Back in 1999, label boss Ewan Jansen took receipt of demo tapes by Kai Kroker (AKA Rawell) who subsequently appeared on Red Ember’s very first compilation record ‘Deepsounds One’. These forgotten demos (lost even to Rawell himself) plus further works from 1995-2002, span a 2LP release of deeply emotive minimal house, techno & leftfield; an earnest synthesis of minimalism and romance from Berlin in the 90s. Included also is an ambient/downbeat 6-track digital EP (including the original version of ‘Tailwind’).
Move D’s gloriously moody and life-affirming ‘90s galore mix’ of ‘Tailwind’ is a very special reunion between close friends; the pair’s last collaboration dates back to 2005 under the ‘Faked.Info’ moniker and both recorded together along with Jamie Hodge under the collective ‘Studio Pankow’.
Hi Kai. Hope you are well considering everything. Can you tell us quickly what you’ve been up to in the past few months
Dealing with the lunacracy we are forced into is how I would describe it best, as well staying healthy & positive, informed, calmed, question the narrative and stand up. I know this is what many people don’t want to hear, as we are extremely divided and media and politics seems to do everything to separate us further. It’s for sure not a light weighted answer to open an interview but I think its extremely important to stand up to your opinion, even more as an artist.Apart from that, I’m living with my family on the Island of Koh Samui in Thailand and we are running a beach resort here, which keeps us pretty busy. Despite tourism being down almost 100% with borders closed the past 6 Months, we are still doing ok. It’s been a bless to live here, as we can enjoy the beach and nature every day and island people tend to have a more down to earth mood and take things easy.
It seems that you and Ewan have known each other for a while now (1999). How have you two met, being from opposite sides of the world, Ewan in West Australia and Kai in Germany?
It’s been already more than 20 years ago. At that time mp3.com was the platform to upload music and I had a couple of tracks hosted there. It was all very new, Ewan listened to some of the tracks and contacted me. If I remember right, it was the first Red Ember release, a 4 track ep with different artists. All contact was via email only but I really liked the idea to release a track with somebody I never met, living on the other side of the world. At that time most contacts you made by meeting people at partys and events, I hardly ever sent out a demo CD. Ewan is a very nice chap and I loved his music a lot, so the decision to go for it was a no brainer. Unfortunately we never met in person even I’m much closer to Australia now, but I had the plan to visit him in Perth. Hopefully it will be possible again next year.
The idea to release previously unreleased music/demos can be a big archaeologic task. Who’s idea was it and how hard was it to track down the originals?
That was thanks to Ewan’s initiative again. He contacted me one and a half years ago with the idea to release a 2xLP. Since I moved to Thailand, I stopped producing music so I was pretty surprised and happy, as it brought back so many amazing memories and I was thinking to start making music again for a while. Thanks to him, I got the last kick to build up a new studio here in Thailand and I have to give a huge thanks for that to him! Most of the tracks came from that 20 years old demo CD he found, as well a couple others from CD backups I had left, mainly the ones for the digital EP and ‘Kleine Mantelgasse’ which I recorded at Move D’s Studio in Heidelberg.
I recently had to go through old DATs of mine to archive old music. The process was both surprising but sometimes a little cringy. I found stuff that I can’t remember ever making. How did the decision making go as far as track selection? I can imagine it being easier from a label than an artist stand point?
That’s the sad story of the mysterious ‘red metal box’ which contained all my recordings of 12 years. Unfortunately, it got lost somehow when I left Germany and is still missing today, as I cant remember 100% with who I left it and countless searching for it failed so far. That’s pretty sad, as I would love to listen to some of those tracks again. There must be tons of stuff I don’t even remember anymore, lots of crazy recordings as I loved to try different styles. I remember I did some pretty cool electro tracks with my friend Benji DF, lots of ambient and chill out stuff but also some electro-funk. Maybe the ‘Berlin Pankow’ album would be different if those old recordings still existed, but I’m pretty happy with the selection we ended up with. Sometimes you have to let things go and you never know what the future brings, maybe there will be another Red Ember release in 20 years from now when the red box reappears ;-)
Another obstacle for me when archiving DATs, was the digital glitches that form from years of not playing them. Was there a big restoration process and were some of the music chosen rendered unusable? What was your process in this case? High end softwares or simple editing?
Luckily the CDs we took off the data where all fine, even after so many years. As mentioned before, the original recordings (mainly DAT and some Mini-disc) are all lost, so those where the only available sources. I didn’t do any editing to the original tracks, all of them are same as recorded 20 years ago. In the end they went thru the regular mastering process only, which was done by analog cut, btw a big thanks to those guys, they did a great job! Im not sure though how much they did, maybe they removed some minor glitches or jitters but the goal was to keep the sound close to the original. The studio back in Berlin was a huge 65m2 living/studio room with pretty high ceilings and huge windows, not so much optimized recording wise. So obviously the sound wasn’t 100% optimal (though pleasing to the ear, which is in my opinion the most important if you spend days in the studio), so sometimes you just overdid the low frequencies or overheard things.
The way we make music and mix has evolve in the past 25 years when some of this music was made. When mastering it, did you want to keep this original sound or did you want to make it sound more modern for today’s standard? Also, how hard was it to make it sound coherent as a whole?
As said before, the goal was to keep the sound close to the original. Of course mixing and use of equipment changed a lot over the last years. Some for the good, some for the bad. I always used huge analog mixing consoles, as well mainly old analog equipment. For me it was never about 100% perfect sound, no noise, no crackling, no mistakes in the mix. Take for example most of the tracks from the Studio Pankow Album, there is often an extreme background noise from all the effect and synth channels wide open, or just from the wild cabling, that’s a huge part of the charm and the liveliness of the music. I’m now using a digital mixer with pretty impressing digital effects which are great to use but I bought as well some old effect units like the Lexicon Vortex or Boss SE-50,old analog Delays, etc… which brings back that charming noise and bit of background randomness. Modern mastering often looks to boost the sound to a certain maximum which im not a big fan of. I think music needs room to breathe but it of course depends on what kind of sound you make. My music is anyway more often on the softer side, for the 2nd dance floor or the ambient space and Marco at Analogcut really took to that with a firm but transparent final master.
I grew up listening to a lot of Electronic/Ambient music from the end of the 80s/beginning of the 90s, a lot of early Carl Craig albums and Warp’s turn into “Intelligent” Techno with their Artificial Intelligence series. How relevant do you think this music is 30 years later? Do you feel there’s a sort of revival of some sort or is this just timeless music for you?
I think every musician gets influenced by other artists and from that develops his own style, so music will always develop and transform into the future and will stay relevant. The music from that time is still very present for me today and many of those tracks are absolutely timeless. Take Mr. Fingers (Larry Heard) “Can you feel it” for example, a track which for me is the essence of Detroit and Acid House. When I listened to it the first time, it felt like I would know this song for a long time already, it’s totally timeless. It represents the zeitgeist, the feeling of that area and will do it 30 years from now on as well. So yes, that music is still 100% relevant.
Can you tell us more about Studio Pankow, where these tracks were written, and what equipment was used?
Studio Pankow was a collaboration between Move_D, Jamie Hodge and me and was recorded in a couple of sessions over about 2 years. It’s actually the name of my old studio in Berlin Pankow. It was an amazing place, a very comfy, laid back living room with an integrated Studio and it was David’s home base when he was in Berlin. We spend weeks there relaxing, chilling, smoking, listening to music and of course producing. On the weekends we went out to the clubs or festivals we were booked at, got lots of inspiration, just to come back and play around again. There was never pressure to produce anything, it was always more like a big playground. David brought other musicians over from time to time like Benjamin Brunn or Dave Wheel and the magic of the place was the comfort of just being, lost in time and music. Jamie Hodge was a regular visitor as well and we just started jamming together. At that time the Clavia Micro Modular came out and it developed somehow to be the center piece of the project. It was a fascinating piece of synth with the modular structure and it started to be the organic base in almost all the songs .The other equipment was mainly old analog gear, lots of Roland, Korg, Yamaha and of course Sequential Circuits but as well some traditional instruments like a flute kind of thing I brought from northern Thailand. “Linienbusse” was the one track I wrote on an overland bus journey from Hamburg to Berlin, after David and I played there at The Pudel Club. He later edited the piano in. David was also the one who did the main job in bringing the endless hours of recordings together and editing it to the final album which was a hell lot of work which I probably could not have done.
That would explain the decision to have the mighty Move D on the remix?
Yes, simply because we share a very long and deep friendship which dates back to 1995 when we first met at the Interference Festival in Berlin. His music means so much to me and is a constant element in my life. Since the last release with him dates back to 2003 (as faked.info) and David and I share so many memories with Studio Pankow, I had to ask him to contribute. Despite he was very busy he took the time to do the remix, which im very thankful for. That’s what real friendship is, despite we didn’t see each other much the last 16 years due to the sheer distance between Asia and Europe, nothing really changed.
What were your main musical influences then and now?
When I was a child back in the 80s, my parents listened to a lot of synth pop and Neue Deutsche Welle. Without knowing what synthesizers really are, I loved that music only to realize years later, when I started to use synthesizer how much this influenced me. Then in the early 90s, I listened (and still do) to a lot of Acid House, Detroit and Chicago House/Techno music, like Larry Heard, Juan Atkins, Derrick May etc. That was my introduction to Electronic Music. An important part played by Warp records of course, which opened up whole new sound spheres to me, with artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, B12 and the Artifical Intelligence series you mentioned before. There are tons other to name for sure. But most influenced im probably by the music of Move_D and Source Records (shout out to Jonas, his longtime Label partner and the 2nd part of Deep Space Network). Davids music is very close to me.
What have you been up to the past few years? Is music your main focus. Any releases to be on the lookout for?
As I said before, we have a beautiful beach resort here, where im still DJing from time to time and since I have a new studio now, I’m trying to get back more into music production. There is another EP in the pipeline, but it’s postponed due to the worldwide craziness right now, nonetheless I’m pretty sure there will come more in the future.
Apart from that I worked the last years for big international TV productions here in Thailand, something which is on hold right now as well.
Let’s see what the future brings, I’m still in the progress of (re)learning to get back into the production flow, its been very different now since I have no other like minded musicians around, the subculture and the inspiration from partys and festivals is missing a lot as well. But for that we have the sea, beautiful nature and lovely local people…More to come ;-)
Thanks a lot for your time and insightful answers and all the best with the release and the new music!
Interview by Fred Everything