August 1, 2014

In The Studio With... Paul Kalkbrenner: Beyond the Screen

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Paul Kalkbrenner exhales nonchalantly in a prescribing voice over the telephone line from Berlin: “You know, I don’t really think I want to talk about the movie anymore—I just want to concentrate on talking about the album.” And with that, the whistling sound of a cigarette being inhaled cuts through the air like closure.

But the fact remains, Kalkbrenner became a star in Germany with his lead role in Berlin Calling, a 2008 film that still graces German cinemas and continues to sell well (180,000 DVDs so far). Playing a troubled DJ/artist, Kalkbrenner’s screen turn has been parlayed into much bigger things since the release of the film and its soundtrack (which included Kalkbrenner’s hit “Sky and Sand”). For example, in 2010, he played 140 shows to 65,000 people in a tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This past year, he eased into the U.S. market, by playing Detroit’s Movement festival.

Long-known to the underground techno world as an original artist on Ellen Allien’s much-respected BPitch Control label, Kalkbrenner has since founded his own eponymous label. In mid-2011, he released his eighth artist album, Icke Wieder, which offers a slew of accessible, memorable techno grooves. Opener “Boxig Leise” drops an irresistibly quirky melody, while “Gutes Nitzwerk” kickstarts the dancefloor and “Schnakeln” shimmers in acid rave—hard not to get quickly hooked on this one. With that in mind, we recently caught up with Paul Kalkbrenner.

DJ Times: What are your feelings on the fact the movie made you such a big techno star in Germany?

Kalkbrenner: Nothing would have happened, if not for the film. The Berlin Calling soundtrack was relevant to my music. I’ve played Berlin two times in a row for 17,000 people and in some way I am a projection, an interface for a lot of young people who want to go out and dance. But I think the image in the outside world is set by powers I can’t control—the internet, etc.

DJ Times: In the case of Berlin Calling, is art imitating life and life imitating art for you right now?

Kalkbrenner: No, the ego is this guy [in the film] and it’s separate from me, even though people think I am this guy.

DJ Times: If you hadn’t done Berlin Calling, where do you think you would be now?

Kalkbrenner: It was a multiplier. I would have brought out an album and maybe sold 10,000 copies. But I see all my old albums are selling much more then 10 years ago. It’s funny—they all had to be re-pressed.

DJ Times: Did you train in any musical instruments along the way?

Kalkbrenner: I played the trumpet when I was younger. But the older I get, the less and less I need that knowledge to make my music. It’s easier for me to make a harmony. To be honest, the music I make more requires good ears and my having something to tell.

DJ Times: Tell me about your early career at BPitch Control.

Kalkbrenner: It was around 1997 which we called “the dark years” in Berlin. At the time, we didn’t have any techno to go out and listen to on a Friday night. Then Ellen [Allien] started BPitch and we brought our music into the studio on cassette and she suggested bringing it on a DAT machine.

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