Interview: Patrice Bäumel
Known for his past residencies at the legendary Club 11 and Trouw, Patrice Bäumel has since become an internationally renowned DJ and producer. He’s a true stalwart of the Amsterdam scene – with a deep understanding and interpretation of what it means to live in such a beautiful city.
Patrice Bäumel occupies a highly distinctive and less-trodden niche in electronic music. He operates at the intersection of the emotive and the technical; his keen ear for melody and drama working in tandem with intricate sound design and experimental templates. While you could loosely label him as a ‘techno’ artist, his love of ambient, electronica and thereabouts are just as crucial to his musical identity as any sense of dance floor machination might be.
He has proved himself to be a formidable producer with releases on Kompakt, !K7, Get Physical, My Favorite Robot and Systematic as well as his acclaimed debut album “Vapour”. His skill in crafting intricate, often conceptual mixes, while frequently weaving in unusual field recordings and otherworldly speech samples is his trademark. To illustrate just that, he joins the Balance Presents cannon, alongside artists such as Guy J, Kölsch, Fur Coat and jozif in the series of one-disc mix compilations, while following recent double-disc releases from Magda and Stacey Pullen.
The result is a mix that blends and contrasts the soaring melodies of M83 and ethereal magic of Nils Frahm with the guttural throb of Plastikman, and the glistening highs of Max Cooper with the dark lows of FKA Twigs. The mix also features exclusive new productions from Bäumel himself. We had a chance to open a very interesting dialogue with Bäumel – discussing everything from his upbringing from Dresden, experience at Trouw, his artistic process, his new quarterly residency and Midnight Sun event at De Marktkantine, and more.
“That tolerant, open attitude still rewards me every day of my life.”
You’re originally from Dresden – before “the wall”. What made you come to Amsterdam?
I was hungry to get out into the world and leave the provinciality and limitations of my hometown behind. Dresden at that time was going nowhere. Unemployment, right wing street violence and a general depression caused by the disillusionment of unfulfilled promises after the wall came down made Dresden a pretty unfriendly place to be at the time. Coming to Amsterdam was like someone drew open the curtains and let the sun in. It was such a colorful, positive and fast-moving place, I could smell opportunity everywhere. The move was not even music-related, I just wanted a better life.
In your early years, seems you were exposed to situations that would be polar opposites (e.g. being shy and emerging as more outgoing, moving from Dresden to Utah and back). Do you present your music as a journey through these types of experiences?
When I make music my motives are never planned but always subconscious. Whatever I have gone through in my life will find its way back into what I do. As far back as I can remember I was dreaming about the future, hardly ever looking back. That is what has always fascinated me about techno – in its best form it is future music. I try to put something futuristic into my sets and productions. Any kind of old school revival never interested me at all. Look at techno’s founding fathers – Kraftwerk, Juan Atkins. These guys are science fiction, not stalwarts of tradition.
But to get back to your question, I was extremely shy as a teenager. My parents had to actively push me to go out more and meet people, I was so insecure. I think part of that still remains – I have learned to be around people but deep down inside I am a loner and enjoy my solitude. Going to America for a year as an exchange student really helped me to grow up in many ways. It taught me to take initiative in life, to follow my own dreams and emancipate myself from my parents. Living in a small town in deeply religious Utah made me realise that I could adapt to a completely different life and still be happy. I had to overcome my loneliness and learn to make new friends and accept people the way they are. That tolerant, open attitude still rewards me every day of my life.
You were a long-running resident at Trouw – which booked artists spread across a wide range of genres. Typically, genre-spanning artists tend to receive less audience appeal because it is too deviant from ‘specialists’ – yet you have managed to show the opposite. What motivated you stick to such a genre spanning approach?
I don’t feel I have been a hyped artist at any point of my career. Every bit of growth has been slow and gradual. I have talked about this with my friend Nuno dos Santos many times – his career has followed a very similar trajectory. While others went from 0 to 100 in a few months, we have been able to make a living in this industry for a long time. We have seen many artists come and go. Hot today, gone tomorrow. It wasn’t a tactical career choice to embrace a lot of different genres, we just followed what we loved and disregarded trends and fads. For me personally, my choice of music is actually very consistent, from my perspective it doesn’t feel eclectic at all. I am always looking for the contrast of futuristic, machine-like sounds and warm, human elements. Maybe I should call the genre “cyber-organic techno” and market the shit out of it.
The last track you played at the Trouw closing party was your club edit of Talking Head’s – ‘This Must Be The Place.’ Seems you enjoy using the elements of these classic electronica pop tracks as if instruments in your live sets – how did you develop such an affinity for this style?
Let me rectify this once and for all. It was Olaf Boswijk who played the last record and that time he actually played the Talking Heads original where he would normally play my edit in his sets. We were all too high to notice the difference at the time but Olaf told me that later. Not that it matters much, I would never want to take credit for the edit as it’s just a lengthened version of the original, basically a copy and paste job of certain parts to make the record more DJ-friendly. 10 minutes of work in the studio. Without making more out of it than it is, I simply like the song but have no special relationship with it. I have made close to a 100 edits in my career, this is just one of many. “This Must Be The Place” is a great record to spray the dance floor with some love vibes.
Let’s move straight into the Balance Presents Mix Compilation. Featured in the mix is an interesting combination of artists such as M83, Nils Frahm, Plastikman, Max Cooper, and FKA Twigs. What elements of their style inspired you?
All of these choices lead back to the “futuristic and machine-like vs warm and human” theme I love so much. Take a record like FKA Twigs’ Glass & Patron. That is some serious sci-fi shit right there. The production is incredibly otherworldly, it’s like a DMT trip. M83 or Nils Frahm on the other hand are just overflowing with warmth and emotion. That gives me an enormous range of dynamics to play with, I can cover a lot of ground with it and take the listener places. It is like speaking a language. The more vocabulary you have at your disposal, the better you can communicate.
As an artist you largely work in a psychological fashion – taking advantage of the stream of consciousness. Was this an approach you took in preparing the Balance Mixtape?
The psychological thing is a by-product of what happens when I just follow my instincts and let the music happen. Whenever I do something good it feels like I am just a medium and everything happens by itself. The magic never comes from the head. My approach for Balance was to take a bunch of my all time favorite records and play around until I find interesting combinations and sequences of tracks. From there I just keep on building the mix like a puzzle, piece by piece. The mix kind of writes itself, I just select the best opportunities that present themselves in front of me. There was no grand overriding strategy other than to represent music that I truly love.
“10 minutes of free-wheeling in the studio gave me my best-selling record to date.”
What’s the craziest or most ‘unorthodox’ moment of spontaneity you’ve had when getting in the mood to write music?
I think that was when I made “Mike Tyson”. I was preparing for a DJ set at the time using Traktor and just playing around with some of the built-in effects. All of a sudden there was this stuttering beat that sounded fucking huge. I just pressed “record” and jammed for 30 minutes straight. I just needed to edit the recording to keep the best bits and that was almost all I needed for the track. 2 hours work, tops. “Roar” was made in much the same way, playing around with the sampler and suddenly striking gold. 10 minutes of free-wheeling in the studio gave me my best-selling record to date. A random approach gifted me two totally unique tracks that I could have never come up with by myself. The trick is to create the circumstances to let these accidents happen.
You went through a pretty painstaking editing process for this mix. What was this process like and what kind of setup did you use to balance between technicality and emotive feel?
I laid out every song in a big Ableton project and tried countless combinations between tracks. I wanted the mix to be harmonically sound, so I did a lot of transposing (changing of the musical key) in order to make melodies fit with each other. I also added lots of sound effects, hi hats, kick drums etc, but in a way that is subtle – I wanted the technique to be invisibly doing its work in the background – it’s all about the music and the emotion. Anyway, at some point there was a rough mix. At that stage the balance between technique and emotion was still off, the flow wasn’t right, it felt too brainy. I let the mix marinate for a couple of days and came back to it with a set of fresh ears and a notepad. I wrote down everything that needed improving and ironed out all the creases. After that I started working on the sound quality. I sent each track through my analog mixer and did a lot of eq’ing. Once everything felt right I just let it go. It is easy to fall into the perfection trap and endlessly try to improve little details, so it was good to work on a tight deadline and just finish the damn thing.
You’ve got a new quarterly residency and event at De Marktkantine – ‘Midnight Sun’. What’s the concept behind it?
“Big tracks. Big fun. Midnight sun.” That’s kind of the tagline. This is a fun-oriented big room night that is intended to make people go crazy and just have a huge ball. Unpretentious without being cheap.
Seems the title was derived based off some sort of late-night visualization – is there a deep underlying meaning?
I was sitting in the plane next to an old Norwegian guy who was talking to me about the beautiful midnight sun that hits the northern parts of his country in the summer. Right there I knew that this would be the name of my night. I love the idea of turning night into day. The sun brings the warmth and the light. Perfect.
As a proven experimentalist, you challenge the audience to take-in less understood musical ideas. Do you see your music event as an initiation for change?
No, I see my main task in bringing people together, make them have a good time and end the night with their hearts full of love and joy.
Balance Presents Patrice Bäumel will be available April 15th.