The elder statesman of electronic music steps into the RA hotseat for this week's podcast.
Gazing back over the last 25 years of electronic music, there are few that can match the résumé of Thomas Fehlmann. The Swiss musician's career kicked off in Hamburg in 1979, where he co-founded Palais Schaumberg, an '80s new wave outfit that counted a certain Moritz von Oswald amongst its ranks through its later incarnations. After the band split, Fehlmann quickly found his feet as a solo producer, committing himself to long hours in his Berlin studio and issuing a series of experimental and ambient tracks as Ready Made. The tail end of that decade also saw Fehlmann launch his own Detroit-inspired Teutonic Beats imprint, which featured early productions from Jörg Burger, Wolfgang Voigt and Westbam.
Fehlmann furthered his Detroit connection when he and Moritz von Oswald hooked up with both Juan Atkins and Eddie Fowlkes for the 3MB project. Collaboration has been a constant theme: Fehlmann has worked with Robert Fripp, Dr Alex Paterson, Tom Thiel, Max Loderbauer and Daniel Meteo in the studio at various points. The 21st century has seen his relationship with Wolfgang Voigt and the Kompakt team flourish, with Fehlmann becoming somewhat of a mainstay on the label. His latest full-length effort—Gute Luft—is his fourth on Kompakt, and shows that the producer is as vibrant as ever, merging together rich dub techno, ambient and melodious house with aplomb. Therefore, it's only right that we hand over this week's RA podcast to the man, and he's fixed us up with a quality hour of deep and dubby house music.
What have you been up to recently?
I've been watching over the evolution of a Gute Luft remix 12-inch that will be coming out in a few ticks. Soulphiction and Move D are involved. I'm really pleased and—dare i say it—proud.
How and where did you record the mix?
Oh, that was done at home in my faithful studio where I still have two decks set up. I used vinyl only and recorded it straight to disk.
Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind the mix?
Basically it's a choice out the tunes I play when I DJ. I don't do it too often, but thoroughly enjoy it when it happens. I'm fishing in the soulful, slower end of the pond and always mix the old and the new. I don't have the knack to play a set full of new tunes.
You and Moritz von Oswald have quite a history together. Could you tell us a little bit about how you brought him into Palais Schaumburg, and do you plan on working with him again in the near future?
Moritz joined the band (in 1983) at a time when for us the role of the musician evolved more into the role of a producer—a transitional phase. It wasn't so much one instrument that one was responsible, but everybody started to contribute on all levels: writing, playing, singing and producing. It was a strong hint in the direction musicians work today. it was the time when the first computer-aided MIDI sequencer was introduced and everything started to take a big turn. We also did wacky shit like spending considerable time to fly in samples (the name didn't exist back then) from quarter-inch tape into the songs. The sampler wasn't around yet but we used the idea anyway. I feel very lucky that I was able to experience a few mind changing sessions and productions with him. As for future collaborative work? We've been toying with the idea repeatedly and I think eventually the time will come, but most possibly not tomorrow.
How did you find the soundtrack writing as opposed to being able to work freely in the studio?
It was quite a relief at first, not having to think about the album format, but then I also realized how deeply rooted I am in making records, and how much it leads the decision making process to know that it's for an album. That's probably why I couldn't resist to take it a level further to produce Gute Luft out of the material. The role of a service provider was something I had to get used to, but now and then I like to put myself into challenging situations where I can test myself, and it was basically just a start in a new field. Scratching the surface, since I didn't really work to the final images.
As someone with such a rich heritage as far as electronic music is concerned, how do you feel that it is progressing as we get further into the 21st century?
Isn't it amazing the way it all evolved? Seriously, my feelings towards that are all subject to a constant massive moodswing. There are times when I find it utterly boring how everything seemingly sounds the same and the ears are swamped with half baked ideas, but there is also the backlash to that when I'm amazed at the development of the unique language electronic music has accumulated in this short period of time, and always opens up new fields of brain gymnastics! One shouldn't complain, really.
What are you up to next?
The Orb—Alex and I—have been commissioned by the English Royal Opera to write a piece for 2012. After ruling out having to work with opera singers, we accepted and are currently developing the project, parallel to all the upcoming live ventures. The opera goes under the working title of Moonbuilding. I also started doing sessions with Reagenz (Move D and Jonah Sharp). Who knows what will come out of that...