Hailing from the land that birthed electronica’s forefathers, namely Kraftwerk, Oliver Huntemann is Germany’s firstborn techno god. He’s been in the biz long enough to tell us off if we were ever to stereotype techno like the ignorant young’uns we are. Named one of the Best Electronic Albums of 2011 by us, Paranoia is a dark descent into madness, featuring beats that would reflect your psychological state (or rather, affect it). JUICE spoke to the techno elder statesman to get the dirt on genre stereotype vis-a-vis reality, his ideal audio, and the different states of paranoia.
Images Katja Ruge
Hi Oliver, thanks for doing the interview. Where are you now and what are you currently doing?
Good morning, it’s 11.27am and I just switched on my computer to answer your questions. I’m in Hamburg and very relaxed after a weekend at home due the cancellation of an India tour which was supposed to happen the past three days.
You’ve played a part in shaping the genre and you’ve seen it grew since the late 80s, obviously you’ve seen a lot of things. Tell us if any of these stereotypes about the genre is true (with some elaboration on why it is or isn’t).
– dingy underground European clubs
No, it’s not! The electronic music club culture in Europe exists for more than twenty years and it wouldn’t if there would be more people in other youth cultures or music scenes. The successful clubs are mostly high-end and set worldwide standards in sound, light-design and video arts. Although clubs, for example in Berlin, are based in industry areas and still look rough, you see the art-thought behind it. It’s never dingy or dirty, even if it looks like that.
– German electronic music is cold and clinical techno.
Others say: German electronic music is like Porsche or Mercedes converted into sound design.
– Party people in goggles, various bits of shiny and neon PVC.
1995! Some people say about it, that these were the good old days. Better parties, better music, better fashion, haha. Luckily I haven’t seen goggles and neon glow sticks in ages. I heard it’s big in Asia…
We consider you an elder statesman of techno. What was it like back then during the genre’s infancy stage when you used to hold house parties in Germany?
The biggest difference from back then to today seem to me the way a DJ is playing his set. Not based on technology, I mean the way of guiding the party-people through the night. When I started, the DJ played long sets and attempted to create a journey into sound. Not only playing one style. He was able to cook up a diversified set from deep house via acid to underground resistance techno. Unfortunately over the years the DJ became a geek, a blinkered specialist without wide variety. That’s why so many artists come and go. Many try to find or follow just the latest trend.
Technology has obviously grown from that era to now. Have your production and DJing styles changed due to newer equipment?
I learned, of course, with vinyl from scratch. After a long time the first Pioneer CD players made it very handy to play own stuff from CD and I combined vinyl and CD. Since I’m interested in making steps forward and find out what’s best for me I tested Traktor Scratch four years ago. I only wanted to know what’s going on with DJ technologies and I really liked it. I still use Traktor Scratch Pro with vinyl control and a X1 controller. The best of both worlds. I can build my set in a classic way with the benefits of modern technologies.
Do you think the easy accessibility of softwares and hardwares make it too easy for just about anyone to get into electronic music (thus flooding the scene with bad bedroom DJs/producers)?
It seems a bit like that but I sometimes miss creativity and self-criticism. If you are a talent, for sure you have the best opportunities ever. Which is really great and fortunately there a many big talents working on superb music. But there is the other side of the coin that too many people think they are the biggest talents on earth and flood the stores with unchartable tracks and labels. Sometimes I miss continuity and love for detail.
Ever since Kraftwerk, Germany is rife with electronic musicians. Any recommendations on some of the newer and more exciting acts to have emerged from Germany?
If we talk about a bigger crossover potential, I think Modeselektor is the hot sh*t. They already have a big fan-base and it’s growing international rapidly.
Let’s get to your album Paranoia. As we understand it, Paranoia is a concept album, all tracks represent different aspects of paranoia (thus the name of the album. Can you give us a breakdown on what some of the tracks represent?
Maybe ‘In Times of Trouble’ shows most the extreme sites of a personality disorder. Very sweet and harmonic at one moment, and dark and evil immediately at the other moment. These switches are growing and the final is the loud and chaotic combination of both, which could mean a mental breakdown of a affected person. Then we have ‘Wahnfried’ with the perfect lyrics by Ane Trolle: “Everything so still and quiet. Clockwork has run to the fire and the flames burn time with time. Colours of morning will come when shadows of wiped of the sun and clouds they drift away…” Not forgetting the indecisive essence of the ‘Rotten’ vocals: “Future, no future!”
How was that concept conceived? What inspired you to base your album on a psychological state?
The idea grew after finishing the first two or three tracks. I already started working on the album with the intention getting more extreme than before, combining stronger contrasts. The theme Paranoia contains this a lot and soon it became a concept. It’s not that the tracks became darker than previous stuff of mine but the inner conflicts, the suspense as soon as the highs and lows of a personality disorder provide a wide and interesting range for musical ideas. I just liked the notion of converting it into an album concept.
What are you paranoid of?
Of the traffic in Hamburg when I ride my bike…
Paranoia was released under your own label Ideal Audio. We really dig the name. What’s the ideal audio for you?
Afrika Bambaataa was “looking for the perfect beat” in 1983 and I still do so. If I ever find the ideal audio or the perfect beat I will stop making music. Ideal Audio means to me always searching for the music I like most.
Share with us what the label is up to next now that Paranoia is released.
There are some outstanding releases of my partner in crime André Winter in the pipeline and Sebrok from Berlin is also working on new stuff. I personally think about a remix album of Paranoia and another PLAY! live mix session later in 2012. After Sao Paulo, Paris and NYC maybe next time in Asia or Australia.
Andre Winter and you have worked together for years now. We read that he helped a lot in shaping the sound of your music. Would you consider Oliver Huntemann the electronic artist as really a two-man act?
I find it much more comfortable sitting together in the studio than just getting nerdy in the basement in front of my computer. André is a fantastic engineer and does the best mix-downs. I think I’m very good in finding grooves and sound-structures as well as doing proper arrangements and you are right, André helps to shape the sound. I appreciate his work very much.
Don’t you two get bored of each other after all these years together? (Yes, we realised this question makes it sound like you two were married to each other)
The trick is… we’re not spending every day together in the studio. We are very focused on productions and very concentrated when we are working together. That maybe keeps us always in a fresh relationship but I can’t deny that we made and still make the acquaintance with some oddities of each other.
How is your old music persona Humate different from Oliver Huntemann?
As written Humate used to be a very old project of mine, and has not much in common with my current music. I mean twenty years is a long time, isn’t it? I like to be in progress and hope my music radiates this too. Maybe the melancholy links Humate to some of my new productions.
Dubstep is one genre that’s been getting a lot of hype in the electronic scene, it doesn’t show any sign of stoppage either. Is there anything new in electronic music that you are excited about?
Electronic music is always about going steps forward, finding new sounds, experimenting with things and bringing together different genres of arts. That’s where I get many of my ideas from, where I get influenced by and that’s why I still love working in this genre.
Would you ever sacrifice techno for something supposedly hipper just to maintain relevance?
As mentioned before I like to be influenced by other or new music. But in the end I try to develop my sound. There is enough space to be creative and express myself. I don’t need to prove myself that I’m this or that or that I’m able to do other things. How disappointing would it be if you visit a Depeche Mode concert and they try to play like the The Hurts. If I ever have the feeling I need to do something else, I will do it but with another alias.
Any chance of you ever playing here?
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world I haven’t been and want to visit for sure. Unfortunately we weren’t in serious contact with Malaysian clubs or promoters so far. I hope this changes in the future but even without gigs I will come to Malaysia for vacation one day.
We’re gonna go off tangent with the last question; tell us what Germany is really like in 3 words.
Efficient, punctually, exact! Just to get back to your stereotype questions in the beginning of the interview.
Paranoid androids, tune in to huntemann.tv.