If you haven’t already listened to Melodic Techno virtuoso Kölsch‘s Tomorrowland set, you have a goldmine to dig into. The several unreleased IDs sown along with classics like “All that Matters” and “Loreley” came together to make an hour we’re glad was recorded in high quality. This Saturday, you can catch him at Exchange LA with support from Partik Khach. We talked with him ahead of his set.
What were some of the best moments from your set at Grand Park that made you want to come back to LA?
All in all I think it was probably the first show in LA where I thought “okay, Techno has finally arrived here” in the sense that it was so big. It was a huge event, the sound was so good and people were way into it. I’ve played there many times before and I’m not going to say it’s been a struggle, but it’s been a bit challenging at times to figure out what people are into.
There’s been a lot of post-EDM things going on— I think for a while people were figuring out what’s the sound that people were getting into after the large EDM festivals kind of tanked many years ago. There was a bit of a wasteland inbetween. This event is where I was like “alright, it’s finally happening.” It made me so happy to see the crowd was finally embracing the music and really understanding what it was.
I’m not saying Techno left America, we all know where it came from: Detroit. But it’s good to see appreciation grow for it in a sense.
That wasteland analogy really clicks because after a while you had a lot of adjective-like labels slapped on to commonly stated genres.. like “Organic House,” for example. Do you feel like a lot of that was going on at the time? What are your thoughts on that?
Labeling has always been an amazing exercise in the UK where the’y invent new genres every afternoon. To be honest with you I’m not even sure what “Organic House” is. (laughs)
Whoops! I would say as an example, people might call a lot of stuff that’s on All Day I Dream “Organic House.” I think the general thing with it is sounds that don’t sound processed, I suppose?
Ah I get it! So it’s slower…I guess it’s more of a burner vibe in a sense, also I guess it embraces some things thats softer than usual. In Europe we’d call that Deep House or something!
I think most well adjusted adults might probably call it that too. (Laughs)
It’s weird because I’d say genre definitions also change over the years. Whereas Tech House was a bridge between Techno and House music in the early 2000’s. It was closely related to say Progressive or Melodic Techno or whatever. Now it’s full on “Bro House” somehow, right? So I think definitions of what genres are— the mutate a lot it seems. It’s fascinating to me. But you know, either way…I don’t care what you call it. As long as you enjoy the music I’m happy. For me there’s only two genes: good and bad. That’s it.
I don’t take any offense to someone “mislabeling” or whatever…I understand the impulse people would have to identify something particularly, especially if it’s very specific…but I guess there are other ways to do that: by just playing the music.
How do you prepare for a more intimate set at a club vs a big venue?
Honestly, it’s kind of a relief in a sense to be back in club territory because my whole summer has been only festivals and Ibiza, which is basically festivals because places like Ushuaia is 50,000 people, same kind of vibe. So I’ve been looking forward to coming into smaller venues and playing a little bit slower and maybe a little more melodic and taking some chances which is what I really enjoy doing. There’s a whole spectrum of tastes that I have.
I can play a lot of different kinds of music but I feel these days especially, playing big stages, the energy level is quite intense. At times the challenge has been “what can I get away with?” There’s not a lot of room for experimentation in a big stage. Especially because you need to respect that there need to be a certain level of impact to what you need to play. So I’m really looking forward to playing a smaller club again…it’s been a while.
I’m sure you factor in who’s playing before and after you, so a club can be more…I don’t want to say “controlled,” but it’s more predictable. You’re not potentially playing for someone who could be the polar opposite of your sound, am I in the right territory there?
Absolutely, I mean a lot of times I’ll spend the first 20-30 minutes setting up again after a different act. Obviously not big festivals it can be challenging if the act before you is playing really hard or in whichever case you define it. It takes at least 20 minutes for people to understand what you’re doing and if you have an hour set its already over before you’re even warmed up.
I really enjoy setting the mood myself, in all honestly. I think an important part of a good experience in a club isn’t so much what music is being played but more that the mood is being respected, there’s a certain development going on, and you can follow a path from beginning to end which then will lead you somewhere.
How have you seen your production style evolve over the years?
I think I’m just trying not to repeat myself, pretty much. I think all artists are trying not to repeat themselves all that much. At times I guess we’re only equipped with the ears that we have and some sounds or some notes will appeal to me more than others, so in many senses I will end up using similar sounds. But I’m really not trying to do the same thing twice, if possible of course.
I guess technically I’d say my sound has probably improved over the years, at least I hope so. I think there’s a lot of time going into development and mixing and also trying to minimize a little bit more. There was a time earlier in my career where I would just pile on stuff, because I thought it sounded good.
Over the last couple of years it’s gone the opposite way: I’m really just trying to get to the point without using too many elements because I feel that it sounds better in the clubs, but also the emotional content gets translated better without being too complex, if that makes any sense.
It does! So have you honed in on any specific synths or drum kits that you may have made your signature? This is very much the “favorite children” question, but…do you have them?
I have a few actually. I still love the Korg M1. I still use Sylenth a lot, mainly because I know it so well. One of my favorite synths Is this weird German handbuilt synth I bought many years ago.
Yeah! It was like a kit they send out that you build yourself and they all sound a little different and weird. It’s called a “Simplisizer.” It’s always out of tune, and to be honest I’m still not exactly sure how it works but it sounds great! (Laughs)
That’s the best!
You know, it’s not so much the synths and such, I think the challenge comes from trying to extract things out of sounds that no-one really uses. A lot of times I’ll create a main melody with let’s say…a demo synth and then I’ll replace it with something different down the line.
Let’s say for instance, I have something re-played by an instrumentalist or I’ll try to find a sample that’s suitable. Or even better: I’ll have an orchestra replay something and just pick parts that work in the setting. I feel that a lot of times synths are lovely but they can be limited. Pretty much all synths do the same thing. It’s very easy to make all synths sound similar. So a lot of times I find it interesting to replace them altogether with a sample that fits the same space but maybe not sound as artificial. That being said I do love a good synthline. (laughs)
Sounds good to me! Seems like you’re balancing your science projects with other types of common sounds that people regularly enjoy.
I have this weird obsession lately trying to make records without hi-hats, like trying to find sounds and effects that fit within the same sonic frequency without being hi-hats— its’s not working out yet but I’m having fun trying! (Laughs)
I saw on Instagram you have some walkthroughs on Ableton, any plans to make more of those?
Actually the Instagram thing was just edits I was making for the DJ sets. I’ve been asked to do Masterclasses and such but-.. I feel that it’s a bit shitty to share knowledge and be paid for it in such a weird way. I’d rather just hand out some advice whenever I can. Also, I think one thing that’s important for me is that I don’t want my feedback to force anybody sound like what I think they should sound like. An artist is a process and you have to find their own way.
I noticed that your Tomorrowland set had a few IDs; anything you can share? I noticed you mashed up an ID with “In For the Kill” by La Roux?
[That’s] a remix I made; I was working on an instrumental and I figured the vocal fit over very nicely. I love the original, it’s just such a classic record and I figured that would be a great thing to play at Tomorrowland. Weirdly enough not many people knew it, it was quite funny!
I tried to play at least a few classics or add a historical perspective. I mean I don’t want to sound like a librarian or something, but I think it has impotence to a certain extent. That said, I think I played the Dance With Me remix as well, the collaboration with Kevin De Vries. There’s also my next single on Kompact that I’m currently working on finishing. The beauty of playing out demos is that they probably will change over the course of the next six months. I love that music is ever-changing- until it gets released of course, then it’s done. and at times people will say “Oh I liked that version better” and I’m like “well that’s too bad then, it doesn’t exist anymore!” (Laughs)
When was the point when you felt confident enough to play out your own works in progress in any live context?
It comes from a long tradition of dubplating back in the day. I’d go to London and play dubplates that are all my own productions so I could test them out, so it’s something I’ve always done. I’m not sure when I consciously decided to do it and if it was a particular reason to it, but I figured it would be a good way to test out if things worked. As long as you can get the volume and mastering right— well, test mastering.. I’m not a mastering engineer or anything— than I think you should do it. I mean what’s the worse thing that can happen?
Any big upcoming news you’d like to share with your fans?
I’m working on my new album for next year. Still early stages, not at all in the title [process] yet. It’s a slow process mostly because of touring, I had to get used to that again. There should be a collaboration release with Kevin De Vreis early next year at the latest. And then there’s a lot of stuff still happening: still working on the Joris Voorn Collab, the Tim Engelhardt collab…so much stuff still in development that I’ve been postponing for years because we haven’t got it right yet. But the beauty of running my own label is I can release it when it want to. (Laughs)
Catch Kölsch on tour at Exchange LA this Friday. He’s got plenty of other stops all month, too.