Paul Kalbrenner, a veteran of the Berlin techno scene and widely popular in mainland Europe is hoping to bridge the gap with the U.S. market with is first headlining tour here.
Stopping at Mezzanine on December 15 to promote his latest album Guten Tag, we spoke with Kalbrenner about his career and live shows.
How did you start collecting records at age 15?
The music came through a radio show running here [in Germany] called DT64 that ran every Saturday and we recorded all of that onto cassette tapes. At one point, we wanted to have some of those songs and went shyly into one of those very underground record stores where only older people were.
Why did you decide to pursue the techno genre exclusively?
Because that was my entire socialization. I never wanted to do something else. Techno came from childhood and I just stayed there.
Do you have funny stories about your first job as TV editor?
It was a very boring job, nothing funny about it. The only funny thing was the money that I made, I could invest in my own electronic equipment. I stopped working there even before I had enough money to make the dive into the music thing.
What is different about making music in the 1990s versus today?
It’s the way of making music. The computer has revolutionized all of our lives in the way of making music, so that’s the major change. It’s what everybody was talking about: the democratization of the tools and what you make music with. Nowadays, everyone can do it. Everyone can buy a laptop and program, and start doing it.
You only perform your own music and mix live?
I only play my own songs. I’m not a DJ at all and I only play live. I have kind of an old school music studio on stage where I’m actually arranging all my songs on a 24-channel console that would only exist in a studio room. I have that up on stage, as well as drum machines and synthesizers. No one else is doing that. Even if I try to play the same songs in the same order, it can’t be like the night before.
That’s why kind of early on I realized that I don’t want to DJ records. I want to make music and go with this music on stage. I could never play live today if I had learned on a computer. Playing live, it’s like my old way of recording before computers.
Does that mean you make mistakes on stage?
Sometimes when the people realize that I have to turn down the gain or the lower mids, they realize it’s real life. Sometimes I do this on purpose so people know it’s me. Like at the big festivals, at the end of the main stage with 40,000 people, we have cameras there on the side screen.
Even if you are not really technically educated, you hear it and you at least see what is going on.
After releasing records for over 15 years, why now did you decide to have your first U.S. headlining tour?
It became so big for me here, not just Germany but in continental Europe. It’s going outside my comfort zone to get out of Munich, Rome and Paris where I’m the biggest star, with biggest fees and the best stops. I wanted to go to U.S., Australia and the UK, where that is absolutely not the case.
Can you describe your experience of playing live at Coachella?
It was way better than I expected. The organizers produced it like the best festivals in Europe. It was very organized and really good. I liked the artist village with the old trailers from the 1960s.
Have you ever visited California or San Francisco?
I was there on the Sonar tour one year ago. We played in Oakland at Fox Theater. We came from Denver and had to go to LA. I only spend like 15 hours in the city. Maybe this time around I can spend more time there.