Techno to take you into space.
It's not a stretch to call Kr!z one of the most important figures in modern techno. Founded in 2007, his Token label has been a leading outlet for heady, purist sounds, launched at a time when new records in that style were lacking. "I went through my collection of records, and there were maybe ten people that I felt like weren't putting out new stuff at the time," he told RA in a label of the month feature in 2012. Throughout Token's 12 years of operation, it's released hit records from Ben Klock, Surgeon and Rødhåd, all while cultivating a core roster of acts that includes Sigha, Inigo Kennedy and Ø [Phase]. Groovy, precise and usually hypnotic, the Token sound is broad but recognisable, recalling the golden age of '90s techno.
But Kr!z isn't only a background figure. A skilled DJ with sharp focus and a quick mixing style, he plays internationally most weekends, known for high-energy sets influenced by the same '90s heroes who inspire his label. We hear those influences on this week's RA podcast, a tunnelling trip through the sounds that fuel Token. Deeper than what you might hear Kr!z play out, there are tracks from pioneers like Jeff Mills and James Ruskin, along with selections from modern innovators such as Actress and Stanislav Tolkachev. As always, the mixing is spotless, the set flowing with the grace of someone who's spent decades perfecting their craft.
What have you been up to recently?
I've been making a lot of music these last months. I'm really enjoying my time in the studio and have been developing a good workflow. During the weekends I test the tracks at gigs and the following week I tweak them if necessary. I'm a DJ first, so it's very important to me that I feel comfortable playing my own music. That has always been the first requirement. Two years ago, it felt incredibly scary and uncomfortable to play any of my music at gigs. Now it's something I always look forward to.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I recorded it at home in one take with three CDJs, a turntable and a Xone:92 mixer, no edits. I recorded the Sun Ra & Space Odyssey movie fragments beforehand and played them via USB.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Even though I mostly play other people's music, I wanted this mix to represent me 100 percent. This sounds obvious, but I specifically wanted to ignore any expectations: there's not a bunch of exclusive tracks, upfront promos or "trendy" music in there. My initial idea was to include some forthcoming Token material, but I quickly abandoned that and didn't include any Token tracks in the end, as I wanted to start with a completely empty storyboard.
My idea was to highlight the elements of techno that made me fall in love with it at the end of the '90s: futurism and oddness, but also hypnotism and minimalism. If I had to include a visual for the podcast, it would be the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I recently watched as they remastered it for its 50th anniversary. I had specific scenes in mind for every part of the mix, in a slightly different sequence though.
I included music from my (obvious) early influences. like Jeff Mills, Sterac and James Ruskin and mixed it with some newer artists that have been inspiring me the last ten years, like Stanislav Tolkachev, Actress and Marco Shuttle.
Outside of techno, I listen to a lot of jazz and hip-hop, so I thought about how I could include some of that in the podcast. DJ Shadow had a huge impact on me in my teenage years, before I'd even discovered techno, while the music of Sun Ra (accompanied by his great biography by John Szwed) helped me through a tough period in my life, when I had a severe car accident a few years ago.
Techno is in a different place compared to when you launched Token in 2007. How do you think the scene—and sound—has changed?
Well, sometimes I feel we're almost back where techno was in 2007, in a way. Techno, or at least its most popular form right now, is faster and harder again, similar to what was happening in the first half of the '00s. At some point, it lost a lot of nuance or creativity and imploded. The so-called "minimal" movement arrived as a counter reaction. Soon after, I started Token, almost out of necessity for myself, as I felt that the techno I loved had been wiped off the face of the earth.
I personally think the kind of techno that is popular right now is also losing a lot of nuance. It's getting so big that there might be another counter reaction soon, and maybe something radically different. This all feels quite natural, everything goes in cycles.
Apart from the music, the environment itself is very different to 2007, of course. Back then, the only format was vinyl and artists needed a label for distribution. Nowadays, artists distribute directly to their fans via digital downloads on Bandcamp and streaming. What's also an interesting development is that a lot of people these days are less a fan of what a DJ plays than they are fan of the DJ's personality and appearance. To each his own, of course, but I always enjoyed a bit of mystique around artists. Nowadays, a lot of artists are so in-your-face and feel so close that it often directs the attention away from the music.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a techno label in 2019?
Always ask yourself: what is my motivation, what can I add, what can I do that other people aren't doing already? I think it's important to constantly question your own motives and their relevance. It's easy to lose your way. In all honesty, I feel the role of a label is being challenged these days. Like I said before, nowadays artists can release their own music and distribute it themselves, directly to their core audience. In the past, a lot of artists looked at labels to invest in vinyl or promotion. A lot of amazing music nowadays doesn't even get a vinyl release and gets promoted by artists themselves via social media. I don't feel bitter about this, though. It's a beautiful thing for artists to have more control.
I think my major asset as a label manager is A&Ring: talking to the artists and being a guide when necessary, offering insights and experience. However, it's important to realise that a lot of artists don't even need an A&R so I think in the near future there will be even more artists starting their own label to release their own music. I personally have always followed labels since I first started DJing, but I think kids these days mostly follow artists. Again, I don't feel bitter about this at all. These are very interesting and exciting times.
What are you up to next?
Like I said, I enjoy making music a lot these days and my plan is to finish and compile tracks for a new solo record in the coming months. The Token release schedule has slowed down a bit this year, first of all cause the label takes a lot of time, which—at the moment—I prefer to spend in the studio myself, but secondly to observe the current musical landscape, the way music is being "consumed" and our role in all of it. I have some music lined up on Token for the coming months, but it's just a bit too early to reveal anything. Apart from the label and studio work I'll of course keep on doing what I love most: DJing.