“Beat presently imposes itself as the martial law controlling all expression. Music is now only music if legitimized by Beat. And the dancehall represents society under disco lockdown", journalist Biba Kopf wrote those words nearly twenty years ago. His was a comment on his peers - the vast ocean of influences of early minimalist pioneers like Cabaret Voltaire, Non, and Can - being buried by the rising tide of techno music - a descendent clearly rooted in the same common history - but one overtly intent on replacement. At the same time, it was also an essay to the future, to those born after punk, to those in a country that they have seen both united and divided, and to those musicians who have brought Kraftwerk's idea of a man-machine to life - a future where "disco lockdown" didn't look as much like imprisonment as it did freedom.
Marcel Dettmann is one such case, his heritage traceable back to the accumulated grime under his fingernails caused by old industrial records long ago consigned to the dustbin of time. Much has been said of Dettmann and his legendary sets at his residency in Berlin at the techno Mecca Berghain. It seems that he's taken over the role Sasha once occupied, the DJ matinee idol that can even make the boys swoon. Hype aside, the guy came of age in a time when club culture became the center of German youth culture and no other contemporary DJs or producer have expressed that shift better.
His latest release is his debut album for Ostgut Ton, the dark, minimal techno label with which he is synonymous. It's entitled Dettmann and at first the title seems like it could a testament to one man's ego and fascination with his own brand but I Voice cuts through that mystique to capture a pretty normal dude, one who likes his job, loves music, and has the laser focus to be a successful DJ and producer. So many others have the first two qualities but only a rare few have all three, Dettmann is one, and his latest expresses the thoughts and ideas of author Biba Kopf so very well, but re-conceptualized in typical techno fashion so that it is a celebration of a minimal aesthetic that runs counter to the excess that has marked the past decade in music.
There is a sense of restraint on your album, was it hard shifting focus from being a DJ who plays tracks into a producer interested in dynamic, flow, and listener response for a proper album?
To be honest it was a really welcomed change of pace. On the weekends I was a DJ playing all different kind of records and during the week I was concentrating on my personal concept for the album.
How long did this album take to make? There is a sense many of the tracks are unhurried and allowed to fully mature. Did you fool us and just push a button or were many hours spent laboring on it?
The production of the album took approximately one year. Haha I didn't fool you at all. It was my conscious intension to create tracks which give the listener a projection screen and leaves much open to interpretation.
How much of this album is indicative of what you would play in a DJ set at Berghain and did you try out anything on here that wouldn't work at the club?
In principle there is no record which can't be played in a club. You just need the right moment for it. Regarding my DJ sets at Berghain there are definitely musical elements, which you can find in my album tracks but I didn't do it consciously, rather subliminally.
This album has some of the most beautiful melodies in recent techno history, they are so brief and austere, almost old school industrial sounding. Give us a little behind the scenes tour and tell us about the process and some of the influences you used to make some of the more memorable tracks on here.
Happy to hear that - thanks! Whatever I do it has to be real. I'm permanently caught in a crossfire of influences ... That's life. Lots of these different influences are reflected in my tracks.
How does one achieve depth in an age when just about anyone armed with a laptop and software can make a track? There seems to be so much cold, emotionless in the marketplace. Where do you find your inspiration to make music that has meaning and depth?
My inspiration is my personal claim.
In all of your interviews, you seem to genuinely enjoy your job, so many DJs at this level don't seem to, how do you keep things fresh and challenging after all of these years? Is it really all about the music?
Yes it's all about the music. Sharing music with other people is a great feeling. And every weekend it's like a present you get and don't know what's in it.
What kind of tour do you have planned in promotion of the album and what else can we expect from you in the coming months to support it?
To promote my album I'll go on tour to USA, Australia, South America and Europe. Besides that I'll release some new tracks from different artists on my label MDR.