that it reached a point where the quality of the music was not good enough. How long did it take Bugz In the Attic to release their album, you know? It should have come out three years ago. But it is easy to see the difference between well-produced tracks and shitty ones. At the time the quality was not good enough for a big crossover track. There are many deep house productions that sound boring but you will always here a Charles Webster production, He is a genius when it comes to house. Good music will always be good music. At the time the broken beat producers did not do enough to keep the whole thing alive. Jazzanova are releasing remixes every six months.
Do you think Jazzanova release so infrequently due to wanting their music to have some integrity or because they are receiving enough praise and acclaim within their own communities? An example of a different scene altogether would be Richie Hawtin and M_nus and Steve Bug with Poker Flat, who release a 12” every month.
That is the difference. For Jazzanova, I know the guys and they are working in a way that is very much like putting a lot of ideas and concepts into one single 12”. I mean even Domu went through a stage were he released too much, and a lot of people said this Domu remix sounds like the one before or this Seiji remix sounds like the other Seiji remix. There are always many reasons, but I think there were not enough good enough producers like Domu, Bugz, and Seiji. You can actually count the number of good producers on two hands, and this is the difference. House music has grown over twenty years, and you'll always have guys like Kerri Chandler or Quentin Harris. Right now there is a lot happening in house music. Even Jazzanova are mainly playing house music in their sets today, and 4Hero are finally releasing something after all this time. You know I am a big fan of Marc Mac (4Hero) and of the Bugz crew. But I don't know where things are at the moment. No one cares for this music. I mean in Germany there is no scene for this music at the moment.
Also what are your thoughts with regards to Osunlade and his sound fusing house, Latin, samba, Afro, and vocals?
I love Osunlade. I really respect Osunlade because he can do electronic, Latin, African, Cuban etc. He is a great house producer. But he also had phases where he did too much or he did nothing at all. If you do many projects for many different labels sometimes you cannot regulate the release schedule.
What is your studio set-up?
I would say we are about 90% analogue. We have a lot of traditional equipment used by the Detroit guys and the New York guys, including vintage synthesisers and compressors. We sometimes use Ableton for samples and also Logic. Henrik Schwarz is completely using Ableton and it sounds great, very organic. The person behind the music is what is most important.
Are you using older Roland TR machines?
Yes, we are. We're also using older Moog synthesisers and the same stuff Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock use. Also a lot of vintage synths from the eighties that are also used by Juan Atkins like the Jupiter 8.
What is your current weapon of choice, either to move a dancefloor or to maybe change the direction?
It's actually a Herbert track called 'Move Like a Train', the Smith and Hack remix, and also our own track 'Nia'. Ricardo Villalobos played the Herbert record at a festival I went to this year so when I got back to my record shop on Monday morning I looked it up.
You have just finished your first compilation called 'Âme…Mixing'. How did you approach the CD?
We'll also do a compilation for Fabric next year and maybe ones for NRK and BBE too. For ‘Mixing’, we wanted to keep the same spirit as the first one by Jazzanova, but also bring in our own style. I came from the electronic disco sound of the seventies and eighties so we mixed in everything from house to techno and disco. We didn’t focus on any one style too much.
"We try not to release any bullshit on Innervisions. We've known each other for a long time and we still want to be doing this in ten years."
You're playing at the Global Breakthrough event next year in South Africa. Since the summer and due to the success of 'Rej', have you been getting more bookings?
We were getting a lot in Europe, the USA and South Africa before 'Rej' but I guess now the clubs are bigger and the festivals are bigger. So bigger clubs and new promoters.
With 'Rej' being your more Detroit-influenced sound, do you ever get booked to play techno or deep house? Or do you simply play whatever you want?
When I get there, I just see what the DJs are playing. If they are playing more techno and a lot harder then I adapt to this. I sometimes play techno but not minimal techno or tech house as it is known today. I never play music like other DJs. I also like Luciano who plays his own style of techno. In places like Estonia or Finland, it is definitely more house orientated so you can play a lot of US stuff, and also very slow. If you play in front of 2,000 people who love minimal techno music, you cannot play Osunlade stuff, but there are some good minimal techno sounds out there.
Do you and Frank always DJ together or is one of you the designated DJ?
We never really DJ together because usually the promoter cannot pay for two flights and two hotel rooms.
Your weekly excursions to various countries must differ to Frank’s weekends. How do you combine your inspirations in the studio?
We always work in the studio together. We rarely work alone. But you know, that’s why I have the record shop, to hear new music and new sounds and also to see what’s out there. I was really inspired by a recent trip to Japan because they react differently to music out there.
Looking to the future, I hear Defected have signed you up to do some projects with them?
Well, we did the Mr. V remix and since then they're really keen to work with us, often asking us if we would like to remix this or that. I really like Simon Dunmore. People might see Defected as really commercial, but they do push underground music. I mean, I don’t like everything they put out, but they have signed some old Strictly Rhythm bits, some of which we will remix. But we will also release our own stuff on Innervisions as well as do some remixes with Defected.
What is the future holding for Innervisions?
The idea for Innervisions is not to release too much, like you said before about Poker Flat, who have one release a month. We simply don't have access to that much good music. But we will work with our friends like Henrik Schwarz or Chateau Flight or Alex from Tokyo. There are three people running Innervisions: myself, Frank and Dixon, and we always try to be democratic with all the decisions that are made. If we all don't agree then we don’t do it. It can get hard at times, but if we all agree then we are all for something. Each of our tastes in music is very similar but at the same time we are three different people running the label. We try not to release any bullshit on Innervisions. We've known each other for a long time and we still want to be doing this in ten years. We will never be like Defected but if they want to license an LP or CD, we can still license our stuff to a bigger label. That's okay.
With deep house getting more recognition, do you think it could be the next sound?
I think the minimal tech house sound will go down a little for sure because there are so many records out but not all the productions are good enough. You know, people will always buy Luciano or Loco Dice because they are good producers but with the rest they are like, no no no.
Have you got any key festival dates for next summer lined up?
Yes. We may do an Innervisions showcase at Sonar by Night next summer as well as the Miami Winter Music Conference. But we'll see. Probably also some festivals in Germany and maybe Ibiza again.
The next Âme album - sooner or later?
I am certainly not a big fan of albums. You know, everyone says you need to have a downtempo and a broken beat track blah blah blah. We are not focusing on any EPs at the moment but I can tell you we are focusing on a new project next year, but not just as Âme. It will be a brand new project that will see us release an LP next year. As for an Âme album, maybe in two or three years for sure.
Finally what colour is your future and why?
I think the future is blue because it's a deep colour.
'Âme...Mixing' is out now on Sonar Kollektiv. Âme plays at the Azuli party at Global Breakthrough in Cape Town, South Africa on February 28, 2007.
Published / Wednesday, 13 December 2006