Booka Shade’s Beginner’s Luck

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

When the folks over at K7! Records decided to let two non-DJs take a crack at putting out a DJ-Kicks, there might not be two people better suited for this task. Self-admitted, Berlin’s Booka Shade (Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger) are not DJs. They are, however, producers, musicians, remixers and label owners (Get Physical). But still, that doesn’t make them DJs, does it? Apparently, by the magic of osmosis, Booka Shade can, in fact, DJ with the best of them. The duo took the time to chat with Ground Control to talk about their beginnings as a production team, their roles in the band, and most of all, what it was like making a DJ mix for a prolific DJ series without being, well, a DJ.

What were some of your earliest musical influences?
Walter: All the music that came out of Britain in the early 80s was very influential, bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode…

How did the two of you meet and when did you begin to work on music together?
Arno: The classic version: we met in a school band!! Walter played guitar and I played drums. We played cultural highlights of contemporary music such as Van Halen’s “Jump” or “Davy’s on the Road Again” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. We were 14 years old when we met and, as you can see, had great style!! It quickly “clicked” and we realized that we wanted to achieve something in music, so we met in the afternoons and started to set up a studio. Our first proud piece of recording equipment was a CASSETTE RECORDER!

When you first began your productions, what style of music did you make? What equipment were you using?
Walter: We saved as much money as we could and invested in a Commodore 64 computer, which was hi-tech at that time. After a while we could also afford a Korg Poly 800 and DW 8000 and we borrowed a Roland JX3P from a friend. Our very first drum machine was an analogue preset Roland machine, later on a Korg DDD1. We wrote songs in the 80s synth-pop style, a bit tears for fears-like.

What were/are your individual roles as producers?
Arno: Walter’s the guy who spends all his time in the studio. He’s the one who comes up with the basic song and sound ideas. I’m very much involved in the daily business around Booka Shade, like communication, contracts, also for our label, Get Physical. In the afternoon we meet in the studio and discuss new ideas and decide how to continue. Many times we start jam sessions or so, playing around with the instruments and recording ideas. The evening is the most enjoyable time in the studio. When the phone stops ringing and it gets quiet and you can dive into the music…

Where did the name "Booka Shade" come from?
Walter: It’s fiction! When we looked for a project name in the mid-90s for a release on a Dutch label, Touché, we flipped pages in a magazine and came up with “booka” or it may even have been “booker,” and something with “shade” on the other page. We just thought it sounded good. In the beginning, many people thought we might come from Asia, because the name has this Asian touch.

The music in your live set is much more upbeat and crowd friendly than your album tracks. Do make special tracks just for your live sets or remixes of existing material?
Arno: Yes we do! Especially in the beginning, on the Memento tour 2005, we played the songs in a much pushier way then on the album. Both of us are quite energetic persons, we have a lot of energy to give, and I think that’s what’s appealing for a lot of people. There’s definitely a difference between Booka Shade the recording / album act and Booka Shade the live band. And that’s cool! Even today we always have around 40% unreleased songs in the live show, partly to keep the shows interesting for ourselves and partly to create certain emotions in the show. On track especially would be far too hard and pushing for an album, but it works for the show.

The live drum pads add a great element, which seems to really engage the audience. How difficult was that to incorporate into your live set? Are there any plans to add more members to the live act?
Walter: Seeing Arno play the drums is a lot of fun (you see it’s very exhausting, too!!!) I can’t think of many drummers who play the way that Arno plays, with such energy, dancing around. It fits quite naturally in the set, because it was clear from the first second on that we would have a drum set. At the moment there are no plans to bring in additional people. There’s a lot the two of us can still try out on stage.

What were some of your favorite cities, clubs and best crowd reactions during your recent world tours?
Arno: Roskilde in Denmark, Sonar in Spain, Pukkelpop in Belgium, and the Detroit electronic music festival. We were given the chance to play the last slot of the whole festival, just before Jeff Mills. For sure a big highlight!!!! Playing in Eastern European countries like Romania, Serbia or Croatia is very exciting. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for electronic music there. We went to Australia earlier this year for the first time and will go back in December. We had a wonderful time there, lots of fans!!

The two of you are not known as DJs, in fact, I’m not sure if you DJ in clubs at all. So what was your process in making the recent DJ-Kicks mix?
Walter: You’re right, we’re not playing as DJs in clubs. But the idea to put together and mix a compilation was always appealing to us. We wanted to push boundaries a bit and not only beat-match songs, but also do things production-wise that would be impossible in a classic turntable mix. We cut songs, let them run over each other for the length of a whole song, pitched and tweaked tracks…great fun!

DJ series’ such as DJ-Kicks have been around for a while now. Have you been approached to do mixes before this one, and what made you guys agree to it in the end?
Arno: For example, doing a Body Language compilation on our own Get Physical label wouldn’t have been so interesting for us, because it’s a bit more club orientated. The DJ-Kicks comp is for home listening—you can show a broader style of sound. It was perfect for us.

Also, since you seem to only play your own music live, did you find it easy or difficult to make this mix? From the tracklist, it looks like you were just making a dope mixtape for your closest friends.
Walter: Ha ha! Yeah, in a way it was like looking for your most favorite songs in your record collection. We wanted to try and combine very different styles, like for example Brigitte Bardot, and still make it sound cool and modern. We wanted to show where we come from and what kind of music we like. And we DO like all different kinds of music.

I noticed John Carpenter twice your mix and this seems very fitting of your sound. Have your guys ever worked or planned to work on any soundtrack / film scores?
ARNO: We love soundtracks, film scores, and we love creating music for moving pictures. When we recorded our first album, Memento, we mainly worked at night, and we put movies in the DVD player and muted the sound, so we could write music to the pictures we saw. It was a great experience. And we did and still do music for films and cool ads. For example, KSWISS and Levis took songs of ours for their ads.

What is in the works for Booka Shade in the next year?
WALTER: We’re currently in the studio, recording the third album. The Movements world tour will be finished in November. We’ll have played 165 shows then. We hope to have the album out in May 2008 and get ready for a next, bigger world tour!!!

Booka Shade: DJ-Kicks will be out October 22, 2007, on !K7.

For more on Booka Shade, click here:

For more on their label, Get Physical, click here:

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