Exclusive Interview: Booka Shade

Here is another HOME exclusive, an interview with Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier of Booka Shade! Booka Shade has remixed Depeche Mode’s new single, Martyr, which is out today!

In the early days you guys were successful making synth pop music, so is fair to say that Depeche were an inspiration to you?

ARNO: Yes you can say so. Apart from DM, basically we were attracted by the whole sound that came from Britain in the early 80s, also The Cure, The Smiths, New Order/Joy Division. The ´positive melancholy´ is something you can hear in most of our songs. Our first band was named after a B52´s song, “Planet Claire”. One thing that is very important to us is to always look ahead and try to create a fresh sound that sounds like 2007, and not be stuck in the past. I like DM, but I never liked all those ´sound alike´ bands that came out over the years. I saw my first Depeche concert in 1983, in a small town in the south west of Germany, Saarbrücken, where I lived at that time. I saw every tour ever since.

How did Booka get started? What brought you two together?

WALTER: There’s a long history before Booka Shade …… Arno and I met in school, we both played in a school band. We realized pretty soon that the both of us had the same passion for music and wanted to achieve something, try to actually make a living from music. Most of our friends who played with us in bands weren’t so “crazy” and preferred a “decent job”. We booked a recording studio and produced two independent singles, we didn’t even have a distribution company for the record. We sold them to friends and sent demos to all major record companies in Germany. Both Arno and I went to university but quit at the time when we got our first recording deal with EMI. that was in 1991.

When did you decide to make the transition from making that style of music to how we now know you?

ARNO: With EMI we released two albums, the first included a bit of a radio hit, but the second one became a real disaster, because during the production of the album we had 3 different A&R´s who told us to go in different directions musically. We became very unsure. There was a big change in the structure of EMI and nobody knew what to do. The album wasn’t properly released and I think we sold 600 copies or so. We were very disappointed of the major record company. Luckily enough, 1992 was exactly the time when techno hit Germany big time. The fact that you didn’t have to produce for months and months and didn’t have to show your face but in opposite produce one track a day under millions of pseudonyms attracted us. We could work in electronic music exactly the way we wanted to and try out something new every day. Or, night, to put in more precisely…. in the years to follow we released close to 100 tracks under a lot of different names, on all relevant techno labels of that time: R&S, Harthouse, Tommy Boy, Music Man, etc etc. and, of course, the Dutch label Touché, where we released the first Booka Shade track in 1995 today, our working method has changed dramatically. Nowadays, it’s not rare that we work on one track for 6 weeks! ´Mandarine Girl´ is an example. I think you can hear in our productions that there’s a lot of love for details. There’s no way you could produce these kind of tracks in one day.

Did you ever think in those early days that you would be remixing or supporting Depeche Mode? As big fans of theirs, I can only assume it was pretty overwhelming on some levels?

ARNO: It was….. bizarre. Surreal. I remember that in the beginning when we were asked I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do it. But of course not doing it wouldn’t have been an option.

How did you get involved with the fantastic Get Physical label and what are your roles there?

WALTER: We set up the fantastic label Get Physical (thank you for that!) in the year 2002 because there was no indie label that released the tracks we wanted to hear in clubs. So we decided to give it a try ourselves.

You see, we started with club music in 1993. That was a terrific, inspired time when every week there were dozens of wonderful tracks coming out, always challenging, trying out new things, interesting sounds etc. but by 1997, techno/house became very commercial, standard. A&Rs would say, “If you want club play, the big breakdown has to come at 1min 30 sec.” seriously! We were bored. We were quite successful with what we did, had tracks on loads and loads of compilations, which, at that time, gained you good money, but the love for club music was gone. We completely quit club music and concentrated on film music and also op orchestra recordings. In the year 2000 we met our old friends Patrick and Philipp, who DJed every now and then and wanted to push their career. They played fresh and interesting music to us, like Chicken Lips or Metro Area. Taking 80´s disco sounds to the year 2000. We thought that was great and invited Philipp and Patrick into our studio to produce tracks. That’s how the project M.A.N.D.Y. was started. When the idea to set up the label came up, we decided to try and involve Thomas Koch aka DJ T., who already had a bit of a name at that time. Apart from being a DJ, he was the owner and editor of Germany’s leading magazine for electronic music, GROOVE. Get Physical has the reputation of a hi quality label, which is something we’re very proud of. People also say it stands for a sound called “electro house”, I guess that’s partly because of the fact that, together with one or two other labels , we introduced a certain sound with the song we did for DJ T., “Freemind”. This kind of sound wasn’t there before, so people gave it that name. But the label has a lot of different facetted, M.A.N.D.Y. or Elektochemie are much more futuristic and ahead of time as all those “electro house” records that came out lately. You always have to move on and break new ground.

With the success of Booka Shade growing, are you able to be as involved with Get Physical?

ARNO: It gets more and more difficult. In the beginning, I did a lot of the label management, and I’m happy that we have a label manager now plus assistants and bookkeepers etc. This takes away some of the work, but as a label owner, you still have to be aware of everything that’s going on in your little universe. So, time wise, it didn’t get any better. You can believe me, it’s very hard to play 3 gigs on the weekend and still be back in the office at 10 AM Monday morning. It hurts! For Walter it’s the same, because he also produces and writes all the releases and remixes of M.A.N.D.Y., DJ T and some other acts on get physical. We switch from one production to the next at least 4 times during the day.

How did the support slot in Berlin happen? What went through your minds when you got the gig?

WALTER: We were asked to do the remix some time prior to the request for the show. We knew that, being a part time DJ, Martin Gore knew the label and Booka Shade. Then, when the support slot for Berlin was free, we obviously were proposed by somebody from the label. We were asked if we were free one week before the show, but the actual decision was made one DAY before the show! Things became a bit hectic when we heard that we would do it….. but in the end everything went really smoothly. The production people were very nice and we even had a sound check (which we didn’t expect).

Supporting DM in Berlin

Mode fans are pretty harsh to support acts, especially in cities like Berlin, how do you guys feel the show went? Did they comment on your performance at all?

ARNO: Knowing the public, you can believe me, we sh+*#’ in our pants before the gig. I’ve been to so many concerts before as a viewer and I’ve seen many acts fail. While on stage we didn’t really realize how it went, but I saw a video recording later on and I was really surprised how big the applause really was! A lot of questions in the Internet.

Did any talk of remixing or working with the band get discussed at the show?

WALTER: No, we actually didn’t get the chance to talk to the band at all. They arrived shortly before the gig. I just heard the other day that we may play a gig in Holland early next year where Martin DJs, probably there will be a chance. But it’s up to them, I guess they always have a tight schedule.

What did you think of Martyr when you first heard the track?

ARNO: I was happy it was an up tempo song. And I liked it from the first hearing. Seth Hodder, who works for Mute Records, came to our studio with a rough mix of the song (which sounded different to the version as you know it now) to play it to us and see if we would do it. Of course he didn’t leave a copy! That was in early June. Funny anecdote: Seth works for Mute for ages, and we all had a laugh when we told him that we sent him demos when he worked as an A&R for Novamute in the mid 90´s. We didn’t remember what tracks it was, he didn’t remember either, so obviously the songs weren’t THAT brilliant…..

What I love most about the “Full Vocal Mix” is the perfect blend of Depeche and Booka’s sound, how do you pull that off where so many others have failed? It still sounds like a Depeche Mode track rather then an extreme reworking of the song.

WALTER: I heard from many Mode fans that they never like remixes because they have nothing to do with the band. Most of the time it’s a techno track with some vocal bits on it. Vocal and backing do not connect. And, to be honest: we don’t like that either! In our world, when we do a remix that contains vocals, the remix should sound as if the vocal was recorded for this particular remix. It should sound as natural as possible. When we discussed what we could do with the song and we weren’t sure which way to go, Tim Dobrovolny, an old friend of ours who works for Virgin, a big Mode fan himself, said: “Just do the remix that you as a fan would like to hear!” And that’s what we did.

Whose idea was it to drop in the “Behind The Wheel” sample in the “Full Vocal Mix”? It worked perfect!

ARNO: Yeah, we thought that might be neat! It’s fun. We’re glad the band and the people who hear it like it. At first we tried something out with a vocal bit of Dave singing “Pain”, like in the “Pain Mix” of Strangelove, but it didn’t work out so good.

Now the “Travel Mix” was made entirely on flights while you guys were out on tour in support of your latest album, “Movements”. Can you give us a little background on why you made it that way rather then in a studio? Was there a deadline to meet?

WALTER: Yes, that’s the simple reason. We played a lot of shows during the time of the mix, and also we had mixes to finish for Tiga and Hot Chip. So we used every free minute to get out the power book and program some stuff. Everything is programmed without a keyboard. But, to be honest, “produced 100% on flights” is a lie. One bass line was programmed in a transit hall!

That mix is a lot darker then vocal mix, any reason to go in such a different direction with that one? Did you want another sound to offer? Another thing I like about you is that you took the time to make a proper “Dub” rather then slap something together. What is the most difficult part about making a dub mix versus making a standard vocal remix?

ARNO: For us, a dub mix usually is easier because you don’t have to worry about the vocals and verses and refrains. And we wanted to offer different mixes to show what you can do with the parts. In the dub mix there are much more sounds from the original recording then you would think, it’s just that most of these sounds are not so prominent in the original version of the band. We processed a guitar sound until it sounded completely “destroyed”. To put a jazzy feel in a DM track was also something special for us.

All your mixes show how far you can take the Booka sound, which of the three do you feel best represents who you are as a band?

WALTER: Difficult, but I guess the Dub Mix. But also the playback of the full vocal could be a part of our live show.

Being fans of the band you are remixing must be rather intimidating. Was it and how do you feel about the finished mixes?

ARNO: Not really. We have much respect for the band, but we’re always trying to make the best possible remix, regardless of how known the act is.

Depeche have chosen some pretty eclectic remixers over the years, how does it feel to now be apart of such an amazing legacy?

WALTER: Of course it’s an honor, it shows that all the hard work over the years is appreciated by people.

What can we look forward to from Booka Shade in the future?

ARNO: Loads of concerts. We’ll come to The States and Canada early next year (probably you can help us promote it – ha !), as well as Australia and Asia. If things work out well we’ll bring out a digital live EP around that time. In summer we’ll play mainly festivals, in autumn if not earlier South America is scheduled.

Additionally, we work on an interesting project that combines live electronic music and silent movies, shown in a cinema. I think Laurent Garnier and Coldcut did previous shows. The next Booka album may come late 2007, depending on how the songwriting comes along. Ouch, it’ll be another busy year I feel!

It’s always nice to know that fans are remixing them, thanks for putting so much effort in the mixes, they are truly fantastic!

That’s nice to hear! Thank you.

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Interview by Glen. (C) Home. Do not steal this article without giving full credit and a link! Photos appears courtesy of Booka Shade. Booka Shade pictures by