Thursday, 21 July 2016

Interview with Chris Bekker about his new album Berlinition

Chris Bekker’s list of accomplishments seems extensive though, his latest endeavour may well top them all. Through ‘Berlinition’ – the German’s debut long-player, he’s attempting to do what a fair few others have tried and failed to do before him. The album is a studied effort to condense the essence and soul of Berlin into a musical recording. No easy task, it’s a capital, awash with underground cool and motorised by ever-shifting sonic ideologies, which have been in constant flux for 30+ years.
‘Berlinition’ isn’t a rash attempt to stylistically summarize it though. Nor is it a token auditory postcard or ‘love note’ to the city. It’s one that’s thematically & atmospherically designed to soundtrack a top-to-toe journey through it. 

Encompassing 11 tracks, it includes the singles ‘Heimat B’, ‘Uferstrasse’, ‘Animatic’ and most recently ‘Berlinition’ itself. The album – out July 15th – also features electrifying collaborations with Paul van Dyk & Chris Montana, Tricia McTeague, Sequ3l and Pagano. 

The album is already proved to be big success with top 3 placement at the beatport trance chart and inside the top 15 albums of the itunes chart in Germany. 

The first time that I experience Chris Bekker’s DJ performance was at Nature One. I was impressed from his ability to take his audience to a beautiful journey with his selection and DJ mixing skills. We recorded a wonderful video interview after this performance and now I’m glad that he accepted the challenge to reply to our questions and talk in more detail and depth about his album Berlinition that has been embraced from electronic music fans worldwide. Enjoy his answers and note down to try and catch him in his next performance. 

Interview is written and conducted by Dimitri Kechagias, Music Journalist and radio host at 1mix radio. 

Dimitri: Firstly it would be awesome for those that are not familiar with your artistic output to let us know when you decided to get involved with electronic music and whether you started first as DJ and then as producer or the opposite?

Chris Bekker: I started DJing in 2007. One year later I started producing. I loved the productions I found until then. But most of the time there was a little here and a little there in these productions I bought, that I had to edit to make them 100% my taste. By starting with my own productions this of course was different. 

Dimitri: When and in which label was your first ever release and was an easy or difficult task to get signed back in those days?

Chris Bekker: My first label I released on was Raboisen Records, a small label from Hamburg. I had the idea of making a remake of Giorgio Moroder/s classic anthem “The Chase”, and they had good contact to Giorgio. So this first production became a TOP10 hit already and I thought: “wow, that’s a lot easier than I thought it’d be!”. I found out later that this was (of course!) not the case ;-)

Dimitri: From all the releases you have so far except the Berlinition tracks can you choose your Top 5 Chris Bekker best ever Top 3 productions and give us a short comment about them as well?

Chris Bekker: Ok, that’s a not so easy one, but I’ll try my best.

1- Paul van Dyk feat. Tricia McTeague - “Only in a dream” (Chris Bekker Mix). I love this one and everywhere I play it everybody is freaking out – including myself.

2- Chris Bekker & Farius - “London Sunrise.” My first collab together with highly talented Adam Turner aka Farius. This track has the potential to become a timeless anthem in all my sets.

3- Chris Bekker & Paul Thomas - “Zoundz.” My first collab together with a great producer and friend from UK. The hook and the break simply catch you.

4- Chris Bekker & Chris Montana - “Telling Tales.” My first VANDIT release. In many clubs and cities people are knowing me for this production, I did a bootleg of it which included the famous JFK speech “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

5- Jon Doe “Hol den Beat” - (Chris Bekker Mix). A very reduced Techno track that shows “my dark side”.
Dimitri: How did your joining VANDIT records come about? What is your opinion about Paul van Dyk the way he treats his artists?

Chris Bekker: It was about 3 years ago, when I sent a track that I had produced together with Chris Montana ‘Telling Tales’ to VANDIT. One of the club promoters I was spinning for said: “Oh, this sounds like fresh from Paul van Dyk/s radio show”. So I thought why not asking Paul/s radio team if he would be interested in it for the show. Looking back at it today: I still wonder how this production found its way to the deciders. I think I even sent it to an info@ email address. OMG! This is really NOT how you should do that. But 2 days later VANDIT A&R sent me a message and asked me to call back. And: here I am! 

Later, when working together with Paul he never gave me the feeling of being ‘just a number’. I felt like being part of the VANDIT family from the first moment!

Dimitri: Time to travel to Berlin now with your latest album. How did the concept of the album come about and while you were producing the album you had in your mind everyday images that you encounter in Berlin?

Chris Bekker: Of course it/s not that you wake up in the morning saying to yourself “Oh, what about making a BERLINITION album?!”. The track “Berlinition” – the collab with Paul van Dyk and Chris Montana - was the first one that we finished. At that stage it was not planned to make an album. But the track inspired my studio partner Lewin and myself. It/s that kind of feeling when productions seem to flow. So another 6 months later another 5 tracks were finished. This was actually the time when I decided to do my first artist album. 

I would explain my album approach the way that this is my way, how I see Berlin from a sound perspective. My soundtrack. If you listen to the album closely you will discover that it is turning from melodic to little darker and rougher within its journey. And that’s what Berlin is: a diverse, breathtaking city.

Dimitri: What does Berlin mean to you and do you have certain stories or experiences that connect you with the capital of Germany for a special reason?

Chris Bekker: In a few months it will be my 25th Berlin anniversary. And I love every day of it. You see, Berlin is different. And I hear that from so many of my DJ colleagues when they are playing here. In Berlin what the majority does or doesn’t like is not automatically is right. It is one way of living. And nowhere else can I hear, feel and live this “sound democracy” more than in Berlin”. It is one way of living. And nowhere else can I hear, feel and live this “sound democracy” more than in Berlin. So, if there is ONE constant thing in Berlin, it is its continuous change and reinvention. 

Dimitri: How long it took you to complete the album and did you work for it in regular basis 9 to 5 or whenever you had time and inspiration to do it?

Chris Bekker: The whole album took me around 18 months. And of course this is no 9-5 project. Sometimes you start earlier, sometimes later. And there is no option to say “Be creative NOW!” There were a lot of weekends involved, but looking back on it there was no single minute where I did not 100% like what I was doing.

Dimitri: Did you have from the beginning an idea on how the album will sound at the end or you left your creativity free to move on whatever directions may can lead you?

Chris Bekker: First of all when it comes to music, I‘m no great lover of stylistic classifications. I m a “producer of electronic sound.” I collect influences from various genres though such as house, trance, tech, classic and progressive and combine and develop them further the way I feel them – I “Bekker” them so to say. In case of my Berlinition album I followed this idea of combining and reinterpreting different genres. ‘Animatic’ is a harder ProgTrance production, broken through by an heartwarming break. With ‘Heimat B’ I captured some 90ies sounds, pads and intense build-ups into a new style. ‘Goldelse’ is psy-influenced, whereas ‘Uferstrasse’ is a very reduced, oldschool progressive production. 

Dimitri: Would you like to describe us your studio where the album was produced? Do you have a favorite software or hardware that was crucial in the overall sound of the album?

Chris Bekker: Together with my studio partner we are using Logic and Ableton. Logic for more complex productions like i.e. orchestral arrangements with live instruments and so on. I like both pieces of software, seeing that both have their pros and cons. I can fully confirm though that the workflow of Ableton works so perfectly for electronic music productions.

Dimitri: In this album you have some fantastic collaborations. I will note the names of your collaborators and I would love to give us a short comment about them and you can also mention other people who may have helped you in the production of this album.

Chris Bekker:
a) “Chris Montana: I’ve been knowing Chris for many years now. On his label S2G I released most of my tracks at the beginning of my career. I would call him my “partner in crime”. I think that because his sound is different from mine and we combine these two, we always end up with cool new collabs.
b) Paul van Dyk: I remember when we were sitting together in the middle of my album production and he took his time to give me feedback on every single track of the album. The most impressing was how he started: "This simply is MY feedback. Feel free to change, adapt or leave everything like it is. Because at the end THIS WILL BE YOUR ALBUM, YOUR footprint and YOUR heart." And I thought: "Wow! I m with the right label and the right label boss!

c) Tricia Mc Teague: Tricia and I first met 1,5 years ago. And I m 100% sure you know these situations where it simply CLICKS. I adore her voice, so I decided to send her the album in a very early stage. ‘We Can Be’ is the only vocal track on my album. It’s super intense and will be the next single release mid August.
d) Sequ3l: His progressive productions are simply amazing. I love his reduced style. If his productions were architecture, it would be Bauhaus or a reduced Magnum ice cream. One day he contacted me on Facebook saying he likes my production style. And that he would be in Berlin with his girlfriend for a few days. So, we met – and produced the track together named Uferstrasse. Thats btw is the name of the street where we first met. 
e) Pagano: Francesco Pagano is a long-time DJ and producer friend from Italy living in London. We are spinning a lot in the same resident clubs and we are always having the fun of our lives together. One day I said to him: “Listen, Francesco. I love your sound. Tech House does happen in my sets, and I believe that the time of thinking in musical genres is over in general anyway. Lets make 1+1 more than two!” So we produced Hashtag Wunder, typical Pagano sound with typical Bekker hook.

Dimitri: Which tracks were the easiest and quickest to produce and which one was the most difficult and took you more time to produce and why?

Chris Bekker: Easiest does not necessarily mean quickest. Sometimes you end up running round in circles. The biggest challenge is – and every producer will confirm this – that from a certain stage on you can not differentiate anymore if i.e. this hook that you just created is good or not. You have simply heard it too many times. In general I would say: the more reduced the track is, the more complex is its production. For the first 90% of a track I need half of the time. The second half of the time is needed for the last 10% of the production – to make it UNIQUE. And then there are those pieces of luck like ‘Heimat B’, tracks where simply everything seems to fit from the very first minute, even the mixdown and the mastering. 

Dimitri: In the album you decided to include a DVD as well with great images from Berlin that look extra special when you combine them with your music. How the idea of the DVD came about and you were actively involved in the filming of the city?

Chris Bekker: Well, you know I/m a very acoustically oriented guy - but not only. When I discussed the idea of adding a visual element to the album with my label, it was still unclear what kind of footage it would be. But we all loved the idea of this multisensory approach, combining sound and video to an audio-visual journey, though knowing it would bring the efforts for this project to a totally different level. I strongly believe that 1+1 make more than 2, in a well-balanced setting. The neurological phenomenon of ‘synesthesia’ btw - to associate sounds with colors – is a perfect match with this idea. If you do this in an inspiring way, at the same time challenging the status quo, taking the people by the hand in order to show them YOUR vision but still leaving enough room: THAT/s what I wanted to do. It just so happened that the visual add-on was the perfect bridge to help me bring my cause and my dream to life. And Martin Luther King once gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech.

Then we decided to ‘go for Berlin’. As a matter of fact a lot of shootings I did by myself or I accompanied my brilliant film team to almost every spot. Every album track is facing its own Berlin district or has its own film setting, as i.e. Festival of lights or its own, very special artistic interpretation, whether it/s impressing time lapse, kaleidoscope effects, a play in splitscreens or chromatic aberration. Seing the outcome today I m so happy and proud of the whole team and Frederic Seybicke in person. It was the best decision ever! And: it/s Berlin from the perspective of a Berliner.

Dimitri: The album is released in cooperation with visitBerlin. Would you like to tell us how this collaboration came about?

Chris Bekker: I’ve been working with visitBerlin for many years now. I officially represent one sound of Berlin for them when Berlin is guest in other countries, trade fairs, global partnerships or world exhibitions. Other cities are bringing certain culinary specialities or traditional costumes to represent their countries. The city of Berlin has decided to do this with electronic sound. And everywhere in the world we are getting big applause for that. When I decided together with my VANDIT label to do an album called ‘Berlinition’, we integrated visitBerlin from the very beginning. I/m super-proud having them at my side as a partner. If you look at the Berlinition movie, they opened so many doors for us to spectacular aerial shootings or very sensitive spots in the city where normally you are not allowed to film anymore.

Dimitri: Do you have a special person that listened the first demos of the album tracks and usually the opinion of these persons matter? Have you tested in clubs the tracks from the album and have you changed or modified them as a result of the crowd reactions in them?

Chris Bekker: Sure. Once a new track’s been spun in a set for the first time we know whether there is still some work to do or not. There are productions that don’t survive this first floor test at all and never get released. It/s hard, but on the other hand there are other productions that are simply perfect the first time you are playing them. These goose bumps then compensate 1.000 times for all the work before. And sometimes you have to tweak a little here and there afterwards and test it a second, third or fourth time until it/s perfect. 

Dimitri: Do you believe that having an album makes you more an artist rather than having only singles? Why an album seems so important for your career?

Chris Bekker: With an album you are able to show your different styles and interests. It/s like within your DJ set when you want to take your audience by the hand and take them on a journey. A single release is only able to spotlight. And there is a psychological point to it: an album is like your baby. It usually takes more than 9 months though ;-) but the moment it is born, it makes you so proud and happy.

Dimitri: Are you going to support the album with club tour and are you going to do something special for this tour?

Chris Bekker: There will be no official club tour. It’s not really that kind of project. The clubs where I/m spinning of course support the album. At some events we will have big merchandise stands where I/m also signing the DVD album after my sets. I discussed it with my label and I/m honest: it is my first album and I got the label/s full understanding that I/m nervous enough – even without official club tour. 

Dimitri: Lets finish of with future plans a) where are you going to perform in the next couple of months and b) which track will be the next single from the album and who will do the remixes.

Chris Bekker: I’m spinning at Berlin Pride on the parade and at night at the biggest Pride event called District Pride. Then Nature One and Amsterdam Pride at Club Rapido coming up and of course Ibiza followed by some gigs together with Paul.

The next single will be “We Can Be” incl. a Paul van Dyk Club Mix in August. In September my collab with Pagano “Hashtag Wunder” with a Techno Mix by Skober, plus some remixes and collabs with Jerome Isma-Ae, Paul Thomas and Farius towards the end of this year.

Many thanks to Chris Bekker for finding time to reply in this interview in such wonderful way.

Many thanks to Tim at Stark Profiles for organizing this interview

Berlinition’ tracklist:
01 Heimat B 00:00-05:54
02 Berliniton w/PvD & Montana 05:54-11:01
03 Convolution 11:01-17:46
04 Goldelse 17:46-23:56
05 Noland 23:56-28:33
06 We Can Be w/Tricia McTeague 28:33-34:07
07 Animatic 34:07-39:28
08 Iconic 39:28-43:58
09 Uferstrasse w/Sequ3l 43:58-49:13
10 Moabeat 49:13-55:00
11 Hashtag Wunder w/Pagano 55:00-60:22 

Buy here: CD/DVD (incl. Berlinition movie)
download (album only)

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