Futurologist writer Alvin Toffler's theories were a major influence on the pioneers of Detroit techno. In fact, legendary producer Juan Atkins credits Toffler's term "techno rebels" as the inspiration for the name he gave the electronic music style that he helped create in the early '80s.
Another futurist Toffler theory is the "prosumer" -- his prediction that in the future of industrialized society, the roles of producers and consumers would begin to merge into one.
It's quite fitting then that German DJ-producer Achim Brandenburg chose Prosumer as his moniker, because he's an exemplary model of the EDM artist as both a producer of original music and a consumer of music's cultural archives.
A Prosumer DJ set is a veritable time machine trip through house and techno's past and future. It boasts the rarest classic vinyl cuts, as well as the most cutting-edge future sounds offered up by labels like Ostgut Ton and Berlin clubs like Panorama Bar, where Prosumer holds court as a resident DJ.
Crossfade caught up with Prosumer on the cusp of his Miami debut at the Electric Pickle on Friday to talk about the classic house revival, crate digging, and his message to all the record trainspotters.
Crossfade: How did you first get into electronic dance music? And what was the scene like in Germany when you were first getting into it?
Prosumer: I grew up in a small city and was born in '77, so when "Big Fun" by Inner City hit Germany in '88, the "scene" for me was me alone in my parents living room. I was spending most of my time in front of the radio as a kid, and always was drawn towards the more dancey electronic stuff. My sister still gets all worked up about me listening to "Mind Of A Toy" by Visage over and over again, and similar "new romantic" stuff. And when the first big wave of acid-infused dance music came from the UK, I was sold and started looking for more and more of that sound in record shops. It wasn't until 1994 when Hard Wax opened in Saarbrücken that I had access to a record shop specialized in house and techno.
For a city that small, I had the chance to see a lot of great DJs mid-'90s, like Chez Damier or Claude Young. I cannot really talk about the scene though, I was very introverted and therefore my first years of clubbing were me going to the club early, looking for the sweet spot of the sound system, dancing, and having very little interaction with others. I was just happy to dance to the music. It was very intense. With some records, when I hear them nowadays, I can recall the moment when I heard them for the first time in my life and how I felt then.
You're known for a very classic house and techno sound which falls in with a general nostalgia across the international scene right now. Why do you think so many producers are currently looking to the past for inspiration?
We all can look back on decades of house and techno and we know pretty well "what works" on the dancefloor. And with modern production tools it is so easy to get there. That has the potential danger of removing your soul and feelings from the production process and end up "being efficient". I like it simple and efficient, but it has to have a directness and soul to it. Somebody jamming along, unable to stand still, but dancing while making a track. Somebody being blown away with a sound they just created and not over-thinking if that works in a club, but just going for it. I think you can hear that joy and passion in tracks, and I think that is what other people are looking for as well. Of course, some are simply following a trend.
So when did you first start producing yourself? And why do you prefer analog hardware?
I started producing in 2000, I think. At that time, I was working in advertising, so spent a lot of my time in front of a computer anyways, so it was great to use hardware for a change. And I still prefer the faders and knobs of the machines to a mouse and controllers. Every machine has its character and can be stubborn. I prefer to find a compromise with a synth, to a preset that has little of me in it and that lacks the story of "getting there."
2008's Serenity with Murat Tepeli was an album that paved the way for the classic house revival that's been dominating the international scene since the turn of the decade. How did the collaboration and album come about? Will there be more Prosumer & Murat Tepeli material in the future?
Murat and I have known each other for years. We did some productions before Serenity, enjoyed working together, and both were going through similar personal experiences at that time. Looking back now, I can say that I needed to work on that album to cope, and it was a very close and personal experience to go through that time with Murat, putting our feelings into the album. I think that at one point, both of us will be going through a similar phase in life again and will work together again. Murat is incredibly talented. I am looking forward to that.
You tend to play a lot of rare and out of print vinyl cuts. Is it your intention to keep an arsenal of weapons that very few if any DJs have? Where do you normally shop for these types of records?
I am not a big fan of people taking pictures of the labels of the records a DJ plays or using their phones to identify the tracks. Somebody has put a lot of passion and work into bringing these records and playing them out to a crowd, so it is a question of respect to simply ask. If you care about a record enough to want to know what it is, share the excitement with the DJ!
For most DJs I know, it is all about sharing, you will never see me hiding a cover -- I will always happily tell you the name of a record. I am not to sure about all this "DJ XY played track AB" posting though. I play the music I love and get excited about -- that can mean a current production or an old record. If it is a rare one or not does not have any influence on whether I play it or not.
A lot of "my" classics have been repressed in the last years, and I am happy to hear other DJs play them out. I discover records that excite me constantly, so I wouldn't have the feeling of "defending my weapons". If I find the time, I go record hunting in most cities I go to. I spend a lot of time digging in second-hand shops and buy off Discogs from time to time. I don't think I play more rare and secret stuff than the average vinyl DJ who has been buying music for a while.
As a resident of Panorama Bar you are right at the epicenter of the international dance music scene. For those of us who haven't experienced the vibe there, what can you tell us about it? What makes the club so special?
I am sure you can guess that me and my fellow Panorama Bar/Berghain residents get asked that question constantly. I can only repeat myself: come with an open mind, throw yourself into the night, and be yourself. It is an experience you will have to make yourself.
"Prosumer" means a dual producer and consumer. How important do you think it is to balance music consumption -- listening and ingesting the music of others -- with producing music yourself? How much do you think the music of others informed your own?
For me, that is not really an active, conscious process when I produce -- I just find it unthinkable that after having spent so much time in my life listening to music that this is not influencing me. I cannot imagine a creative process not linked to anything but yourself. I find so much in my everyday life inspiring and I am not talking about music only. I don't sit there trying to re-create the sound of my favorite records, but I will probably be drawn towards creating the same emotions those records brought up inside of me.
There is a great song by Odyssey, "Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love" -- I believe in that, so every record I like will shape me and influence what I produce. Like I said before, it is all about sharing and if we don't let the experiences we have and feelings we get resonate in us, it would be a waste.
What have been some of the highlights of 2012 for you so far, and what can do you have in store for the rest of the year?
There was one sunday at Panorama Bar that helped me deal immensely with a personal situation, just because I felt so connected with the crowd, because we all share the same feelings. Being in Australia for the first time was amazing, and yes, I got to touch a kangaroo! I had a lot of great gigs and am happy to say that I didn't really have bad nights -- there was always something that stood out in a good way. I'm gonna play some festivals this summer with a lot of artists I am really looking forward to hear. Going to Detroit for the first time excites me a lot. And hopefully I will have my studio wired up again soon and then there is gonna be a new release.
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You're about to make your Miami debut at the Electric Pickle. What can we expect?
You can expect a nervous and excited guy with a bag of records he deeply enjoys. Of course, I spent some thought on it already, but what i will actually bring for my tour, I will decide a few hours before I get on the plane. It is always a tough choice to make. I guess you will get to hear some aspects of the music I love, maybe the full range. Let's see where that night takes us together. I am looking forward to it a lot.
Prosumer with Will Renuart and friends. Friday, May 11. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.