We dial up one of techno's most exciting producers.
If the impressive production of his early releases didn't give it away, Skee Mask isn't a newcomer. It's the latest alias of Bryan Müller, the German producer behind the Boysnoize Records-affiliated project SCNTST. A musical wunderkind, Müller began a career in techno before finishing high school, having signed with Boysnoize Records in his teens. Müller met the Zenkers after they contacted him through SoundCloud. He'd already dabbled in a deeper, more experimental sound, but his work as Skee Mask is his most distinctive so far, artfully blending an old-school mentality with high-definition production.
We called up Müller, who is currently working on a new album, at his Munich apartment to chat about electro, rhythm and life in the Bavarian countryside.
We're speaking at 10 PM. You told me you prefer working at night. Why is that?
Well, sometimes I'm working really late, until like ten or 11 in the morning. When I want to finish a track, I have to finish it immediately. It takes a lot of time, but it's definitely worth it. If I pick up the project the next day, or even later, then it takes me ages to actually finish it. It's quicker and more effective to do it right away.
Are you still living outside of Munich?
No, about six months ago I moved into the city centre with my girlfriend. It's different, but it's better than at home, because there I always had the feeling that it wasn't good for the people living there—my two sisters and my mum—if I just make music all day. You can hear the low frequencies all over the place. For anyone standing in the bathroom, right next to my room, the mirror would vibrate. But it was good because I had phases where I made 12 tracks in a month.
Now my life is a bit more grown up—I don't have my mum doing everything for me. There's not as much time for music anymore, because before I would spend all my days and weeks making music. I didn't go out; I would just invite friends to my place. A lot of them don't really have a lot of knowledge about music, but I would force them to make music with me—even if they had no idea what they were doing. I was always like, "Yeah, you can do this with me. It's a lot of fun." And I just told them what to do and they liked it. I was really in the zone, just focussed on production and music.
Where did you grow up?
In a small town called Emmering. There's not much really happening there except farms and a basic village—nobody knows it. But it was really good for me to be separated from the big city scene. There's not a big scene going on in Munich. Of course it's growing, but it's still not as big as in other cities in Germany.
How is it growing up in Bavaria? I know it's a conservative region.
It's really conservative, but that's an opposite I've always liked. Of course sometimes you go through the city or the village and see the people and just hate everyone. But the look and the vibe is still special. And while I love cities like Berlin and some parts of the UK, every time I visited I still wanted to go back to Bavaria. It's like 50-50 with hate and love, but I don't think I would ever move from here. Growing up is really safe, and there's nothing really bad happening. It's peaceful.
When did you start taking music seriously?
Around 17, when I'd just released the first SCNTST EP and it got incredible feedback. That was something that I never believed could happen. I was still hoping for it, but then I saw it was actually possible to go my way through this producing thing.
How did that EP come about?
It was through a post on Twitter from Boys Noize that my friends noticed. He asked something like, "Where are the good German producers?" My friend sent him my SoundCloud page and Boys Noize emailed me a couple of days later. It was half a year until I finished the first EP, then it all began to start. But when I was making the EP, I wasn't thinking of only focusing on production. But then after that EP I got booked in different places. I had a small Australian tour when I was 18 and was touring France when I was 17. Those were the kind of things that made me think I should go on with it.
Did you study anything after you finished school?
No, I've only done music. I actually didn't finish gymnasium [high school], but I still got a certificate for making it to 11th class. I could've found a job, but I thought that I could earn more money with music. My parents were quite nice, because my father is a big music lover and would always give me music while I was growing up—Bruce Springsteen and that kind of stuff. For him, it was amazing to see me getting into the scene.
Have you even been interested in straight 4/4 techno?
I found the Chain Reaction label when I was 18. It came a little bit later, because in the beginning, around when I got signed to Boysnoize Records, I was into more of the electroclash thing—hard, banging stuff. I really regret it, because at that time I didn't think of the future. It was more about having fun than thinking if I would still like it in a couple years. My production was so amateur—I just put a limiter on the master on Ableton and even had some volumes up at 40dB or something. So it took me some time to get into the more experimental side of techno.
A lot of people got into dance music through the electro thing.
I remember so many people also in Berlin wearing Boysnoize Records merchandise. It felt like there was a real scene going on. A lot was really artistic and original, especially for me when I was young. The Oi Oi Oi album from Boys Noize was so much fun to listen to, but still so crazy with synths and a unique sound. It was really magic.
Are there other albums from that period you still enjoy?
A lot of the old Mr. Oizo stuff. I even play some Boys Noize tracks in Skee Mask sets. It rarely happens, but it's good music and sometimes it fits. I'm not always in the mood to listen to Boys Noize, but it's probably like that for everyone.
Even Boys Noize.
I still love both sides. Without the whole fidget, Boys Noize, French touch stuff, I wouldn't have been introduced to the rest.
I know you wanted to keep these sides separate when you started Skee Mask.
Only a handful of people knew when I first started it, because when I started with SCNTST there were so many articles about my age and not about the music. It's still going on actually. There aren't many articles these days, but in 90 percent of the press releases there's something about me being young. So for the first Skee Mask releases I wanted to be anonymous.
Skee Mask certainly has a unique sound—hazy but with complex and detailed rhythms.
I think that comes naturally because I come from playing drums. I started when I was six years old and did it for nine years, playing drums in the school band. I've always been fascinated with rhythms. It's the thing I start with when I do a track—I always have to have a beat running. The beat editing never ends, because there's so much stuff that I want to do. It comes from playing drums live, and I want to bring this into my production. There are a lot of tracks that are functional—and I love them—but every time I try to do this kind of stuff I fail. It's really hard to have a functional, simple drum loop that fascinates or inspires you.
And what about synths? Skee Mask has less melody than SCNTST.
When I started the SCNTST project, some of the synths were really loud. When I heard them on a soundsystem they sounded so bad. But when I listen to electronic music now, I always love the pads. That's why I switched to the more hazy, moody side. When I have so much drum work going on, it's hard to have precise or heavy synths. I realise that there are many tunes—from Aphex Twin, Autechre and even the Zenker Brothers—with great synths and basslines that I would love to do myself, but it's really hard if you don't have good compressors or a lot of analogue stuff.
I'm working on getting back to these more precise basslines and funky melodies, because I miss that in the previous Skee Mask tracks. That's the stuff that's going to be on the next album. It's about 80 percent finished with 14 or 15 tracks. It will still be moody with lots of pads, but I've tried to put more melody in there.
It's still possible to create certain moods with percussion, which I think your tracks show.
Yes, but there are producers who are able to have these complicated rhythms and put certain sounds and basslines at the right time. But that's a masterclass of producer, and it hasn't happened with me yet.
Why do you get along with the Zenkers so well?
From the moment I met Marco at his apartment it was like meeting an old friend. He showed me the new Stenny release at that time—I think it was Solstice Deity—and it was fascinating for me. I didn't know many labels, except Warp and that kind of well-known stuff. The Stenny record was really experimental and intelligent-sounding. I was amazed by all the Ilian Tape releases. When I first heard the name I didn't really check it out properly, and that was a big mistake—I would have appreciated it before I even met Marco. They're really chilled guys and they're always giving me good advice, not only production-wise. I can play FIFA with them and make a lot of jokes—we're not just talking about music all the time.
Who gets to play as Bayern Munich?
That's mostly my thing, actually.