WeTransfer supports Breaking Through. Download an exclusive track bundle from Kobosil. "Emil" and "Think & Think" are taken from his debut EP, RK3.
At Berghain, the weekend has a way of annexing the week. Not content with devouring Sunday, Klubnacht parties plow right through Monday morning. The Berlin club's 11th birthday, as one might expect, was no exception. Around midnight, as millions of sensible people across Europe set their alarm clocks and got into bed, the hordes of revelers who reliably fill Berghain every weekend steeled themselves for one final push. Fleetingly revealed by an aqua-colored strobe, the sweaty crowd moved to a thrilling barrage of techno—the kind of music that evokes a frothing volcano, or a meteor storm. And then, suddenly, in came something oddly cheery: Charlie's "Spacer Woman," an Italo classic that, on paper, would have seemed out of bounds, though in this moment it was an exhilarating breath of fresh air. In the booth, Max Kobosil smiled.
Kobosil is Berghain's newest resident DJ, and that night he shared the closing slot with Patrick Gräser, AKA Answer Code Request. Both DJs are part of a new wave of artists on Ostgut Ton, though they come from distinctly different generations. At 24, Kobosil has less than half the experience of most of his label-mates—they were already raving by the time he was born—though you wouldn't guess it from the way he DJs. That night, he and Gräser made the room pop off again and again, keeping the party going until nearly 2 PM on Monday.
Being a Berghain resident is about the sweetest gig a techno artist can hope for. Beyond the monthly sets at the club itself, you release music on Ostgut Ton and get booked by the in-house agency, Ostgut Booking. Many artists toil away for decades without pulling off anything close to this. How did Kobosil get here so fast?
"I was lucky to meet the right people, especially here at the club," he offered. "When I realized that they wanted to work with me, I was like, 'Cool, I want to learn everything I can from you.' I wanted to have the same education as someone like Marcel Dettmann or Answer Code Request."
We had this conversation at Ostgut Ton's office, which sits on the top floor of Berghain, overlooking the dusty lot where the queue forms. The modest workspace has the same austere elegance as the club downstairs, with striking artwork on walls of poured concrete (I was happy to spot Wolfgang Tillmans' iconic photograph of a vagina, which hung in the back of Panorama Bar prior to the club's first renovation). Sitting at a long table in a glass-walled meeting room, Kobosil seemed at home—this building had already been his clubhouse for nearly three years. At the same time, he was still adjusting to the full-blown DJ existence. His new album was due out in a month, and the publicity machine was running at full steam—interviews make him nervous, and he'd just done his first big one, for Groove. His gig schedule, meanwhile, was already at full tilt, with as many as 12 each month. Two days later, he'd be in Taipei.
Swiftly as it may have come, Kobosil's success wasn't as serendipitous as he made it sound. Consciously or not, he's been doggedly pursuing his current setup ever since he heard his first house track, some ten years ago.
"It was my sister who gave me the key," he said. "When I was 14, I listened to hip-hop and rap music. I always thought house music was just for the Eastside kids. They were, in our vision, always uncool—in Berlin-Hellersdorf or something, driving around in the car, this 'doof-doof-doof' sound, like Scooter or whatever. And then she came home with the collaboration from P-Diddy and Felix Da Housecat, 'Jack U.' The beat was actually really killer—bassy and minimal. P-Diddy saying all these strange things—I didn't understand much English at this point, I was like, 'What is this, what is this!?' It got me interested, and I researched more and more and more. From 14 to 16, that was my initiation."
In those early days, when he was still too young to check out Berlin's clubs (save the occasional "kinder-disco"), Kobosil taught himself everything he could with the help of two likeminded friends, the artists Somewhen and Nitam, as they'd later be known. "They were both more on the producer side, I was more on the DJ side," he said. "We all inspired each other a lot." By now all three of them have released music, and this past New Year's each of them played at Berghain.
Hard Wax and Space Hall would eventually come into the mix, but at first Kobosil's education took place online. "There was a period in my lifetime where I searched so much on Discogs," he said. "I'd look for the right seller and go through the whole fucking collection. If a record had really great artwork, even if there was no sound available online, I might still buy it. Then if I liked it, I'd buy more releases from that artist, from that label.
"SoundCloud back in the day was really cool too," he said. "Maybe it's still really cool, but I use it differently now. For me it was super creative. Before I released the remix on Ostgut Ton, I had already 200 followers, just because I uploaded some demo tracks and some people liked them. There was a community. I met Locked Groove, Σ, Skee Mask, all on SoundCloud. It's so crazy that now we're all doing music professionally. Basically, all these kids on SoundCloud now—I say 'kid,' I'm still a kid—if they really want to do music, they can. Maybe not superstar-level, but they can probably make something happen."
Shortly after he turned 18, Kobosil queued up at Berghain for the first time. Inside, he had a fairly typical—which is to say, life-changing—experience.
"When I went to this club, it changed everything for me," he said. "Back then there were many more gay people. The music was harder, I think. As a really young kid, I never saw this before, so I was like, 'Wow, this is crazy.' And after this I discovered also other clubs, like ://about blank, or Arena, or Suicide Circus—I'd also go there sometimes. But in the end I figured out that Berghain fits for me perfectly."
Dancing at Berghain changed Kobosil's ear for music. He came to understand how tension can build slowly, how a track can sustain an intense atmosphere without changing too often. "In Berghain you could play just a kick drum for five minutes without clearing the dance floor," he said. "At the same time though, that's not how I'm DJing usually—I like to change it up a lot."
Following several years of rigorous self-education in bedroom DJing and production, Kobosil embarked on three years of heavy clubbing, going to Berghain in particular with extreme regularity. One night, he spotted Andreas Baumecker (nd_Baumecker) in the ice cream bar. He was feeling bold, so he introduced himself.
"I asked him, 'What do you think—would you listen to my tracks?' And then he was like, 'Yeah, sure.' I went home, my mom's place at this time. I didn't really think much of it, I figured he would never answer me, cause a lot of people are trying to send him music. But when I woke up I had a mail from him in my inbox. He said, 'Hey! Interesting stuff, I know where you want to go, I can hear it, let's stay in contact.'"
Baumecker and Kobosil became fast friends. They were both at Berghain every weekend, and eventually they started hanging out and listening to records at Baumecker's place. He and his husband, Jenus, introduced Kobosil to music he'd never heard before—Andreas showed him new wave, EBM and other stuff from before his time, while Jenus got him into drone and ambient—sounds that left a clear mark on his production style.
Eventually Baumecker gave Kobosil his first big break: he asked him to remix "Silo," a track from his album with Sam Barker, Transsektoral. The EP dropped in January of 2013, the year everything changed for Kobosil. In June, he launched his label, RK3, with a fierce techno 12-inch of the same name. That, too, was with Jenus Baumecker's advice. "He told me, 'You have to go to Handle With Care for manufacturing, then get it mastered here, do this there, that here,' and so on. I asked them what to do, did all the steps, and the record came out."
RK3 eventually sold out, and among the several hundred people who bought a copy was Marcel Dettmann. He liked what he heard. "Marcel got my email from someone and asked if I wanted to do something for MDR. I was like, 'What the fuck?! Nice!'" Dettmann, too, would become something of a mentor to Kobosil. "When I first met Marcel, I was really nervous, but when you speak with him, after one sentence you know you have nothing to fear. We went to Hard Wax together, we ate with Patrick [Gräser], it was really the MDR crew."
Meanwhile, the Ostgut crew were cozying up to Kobosil as well. They signed him for an EP on Unterton, which Baumecker describes as "the label for non-residents." Obliquely titled – - -----, it was a wonderfully tactile batch of tracks that further cemented Kobosil's status as a gifted techno artist on the rise.
At the end of that summer, Kobosil got another big break: his first gig at Berghain. He got his feet wet with a warm-up set at midnight, which he shared with Jenus Baumecker ("so they could play drones," Andreas quipped). But then, the next afternoon, a last-minute scheduling change left a gap in the lineup. The bookers decided to give Kobosil a shot, and he played for a packed dance floor from 2 PM to 5 PM. "The set was three hours," Kobosil told me, "but it felt like it was over in ten minutes."
Kobosil made an impression, and from then on he was officially a member of the Berghain family. Since New Year's Day of 2014, he's been a resident, playing downstairs ten or 11 times per year. As an artist on Ostgut Booking, he started racking up dates around the world. By 2015, he was making a living as a touring DJ.
"I realized that if you play three gigs in a weekend then it's a full-time job," he said. "You need one day off after this to recover. The second day you make your free day, what Saturday is for the normal worker. And the next day you are already preparing for the next gig because you don't want to play all the same shit you played last weekend. Even with only two gigs per weekend it's hard—Sunday you come home, Monday you meet a friend, Tuesday you go to Hard Wax, Wednesday is your studio day, Thursday you prepare for your gigs and then Friday and Saturday you're out playing."
So far Kobosil has had little trouble balancing his touring schedule with studio time. In 2014 he released two more EPs: RK1 on his own label and MDR 10. By the time Ostgut Ton released the EBM-flavored 91 (named after the year of his birth), Kobosil had finished his debut album, We Grow, You Decline.
The decision to get started on an LP so early in his career didn't come lightly. "I asked myself, 'Should I really do this? Or should I wait and form my sound more? But I worked really closely with the Ostgut Ton guys, and they told me, 'You have plenty of less club-focused tracks. Let's do it.'"
Kobosil produced most of We Grow, You Decline over the summer, a relatively light period, gig-wise, if you're not playing big festivals. The album is another marker in his artistic evolution. On his EPs, club tracks were often offset by ambient sketches. On We Grow, You Decline, the two merge together beautifully. Tracks like "Reflection," "The Exploring Mountain" and "You Answered With Love" are subtle and poetic strands of techno that show Kobosil becoming as expressive in the studio as he is in the DJ booth.
"Sometimes I feel it would be really cool if I was a live act only. Just producing my own music, just playing my own tracks, in a smaller concert setting. Because then I would just get booked for my own music, not as the guy who needs to make sure everyone is dancing. But I also love the diversity of DJing... to go from drone to new wave, to EBM, back to techno, you know?" For now, Kobosil can afford to sit back and muse on where his career might take him—all but a fraction of it still lies ahead.