"After six in the evening we are completely alone, except for the guy at the desk downstairs." SVN—who, like SW, didn't want his name printed in this article—hands me a beer as he tells me this. The room is small but somehow cavernous, with windows on one side revealing a fairly desolate urban landscape—Berghain on the left, O2 World on the right, some parking lots and warehouses in between. A painter by trade, SVN is a gifted visual artist—he did the pencil drawings for a few Acido 12-inches—but in here graffiti is relegated to a guest book by the window and a tiny patch of wall above the mixing board. The rest of the room is decorated only by hardware, a mixture of vintage synths, drum machines and more obscure devices, from something called The Powerhouse (more on that later) to an African shaker that's supposedly too loud to be played indoors. SVN's been renting this room for nearly ten years (SW has his own studio outside Stuttgart), and pretty much everything in here can be linked to a specific moment in that period.
"I bought this one from a punk," he says, addressing a clunky tape recorder. "This guy had a band for 15 or 20 years and was treating his machines very good, kept them in a cellar in Kreuzberg. For a while I didn't have a computer, and eventually I said to him, 'Man, my computer broke down, I don't have any recording options.' So he gave it to me. I went an entire year without a computer, using just this tape machine and a mixer. That was around when we started the label. The second SUED release was recorded on this machine."
The Powerhouse marks a more recent chapter in SUED's four-year history: it's the device behind the music of PG Sounds, one of SVN's projects with Philip Gelberg. Like SVN, Gelberg collects unusual production tools, and this is one of his best finds. "It's an old four-track," SVN explains. "Not a recorder, just a playback machine, made in Scotland in the '70s. There are four different recordings on each tape, but they're not normal tapes—they can only be played on this machine. Some are broken or don't work very well. There's nothing on the internet about it, it's nowhere to be found." Both PG Sounds records were made primarily with The Powerhouse, plus organs, synths and additional percussion—no MIDI arrangements.
"That first record is a party killer," says Andreas Krumm, AKA Acido Records boss Dynamo Dreesen. Like Gelberg and a number of other artists (most notably DJ Sotofett and DJ Fett Burger of Sex Tags Mania), Krumm spends a lot of time hanging out and making music at the Neues Deutschland studio (together, he and SVN are Dresvn). Today, he and SVN have planned a jam session with a few of the guys from Mood Hut, the Vancouver collective and label, who happened to be in town.
The "party killer" Krumm's referring to is SUED007, the first EP by PG Sounds. As much as I like this release, that's not the description that springs to mind. Each track is a murky soup of live drums and organ, a nightmare to most DJs. But "party killer" means something different to this crew, which is part of what makes SUED so distinctive. The music SW and SVN release is totally unconventional—hypnotic and austere, it's always played live, and never made with DJs in mind. But to its creators, who have long since lost interest in standard club sounds, this is party music—"tropical and wild," as SVN puts it. "Sunny, happy, friendly music." Later, he dubs it "rainforest techno."
Krumm decides to grab food for everyone before the Mood Hut guys show up. The choice, as usual, is Corbaci, a köfte sandwich spot near Hard Wax that's the namesake for SUED 005, Corbaci Bay. While he's gone, SVN rolls a cigarette by the window and charts his musical biography for me. His first love was punk. He grew up in Hamburg, and he and his sister spent a lot of time hanging out in squats, where he got to listen to a lot of records. Then came dissonant bands like The Melvins and Sonic Youth. For his 15th birthday, his sister got him one of his first LPs, an album by Dinosaur Jr. Next came hip-hop, and with it, graffiti.
"My friend bought a record player, an MK-2, and a little scratch mixer," he says. "After a while he sold his equipment, so then I had my first record player and first mixer. I bought the second turntable in '96 or '97, that's when I started DJing. At this stage I was into drum & bass a bit, and I mixed a little. But I was always floating around, never had a real idea of what sound I wanted. Just open, floating."
SVN says he partied a lot in Berlin in the '90s, but when I ask about the highlights, his mind jumps to a punk concert. "At this place right over there, where the o2 centre is now, there was this Ramones-style band playing for hours and hours, and there were bikers coming into the club on their motorcycles, right up to the bar, ordering beer. It was really cool." He can count on one hand the number of DJs he's intentionally gone to see play. "I went to a Sven Väth party in 1995—eight hours DJ set from Sven Väth. They had tape copy machines recording live. For 50 D-mark I bought a recording of the night. I still have it!" Anything else? "I went to see Omar-S one time. Um… I very much like to see Mika Vainio play live."
So how, then, to explain the 4/4 pulse that underpins SUED's records? SVN chalks this up mostly to his partner, SW, who he calls "the techno side of SUED."
"The important thing for me about house and techno is the scientific aspect, the revolutionary aspect," SW says. "It is the best way to make music easily and with limited equipment. And it's the best language with which to describe this moment." As weird and modern as it is, SW's music is explicitly indebted to early house and techno. This is why two of his records are made up of tracks called "Reminder." "It's a reminder of the good things from Detroit, Chicago and the other British stuff," he says. "Labels from the middle and the end of the '90s are a big inspiration for me."
While SVN hosts jam sessions at his little nest in Berlin, SW toils away "in exile," working three days a week at a nine-to-five job and spending the rest of his time in his studio. "He needs his own space," says SVN. "Close the door, be alone, no explanations—that's what he's like. He's really, really deep into philosophy, always reading crazy books. He can fly very high with his thoughts. Last year he was really into Hegel and was always giving me lectures."
SW and SVN met in Berlin in 1999 at a photo exhibition and became fast friends. In 2003, they released their first record together, an album of tender electronics called Adapter under the name You Dee. Another one followed two years later. But soon after that, SVN fell into a rut.
"I had a breakdown when I was about 30, 31. I didn't want to work construction anymore. I had this drinking habit. I was fucked up, depressed. Luckily, some optimistic, positive people came along and infected me with some new energy—you know, 'Yeah, let's do something!'"
In addition to SW, these people included Krumm, The Sex Tags Mania crew and Daniel Pflumm, who runs the labels Atelier and General Elektro and does the artwork for SUED. SVN had been feeling jaded about nightlife and electronic music, but he found this feeling can, ironically, be its own form of inspiration. "It's like, 'Let's find a way to make this interesting again.'"
In 2008, SVN and SW decided to start the label. Three years later, the first record came out, a split EP by the two of them. Slowly SUED took in other artists: Dynamo Dreesen (who teams up with SVN as Dresvn), DJ Sotofett (who contributed a demented jungle remix of "Reminder" on SUED004), DJ Fett Burger (who forms XI with SVN), PG Sounds and Club No-No, AKA Snorre Magnar Solberg. Meanwhile, SVN is starting to branch out beyond SUED and its extended family (i.e. Sex Tags and Acido). Last year Dresvn put out a remix on Livity Sound, and SVN teamed up with Porn Sword Tobacco for one of his best records yet, Complaints on Kontra-Musik.
But whatever happens, SUED will always remain a strictly low-profile operation. SVN explains this with a shrug. "I dunno, I guess I like working under a stone. I don't go out very much. I like working instead. Collecting the records, or collecting the sounds, then presenting it. It's nice work, and good money per hour if you do it right."
Suddenly Krumm comes back in a panic. Apparently the owner of Corbaci had offered him a piece of baklava, which he'd eaten, despite suspecting he may have a cavity. He gives us our sandwiches and rushes back out to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste in hopes of undoing the damage.
In the meantime, SVN starts preparing for the jam session. He and Krumm have a very particular production style: instead of using loops, they record each individual stem in ten- to 30-minute takes, making adjustments on the fly, then mix these stems together live. This makes the end result feel more organic, and also forces them to get deeply familiar with each part of the track before they start recording. It also makes for at least an hour or so of prep before each session.
Krumm storms back in, still stressed. While he was brushing his teeth down the hall, his phone rang and he'd taken the call with a mouth full of toothpaste. In the confusion he somehow lost his toothbrush. He rifles through his jacket pockets, occasionally throwing up his hands in disbelief. Soon, though, he's drawn in by the sound SVN is slinging out.
The first few tracks are all woody percussion with shimmering, dubby effects. SVN clucks his tongue to one of them, and at first the sound is indistinguishable from what's coming out of the speakers. He does most of the hands-on work while Krumm stands back with a focused, almost pained expression on his face, occasionally throwing out a suggestion—"ist zu schnell, oder…?"
8 PM comes and goes. The Mood Hut guys never show up, but by now these two are in a groove. A number of stems have been recorded, a quantity of beers drunk. This latest piece of rainforest techno is coming together nicely. Of all the strange elements drifting through the mix, a clackety, swirling drum pattern has floated to the top. SVN stands back and smiles. "It's like drumming on all these tiny skulls," he giggles. "Or all these little skulls making sounds with their teeth."
By now the track has hit a sweet spot, its parts aligning in the hypnotic, almost queasy way that defines Dresvn's best productions. Both men are utterly still, stoically considering the sounds they're hearing. Then, in the same moment, they suddenly start dancing—Krumm in a jerky, robot-like fashion, SVN with a more standard male-at-a-club roll of the shoulders. Someone knocks over a stool. Everyone else in the Neues Deutschland building has long since gone home, but in here things are just getting started. In the bright and empty hallway outside, Dresvn's clicks echo all the way to the lift. In the lobby, a few lifeless stories below, the doorman yawns at his desk.
The sprawling, psychedelic sounds of SUED, strung together by SVN.
Filesize: 226 MB
Special guests intro
SVN - U.d. Re-work - Kimochi 14
Club no-no & SVN - SUED 9
UQX - 91 Summer
Asis 3 - unreleased
PG Sounds & DJ Fettburger - unreleased
SP Posse - Acido17
SW - Reminder Part2 - SUED 8
SW - U.d. Rework - Kimochi 14
Dynamo Dreesen - Tape 4 SVN remix - Acido 11
DJ Sotofett - Assa Med Den Derre Flöyta - Wania 97
PG Sounds - untitled - SUED 10
PG Sounds featuring Paleo - unreleased
Grace Jones - The Crossing - Manhattan Island Records
Afrika Bambaataa - Death Mix 1 Intro - Paul Winley Records
PG Sounds - untitled - SUED 10
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