Entitled Incubation, the record comes nearly 20 years into Sumner's career. As a member of Sandwell District and as a solo artist he's long since established a sleek and atmospheric style of techno, which he explores more fully than ever on his upcoming LP. "The goal was to create something cinematic and heavy on imagery and emotion," he says. "A soundtrack." Incubation is his debut on Ostgut Ton, and was mixed by producer and renowned studio engineer Tobias Freund.
Chatting via email this week, Sumner filled us in on the process behind Incubation:
Your first solo album is arriving some 20 years into your career. Why now?
Well I've always worked within the 12-inch single and EP format. When I was starting out, my intentions were to release techno records (12-inches)—that was the format and a good part of what I was collecting. That's what felt natural. I always intended to start recording albums but somehow didn't feel I was ready until a few years ago. I'm a bit obsessive/compulsive and the way I imagined doing an album, in terms of engineering, was something completely different than 12-inch productions.
I've just always felt, for myself, that on the 12-inch format, production doesn't matter as much, raw production can work really well. Of course it can on an album too but when I thought about doing one, I wanted it to be a bit more audiophile and didn't quite feel ready yet. But I'm glad I waited because I intend on releasing more music in the album format and feel it was worth the wait because I got this exactly how I always imagined it...
But along the way I have recorded two collaborative albums: The Supreme Negative as Portion Reform on Downwards with Regis in 1997 and Feed Forward with Regis and Silent Servant as Sandwell District in 2010. So I've worked in the album format before.
Tell us about the process behind the album. When and where did you produce it? Were all of the songs made for this record specifically?
Yes, everything was made specifically for this. Essentially, I wrote it as one endless piece to be listened to straight through. So everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.
I wrote and recorded it at my home studio in Berlin over the course of the last year. Working on it in phases with the initial two-week writing sessions this time last year. Then I shelved it for a while, came back to it and finished writing, arranging and mixing it down to a demo in July/August. Presented it to Ostgut, let it sit again and then mixed it with an engineer in November and mastered it in December.
A large part of the concept for this record was to do something I have never done before and something that's, sort of, an old school approach, which is work with an engineer in the mix-down process. I was looking to achieve a level of sound quality I felt I wasn't capable of nor had the equipment to achieve. So, in the mix-down process I worked with Tobias Freund (Tobias.). I always wanted to work with him because he's such an experienced engineer.
Aside from his current work in techno, he was the mix engineer on massive pop hits like Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" when he worked for Frank Farian. And in the end, it made a world of difference. Not only is he an incredible engineer but he has the level of equipment that is far beyond what you would have in a home studio. And you can hear this in the production. So, basically, I did writing and preproduction at home and the final mix down at his studio inside of Templehof Airport. It was great experience.
Generally speaking, how did you find the experience of making an album after years of making singles and EPs? Would you make another one?
Absolutely. It was a really nice, personal experience. One of these things I wanted to do since I was a kid. I could have done it a lot quicker but I really enjoyed taking the time to go over it with people I've always wanted to work with and have a lot of respect for. For instance, I sat down with Francois Kevorkian to go over things. It was a difficult decision to choose between him and Tobias to mix this and went with Tobias in the end because we're both in Berlin and Francois is in New York. But I had this incredible experience with Francois. He invited me over to his studio and sat down with me to go over everything. It was one of these situations where I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
One second we were talking about his work producing Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode or remixing Yazoo, and then the next moment he was sitting there with a note pad taking notes and going over my material. I mean, do I need to say anything else? It was a dream come true. In the end, since we weren't able to work on this together mixing the album, he will more than likely be doing a remix... or rather, extended 12-inch mix.
What's next for you?
There will finally be a Sandwell District mix CD in April.
Incubation will be available on CD and as a double 12-inch. The release party will happen at Berghain on March 2nd, with DJ Pete, Surgeon, Tobias, Silent Servant and Norman Nodge all confirmed. Upstairs at Panorama Bar, Function and Adam X will play a Brooklyn house set.
02. Against the Wall
05. Incubation (Ritual)
06. Inter (Album Version)
07. Voiceprint (Reprise)
08. Psychic Warfare
09. Gradient I
Ostgut Ton will release Incubation on March 4th, 2013.