Emika on Dettmann: The Interview

In honour of the new album out this week by Germany’s most beloved techno superstar we decided to christen the week as Dettmann Week. Yes, DJBroadcast loved the Berlin based DJ’s new record so much, we decided to fill our editorial with non-stop Dettmann coverage, from documentaries, to interviews and more.

The legendary Berlin based, Berghain resident has been continuously bowling over crowds worldwide with his enigmatic, marathon-eque DJ sets, “For me it's normal to play for such a long time,” he casually jests during the interview. For the former judo champion, such feats of endurance probably come as second nature. This is just a minor admission by the larger than life DJ. His productions have lined the crates of the most influential artists on the planet, from house through to techno. His label, Marcel Dettmann Records (he clearly likes to name things after himself) has provided the platform for many of his peers to break into the scene, securing themselves on equal footing with Dettmann himself.

His second full player released this week, Dettmann II, takes on a looser and more creative approach to techno, especially when compared to it’s more rigid and atonal younger brother, Dettmann, released in 2010.

To get the real low-down on Dettmann’s approach to music we decided to hire Ninja Tune producer Emika to perform interrogation duties, in the first of a three-part interview series. Having worked with him on the new album, providing vocals to Seduction, Dettmann’s first ever-vocal track, we deemed there no better candidate to interview the Ostgut resident.

DJBroadcast: Marcel, is this the time you've worked with a vocalist, or have you had tracks with vocals before?

Dettmann: Yes, it was the first time.

"...I don't see it as a job,
I do it because
I love to do it..."

Emika: Really? What about the track with Ellen Allien (on BPitch Control?)

Dettmann: That was a remix, like the same I did for you. I never worked with a vocalist before, I really liked it. It’s amazing, it's fragile – everybody loved this track, I'm really happy.

Emika: So, my first question: The word Künstler means something more profound in German, whereas in English it relates to anyone who creates anything. And I would like to know if you consider yourself an artist?

"...when I got involved
into techno,
the DJ was just some guy
in the corner who
was playing music..."

Dettmann: This is really easy to answer because music is art, and I make music, and I am then an artist. But I never think about it. I don't see it as a job, I do it because I love to do it.

For example when you buy a new synthesizer or buy just two new records from a record store, I always feel like a little boy getting some new toys and that kind of feeling keeps me alive as a DJ and as a producer.

Emika:  I recognise that there was a time when DJs were just DJs, and nowadays I feel like all DJs need to talk about themselves as artists in a way and so I'd really like to know, what is a DJ?

Dettmann: A DJ is - for example when I see some colleagues who are looking like they are doing a job to me, just standing there, playing, and doing what the people expect. Then you see some other people surprising the crowd all the time, and everybody's like 'oh, what are they doing? That's crazy.' But that's more the way I see a DJ. It's surprising people, doing something strange, playing a record sometimes from the beginning to the end [for example,] it doesn't mean (in German we say) 'being an Ampelmann' and moving around all the time anyway.

When I got involved into techno, the DJ was just some guy in the corner who was playing music, and so you would always remember the tracks he was playing in and not the guy who was playing them.

Back in the day, people would go to the DJ and ask, 'could you please play this track.’ Now; never.

"...you have to love
every single track
you play...."

Emika: That's true! When was the last time that happened to you?

Dettmann: People come up to you asking for something but normally it's not anything surprising, it's more that they want to interact with you and want to talk to you. They should say, 'do you like the weather today?' or 'did you have a good dinner?' instead of 'could you play this one?'

And usually I say 'I played that already,' because I have, half an hour ago.

But for me a DJ is a music lover. You have to love what you do, and that's really important. You have to love every single track you play. Sometimes when I get lazy, or bored about a crowd, a situation or whatever, I just think 'okay, which track do I wanna hear now and which track will make me crazy right at this moment?'

I need to have spice. Life drive.

Emika: Does fame change your daily routine in Berlin?

Dettmann: Yeah sometimes when I go on the street, especially in Mitte or somewhere, people come out and say, 'oh my god, are you Marcel Dettmann? Can we take a picture?' That makes me laugh, I'm happy about it. They're really cute, the way they come up and say thank you in a way, so for playing music, it's amazing. But I don't think about it much so it's okay.

"...if Berghain's the pot,
and Hardwax is the top,
then I am the soup..."

Emika: Do you understand what has brought you this kind of success? Is it your taste in music, is it just the time and how things are, or is it hard work and the way Berlin became really famous?

Dettmann: It's everything. Berlin, Berghain and hard work, creates me; me as a musician or as a guy. I grew up here in this area and in this time as well. It's difficult to understand for myself because I'M Marcel Dettmann and for me it's difficult to say where it comes from.

In the end, everybody has their roots and my roots definitely are here. If Berghain's the pot, and Hardwax is the top, then I am the soup, you know? So many things happen in your life that create happenings. They are really the main pillars.

Emika: Would you say that you have a Dettmann sound? Or a Dettmann taste? Can you describe it?

Dettmann: I could name the tracks of which I am really proud of, but I don't want to do that. As I said, I'm a DJ and when people come up to me and say,  ‘that's the typical Marcel Dettmann sound,’ I think 'ah, OK' because I just do what I wanna do.

Maybe I wanna make a deep house track tomorrow, and I'll like it, and I'll release it. It’s the same when I'm DJing and I'm playing a deep house track; everybody's saying 'wow, that's proper techno!' And the other way round, if a deep house DJ is playing a proper techno track, he's saying 'wow, such deep house!'

"...when the needle is jumping,
you can't be that professional
to skip this moment..."

Emika: So it's limitless.

Dettmann: It's the same with the Berghain sound. What is the Berghain sound? Everything is played there; old school, acid, some Detroit, ambient stuff, electro, 70s disco, Italodisco - everything!

Emika: I'm starting to mix some of my favourite vinyl into sets, and I would like to know if you fuck up mixes, what usually goes wrong, and how do you fix it?

Dettmann: I have conversations with people that are starting to get into DJing more and I have the same with other DJs too and everybody's the same. Everybody's like, 'when the needle is jumping, you can't be that professional to skip this moment.’ I always need half an hour to come down from that.

"...I don't think that it was
better back in
the day..."

Emika: Really?

Dettmann: Always. Always. It's a fucking mess. The needle's jumping and everybody's freaking out because of that. People like this kind of stuff sometimes, but you're like 'ohhh shit.’ But it's happened and it's not you, it's the turntable.

Emika: Is it true that nowadays it's impossible to play vinyl in clubs because decks are not set up properly?

Dettmann: Actually I've thought a lot, but I don't think that it was better back in the day. I've been travelling the world for ten years now, and sometimes of course yeah, when you have a festival and when you have a rock crew preparing the DJ stage, they don't think about how the turntable could get messed up with the monitoring or something because they normally put drums and guitars on the stage.

And then if you move from the left to the right, everything shakes. It could be so easy sometimes, but it's happening, and I think on festivals it's always difficult because you have big soundsystems. It's the main challenge we could have in our business I think.

Tune in tomorrow to catch the next part in our Dettmann interview.

photography: Richard Kranzin