"We go to the wrongest places you could imagine," says Freer of their preferred studio downtime activity. "The rocker places, the fucked up heavy metal places."
"The first times they would look at us like, 'who's that?!'," continues Reiling. "Now, they know us. We're just in the corner..."
"...drinking Coke or a kiddie beer. If we ever make money..." starts Freer.
"...we'll need a studio with one!" finishes Reiling.
Freer and Reiling became close friends in the mid-'90s as teens, blowing off school, organising parties with a small crew of friends, and spending hours in their hometown's sole record store. Given that both were active first as DJs and then as producers, it's surprising that Session Victim formed as late as it did: New Years Day 2007. "We tried a few times to make music," admits Freer, "but it never hit the spot."
Presumably, if they had come up in the established club scene of a larger city, rather than their quaint university town of Lüneburg, the impetus behind Session Victim would have emerged at an earlier stage. As it was, Lüneburg provided its own unexpected advantages. It was the kind of place where, "if you have no plans to leave when you turn 19, then there is something wrong with you," claims Freer, and it's where Reiling and fellow budding DJs Janno and MF Munk began to throw parties—initially at an abandoned factory, then a bar—with a loyal, undemanding audience that helped them sharpen their DJ skills over a number of years.
"At some point in this little town we were the guys running the parties," recalls Freer. "The people didn't come to us because they liked or knew the music; they just knew this was the only party that was a bit different."
The program was generally divided between breakbeat and drum & bass from Janno and MF Munk, while Reiling and Freer attempted to negotiate each other's differing perspective on techno, house and beyond. "We were still not 100% attuned. It was a bit bumpy now and then," says Freer. "I had a few Soundstream records, and Matthias dug up a Soundstream record too; that was one of the first 100% house or techno (artists) that did it for us both." Despite essentially running the show, both Reiling and Freer were increasingly aware of how sheltered their micro scene was. "There's this one record a friend of mine had, a drum & bass record," recalls Reiling, "he would play it all the time and it was great. I saw another record by that guy later, so we thought this was a huge drum & bass guy," he laughs. "But he wasn't." Adds Freer, "At some point, we came out of our bubble."
They both left Lüneburg in 2000—Reiling to Hamburg, Freer to Berlin—and began to drift in different musical directions. Reiling, a long-time musician, indulged his broad palate, penning heartfelt singer-songwriter material, constructing DJ sets of rare funk and soul 45s and returning to the roots of his first electronic experiments. "I put my Amiga 500 away for many years," he says. "Now it's right next to my PC and I use it like a synthesizer, of course it is a sequencer, but it has a very special sound." Writing mostly sample-free arrangements, his solo electronic output has included cut-up house, electronica and hip-hop, the latter of which has found its way into backing tracks for US underground hip-hop stars like A-Plus of Souls of Mischief—an impressive range seemingly spurred by a commitment to exploiting the limits of his modest set-up. "If you have ten plug-ins on your computer, each with 150 presets, then you can skip and skip and find something close to what you want and change it, but you really get lost in the possibilities. If I only have one synthesizer with two oscillators and three knobs, I really take my time and work on that."
Reiling was also active within Hamburg's thriving hardcore metal scene. "I had this band Two Tribes for eight years," he says. "You could play wherever you wanted. It was when bands like Tool and Korn were big, but I started to get bored because I had been playing in a hardcore metal band since I was 14..."
"...and, you were trying to push your band to do more complex stuff," interjects Freer.
"Yeah, everybody was just headbanging. I wanted to be more experimental."
Despite Session Victim's recent flirtations with modified tempos, they're unlikely to do away completely with their loop-driven 4/4 sound. Two Tribes' legacy survives in part, though, through the bustle of Session Victim's energetic DJ sets and live shows. "When we played in April I was looking up after the second song, and thought that something was dripping off the ceiling," Freer recalls. "But it was Matthias sweating on my arms."
Reiling chuckles, "It's what I got from my hardcore days."
For the immediate future, Session Victim are focussed on further developing their live set, an Ableton-and-two-controllers configuration that they have been tweaking over the last year. "I asked (Retreat co-owner) Quarion, 'How do you do a live set?'" says Freer. "He gave us some tips, but then we were basically on our own. We had to make it really difficult for us to play our music..."
"...otherwise it would only be work for one person and not two..."
"...there are so many points where we can fuck up. We made more room for errors but now we're able to improvise and people should really see that we are doing something..."
"...we don't want to make it artificially more difficult, but if you create yourself some task while doing it, your whole focus will stick to the music..."
"...we can't drink, smoke or talk to people while we are doing it..."
"...because I have to follow when Hauke is bringing in the hi-hats. He does it in a special way. Then I get an idea of the right time to do a break. We have this loop that hasn't come in yet, how do I get it in there? I scream at him 'Kick out!' So he takes out the kick drum, and I have to come up with my pads and then he knows how he gets out of that break I made him do."
"If somebody stole our laptop, they couldn't play it," concludes Freer. "We're stuck in this complicated way, but it's good for us. We don't want to make a live set that a DJ could do."
Careful to distinguish their live show from their vinyl-only DJ sets, Session Victim bemoan "checking your e-mail"-style laptop performances, referencing some of the highly skilled DJs they both witnessed at Click club in Hamburg. "I met this guy from the label Ladomat. We were both interns at that point," says Freer. "He ended up being (Click's) owner and he said, 'bring all your friends,' so when we didn't have much money, that was the place to go."
"We saw Steve Bug play and it really blew my mind," recalls Reiling. "Then we saw Miss Kittin and she was awesome. That was the first time that I thought, 'here we have some techno DJs, and they are really skilful.' It was the first time that I saw DJs spinning, but doing it with so much intensity."
"We were just lucky that we could get in for free," continues Freer. "That was where we drew lots of inspiration and that enabled Matthias to say 'Yeah...'"
"...'I want to do something like that,'" finishes Reiling.
going, but it feels right."
In the intervening years, Freer busied himself in Berlin, working in label management for Resopal Schallware, and dabbling in sample-driven production, and being drawn further into the ubiquitous Berlin sound. "I wasn't even aware of the soul and disco stuff at that point because I came to Berlin to start working for this techno label," he recalls. "They asked me 'why do you want to work here?' I told them, 'because it's my favourite label,' but it wasn't true; it was the favourite label of my best friend. I came out of a small town and I didn't have a clue, so I was drawn into techno massively, and I worked my way out of that and found house."
Once Reiling and Freer found themselves at similar musical reference points again, New Year revelry in Hamburg sparked the interest in working together. "We went to parties and my computer was on and we said 'let's do something,'" recalls Reiling. "We worked on two tracks and we totally got into it and had so much fun that we kept it up."
They committed to meeting fortnightly, alternately in Hamburg and Berlin, to see what they could come up with. "When we started we didn't have anything except Matthias' synthesizer and now I have a few things," says Freer, gesturing to his own collection of hardware, which includes his prized Akai MPC2000. "It's great, they have their own colour, their own noise, their own character."
Their unique method thrives on speed and spontaneity, and methodical sample harvesting. "We take (a) sample, one guy sitting at the computer making variations of it," explains Freer. "The other guy is in the stack of records listening to new stuff while it's playing. I needle drop and say 'do you think this is good?' He samples it right away and puts it in the sequencer and we take turns. He then goes to the records and I think 'OK, I'm programming drums now,' and when the sound is more progressed we start looking for certain things on records. Maybe a vocal, or high string or..."
"...maybe we need some chords or whatever..."
"...we have the sequencer running, lots of stuff gets discarded on the way." They almost never work on Session Victim tracks separately. "The only time we do is when we finish and speak on the phone and say 'maybe make the kick drum 2dB lower'," says Freer.
Their debut, the No Friends EP in 2008 found an immediate home on London deep house imprint Real Soon, the same label behind Freer's solo debut, My Beat, the previous year. "I did my first record because a friend forced me to," he says. "I played him a track and he said, 'I'm tired of my friends never sending music to labels, so I'm not going to listen to your stuff again.' He was really serious! That night I sent it to three labels and one of them was Real Soon. From that point we were in the lucky position that we never had to hassle to get our music somewhere."
The loop-driven aesthetic of No Friends has become the jumping-off point for everything that has followed, although at first, it was almost by accident: "We forgot to turn off certain tracks," admits Freer. Reiling concurs. "I didn't realise when we made it. When I listened to and mixed the record I was like 'This thing is never going out!'"
The duo's biggest track to date is "The Keyboarder," a tune that slots easily between the likes of The Revenge and Motor City Drum Ensemble, scratched the itch for disco fiends, with its filtered string stabs, and 4/4 DJs craving a bit of melodic wiggle room. "We don't know where it's going, but it feels right," says Freer, of their continuing relationship with Delusions of Grandeur. "The good thing about the label is that it's run on a professional level, far beyond Retreat."
Retreat, the vinyl-only label Freer helms alongside Quarion, may get downplayed, but it has had its share of success too. It speaks to both Freer and Quarion's combined experiences working both with—and for—other labels. "When Yanneck [Salvo, AKA Quarion] and I got together and decided to do this we asked ourselves if we wanted to do it as cheaply as possible, with stamps and white labels. Although we buy these records, they're not the records we love. We came to the conclusion to have a label that was about the label, and not the artist. Looking back this is a great thing because we don't have to compromise on anything; there's nobody saying 'that's nice but now we need a dance floor version.'"
The first Retreat label party soon followed, and it has become one of the underground highlights of Berlin's teeming nightlife. Despite Freer's assertion that the anything-goes spirit of the Lüneburg parties is "something that would never work in Berlin," a visit into the tiny basement space where the parties are held can find Quarion playing hip-hop or broken beat, while Freer and Reiling, inner circle artists like Hunee and Iron Curtis, and guests like Patrice Scott and Baaz take it anywhere from soul and disco to deep techno.
"Whoever is going to do something with Retreat has to have a relationship to us," says Freer, of both the label and the parties it has spawned. "It doesn't have to be a close friend, but it has to make sense to a certain degree." As a solo artist, Reiling operates from a similar perspective, which is why it was only this year that his first collection of instrumental beats, Das Gespenst Von Altona, was issued by Giegling. "I showed them some of my music, and they said it was a wide range [which is] why they want[ed] to do it with me. They didn't want just a house record or a hip-hop record," he says of the Weimar imprint. "They wanted to portray me as an artist."
When they get together to produce, though, things are rarely so thought out. "We just like to hang out and make music," says Freer. "If a track is good then the most trustworthy effect on me and Matthias is if we can listen to the loop over and over and still nod our heads." Reiling, once again finishing the thought, agrees: "Getting out of the room or going to play some pinball somewhere and keeping in mind that we just finished something that is great and we can't wait to get back and listen to it again a few hours later... That is the feeling I have been striving for my whole life."