From indie rock to IDM to reggae and two-step, the Panorama Bar resident picks nine of his biggest obsessions from the past three decades.
But these bullet points, impressive as they are, tell you only part of the story. Most DJs' personal tastes extend beyond what they play in clubs, but this is particularly true for Höppner. A native of the Northern German town of Cuxhaven, Höppner came to house and techno relatively late, following phases in a variety of other sounds, from indie rock and reggae to IDM and two-step. Before he was a DJ, he was a music journalist. Years later, he still brings a critic's analysis to the records he loves.
This made Höppner a particularly good subject for Playing Favourites. Few people talk tunes as colorfully as he does. He's undoubtedly a heavy music nerd (or connoisseur, if you want to be fancy about it), but he is the polar opposite of a snob. In picking records for this interview, he had little interest in obscurities that might reflect the depth and mystique of his record collection. Instead, he pulled from his archive nine of the records that most shaped him as an artist and a person, and reflected eloquently on what they mean to him.
You're Living All Over Me
It's an aggressive record but at the same time it's also very nice sounding because it's so anthemic, you know? The songwriting, the melodies are just so good. Of course it's abrasive but at the same time very nice. I call them bridge records, like a transition record—late teenage, punk-rock, post-hardcore obsessions into something else.
What kind of punk and aggressive music were you into before this?
Well, at 14, 15, 16, I had a metal phase. I had a slightly older cousin who always lived in Hamburg, and his mum died really early, and his dad abandoned him a little bit. He was living on his own basically, and I would go to visit him every school holiday, we were on our own. We did lots of silly things together. I was drunk the first time with him, I smoked my first joint with him. And he was really influential for me in terms of music early on. He was my influence when I was that age, so at one point he turned me on to Slayer. Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax—those were our three favorites, really mainstream kind of stuff.
Then also in my hometown our group of friends was pretty goth influenced I'd say. The Cure was a big favorite of ours, Joy Division, Sisters Of Mercy. Dinosaur Jr.'s cover version of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," that was in '88 maybe? That was a big epiphany for me. I heard it on a radio station in Bremen, which is south of Cuxhaven, where I grew up. It was a year or two after Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me came out, which was also a big favorite of mine. I was a little bit into punk, but more German political-anarcho punk—Slime, Razzia, stuff like that. But I wasn't really aware of US punk, and I wasn't aware of what came after it, things like Dinosaur Jr. I heard it on the radio and it was super noisy, but super melodic at the same time. And I knew this was my music.
When I bought You're Living All Over Me, I took it home, put it on, and was so blown away that I think I listened to it maybe twice a day at least, before school, after school, before sleep, every time, for a year or longer. I blasted it so much that once a week my neighbour came over, like really fed up with the volumes I was listening to music to. But I couldn't care less.
Why do you think Dinosaur Jr. grabbed you so much?
My English back then was really bad so I didn't really understand what J Mascis was singing about, and at the same time he is infamous for mumbling. If you look at those lyric websites, there are sections of certain songs they still haven't figured out what he's actually singing about. But I don't know. What grabbed me about it was how... It was the first time I really felt this was directed at me. That was music from someone who is a bit like me, for me. I felt a connection. But only later on I realised how much of a shy guy J Mascis used to be, or still is. And I'm a shy guy, too. Especially when I was 16, 17, I didn't know how to talk to girls. And all his songs are about rejection, longing, break-ups, heartbreak, universal failure. And somehow without even understanding the lyrics, the music transported it and I kind of felt it. And it was addressing those feelings, or I connected those feelings with it, but at the same time it also provided a relief because it is fairly aggressive music. I think that goes for a lot of teenage boys, they just have too much energy or aggression.
I think a lot of people have the same experience with indie rock bands from that time. The message seems to be: "You're not alone." The record you're hearing is evidence that there's someone else out there thinking the same things as you.
Yeah, that's kind of the basic indie rock message, and there are the other hardcore/post-hardcore messages, also "You're not alone. We're in this together. Get off your ass and just do it." Like, highly motivational. I was always leaning on the slacker side, but also still felt good listening to Youth Of Today or something. Don't wait for someone to do something for you, do it yourself.
My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine kind of connects there. J Mascis, Kevin Shields, they have this connection, they respect each other, they're looking for the same things in music. But at the same time I wouldn't really say that Loveless is a rock record. It's something else. It's based on rock because it's so guitar-heavy, the guitar is at the centre of it. But the cover already says it all, how blurred it is. And also the layers, the movement, it's all in the cover already.
But it's a very electronic record, too. I just read a while ago, it was on 33⅓, you know, those little book-sized record reviews. Apparently their drummer got sick, so all the beats on the record are actually programmed. They tried to mimic this drumming, but with the exception of one or two or three tracks I think, it's all programmed beats. And at the time when I bought that record I wasn't aware of that, but it kind of shows in a way.
I think the drum fill in the first track, the first moment of the whole record with those snares, you can already tell there's something weird going on. You're not listening to a normal band playing in a room. It's stranger than that.
By today's standards it's kind of a conventional record, heard with today's ears and today's listening experiences. But when I got it, I didn't get it at first listen, I kind of had to acquire a taste for it. It took repeated listens to understand it, but I was 18 or something. My previous listening included really straightforward indie-rock, punk-rock, which is basically pop by comparison. But that was one of the beauties of that record, that you kind of discover it bit-by-bit. And then you decipher it in a way, and then you realise how great the songs are, and how anthemic the melodies are, and it kind of demands a really deep listen. If you want, you can really go deep and listen deep if you want, but it also works in a more superficial way.
Kevin Shields always claims he didn't do much regarding the treatment and recording and distortion of the guitars. It's fairly middle-of-the-road stuff. But still he achieved something that hasn't been done before, and tried to copy many times after but never really achieved. There's something to be said about the balance of the sounds. It's like a lava lamp, floating in a lot of directions.
I heard people would always ask them, "What kind of drugs do you guys do?" and the only answer was—
Which is super-powerful actually.
As we all know.
Mouse On Mars
When I pick my favorite records, my standard is, how much did I listen to it? How important was it at a certain time? This record, I don't listen to it much today, but when it came out I was obsessed with it. I listened to it so much. And now I didn't really listen to it again before we met, I just picked it. But I tried to think about what I thought was appealing about it, and one thing I also have said about My Bloody Valentine is that I couldn't, and I still can't, figure out how it was made. I understand it better with my experience as a DJ and a producer from today's point of view, but it's still quite mysterious. I think Mouse On Mars have such an own-sound, such an idiosyncratic sound. It's such a true artist expression. They came up, in my opinion, with something really unique.
It also speaks to my indie sensibilities. It is electronic music that I think, even though it's really weird and experimental at times, it can be understood by someone who's not really familiar with it, and who's coming from more of an indie angle. It's so quirky, it's so organic, so complex. And it's got a clear sense of humor, which I also like. One the one hand, it's pretty brainy music, but on the other hand it doesn't take itself too seriously. The album title, like all the titles, Autoditacker. It's such a weird neologism.
I noticed there were some very 1997 pop culture references on the tracklist, like "X-Flies" and "Tamagnocchi." Which I guess were both big at the time.
Oh yeah, "Tamagnocchi."
It also reminds me of Loveless in how textural it is. The sound is sort of liquid, squishy even.
Rubbery, gummy, bouncing balls, very playful. Very kids-like, in a way. And also I should mention how much weed I'd been smoking in the '90s, so that's part of it. My group of friends actually, that's all we did. We smoked weed, we DJ'd in bars or sometimes in second rooms of parties, sitting on the couch playing music like this. Getting stoned, trying to out-DJ each other with these what-the-fuck records.
That sounds like a very valuable experience.
I remember reading an interview with Mouse On Mars where they were referring to their sounds as creatures, which they are feeding and nurturing. And they are also wandering from track to track, from record to record this sound creature might appear slightly different, they're like living beings with their own free will. It's very complex, super creative, but it also sounds really effortless. And yeah, it's a mystery, this record, and that's what's so good about it.
Feed Me Weird Things
Someone like Squarepusher could have been a jazz icon of his time if he wanted to. Form a group of equally talented jazz musicians and become the jazz icon of the '90s, the jazz wunderkind or something. But instead he decided to come up with this utterly crazy, comedic music.
What I loved about this was the humor, the extremism and the mystery. I collected this in '96. I was hooked on drum & bass and jungle for a couple of years by then already, since late '93, '94. I kind of discovered jungle, and this is clearly referencing it, but also in such a different way. Back then this was such a revelation, there wasn't anything like that before, although it was relying on the same breaks like all those drum & bass records I knew and liked already. It's a bit like Japan and the Western World, it looks a bit similar on the surface, the same kind of references, but then you scratch the surface or you look at it a little bit harder and you realise it's something else completely.
Like Mouse On Mars, you almost get the feeling that he knows he's blowing your mind with this. It seems to be saying, "Check out how fucking crazy I'm going over here."
Yeah, super confident. I have to tell you, when I just started working for Groove, I was assigned to meet Squarepusher for an interview. I was such a greenhorn when it came to music journalism, I didn't even start finding my feet. I don't know which record it was, it was around '99. I had no idea about jazz, I just loved those records. I smoked tons of weed to his records. I was clearly out of my depth, and he immediately saw through me, because my questions were so stupid and so shallow. At one point he was just burping in my face, because I guess he felt offended that this magazine would send someone like me.
I didn't realize back then how much of a musician and extraordinary talent he was. Somehow I didn't connect the dots. I was clearly blown away by it, but back then I didn't really understand how much work must have gone into this record. I didn't really think about the person behind it. It's only now having had the experience of making music myself that I realize. So yeah, I totally understand why he was burping in my face. Fair enough.
I like that title, "Feed Me Weird Things." That was my credo with music for a long time. I just wanted to hear as much weird music as I could. I think it's probably a common thing, especially in a period where new sounds are coming out one after another.
Needless to say, the '90s was an incredible time for electronic music, but especially non-dance floor electronic music. It was insane. The levels of innovation, the pace of the innovation. And also it was such a pure time for music, mainly politically because it was a brief utopian period when everyone thought, "Wow, we're really going into the golden age of mankind," and some thought, "OK, I can focus on art completely now, I don't have to worry about anything."
Why the golden age of mankind?
Because the Cold War has ended, the big confrontation which has been looming over everything ended. And what was coming, which culminated in 9/11 and the aftermath and what we're dealing with now, wasn't on the horizon. And also, that optimist motto is super dodgy, but Cool Britannia. Blair wasn't about politics, he was about pop culture. Even the politicians were like "Fuck politics, let's party." It was very innocent, in a way. And I think in some way this whole atmosphere or way of thinking seeped into the music of the time. Even when it's dark, it's about pure creation and exploration.
There's definitely the feeling with this record that that anything's possible, everything is permitted.
Yeah. But it also doesn't have an identifiable commentary of any kind. His equivalents today, Arca for example, are often linked to a clearer commentary of some kind, at least the way I understand it. It's politically charged. But artists like Squarepusher could never be said to have that kind of undertone. It just exists.
Moment Of Truth
I picked this one because this is the last hip-hop record, like proper hip-hop record, which is kind of still at the end of the boom-bap era, which I've listened to a lot. I have really fond memories of listening to it on a daily basis, from start to finish and back to the start again, with my flatmate, who was the best whistler I've ever heard. We would sit in my living room, and, again, smoke a lot of weed, and he would whistle through all of the records in perfect pitch, never missed a tone. We loved this record so much, it's just very sentimental and very nostalgic, but in the best possible way. It just brings back such a good feeling of friendship, and a certain feeling of carelessness.
And musically it's pretty good. Right after this whole neo-soul thing kicked off with D'Angelo and stuff like that—which I also like, Voodoo is a really classic record for me as well—but it's kind of also the end of my hip-hop phase. And then I never really got back into hip-hop big time. Early Kayne West, I didn't really like it. Jay-Z for a while, The Blueprint. Really, really loved Jay-Z. But that was it. And then now the latest Kendrick Lamar, Damn. I listen to that of course. And I also like the A Tribe Called Quest one, the latest one. But it didn't stick with me. I listened to it on repeat for two weeks, then it was gone.
Why do you think this one was so key for you?
Because generally it's very upbeat, it's positive. It's got everything I love about hip-hop, like those iconic snares and clap sounds. All the markers of boom-bap rap. And then just Premier's touch, the way he samples and the way he flips samples. The minimalism. It's really minimal, but it always yields the maximum effect. It's powerful music. Also Guru's voice, this timbre, I love it. But also because of how I introduced it, this nostalgic layer. That experience of listening to this on a daily basis for months on end, with my best friend at the time. I can't separate that.
That reminds me, there was a writer from The New Yorker who said, if Arcade Fire were actually better than The Beatles, he'd still prefer The Beatles, because that's what he was listening to when he was a teenager, this period of discovery when all these exciting things happen in your life. It doesn't actually matter which group is better. For him, the music he was listening to in these heady periods in his life will always kill everything, there's no getting around that.
Sure. And that sort of explains the records I've chosen here. I could have sat down with you and listened to the most obscure dub record I just found at Sounds Of The Universe last week when I was there. But it's not a really good record, it's just great as a kind of artifact or novelty thing.
My honest pick for reggae records would be Exodus by Bob Marley And The Wailers. Not only in reggae music, it's just one of the best albums of all time. It's actually crazy how good that record is.
At the moment I'm obsessed with reggae music, it's all I'm buying since a year or a little longer. I always loved reggae, my first club experiences were with reggae in Hamburg in the early '90s. The Abyssinians are one of those few vocal harmony trios. There have been a couple others—The Paragons, The Mighty Diamonds, The Congos. But this is my favourite. I just love the singing. I don't know much about the group and the history, I'm just judging it by the music. As far as I've seen it's been produced by Joe Gibbs, which is one of the big guys. That's another thing that's so fascinating about reggae, how small the core of actual recording studios, engineers, producers and session musicians really is—it's maybe 30 people all-in-all. And always with changing singers. But it's always the same guys who came up with so much music.
It's just so easy on the ears. The lyrical content can be pretty upsetting and heavy at times, when it comes to all the shit that's been going on and is still going on in Jamaica, but yeah, the way the frequencies are stacked, like the higher frequencies are always super bubbly, even if they're distorted. It's just so soft, it's got this really lovely round low-end, and there's never a mid-frequency overload. It's the perfect mix. The perfect ratio of frequencies.
And so much food for thought. If you think about what reggae is, how many things reggae is at once. This relatively small group of people creating this vast catalogue of sound. Again, what I was talking about about the electronic music of the '90s, this crazy level of innovation, this cut-throat competition. This really creative approach to copyright. Like this endless versioning of popular rhythms, and the connection of '60s US soul music, and what came out of it. Ska, rocksteady, the Ethiopian stuff, Rastafarianism, the djembe drumming. It's just endless, and all from such a small spot.
Also dub as a production technique. The remix, the extended blah blah—so many things that are relevant to me as a producer and a DJ. They were rapping before rap was invented in the Bronx, it's just crazy. There must be something in the water. Like those myths people try to tell you about Ibiza, that it's located on a special energetic point in the earth. It certainly goes for Jamaica.
I also picked this because although reggae in Jamaica is highly commodified—you know, it's a very functional music, it's made to make people dance—you have really deep, religious, heartfelt records like that. I'm not a deep religious person, but I find this very believable and it gives me a taste of something that's usually not part of my life, it helps me share an experience which isn't mine.
Lavonz feat Shè & Mr D
Mash Up Da Venue
Because we were in Jamaica just now, this has a really strong dancehall component as well, so maybe it's good to play that one now. I picked this one because with two-step UK garage I kind of cut my teeth as a DJ. I was dabbling with DJing, and I DJ'd for a while in Hamburg as well, but I started a weekly club night on a Thursday night in a club in Hamburg, dedicated to UK garage and two-step only. It was always the four of us playing back-to-back-to-back-to-back all night, one track each. I'm super fond of that time, and the opportunity to DJ, and it was really successful so we were playing to a lot of people and really had to keep the dance floor going. It wasn't because we were great DJs or had something great to offer. People were there to get drunk and get laid.
I also picked this one because, again, I've been talking about hybrids. I think this is a great example of a successful hybrid sound. It's not just a UK garage, two-step kind of thing, it has this R&B swagger, a little bit of Jamaican dancehall, and it's also pretty different from what James Lavonz has done before and after. He usually is a pretty straightforward, generic, 4/4 producer. But this one, it also reminds me of the time when The Neptunes were really hot, and Timbaland, Missy Elliot. Even Justin Timberlake, that first album, Beyonce after she went solo, this era of really good R&B. This is like a two-step R&B dancehall hybrid. Very special.
This is also a techno-house record, but from an indie band point-of-view. So it connects both worlds. And yeah, it also presented the idea of the auteur in techno to me, a bit more than I thought about before. Yeah it's crazy Roman Flügel is just such a consistent producer, it's insane.
What do you mean about the auteur thing?
Because it's clearly taking influences from Kraftwerk, Chicago house, techno, hip-hop, but it takes away the functionality, makes it about personal expression and not about the dance imperative. Maybe "auteur" is a bit big-headed or something, but the point is it's not about tracks, it's about songs.
I sort of think that those guys you mentioned—the Dial crew, Efdemin—that was sort of what they brought to the table, in a way. On the one hand, a lot of this music would be perhaps easy to DJ with, but at it's root is, like you said, personal expression.
And romanticism, not in an epic trance kind of way, but in a very understated kind of way.
I remember hearing that the defining element of indie, whether it was indie rock, hip-hop, whatever, the main ingredient is vulnerability. Especially male vulnerability.
Yeah it is. It's very soft and vulnerable, yeah that's true. And the same goes for the Dial crew, their way of presenting themselves has been undermining the Sven Väth archetype, which is the alpha-male stage presence, endurance, virility.
Virility. That's true.
Although they are from Frankfurt or Offenbach respectively, this reminds me of my last couple of years in Hamburg, when I started DJing a bit more ambitiously, when I got in touch with the Dial crew, and when I was really into German minimal house, like the early Perlon and Playhouse catalogue, and Kompakt in parts. And Ladomat had a couple of really good records as well. And it's just a really, really nice record. It's not as out there as Mouse On Mars or Squarepusher, but also very on-point, very well thought through conceptually. It's wonky, deranged. But "Aeroplane City" is the best one. So, so nice.
It's rare that you hear such inspired chord changes. So much dance music has chords and melodies, but sometimes you hear one that feels really expressive. This is something that would get stuck in your head, that you'd form a relationship with.
Yeah. I'm still a fan of punk as a cultural technique, to disrupt things and balance stuff out, so-to-say, to democratise things, sounds and techniques. But the older I get I can't deny how much I admire musical craftsmanship. If someone really knows how to play an instrument, or comes up with really clever chord changes. This is just so beautiful, it's so easy and beautiful.
One Night On Earth: Music From The Strings Of Mali
That last one reminded me of what this guy, Derek Gripper, says on the back of his record about arranging and transcribing songs written for kora to his acoustic guitar. The kora is a string instrument from Mali, which Toumani Diabaté was a master of, or still is maybe. Derek Gripper is from South Africa, he transcribed it for this concert. He got a kora, and then—well, let's see what the record says: "I learned some rudimentary kora tunes, and then one night I sat with the Kora and improvised music that I had only dreamt about playing on the guitar. The next morning the magic was gone. I never found that ecstatic melody on the kora again, but I had been given a taste of what it could be like to play this music. I knew it was possible to find again, but after 20 years of having an intense relationship with one instrument, I found it difficult to conceive of starting a journey with a new one, so I sat the kora aside and then started arranging and transcribing these things for his guitar."
This is a fairly recent discovery, I discovered it by chance at Hard Wax. They always have a great selection of world music, although I guess that's not an appropriate term. Actually, for reggae and for these kinds of records and discoveries, I really still cherish Hard Wax. I'm not so fond of their techno selections anymore, I'm just not that interested. It's too harsh, too hard, too samey for me at the moment. I don't find a lot of techno I really like.
In general, yeah. But this one was just an accident, a nice accident because it fit with my quest for more soothing or healing music. I don't know, I was really looking for something quieter, you know? And this fits so well, it's so nice. The record was recorded in one night, in a small stone church somewhere in South Africa. If you listen on your headphones, you can hear the crickets chirping and sounds from the outside. I started buying the original stuff as well, which is apparently super well-known, but I didn't know that. It won a Grammy and everything.
That's what's interesting about being into music. You can be heavily into music for decades, and there are still massive, influential artists in some other world that you're totally unaware of. That keeps it interesting.
For sure, that's the beauty of it. It's like this bottomless well. But this here, I don't have much to say about it. It's just beautiful, deep, honest music. Deceptively simple, but at the same time super complex and virtuosic.
I picked this because I thought it would be a nice idea to talk about something recent that's connected to my job, why we are actually meeting.
And that's a really good one.
I don't know this guy. I don't know any of the SUED guys, but this is state of the art. This is where it's at for me me right now. The sound, it is personal, it's very traditional in a way, but also fresh. You kind of hear that this is exactly the way it's supposed to be, and it's very particular and on-point and a record I wish I had been able to make myself. I really, really, really like it. The album that came before I really love. So good. Really, so good.
This is club music as it should be. It could be techno, it could be house, could be broken beat. It's reminiscent of Detroit, and the aesthetics of older Carl Craig productions which I absolutely adore. But it's also got this dub techno kind of mixdown. It's really nice and rich on the bottom. The high frequencies are soft and not annoying. There's no mid-range overload. It's just very agreeable.
Also, the idea of releasing two versions of the same track or session, which has been the norm 15 years ago. You would have the acapella, the dub, the radio mix, the alternative mix. I like that a lot.
I guess you have to be really confident to do that. If you're putting out a record, and you only get a few of these a year, you have to feel pretty strongly about this track to release two versions of it on a 12-inch.
He's got all the reason to be confident to do so. It's not very complex, it's riffing on one idea. But it's so well done. It's a one-note pad, and all the movement's coming from how it's filtered, and coming in and out of the mix. It's a small idea in a way, but it's enough to carry the whole track. Musically, like when we talked about really clever chord changes for the Sensorama record. In musical terms there's nothing clever or complicated about it, it's just super well-executed, it's so nice. And certain variations on the beats, and it's enough for, I don't know, 13 minutes or something? It's worth every second of it. It doesn't really get boring.
I love how it's 13 minutes long, and in a way nothing really happens, but it doesn't feel that way. There are always little changes, there's always something keeping you locked in.
I think there's a really high art to it. It's the same for making a good club track, because so much of it is about restraint. And that's still something I have to work on. I like to fill every gap with something, I'm overloading my tracks. Or I have a tendency to do so, overloading my tracks, and also their frequency spectrums. Filling up everything and neglecting the importance of silence and space. Sometimes think about why I do that, and I think it's because I want to keep myself busy in the studio, and that's how you do it, you just keep adding stuff.
I don't know that much about SW. either, but I know he lives in a small town outside Stuttgart, and as far as I know he doesn't play gigs or anything like that. You can hear from the record that this guy is not part of a scene, he's just out there doing his thing, and sometimes that can be really valuable. You have no influence from anyone else, you don't have friends coming over and showing their stuff or whatever.
Yeah. As I said, I know nothing about him, but he fits my cliché of one of those producer archetypes, which is the loner, someone who clearly knows what he is doing and what he wants, and what his influences are. In a way how I perceived Shed 15 years ago, when he started out with Soloaction, or ten years ago. I thought he was kind of that for me as well. Or STL, you know? These guys with a really clear vision and a very particular sound.
You imagine they sit down and it just pours out of them.
Yeah, because their livelihood isn't depending on it. They do it for the love of it. Maybe for their personal sake, maybe to keep themselves sane. At least that's my romantic idea of it. Or maybe just because it's a lot more fun than binge-watching House Of Cards.