We'd hear it later again that night during Dekmantel's Ostgut Ton showcase, at the more modest North Sea Jazz club down the road. This made sense: Second Life, UVB's second EP, which featured "Mixtion," had been released days before on Bas Mooy's MORD label, though Marcel Dettmann and others had been playing the track for a few months. "Mixtion" had become one of the underground hits of the year, while its maker remained relatively unknown.
At this point Sébastien Michel had just three gigs to his name. On the production side, there were two EPs on MORD, and nothing else. He's since added a third release on a fledgling label called Fracture. More gigs are coming in, too—he began 2015 with one of those hallowed Sunday afternoon sets at Berghain.
Originally from Marseille, Michel moved to Berlin in November 2012 with his school friend and production ally Jean Redondo. Working together as Daxyl, the pair spent that first summer soaking up the city and shaping their tastes. Michel was already enamoured with techno, which he describes as "the most direct music." Daxyl was the precursor to the more streamlined sound he'd later pursue as UVB
For a time, Michel and Redondo lived among their machines, recording jam sessions and putting together tracks that touched on IDM, New Wave and industrial. But they never released anything. "We worked too slowly together," Michel says. "It was a lot to handle that year, so we didn't make enough music in my opinion." Nor did they perform much, playing just a handful of DJ gigs together before Redondo returned to Marseille, leaving Michel alone in Berlin.
Michel had been making music back in Marseille as early as 2009, but nothing of real note. Shunning the Ed Banger sound that was prevalent in France at the time, he'd traced techno back to EBM and its '90s roots, finding a particular soft spot for New Wave: "I actually wanted to make New Wave music," he says. "I tried to make it just by myself, because I love it, but it wasn't really me. I'm too shy to sing. I'm not that kind of artist."
In Berlin, Michel explored techno's more "tribal" recesses, inspired by the early Meta and Blueprint sound of Oliver Ho and James Ruskin. What I've Learned was the result. Aggressive and clangorous, twitching with nervous energy, it was a bold debut. "Supply," with its hooky synth stab that almost dissolves in the middle, was the undisputed highlight. It laid the groundwork for things to come: a wonky sort of hypnotism that would reach a heady climax with "Mixtion." But Michel had his doubts. "It's funny because, this track, I hesitated to release it," he says. "I made 'Mixtion' around December 2013, and between September and December I made more than 70 tracks. I was producing everyday, several tracks. At some point it's really difficult to be objective about your own music."
This goes some way to explaining Second Life's unusual length. At ten tracks long, it was more like an album than an EP—and felt like one, too. Where tracks like "Supertronic" and "Zakajèn" were out-and-out assault weapons, "Mixtion," "Second Life" and "Cardiff Luv" showed a knack for bruised melodies. It added an air of sentimentality to an otherwise raw and steely industrial release. And at a time when artists like Perc were popularising more extreme sounds, the emotional allusions gave Michel a defining edge. His latest effort, Meteorit, strikes an even better balance between dark and light. The tension between the two is becoming his trademark.
After a prolific studio period—Michel claims to have more than 200 tracks ready to go—this "studio rat" has become increasingly focused on DJing. In December he visited London for the first time, headlining the long-running afterhours party Jaded. In January, without any more preparation than a carefully selected record box, he fulfilled every aspiring techno DJ's dream by playing Berghain. "It was a lot of pressure," he says. "I played for four hours, which is also a bit new for me. Even at my place when I'm just practicing I don't play for fours hours." In May he returns for a second round, this time with the rest of MORD in tow.
Aside from when he plays, visits to Berghain are rare these days. "I went there a lot of times but I don't any more. Now it's over for me," he laughs. "I'm really trying—at the same time to be part of the thing—to stay away from it because I don't want to lose my lucidity, my vision." It's the kind of studious approach that may well see him through to the next and most important phase of his career. "You can really be lost in Berlin. And I don't want to be lost," he adds. "If I want to be creative and to last, if I want to continue like this, I need to be healthy in my head, not partying every weekend."
This will be balanced with an increasingly busy touring schedule. Since March Michel has traveled to Hungary, Greece, Holland, Belgium and Taiwan for gigs. He also presented a timeline-hopping set at Boiler Room Berlin back in February, warming up for Killawatt, Tommy Four Seven and Ancient Methods. It's hard to believe he's only been mixing seriously for the last year or so.
Things are moving fast for Michel, which made last month's release of Daxyl's long-awaited debut record, Early Works, all the more gratifying for him. The record features four club-ready house jams awash with acid and electro—as the title suggests, they're old recordings, pre-dating the duo's move to Berlin. Yet Early Works sounds fresh. There's a timeless, naturally backwards-facing quality to it. And though it sounds distinctly different from Michel's UVB releases, it shows their foundations laid bare.
There may be more Daxyl stuff to come, but for the time being Michel's priorities are elsewhere. There's an album in the works for MORD—the label's first long-player—due out in September, though he's tight-lipped on the specifics. Where releases so far have been curated from a glut of material, a more conscious thread will inform his next record. He mentions Zen and meditation concepts, but on the whole is not willing to divulge much. It looks like we'll just have to wait. It will certainly be worth it.