Anyone who uses words like "mate" and "coolio" via e-mail, however, is doing better than most, and when I met Fengler last month in Berlin, we had a pleasant conversation with little miscommunication. Most of the questions revolved around music and parties—an easy enough topic for the resident DJ at the city's Berghain club to talk about at length. He's devoted his life to it after all, and has few outside interests that are easily discernible aside from the occasional game of golf. Then again, if my German was better, perhaps I would have learned far more.
Fengler studied urban and regional development in school, moving away from Berlin to prepare himself to pursue the 9-to-5. Cut off from the club scene and the music, Fengler faced a real dilemma after he finished. "It wasn't an easy decision between work and music. [That isn't] due to lack of addiction to the music, but more because I had studied and didn't want to do it for nothing. My parents were also like 'come on Marcel, what are you thinking?'...In the end, you know, you need to listen to your heart and [music] was what my heart was telling me."
Fengler was playing around the city, but with his childhood friend Dettmann a resident at Ostgut—the predecessor to Berghain—he was asked to submit a mix when the new club was preparing to open. "I noticed they were searching for new talent, so I gave them a mix CD. It was pretty funny because I called Marcel and during our talk I noticed there was a ring on my phone, and I made a joke to myself 'Oh, maybe it's Berghain,' and it was Berghain. They said, 'hello Marcel, we would like to meet you,'" he laughs. "It was a moment that changed my life, when I became part of the Berghain crew. I was searching for something like this—a home."
It's almost hard to imagine a time when Berghain wasn't a thing, given that the club has become one of the most talked about in the electronic music world. But it was hardly a given. So many factors have gone into building its reputation: The door policy, the lengthy opening hours, the no photos policy and of course the music itself. Few could have anticipated that Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock would become international stars, or that Ostgut Ton would become a celebrated imprint. "I think none of us could have had a kind of vision of what the club would be about in the next couple of years," states Fengler.
Things have moved step-by-step, more natural than it may look from an outsider's perspective. Ostgut Ton, for instance, was only set up to release Andre Galuzzi's first mix. Dettmann and Klock dropped off a demo after that, and it's grown organically ever since. There are no conspiracy theories about why Fengler has only seemed to release once a year on the imprint. "I am [just] a bit of a perfectionist," he explains. "Instead of producing multiple EPs, I really love to take my time producing a track. I will put it onto the computer and not listen to it for three weeks and then notice something about the idea that is really catchy, and then decide, 'OK, that's cool.'"
Similarly, there's no secret to the way that he has produced music. Indeed, you might even be surprised to learn that he doesn't use analog gear much at all. That's set to change soon, however. "It was incredible to produce stuff with only a computer, but I have been thinking about [getting] a space for the last two years, since you are limited when you are producing in a flat because of neighbors and other sound restrictions. So I agreed to share a studio space with [a friend] so we can put all of our stuff together. I also want to go a little bit away from this mouse-clicking-producing path, and include a little bit more hardware."
This new studio space comes at a time when Fengler has been particularly prolific. More releases have been trickling out than ever before, and he will soon launch his own imprint—Index Marcel Fengler, IMF—so that he isn't tied to other label's busy release schedules. It will, of course, be techno-based, but Fengler promises a few surprises along the way.
For now, however, the focus is on his recent mix for the club, the fifth in its series celebrating the first floor of the building. Typical of Fengler's sets, it weaves through a number of different sounds over its length, charting a sound that is neither Dettmann's purer techno nor Klock's house-tinged bounce. Seiji's garage gets a look in. So does Dr. Walker's industrial electro rework of Byetone. Fengler continually refers to his DJing style as "snaking," and that's exactly what you get on Berghain 05. You can understand why Alva Noto recently noted that it was Fengler that woke him up to how experimental things can get on the dance floor and still work.
"I really love to have a kind of break in there that makes the audience sit there thinking, 'what's up now?' It gives you a different impulse, you know, or a changing moment," says Fengler. "I really prefer changing moments in a set and bringing a totally different style of one into another. It is fascinating to me when I am pre-hearing this on the headphones, and you've had the records for a couple of months in the bag, but you are combining these two records for the first time and you are like 'Woah! Why didn't I make this kind of mix before?!'"
That thrill of hearing genres and sounds melting together is usually a spontaneous one. For Berghain 05, though, Fengler took things to a computer to ensure its perfection. "First the idea was to start it with the computer, then to mix it later with vinyl and CDs. But when I did it on the computer there was no track on it that I hadn't edited. So I thought, well, let's just use the full range of the computer to make the edits and to change things a bit." Most importantly, it tells the story that he wanted to tell—a story that encompasses many of his influences and interests. There is no translation needed for Berghain 05 or Fengler himself, really. The music does all the talking.