Back in the early nineties, before the Loveparade, before dance music exploded in Germany, a little known producer named Wolfgang Voigt was quietly releasing tracks in Cologne under the name Mike Ink. At first the twelves were inspired by acid house, but soon they began morphing in a new direction. Stark, stripped back and very much attuned to the 4/4 beat itself, Voigt's releases as Mike Ink are some of the earliest examples of German minimal techno. Voigt would go on to release dozens of records in the nineties under a phone book of aliases, most famously his classic series of twelve 12"s as Studio 1 issued in 1996. Released on his own labels such as Profan, Auftrieb and Kreisel 99, Voigt's records would become prized by DJs and fans alike for their collectibility as well as their unique take on minimal dance music.
Alongside Voigt in Cologne during the nineties was Jörg Burger, aka the Bionaut and later The Modernist and Triola. Burger's output has always been more album-oriented than Voigt, which is fitting for a techno artist as much in love with indie pop as electronics. One of those albums was the highly rated '[Las Vegas]' made in 1996 with Voigt as Burger/Ink. Fusing guitars with ambient minimalism, the record went onto become a classic, even finding its way into homes across the Atlantic on American label Matador.
Later came Kompakt, which Voigt founded in 1998 with Michael Mayer and Jürgen Paape. Voigt then retreated from the creative spotlight, taking on the role of fulltime record executive. But recently there has been a change of heart. Perhaps bumping into Burger in the basement studio at Kompakt HQ has rekindled Voigt’s urge to produce music, but more than a decade on from '[Las Vegas]', Burger/Voigt have decided to get back into the studio. They've also just performed their first ever live gig together, which happened at the annual Kompakt Total party in Cologne this weekend. I caught up with Wolfgang Voigt and Jörg Burger on the eve of the gig.
How did the intention to reunite come about? Who made the first move?
Wolfgang: We both drifted towards each other. The timing was good. Of course times have changed, and also techniques. But the distance from the past was finally long enough, so we got the ball rolling. Right from the beginning it felt great. Quickly we recognized that we had reached a new level, which was on the one hand connected with the old days, but on the other hand felt forward-looking. In the end we were totally convinced, and so we thought well, let’s try to do it live.
What can we expect at the Total 8 party? Will you be playing a mix of new tracks and old '[Las Vegas]' material?
Jörg: There won’t be any old tracks. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, we didn’t want to do a simple retrospective just to satisfy our old fans. We wanted to play new stuff. In fact this is the real reason why we're working together again. In terms of the music, we think that it ties into where we ended it pretty well, but you have to keep in mind that our method now is completely different from the past. Besides, it would be difficult to play tracks from '[Las Vegas]' because we don’t have the basic material any more.
Is your performance at C/O Pop a one off thing?
Wolfgang: That remains to be seen. First, we have to do the gig. But of course it is fun playing the new songs, and at the moment we are planning an album, too.
What about gigs abroad?
Jörg: That depends on how this gig goes. (laughs)
Wolfgang: Let us see how our ambitions feel a day after the gig. It might be an interesting catalyst. But we definitely want to go for it.
Are you nervous?
Wolfgang: Not at all. Of course there is a certain positive tension. That’s normal. But not for Jörg as he is an old hand at this.
Jörg: I don't really feel tense playing live by myself. But if there are two people interacting on stage, that's something totally different. It makes it a lot more exciting, but it also makes it more difficult. So I wouldn't say it was like playing live solo. At the moment I’m anything but nervous but who knows? Friday afternoon that could quickly change.
Wolfgang, you haven't played a gig in a long time. Has it been eight years? Were you itching to get on stage again?
Wolfgang: Yes, from time to time I felt the desire, but it was never that strong that I felt I needed to put aside my other projects. I've spent all this time basically building up Kompakt. I've put all my energy into our new blood. I suppose I put aside my own creative producing for the sake of the company.
Did you make an overnight decision not to play anymore or did it just creep up on you?
Wolfgang: It happened more overnight. I just wasn’t interested in playing live anymore. There was this longing for a change. I'd had such a high output over the years across many projects and then the first burnout happened. It felt important to get a little rest. For me it was also about creatively figuring out how to make the label a success and everything connected to that. And when the journey began, the company turned bigger and more successful, and because of that, getting back to the music became impossible. That’s why it took so long to come back.
What does the Voigt/Burger division of work look like on stage?
Wolfgang: I’m cooking while Jörg serves drinks. (laughs) No, we have a stringent division of work. Because of his current live experience Jörg supplies the structural basement. In techno terms, we have a lot of live elements in our show so there's a real potential for risk. You’ll hear mistakes for sure. We've really got our hands full.
1. Burger/Ink - [Las Vegas] [Matador]
Charming, chiming guitar-based loops unfolding around thudding arcs of techno. Essential.
2. Gas - Pop [Mille Plateaux]
Voigt's finest ambient moment. Trademark Voigt Wagnerian surge meets furious downpours and spectral kick drums.
3. Mike Ink - R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Mike Ink Remix) [Force Inc]
10+ staggering minutes of banging acidic repetition.
4. The Modernist - Explosion 1999 [Popular Tools]
Burger's strongest take on upbeat pop minimal techno, revealing his heavy hand in Burger/Ink.
5. Wassermann - WIR [Profan]
Obnoxious, loud schaffel techno, not that long after glam started it.
6. Pop Up - Pop Up 2 [Popular Tools]
Neon ping-pong minimalism by Burger and Antonelli Electr.
7. Voigt & Voigt - Vision 4 [Kompakt]
Banging rave-y euphoria by the Voigt brothers that could happily go on forever.
8. Triola - Triola Im Fuenftonraum [Kompakt]
Gentle, feathery breezes fuelled by the odd 4/4 chug. Inspired some wonderful remixes.
9. Studio One - Pink [Studio One]
Take your pick with these. Essential rhythms in gruff, organic flux.
10. All - Alltag 1-4 [Kompakt]
Voigt's fusion of Gas drones and clumsy Profan beats is captivating, and clearly a major influence on The Field.
Jörg: Yeah, that’s right. That's quite different to our new method. In 1996 we were both very active musicians so in the beginning of our collaboration we just did one thing: we discussed things for nearly three months. That was quite legendary (laughs). We did this to eliminate any unnecessary doubling of our ideas. Afterwards the whole thing went pretty fast. My part was to record the loops, mostly with guitar and bass. I passed them onto Wolfgang, who worked on them more, and in the end he returned the tracks to me. Then we finished the album together.
Wolfgang: My part was to work on completed music segments, and Jörg's part was to create those, partly with natural instruments. The bottom line is that we had a steady exchange of dates, tracks and loops.
Your first new Burger/Voigt track is called 'Man Lebt Nur Zweimal' (“You Only Live Twice”). Tell us how it was produced.
Wolfgang: The process was difference this time because we both worked on it together right from the start. We asked ourselves: “What do we want to have and what do we not?” So we didn’t jam around without a concept. First we tried to set some aesthetic limits. Finally we developed a recipe and we started cooking together.
Is there a story behind the title?
Wolfgang: Of course it is ambivalent. There are two reasons for it: the first is obviously our comeback. The second is that this track is anything but minimal techno, which is something we want to distance ourselves from. The track became very opulent, it has an elaborate refrain with a lot of guitar tracks layered one upon the other. It reminded us a little of a James Bond theme. And there you have the title.
You also did a Burger/Voigt remix of Gudrun Gut's 'Move Me' in April. Can we expect more remixes in the future?
Wolfgang: We have some ideas but we definitely won’t tell you now. We've known Gudrun for a long time. Working on the remix was fun, and it made us move further along from where we were. Future remixes are not ruled out!
Jörg: Four years ago we did a remix for Phong Sui. That was the first Burger/Voigt remix ever. Remixes done by both of us sound totally different to our individual work.
Wolfgang: There is a symbiosis in the way we both work on music. From both of us there is an certain controlled input, and that fuses into a third musical component. I couldn’t do it on my own and neither could Jörg. On the other hand it’s nice to focus more on the concept of being a band that plays techno. Our years of solo careers lie behind us. Of course the techno workplace is classically a one-man operation, but as two we can afford a little diversification or diversity of opinion.
Jörg, you've also recorded with Reinhard Voigt as Echo Club recently. Are the two brothers very different to work with?
Jörg: Well, you simply can’t compare them. I started making music together with Wolfgang back in 1983 and although I've known Reinhard for a very long time, we hadn't worked together before. They also have different musical backgrounds, mainly because of the difference in age. Out of all of us, Reinhard is the most forward-going techno guy, especially live. You can get a feeling for the difference between Wolfgang and Reinhard if you listen to the tracks they've produced together and compare them to their individual outputs.
The techno scene has certainly changed over the past eight years. Nowadays 'minimal' is a huge buzzword, and people's ears are especially attuned to the minimal techno coming out of Berlin. What are your views on this?
Wolfgang: Minimal is a huge, magical word with a lot of room for interpretation. Today we have minimal. We also had minimal in the beginning of the nineties. I would say that there has been a diversification. Techno has made its mark on the music history, and the primary style that has succeeded worldwide is minimal techno. This means minimalistic structures moving forward in a linear fashion, normally without vocals or a superstructure. But this is only one side of the coin. For us it was always important to link this with more pop-related references in order to define a certain aesthetic outside of the standard minimal concept. Like you said, minimal sets the tone in Berlin and it is the music of now. But for us that’s not the only thing. We prefer to do something else. Our roots clearly go back to the time before techno emerged so we are always anxious to incorporate this influence in our music, too.
Jörg: Minimal is just a label that is used for a plethora of different styles. I’ve been touring a lot, spending many nights in clubs at so-called minimal parties. Fortunately the music is mostly full of interesting changes and it's a lot less boring than one would expect.
Wolfgang: The spectrum is bigger than what the name seems to imply.
Jörg: When I perform as The Modernist, it's always billed as minimal techno. Of course I've done some minimal records in the past but that was years ago. Today what I’m doing is anything but minimal really.
Wolfgang, you run Kompakt together with Jürgen Paape and Michael Mayer. What is your role exactly?
Wolfgang: I’m the president by seniority, so to speak. On one hand I guide the company as a whole, but my primary tasks are organisation and label operation. My main focus is the label, alongside Michael, but he is more focused on the distribution, while Jürgen is director of the record store. My role is selecting all that we get sent and deciding what will be finally released.
So you get the demos first?
Wolfgang: Primarily that's my job. I do the pre-selection, which I talk about with the others, but mainly with Michael.
How has the label changed since its inception?
Wolfgang: We've always made it clear that we'd like to be an up-to-date company that moves with the times. You develop accordingly. Above all we have grown, opened ourselves to other scenes, other genres of music and other kinds of techno. We are less rigid than is usually noticed from the outside. If you look at our releases over the last years, you’ll see that Kompakt has nurtured many interesting newcomers, especially on our sub-labels Kompakt Extra and K2. We definitely don't rest on our own laurels.
In your opinion, which Kompakt acts on the label are hot at the moment?
Wolfgang: Two names off the top of my head: Maxime Dangles and The Field. One is a Frenchman and the other Swede. In the past we've received so much exciting music from these two countries.
Wolfgang, how do you reconcile your minimal work as Studio 1 and such with the more open, pop-oriented sound of Kompakt?
Wolfgang: This is a nice chance for me to explain it. You have to differentiate between my own music and the releases on Kompakt. When you are running a label, you inevitably get associated with it, especially when you are regarded as some kind of innovator in a certain music genre. But the music released on Kompakt is ninety-nine percent from other musicians. Sure, there are many great records we've released, but I never would do that stuff.
Jörg: That's the difference between Kompakt and the strict minimal labels. Kompakt is a multi-faceted platform and not one with a strict trademark sound. Whereas with Studio 1, the label and the sound were one.
Wolfgang: There you have an analogy to Richie Hawtin. At that time Studio 1 existed next to a concept series by Richie. It was extreme minimalistic music matched perfectly. It was all about working as stringently and closely-meshed as possible to establish a unique trademark sound. We understand Kompakt more as a pop label under the umbrella of techno.
Wolfgang, have you ever had plans to resurrect labels like Profan or Studio 1?
Wolfgang: This can be answered with a determined yes and no. Sometimes there is the idea and then the next moment it is gone. I think these moods surface every six months. Single repressings can’t be ruled out, but a full resurrection of the label is actually impossible.
When the weekly Total Confusion parties at Studio 672 ended, it left a gaping hole in the club scene in Cologne. This you have partly filled with the new monthly Total Confusion night at Bogen 2. What do you think of the state of techno in the city?
Wolfgang: The club scene in Cologne has always been complicated. Cologne had never the attitude of being a huge club city. The scene isn’t big like it is portrayed in the media. In the whole of Cologne there are not as many options as in one district in Berlin.
Jörg: People in Cologne are more event-oriented. Single events work great, but more frequent nights don't work so well. Firstly, because the scene is really small. Secondly, they get bored quickly. So to me, the new concept of Total Confusion is perfect. It's much better to put the energy into one date a month than dilute it every weekend.
Wolfgang: This has always been a problem here in Cologne. When we started to go clubbing on the 4/4 bassdrum, we thought: “Okay, what’s up? Where’s the hot acid party?” Quickly we had to admit that nothing was going on. And when finally the first parties took place, they were rejected by the local audience. It must be rooted in the mentality of the people here. Cologne is one of the most popular diasporas in the worldwide electronic scene, but that fame is many times bigger than the truth.
Jörg: But I'd also say that I don’t believe, for example, that Frankfurt has much more to offer every weekend.
Wolfgang: Okay, there you have the Robert Johnson run by the guys from Playhouse. And for those who like it bigger you have the Cocoon Club. But with those two clubs, the need of the city is probably catered for. If you want to go partying, you have to go to Berlin. Berlin is the world capital of techno.
Jörg: In Berlin techno is still part of everyday life. You won’t find that here. In Berlin you go to a bakery and someone is spinning records. Or in a restaurant. Somebody is always DJing somewhere. Just imagine if the Päffgen (a traditional Cologne pub) had two turntables! But I don't think it's correct to say that Cologne is the only city in which techno no longer plays a leading role.
Finally, today almost every artist or label has a MySpace page or an Internet presence. Kompakt has one too, but you won't find individual Kompakt artists like Michael Mayer, Superpitcher or Jörg Burger on MySpace. What is the reason for this?
Wolfgang: Our relationship to the Internet is a bit contradictory. It’s no secret that I’m not into this whole online thing. I don’t like that way of communicating, even though I am, as co-owner of a forward-thinking company, fully aware of its meaning. We have people who cover this section. But it’s true. Our presence on these platforms is low, fragmentary and sometimes insufficient. This is grounded in our personal tradition that we still see the whole Internet as like a fifth wheel. It's a position that is also based on our vinyl mania and, of course, our skepticism towards websites where nearly everybody has to put their two cents in. We find it difficult to handle that.
Jörg: In this way I’m different from Wolfgang. I use the Internet very intensely. I use things like Resident Advisor and other magazines or bulletin boards to stay informed. I’m explicitly not a friend of MySpace. Once I registered and after a short time some folks wanted to be my friend who I didn’t particularly wanted to be my friends. So I unsubscribed.
Wolfgang: It also has to do with our status as artists. You normally need to have a distance, but MySpace is the total opposite of that. It dismantles every distance, every natural aura. But in general, Kompakt is working on trying to change our relationship with the Internet. I think our presence will improve markedly in the near future.
Jörg Burger’s latest 12” on Kompakt’s K2 sub-label is an absolute gem. It’s two differently styled tracks of wonderful pop-techno as you would expect from one of the masters of the genre."
"Like other Sähkö reissues, these still sound great, but while the mixes have surely been staples with Richie Hawtin and co. for decades I'm waiting for someone brave enough to drop Mike Ink on a crowded floor."