Monday, 4 March 2013

DJ Koze Interview

Recent months have seen a flurry of activity for the usually elusive DJ Koze, soon to be topped-off with his first new LP for close to a decade. Here, Defected’s Ben Lovett speaks to the German producer about his label and latest project.
DJ Koze’s new album, his first in eight years, is about as far removed from the topical glitz of EDM as it is sonically possible to be.  And then some.  Released through his own label Pampa, Amygdala is, as the press blurb attests, Koze’s wildly oscillating, brilliantly techniclour Sgt. Pepper moment; no mean feat considering the maverick diversity of his CV to date.
“EDM is funny, a symbol of how lame the system...the music industry...has become” he opens.  “The Americans present it like it’s this big new revolution but everyone else around the world is laughing because they can’t quite believe it.  EDM is not what we [the dance scene] have been working on these past 20 or so years.  It’s under-challenging; it has less to do with our music than, say, reggae, has with Basic Channel [the famous electronic outfit has worked with reggae artists and on classic dancehall reissues].  It is more like rock with the machismo and big balls mentality.  There is no soul or depth; there are some other ingredients but not ones we use.  EDM’s only link to our world is the fact that it is produced electronically.  But, look, I’m not worried about it, or confronted by it; it’s just funny.”
What, then, of Amygdala?  How does Koze – real name Stefan Kozalla - even begin to summarise its unpredictable shifting between different electronic moods, modes and mien?  “It’s both what my world is and isn’t” he indicates.  “The last bit is very important, because I don’t want this viewed as mere techno tools.  Yes, my music has moved closer to techno over time but it has a wider appeal.  That’s just what is happening.  It [the album] is a small, unique cosmos in the sonic universe.  I’m a harsh self-critic but this album feels perfect.  I’ve achieved what I wanted to; I’ve totally let go.”

 moves with exhilarating off-kilter purpose, blurring techno and micro-house boundaries through a rich, often unreal variety of vocal, instrumental and sample filters.  Smart collaborations from those including Apparat, Matthew Dear and Dan Snaith’s Caribou only add to the intrigue; the latter contributing quirky, feather-light vocals to engaging lead single Track ID Anyone?

“I didn’t plan any of the collaborations” Koze professes.  “They were a nice coincidence each time they happened.  All of my collaborators are like-minded friends; like with Caribou, we didn’t talk much.  We didn’t need to.  It was like old buddies, we knew what we wanted to do.  That said, everyone told me to do what I needed to with their input, to get things as I wanted.  The working atmosphere was therefore calm...really good.  I couldn’t have asked for more as an artist.”
Ironically Hamburg-based Koze’s first musical meanderings were mainstream ones.  During the Nineties he ran, successfully, with German hip-hop crew Fischmob (and was a runner-up at the World DMC Mixing Championships) before gravitating to screwball soul and R&B in trio International Pony (with Cosmic DJ and Erobique) during the early Noughties, as well as deeper, electronic territory as Adolf Noise (with friend Marcnesium).  Koze’s separate solo outings on Kompakt strengthened his association with underground dance - covering everything from leftfield house and crisp techno to sleazy disco and crunching electro - as did remixes for Matias Aguayo, Tiefschwarz and Efdemin, the launch, in 2009, of Pampa, and his snowballing DJ commitments.
Koze has always nurtured diversity in his work, and yet his transition from hip-hop to 4-4 over the past decade is strikingly rather than subtly evident.  Was there any particular reason for the change?  “I still love hip-hop very much today but, from a recording perspective, I started to object to its social system” he says.  “Electronic music is more social.  Fans from the shoegazer indie scene, or hip-hop or techno scenes, they all like to dance at night, drink, and enjoy the freedom of the club...the space.  People have the ability to support their own core scene but also enjoy electronic music too.  Working in hip-hop, there came a day when I suddenly felt like a stranger.  It’s a highly masculine scene; very competitive and aggressive, and I don’t possess enough of those qualities as an artist today.  I grew out of all that stuff; it was restrictive.  I’m happy with where I am today.”
But not always happy to do interviews and promotion as he frankly, and rather refreshingly, admits:  “I’m sorry but it’s a horrible job to do.  It’s so demanding.  I’ve already been doing interviews for a week.  I’ve been drinking in the evenings between them to cool down and as the days have gone by I’ve been getting more and more tired, and my answers less and less clever.  On the other hand, I’m aware I haven’t released an album for eight years and need to do everything possible to present it in the right way to my audience.”
Koze released his debut solo album Music Is Okay in 2000, following up with Kosi Comes Around on Kompakt in 2005 (as well as, in the same year, an Adolf Noise long-player Wo Die Rammelwolle Fliegt).  The considerable length of time untilAmygdala will raise questions and gaping misconceptions, a situation intensified by the relentless 24-7 whirr of contemporary clubland; whirr fuelled by online news sites, blog posts, social media hubs and fan forums.  Is Koze confident he can position this latest phase of his career in the way he wishes to?

“As an independent, as someone having to marry the personal and professional, all of the opinions and criticisms can be difficult to deal with” he explains.  “It hits you all directly; it’s exhausting.  I’m not really so concerned about public image but I know if I don’t appear then no-one will know who I am or what I am doing.  It’s pointless speaking if there’s nothing to say but here with the new record I do have things I need to say.  It [promotion] is a difficult challenge but I think I’m making it clear that this is a unique album in its own unique space.”
There is plenty planned for the rest of the year.  Pampa, for starters, is shifting gears after a relatively quiet 2012.  “The label is about providing soulful, forward-thinking options to dance” Koze stresses.  “Last year we didn’t really have a concept; we were releasing as and when people finished products in the studio.  This year, however, it’s like a traffic jam; we have lots of exciting projects in the bag already.”  Namely EPs by Isolee (Allowance, released earlier this month – “it’s the nicest thing he’s done since Beau Mot Plage”) and Matthew Herbert (including Koze’s own flawless remix of ‘It’s Only’), a mini album by German vocalist-producer Ada (also featured on Amygdala), and full long-player via Deutsch duo Die Vogel, due later this year.
Koze is also about to tour his new album with “straightforward DJ sets” and start planning a full-on live show for 2014 – “ideally, I’ll copy the best ideas from Deadmau5 and Daft Punk and recycle them into my own trashy electronic show for as a little money as possible” he seemingly quips.  “There needs to be something more than just standing behind a laptop.  I need to challenge myself.”

Does the performing sap as much as doing interviews?  “I love travelling, experiencing new things and people” he replies.  “But if I could have the same money for releasing records as for DJing?  Well, then, I’d probably split my time between the clubs and studio more evenly.  The fact of the matter is that whilst I enjoy playing for people, it’s also the main source of my money so there’s a need to focus on performing.  That then makes it even more important to pick the right work in the studio.
“It’s a tightrope walk; if I want a satisfying result then I need to be able to focus on one thing and one thing only.  I can’t juggle tasks, I have to think in blocks.  When I DJ I’m in that mode completely and then need three weekends off before I’m in the right frame of mind for producing.  If I’m producing, then I need to think carefully about the tracks I’m taking on; time is precious so I want to be working on the right things and leaving everything else out.  It’s tricky, I have friends who are big, successful DJs but there are no albums to their name.  They’ve made a decision to pursue the DJing fully over album production.  Me?  Ultimately, I want to produce music...good music.  ”
DJ Koze is serenely confident about his unique career path and future progression; this despite the further obstacles and outside pressures he is likely to encounter in the months and years ahead.  He is sagely aware that they’re out there waiting for him.  “I know what I am doing and that’s the key to everything” he asserts.  “I’m like an outsider, an outlaw to EDM and its militaristic global fashion for releasing peak-time weapons of mass destruction.  My Pampa family and I, we’re like a band of hippies following our own rules, changing those rules up and letting everything go in the interest of good music.  That’s all I want and need.  Things get crazy sometimes but I’ve given myself enough space to catch the right ideas and inspiration.  I have my own cosmos.”
That’s a proper big balls mentality for you....
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