Filed under: Interview
Jazzanova is a producer collective, based in Berlin, consisting of the Jazzanova DJ-team (Jorgen von Knoblauch Stephan, Alexander Barck, Claas Brieler), Extended Spirit (Axel Reinemer & Stefan Leisering) and Kosma (Rosko Kretschmann).
Interview by Laura Brown (ArcTokyo)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : How long has it been since you were last here in Japan?
Alexander Barck : The last time it was for a record release party of Kyoto Jazz Massive. I’ve been here with Ranier Truby together and we did a tour of our favorite clubs in Japan, but that was maybe two years ago.
HRFQ : Can you tell us the story behind how you met and teamed up with the other members of Jazzanova?
Alexander : It all started as a DJ thing actually. We met in a club called Delicious Donuts. It’s a very small club in Berlin. It still exists, but it’s not good anymore. We had a very good time, in the middle of the 90’s and early 90’s. This was the time when we met and we started as a DJ team. Then suddenly at the club, one of the promoters wanted to put together a compilation of music coming out of the club, from the DJs playing there. So we said yeah, good idea. We have to find some producers and stuff and we knew that some of our guests were hip hop producers and we asked them to produce something with us together that’s not hip hop. They said ‘we don’t know’ but then we met each other and we found a very good point from which we could work together. Because they were interested in old music, samples and stuff and we were interested in producing new music, so we hooked up and from the first meeting it was clear that we can work together. So it was just chemistry I think between us and yeah, since then, since ’96-7, we do music together with them in the same formation.
HRFQ : When you produce either alone or with other members of Jazzanova (Extended Spirit and Kosma), what is the artistic process? What goes into composing when you are working with other people?
Alexander : It developed over the years actually. At first we only sampled things and that’s what we are still known for. Like, a sample here and there, very little bits and pieces, but we’d put them all together into something complex. And that’s still our favorite sport I would say, what we like to do. But we started to work more and more with compositions because you train your ears over the years. We started to work with musicians as well because right now, for a few years now, we have really good recording facilities in Berlin, 2 studios, a big one and a small one. Before that we just had our little cellar room, a computer, drum machines and stuff, samplers. It goes much more in the direction of composing, arranging, and recording real instruments and real musicians and working with them together. Because you have to find people who you can talk to, most musicians we can’t, noe of us plays an instrument,nobody, and sometimes it’s really hard to say “uh, play more like uh umm ummm”. And we had to find people we could talk to in our special way and can play “umm uh uh”, and they know what we mean. Not like most of the musicians are like more “play c minor, and a 7th-8th harmony…” I don’t know. We are getting better, We’re getting into compositions and stuff.
HRFQ : When you DJ together, do you have any particular roles among you?
Alexander : Actually now we are just 2 DJs in the team. It’s just Jorgen, my partner, von Knoblauch and myself. And unfortunately, I have to say that we don’t play together very often. Sometimes we do in Berlin of course, and that’s the best. But if we are on tour, we try to split it because we have so many offers that we have to go like this way. Right now he is in America doing a tour, and I’m here (Tokyo, Japan), before I was doing Germany and he was doing the UK, so it’s better like this way. Sometimes it’s strange for people on the website because we’re in 2 places at the same time. I think our fan-base already knows, he’s there and he’s over there.
HRFQ : Can you tell us a bit about the structure in your decks? Are you interested in new technologies like Final Scratch or Traktor?
Alexander : I have to say that we are pretty much old school, in terms of what we use it’s vinyl of course because I think it is perfect for the club. All the old sound systems are built for vinyl, the sound is made for it, but the CDs have become quite important I suppose. All the new CD players and stuff, that’s OK. I’ve heard a lot about Final Scratch, it is very comfortable. Even when you get older as a DJ, your back is like sometimes hurting if you’ve got like tons of records. But at the same time for me, it’s still quite important to see something that’s the tune. If I have it in the computer it’s like thousands of tunes, it’s a different relationship. I understand it and the young generation should just go for it, but for me, I don’t know, sound-wise and feeling wise, it’s a different vibe. But I respect it, like I have many young friends collecting MP3s and they don’t have any records at home, but they have 3,000 MP3s on their laptop, and they say yeah – that’s my collection so you have to make sure that they have your music in a downloadable format as well.
HRFQ : I saw that on your Sonar Kollektiv website, you are offering MP3s. Recently, there is a lot of new technology discussion going on, and many people, especially around major labels keep saying MP3 downloads will destroy the music culture. What do you think about this opinion?
Alexander : The major companies often say or think that the Internet is the enemy. But it’s not actually it’s just a new possibility and they have to learn the rules. You just have to make sure that you are the first who’s offering it because the Internet is about quick access to information, music, pictures and all that. People use it like that, I want something (snap snap) and I get it. That’s our time that we live in. As a label you have to make sure that if they want the music, they have to find you first. And then it must be possible to download the music. First on your site and what they do afterwards, with copying and all that, helps like independent little labels probably more than major labels of course. But, that’s their pain, we’re independent. For us the Internet is quite important and new media is very interesting. You just have to be upfront with it.
HRFQ : So many art forms have evolved because of surrounding circumstances – political unrest or injustice. The “struggle” has been a huge aspect of the evolution of American Jazz music. Charles Mingus had said: “Had I been born in a different country or had I been born white, I am sure I would have expressed my ideas long ago. Maybe they wouldn’t have been as good because when people are born free – I can’t imagine it, but I’ve got a feeling that if it’s so easy for you, the struggle and the initiative are not as strong as they are for a person who has to struggle and therefore has more to say.” Do you agree with this statement that struggle creates stronger or more influential art, etc?
Alexander : I would say so. When you see, Detroit for example, you know where the music is coming from. If it is the old jazz stuff, or like new techno, Underground Resistance stuff, you feel that. You get a different relation to the music when you’ve been there. Detroit is really about struggle, but Berlin is different.
HRFQ : In Berlin, has the relationship between the East and West influenced the sound coming out of Berlin? And if so, how?
Alexander : I’m coming from the East side. I was always very hungry, very hungry. I have so many friends who were hungry for music. I had so many friends sharing the same passion. It was just about getting music and making music. All my classmates in school have something to do with music right now. It played such an important role in the East because you couldn’t get any music from outside. You always wanted to have it. You wanted to be associated with some groups and if it comes to struggle again, it was really the reason why so many people from the East do music. Still when I play in Eastern Germany, the reception was totally different because the people, they have a different background. You feel that. They are much more open, they listen more. They are not fed up with things. Sometimes in Western Germany, they are too cool. What do you want to tell me with your music? They just want to hang around and in the East, to come back to your question. They probably struggled a little bit more. In terms of creating art it’s important probably. But to receive this art is important too. But at the same time I have to say, we are not doing art. It’s just do what we do. It’s not about Jazz. Our music is not Jazz – Jazz is something really different. And people always want to put us there, like ‘young jazz guys’. Jazz is a big inspiration because of the background. When you discover Jazz, for us, for instance, it came via Hip Hop. Hip Hop was our common factor in the band. When we discovered Hip Hop, for us, we discovered the whole of black-rooted music. And it is so interesting. You can go so deep, and but still you always have the feeling. It’s music we have pretty much respect for and we try to give something back to this music because we like it so much. But we never could be a part of it because we are not black. And we never struggled really like guys who live in Detroit. We are from Berlin. We just can deliver a special point of view from our side. Hopefully in a respectful way. But struggle, it’s always good, even if it’s private struggle, it can bring out a good song.
HRFQ : Currently in Berlin, what are the most quickly growing art-forms or musical genres? What new genres, styles are outlining the future?
Alexander : The whole Electro-clash thing came out of Berlin, and funny enough, Tobias Neumann, (and other artists), they all have their studios in the same building we have, so we see them every day. They are funny guys and I have respect for them but it’s not really my music. I understand it OK, but they were musically socialized in the 80’s. And it is their little thing, but it was never really my thing I have to say. Because we were socialized in the 90’s and that was different- it was more about warmer sounds – disco and house music. And actually the best parties right now in Berlin are the early house music parties. The Larry Heard, Bobby Condor, all that early Chicago, a little bit of Detroit, New York stuff. There’s one night called the Washing Machine and this is a killer, sounds inspired by of all those guys. Dixon is playing there as a resident. That’s really the hot shit right now. But I can’t really say because I listen to the music back in the early 90’s. For me it’s somehow funny to see how it works again – how it brings young people again to the clubs, so that’s somehow a little bit strange. It’s not just about repeating, you have to create something new out of it. But it’s a very little flower right now, so we’ll see.
HRFQ : What new artist have you been listening to recently who has been breaking new ground or pushing the boundaries of music?
Alexander : In general, hmm. Maybe it’s a bit too much like a closed circle right now. But Yoshi and Shuya played me some new stuff from SleepWalker, it’s a jazz band. I’m really going back to proper jazz stuff right now because I need some serious music again. It was too much dance club things going on over the last years and maybe I’m getting older or something like that. But I need some serious stuff. And they played me some new SleepWalker stuff from their label and it’s heavy. I mean for young people it’s quite hard to receive, but the energy, it’s like punk music. It’s really not about what it is, it has an energy. 10 minutes of pure energy and after that you will say ‘woo’ and that’s good. I need that right now.
HRFQ : As for labels, you’ve got both Jazzanova Compost Records as well as Sonar Kollektiv? What are the concepts behind these labels?
Alexander : Actually Jazzanova Compost Records is over. We cancelled the relationship with Michael, not in a bad way, but we had some different visions about music. So our label right now is the Sonar Kollektiv. It was founded around ’97-98 as a platform for young artists out of Berlin and right now it’s becoming more international. We signed everything we liked so far, it’s really easy. We are DJ’s lights inflammable somehow. When we listen to something, we say ‘wow’, we really want to release that. And then funny enough, we always get it because people like the label. We are getting a lot of good exposure. Outside we have many good people working for us in the world. In America, UK, Shuya here, the Okino brothers, they are really good contacts for us in Japan. They always do nice work. And it’s all about Sonar Kollectiv right now. We have to focus on that, and there is great stuff coming I have to say. They find really interesting, good stuff. We are like a dance label, but at the same time we want to be listenable as well. So there is a lot of stuff coming from more, lets say, rock artists of the future. Collaborations between some folky-rock guys and electronic guys. Interesting.
HRFQ : Do you receive demo’s from many Japanese artists? Have you found any potential materials from Japanese producers?
Alexander : Yes. Actually if it comes to like releases, I have to say not really. Shuya and Yoshi, their label, they pretty much know what is going on in Japan, who is doing what. And they are good filters. So when I am here, they play me stuff. We have a high standard, but we always get back to the people and say ‘it’s interesting, we like it. Please keep sending us stuff.
HRFQ : What are you currently working on – current project?
Alexander : We did some remixes, one was for Marcos Bailey’s last album, then we produced that rock guy, a very old friend out of Berlin. A project called ‘Thief’ and at the same time, we’re trying to collect ideas for our next album. That’s what we always do, so when we are always in the studio and have an idea, we fix it and put it there and after a while, we take it again. We help a little bit here and there with recording. We recorded some new stuff for Irfane which did this ‘Just a Little Lovin’ song – there’s new material coming out. There’s too much actually to count. There’re some compilations and we did a folk compilation as Jazzanova.
HRFQ : Any messages to Japanese fans?
Alexander : Sometimes I think they should trust more their culture a little more than just looking overseas. I have that feeling when I go through the streets, that it’s really somehow Americanized. Sorry, but you know what I mean. Sometimes I think that there is so much culture going on. I think you could, as a young Japanese guy, you could go really deep into it, but at the same time everyone is… MTV…
End of the interview
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