Our Friend Mandy Mozart (co-owner and artist of net-label Shalom Salon) sat down with Robot Koch to discuss music and everything around it. Take your time with it. This is truly great and highly interessting.
Interview on the occasion of Robot Koch’s (Jahcoozi, Project Mooncircle) concert at Chopywood (Kassablanca, Jena) Support by Metaboman (Krause Duo 2, Musik Krause) Robot Koch was interviewed by Mandy Mozart on November 4th, 2011 Chopywood invited me back in Weimar.
I jumped into the car and raced over to Jena to see, what was going to be the most promising act in ages for myself. The last time I was equally excited was when I went to a Banana Clan party in Hoxton. Some time before the interview I was sitting at Metaboman’s quarters, huge spliff and DJ Soulphiction to my right hand, DJ Legeré (Finedrehstar) who was giving directions where to find them records with the WOBBEL to my left. It hasn’t been the first time that this constellation showed me one of East Germany’s finest music events ever. Jena has been known for good music since the 90s, just for all of those, that only remember the city of Jena from the cold war, making spyglasses to sneak a peak under your capitalist girlfriend’s way-to-short mini skirt.
Only problem was, I had this “being stoned dilemma” and was kind of wetting my pants. It was hard to not wobble and tremble! I went up the tower and was looking for Robert, who was sitting at a table surrounded by a platoon of folks, trying to convince him for the interview. They must have eaten cauliflower as far as I could smellvestigate (sic).
We went through the club to the back of the stage, an area some call backstage, a few chocolate snacks and let’s go! The first time a friend made me listen to Death Star Droid last fall I was surprised to hear such sounds out of Germany. Sweetness, I was thinking and he kept posting me about your stuff.
You listened to it last fall? Rad! It seems like a lot of people discover the album just now. I am still playing those tracks and I love the album, but it is almost 3 years old to me. And now you are saying you discovered it last year — That’s rad! It’s not just you, but people keep saying that. Because of that, the Internet is a positive place — the music does not disappear easily.
The second time I caught some of your music was on the Ipod of a 24 years old girl in Turkey. Now, you are kidding me! And I was thinking, maybe it’s because your music is primarily beat music and communicates well to the outside [of Germany] and because you play a lot of live shows.
Well, this might be an additional aspect of that, but on the other side playing live is always related to supply and demand. You know people ask me to play gigs and I never played in Turkey. I am happy that my music is present there as well. On the other hand, Russia and East-Europe — That’s a gigantic market. I noticed this on Google Analytics for my blog Robotsdontsleep.com, where I am having beastly (sic) [pardon, but the intense use of the German expression tierisch made we want to introduce a literate translation] visits from Eastern Europe. Russia — insane amount of hits! Again, from America as well, that’s another huge market for me. Germany is good of course, but not like the others. I think you can agree on this with me looking at your own experience on your blog, right?
I’d say yes for now. Why is there this thing about Russia?
I got to add, it is not associated with sales, though. I talked with Gordon from the PMC label about this. They got a few Russians like Logan and Pavel Dovgal contracted. There is just no tradition to buy music. All of the illegal server are located in Russia as well.
Maybe that`s a chance aswell?
Yes, but on the other side an chance for what? Nowadays a record is just a reason to play live. Well, also for press because you get discovered when you are happening on blogs and in magazines. It is in the very own interest of the musician, or myself in particular to communicate about the music I am making. On the other side, I am also making a living out of my music, but not only through my personal projects. As a producer I have a fair variety of projects and do many different things. If I’d focus only on Robot Koch, I could not be as free as I am right now.
You are able to flip into different roles?
No, it’s rather about not being forced to live of it. Because it is one of the many legs I have. [Robot “Caterpillar” Koch?] It’s not like I have to force it, even when it comes to performing. The Situation is like this right now: I stepped back from the Jahcoozi live band, because it was getting way too much, and I had requests about my own Ting, which was slowly accelerating. Even though the Album was released only in 2009, the first bookings where coming in. Probably due to posts on different blogs. Since I also continued to play for Jahcoozi and was active as a Producer for other folks, I came to a point where I was like: “Dude, I am not keeping up with the pace, I need a break.” So I quit Jahcoozi — well, not exactly, but the live thing I am still their producer.
The Thing about the live thing is, that you got to gig permanently and as we can see right now, the tight schedule is terror indeed. Isn’t it?
Yes, I just wanted to mention, that I also cancel a lot of gigs all the time. That’s what I meant speaking of taking-out-the-pressure. I don’t have to play to pay my rent and keep the fun that way. I am not slaving down the tour dates and take anything that comes in. I really reject of lot of requests and to not wear myself out to total exhaustion or for plain Money-Making.
Just recently, I came across two entertaining examples. The first one was the Austrian classical percussionist Martin Grubinger(http://oe1.orf.at/artikel/284472) …
Classical percussionist? [laughter]
Yes, he plays percussions, is 28 years of age and have a gigantic repertoire of orchestra music. But he plays as fast as possible. 600,000 hits in four hour concerts marthons. He also has adopted a special fitness programme to …
Do you want to compare me with this guy? [harder laughter]
No, I am asking because of the frequency, since he is playing up to 300 gigs a year on this high level of stress. Vadim as well, he’s also playing up to 270 gig-a-hertz-years.
Yes, we had a similar pace with Jahcoozi. Also almost more than 250 gigs. It’s like that. You return home, put your belongings into some corner and without even unpacking grab them again and leave. You are not getting anything done anymore — nothing creative at least. You know what is most important to me? I love to be outside, play live and meet people. But the most interesting thing for me is to flash new idea in the studio, from zero to something.
The reproduction of a live show is also creative in a way. You play with the audience. There is not one gig like the other. It’s always a bit different, even though there is a certain routine as well — like waiting in backstage rooms, etc. You know, you arrive somewhere. Usually it’s early morning or you have to wait till two o’clock for your set — I stopped boozing because of that. Normally, due to the boredom I would hold my fourth beer in hands, meaning I would be wasted around two. Do you get my point? Exactly, this frequency.
How about right now? I reckon you are trying to go by some kind of balance? You are producing a crazy lot, like your new album, and you are out again playing gigs the entire time.
Gigs are coming in all the time, but as you already said precisely, I try to find a balance to not kill myself, even since I probably could right now. The album is released and I could tell myself to rock a mega tour schedule. That’s not my aim. I rather try to choose. Today this show here, tomorrow with Code9 in Vienna, and than the Project Mooncircle Showcase. But for example, I turned down a gig in Thailand, which is totally insane, since everybody must ask me now if I am retarded or something.
What kind of techniques are you using to recall a long-term programme/live-set? To express the mood of the project in a live situation. I am interested, since I researched a lot on the usage of presets. I am also interested in what somebody defines inside of the machine, and that this is already some kind of collective understanding one can use as a method.
I do not quite get it. Are you talking about the technical aspect or my way of working with it?
Alright, you are ‘Robot’. What are your machines doing for you in that project and how is your relation towards them when you perform music? — The technical aspect of handling technology. That is my point. You once noted in an interview, that your origin is drums and you build your music on that. There as well, you got a machine, one has to learn to handle his tool.
I didn’t learn it. I mean, the drums of course. Also I was taking piano classes, but producing I learned completely by myself in a sense of exploring. I work with Ableton Live since version 1.0 (2003), but I am not a nerd to be honest. For me machines are tools, that I explore with a naive approach. Just before, I discovered the leatherman of that technician fellow with wide open children’s eyes. All them little knifes and scisors — that’s how I approach music. That’s the way I am standing behind my synths — I love analog synthesizers, because they do chaotic things.
Heating up the oscilators! [yearning]
Yes! Things like that, simply chaos. I love the moment when you don’t know what is happening.
Is that also working in Ableton?
Honestly, I am using Ableton just as a sequencer for arranging and cutting. I not the somebody doing a lot of tinkery audio slicing and fiddling. All the audio material comes from somewhere. Most of the time I do like half an hour sessions behind my synth, twisting knobs, and recording the whole time. Afterwards I have a huge audio sausage (sic) [Germany, you nation of sausages]. In Ableton I am picking interesting moments and cut them out. So to speak, Ableton is the environment, but the sounds originate all from different places. Most of them are from analog sound generators.
You mean, you could imagine to arrange your sound on a MPC as well?
I do not come from the MPC, even though I am drummer and one could think beating those pads would be natural to me. On the contrary, I came from drumming, through spinning to producing. I was mixing vinyl in a classical sense, where the selection was more important to me. It’s the same in my recent sets. Back in the days I liked those DJ’s the most, that played a beastly (sic) selection. Those that created a journey, a dynamic, or just a set that was: WOW. I was not interested in crazy mixing or beat juggling. Scratching, cutting, all those technical aspects. That stuff is more like people fixing cars. Also talking shop about fuel injection catalyser, and what you shall call it, no idea. [laughter about his crazy declination of words] I wanted to touch people with a selection. It is like in a movie, which creates a mood, where you can’t really pin point what it is all about — the camera, the effects, or the lighting. It comes down to this, something you can name what touches you.
The Unconscious, exactly. That excited me the most and I wanted to create that myself.
Through the machine, since it’s confusing you?
Yes, in a way it is also about being lucky to be there when the synth is doing something absurd. And you are like, rad! I am recording at this happy moment, you know, I am taping right now!
Yes, but you influence the moment. You twist, you do, and so on. Of course I know what a LFO and a Cut-Off are doing, but maybe not in a detailed technical sense, that I would be taking apart my synth and repair it or even make my own. I got friends, that are real technicians, just like those boys with oil in their faces under cars. They take their synths to pieces, but love that almost more than doing music. I am not that kind of guy. The machine has to be there. It has got to do its thing and I have to be able to interact. I called it “intimacy with machines” once in an interview. You are building a relationship with that synth in a single room. He/she/it has its own sense of life. You are approaching it with whatever drives you that very moment, and the two of you connect. Sounds strange, but that’s how I feel about it.
I saw the video of your record release party where you were playing together with a cello player. Are you doing stuff like this often? I mean, that you play with other musicians on your own sets and arrangements?
I love doing that. It is a matter of the budget to that keeps me from doing that kind of thing everywhere. For a cello you need to book an additional seat on the airplane. That’s where the dilemma starts. Maybe a show like this would do, but than again the budget is not big enought to come with 3 people.
Isn’t it a sound problem aswell to play with acoustic instruments in a club?
Well, “Panke” [in Berlin] wasn’t much bigger or better [than tower stage in Kassablanca]. [beep-beep, beep-beep, CASIO watch fires of alarm] Oh! Are we over the time?
No, no! It’s always beeping 12 o’clock. I want to groove in with machines.
Yes, to answer the question briefly, I like to play with other people. For the release I was thinking how to do something I am not usually doing. And to re-interpretate my album songs. I wanted to flash those people that knew the snippet mix, maybe once again with a cello version where Sneaky (Fingathing, Ninja Tunes) is playing the baseline. Also things like live strings on “Hard to find” are just great stories. People respect that and I also like to be surprised with new things myself — Redefining old songs once again.
When I heard your sound for the first time, it wasn’t exactly like you tried to explain earlier to me. That you are using an unconscious approach, but I was thinking it is rather precise, accurate and mannerist in a way.
It is all true what you are saying. When I am standing in front of the synth, I am really accurate and aiming for perfectionism in terms of the sound, but finding those ideas is always a total chaos. It is like to spray around with paint and discover something, a pattern for example, which you investigate on a microscopic scale once more — like with a scalpel.
You are not doing this live, right?
No, this would be totally boring. Let me tell you honestly. I had a live set where I check out something really sophisticated for my standards, but that was totally boring for the people. You are totally concentrated behind the PC. Every little move, every clip, every sound you trigger has total impact. Everything has to be on time and it’s full concentration to the point where I was thinking that I lost contact with the audience. I play for myself. I tried that two or three times and told myself, you got to change your live set, because I remembered how it was when I was DJing. How fun was it to just rock the tunes, get into contact with the crowd, and feel the energy together.
It is more of a social function.
Totally, that’s the way I approach my live set. I totally simplified it. I know my ques, am totally flexible in a way that I can say I am extremely free within my live sets. I can always tell from where it comes from and where it goes to. I am inside a structure. That sound goes here, that goes there, but I don’t have thousands of sophisticated clips. It is more a mix between DJ and Live-Set with the action of feeling the fat moment — more like a DJ.
Nice that you mention this, since DJ’s have a huge presence in our music market. I see only little chances for live musicians to play clubs the same size, since the expectations are up like that. Do you believe the live project of Robot Koch has the ability to compete or what kind of position do you see yourself in? In easy words, can you get gigs?
The unskilled would say, it rather looks like a DJ set. As a matter of fact the pieces itself are to a high percentage of my very own stuff. Every once in a while I drop in some tunes by somebody else, or I play a remix somebody did or I did for somebody else, but it is always the deconstruction/construction of my own pieces. But somebody present at the performance will definitely say — cool set! Therefor I would say, yes. I am a one-man-show and it is live since I am there transporting the energy. For my new album for example, where I am partly aiming to play live with vocals and cello, than I really want to do it. I wish to always get outside of the club context, but honestly, it is easier said than done.
I would have thought it is more difficult to get in there?
From the experience of being on tour with Jahcoozi, it is not difficult to get booked in the clubs. It’s rather more difficult to find a stage where you can bring cello or vocals. Maybe not just during the clubs prime time, but concertante. I believe this to be some good distraction, since I have been on tour every weekend since 2001 with Jahcoozi. The whole time in clubs. I don’t want to say, I am weary of that, since it is still hot and I am totally into this energy that develops there. But I also like and go to concerts myself. My musical interests are broad and I like to go to Post-Rock, Jazz, and whatever concerts. I also enjoy sitting in Volksbühne and see something there. I always think, it would be nice to present my songs in this way, but there is no demand, yet. I am rooted in the heads of the people. If there would be an environment I could perform my entire album live on a stage — concertante! One could also say, you got to create that yourself…
Yes, but sometimes you don’t have to concern yourself as a musician with that, cause it’s very stressful.
Yes, you cannot stress it too much. I can only offer that there are two versions of my show and I hope that some festival is going to use that, and they book a cello player with cello and fly him/her in as well. If it’s not the case, I will simply continue performing alone. Which is fine with me, too!
Reading our own blog I kind of looked at you from the beat farmer [lit. translation German slang Beat Bauer] perspective. My interpretation is that this scene swapped over from America at first, That scene now developed to a global community where key players cross path quickly. You also played or released at Low End Theory? Pardon my not so solid understanding of the matter.
No, Low End Theory is a series of events where I also performed. It is strongly connected to Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, and all those other folks hanging out there. It is a hang-out, where they meet every Wednesday night and invite other artists. Because of that I am rooted [in the beat maker scene] a little as well. I also did a mixtape for Brainfeeder three years ago, when Flying Lotus asked me if I would like to do that. That also helped putting me on the screen within that scene. Of course I got my roots in the beat-maker scene. I also played with Dibiase and Madlib in San Francisco, so somehow it is undeniable. I play co-responding support show, respectively co-headliner shows, but I don’t see myself only in there. The new record is stating me as somebody working with vocals and being a little more calm and that I do not only see myself as a beat-maker.
Are you seeing an opportunity to play live music in those beat showcases?
I never did myself. Even though I played at that Finest Ego event I never actually participated in those beat-battles.
They have beat-battles? What’s a beat-battle supossed to be?
It’s pretty much like those turn-tablism championships, where one beat-maker meets the other and the audience votes. You have three rounds, and the winner will win a Native Instruments machine, or something like that. Those events are quite popular. Satta Outside did that as well. It is cool for young kids. For those who are out as newcomers it seems to be a cool thing, definitely. I totally respect and admire the entire beat-maker thing, got a lot of connections to that, but again, I am not only there. Because Low End Theory said, “one of Europe’s finest beat-makers” I am put into this category. I mean I have been there, but I also did music before there was this hype and even if that beat-maker thing is over one day I still feel entitled to be doing music. I don’t feel entirely comfortable to associate myself with certain things, too much.
I am always a bit caught in the middle. You see, I am nobody keeping the flag flying for anything in particular. There are many things in that direction, but as well as the same amount of trash. I know you are also doing beat tapes, but there are definitely way to many people releasing plain quantity. I am asking myself, why would you want to make a beat tape with 40 beats? I do not have the time to listen to all of that. Why not just reduce and pick for killer tracks. It even feels like being spammed with all that quantity.
A little like the techno scene, where you produce quantity to keep the night going on forever. [yihaaaa, disco!]
Yes, of course. There is plenty of mediocrity. I do not want to hate against anybody, but I believe many people where thinking that beat-making could be their chance, since they owned a MPC and were doing Hip Hop for years. They say, I am a beat-maker! I am doing a beat-tape, now! I do not want to diss anybody, but that’s where it’s from. Because it got popular with the scene`s posterboys Brainfeeder and Flying Lotus, a lot of stuff is coming up as well, that I listen to and it all sounds the same and I am getting bored.
What do you think about people like Nosaj Thing, who also comes out of a beat farming (sic) kind of thing, but is building serious scapes that tell stories and where he starts to put in visuals as well.
Yes, I believe its great. I think Nosaj is hot. In the past I already featured him on my mixtapes before he was getting bigger. To stay with that example for a while, there is beastly (sic) good people. The people that come to mind at first all deserve to be known, but there is also plenty of people that do not deserve to be unknown on the other hand as well. It is not fair sometimes how this hype focuses on a few individuals and tones of talented people are not even recognized. On the other hand, there are plenty that just sound the same. I am missing innovation = In the sound of a few, not all. Not hating, but I just got that feeling sometimes.
Uncomfortable silence enters the room. Metaboman is playing some synth scape in the background, that he probably found on some 80s Japanese Peter and the Wolf remake. The audience is whispering on the quiet, about what the hell was going on, for quite some time that night and after.
Ok, now we got to bring this to the end!
I hope that was not the final words, now!
We have to go through all kinds of moods.
That was definitely the low phase.
Our own Low End Theory is over now.
But, no! I think you understood me right!
Yes, of course. So we finally sorted out the mess. Do you want to use this final opportunity to say something?
To say something?
Yes, because I am aware of the beat-maker scene definition through self-publishing.
I hope I won’t be branded as a traitor. [also denigrator for German Nestbeschmutzer]
The guys at Tokio Dawn started out as a open source label, and build on this kind of philosophy. “We take our own shit and pump it out the people.” Against all majors, against copyrights in general! By that they somehow gained their status. To what extend is this “self-pushing” relevant for yourself? I am asking, since blogs like yours and ours are some kind of self-made portals.
That is totally important. I find it mega (sic) important, and I think that is the big chance of the music industry at the moment — that everything, the established structure, collapses. That records do not sell as good as before, that other things are more important that the actual music making, etc, etc. Self-promotion on the other hand does not come free of dangers, and that’s exactly what I meant with overwellming quantity that comes around as well. Everybody is performing self-marketing.
Yes, it is mostly about, who has more followers, who tweets the most information like check my new this, check my new that. I believe that is what killed Myspace. At some point people were just talking and nobody was listening anymore. Nobody checked out the music of the others, but instead shit on their comments bar and said, check my new EP in a way like spamming.
That kind of thing seems to be working at Soundcloud. There is almost no spam.
Even in Facebook it is fairly human. Not everybody is bothering you. A certain ethic code developed, since people realised what went totally wrong at Myspace. To come back to our original question. It bare a lot of potential, and I believe it to be absolutely democratic and great that you do not need at big fat label to be heard. It has the danger that people might end up standing around with megaphones and you will not be heard anymore, because everybody is shouting “Me! Me! Me!”. But it is this kind of field at the moment, and an artist, who is not the kind of persona that always wants to shout “Me! Me! Me!”, also exists within that field. That is not my human nature. I am maybe more reserved. Nevertheless, I am using it, because I would be foolish not to, or pretending to be introverted and not tell anything about what I am doing. Of course, yes! I also got my Facebook account, my twitter account, my blog and I am using that and think it is hot. But I am also trying to develop a personal relation, that does not make me over the top believing or addicted.
One can still play music, even if the Internet might break down?
Of course, one can still be happy with out one million followers. A lot of people exist in this world and define their own value on how much blog entries they got, how many Hypemachine entries, how many followers … It becomes some kind of statistic scale that has nothing to do with quality, because what does it matter to hit like somewhere? It is something you do without thinking about it in-depth. I value personal feedback most and for that the Internet is perfect. For example, I am getting a mail from somebody out of some village. What am I saying, maybe it is a fairly large town, somewhere in California.
A city that I never heard of — not San Francisco or L.A. Inside the mail the guy writes about how he was touched by the record and how it opened his head or whatever. A honestly true Mail — and I am thinking to myself, Boah!, that is exactly the reason for me to make music. Because you are inspired, get touched, and that is the greatest, to really get this kind of feedback. That is the process, because I am also inspired by things, by music. I grew up and was flashed (sic) by music — I still am flashed by music, by movies, by art, by whatever, by the weather. That is all input that I digest and give back into my output and once this output is creating input for other people the thing becomes a great cycle.
Some kind of machine system — Input/Output?
Yes, but it is also some kind of bio system, it is very natural — the cycle of life. And that is the most important thing for me about it. That is why I use self-promotion. To let the music fly that it may get somewhere. Therefore it is super and I also celebrate it, but not for the cause of self-celebration.
I understand you and I thank you very much for the interview.
Sorry, but I must have twisted that up like three times, now.
No, I found that absolutely great, since you gave the answer, without me even asking an actual question and we were able to talk about it. Thank you thousandfold.
Originally published at www.rapohnelizenz.com on September 9, 2015.