It’s hard to actually define the collaborative work of Sam Barker and Andreas Baumecker.
Drawing upon a multitude of styles from house, techno, IDM, trance, broken beat and more, the duo have produced some of the most forward thinking electronic music of recent years, throwing away the rulebook on the traditional notion of what the limits of a given genre extend to. This is before you even throw in the heavy analogue basis to their production. With these two veterans in the game, I was keen to delve into the thinking behind their second album, Turns, but what was originally intended as a straight-forward discussion turned into something much more in-depth, looking at the more fundamental relationship between man and music.
Originally from Frankfurt, Andreas began DJing under the moniker 'nd_baumecker' in the early ‘90s. He begins by explaining how, despite their different backgrounds, the pair came together. Whilst he may have originally been seen as part of the ‘90s house scene he’s always been more into other stuff. Playing at clubs where the focus was on all kinds of electronic music naturally led to playing a lot of different records, but this side of him wasn’t recognised early on.
Sam, conversely, had grown up in Britain laying his hands on every instrument he could and by the age of 13, had started his own electronic productions. Before moving to Berlin he was part of the Brighton experimental scene, a scene that he tells me was all about being different. Everybody there had their own style, with people being judged on how original their output was rather than how well they performed within a certain set of rules. Sam was booking three or four live acts per week for about four years and had a lot of encounters with interesting, unique ideas. Coming to Berlin nearly 10 years ago was, to an extent, a culture shock and growing into the scene that Andreas was a part of was where the pair collided. Naturally, their story as Barker & Baumecker centres around Berghain, where Andreas has been a resident DJ, booker and a key member of the family since its reopening from the original Ostgut club, where he was also a regular DJ.
“People were communicating in different ways; it was more about creating a different feeling in the audience, a unifying sound that people were striving towards rather than something that makes everybody feel individual. It was a different approach but I got quite fascinated by this new way of interacting with people... I had kinda thought about music in quite a rigid way, that it’s judged entirely on how unique the music is rather than how well somebody can universally communicate some sort of feeling or experience.”
It’s no surprise then that Barker & Baumecker’s output is viewed as forward thinking. Their productions transcend the traditional boundaries of established electronic genres as opposed to remaining linear, something evident even from their earliest productions such as the pair’s 9-minute debut Candyflip. Sam explains that because there’s so many different things they like it’s hard to leave certain things out of a production. Going for a specific sound means imposing a set of rules. He tells me that unless that’s all you know then, effectively, why would you want to limit yourself to being so purist.
Putting Turns together, Sam explains, was quite a natural step. The pair had been working a lot in the studio over the last year or so and had realised they had enough material for another album. Sam says that going to the studio was like going to the gym, in that, like exercise, it can give you a temporary escape. This made Turns organic, coming from a place of fun rather than from a need to produce.
With both having day jobs, Andreas booking for Berghain/PanoramaBar and Sam booking for the Littlebig agency, there simply wasn't time for full devotion to the studio. Sam acknowledges that the focus required in finishing the album wasn’t attainable during that period of work. It's only since finishing their respective day jobs that they've been able to commit to Turns. But how does the production compare to Transsektoral, working commitments aside?
“Comparatively each of the tracks followed a different process – we’d be doing all kinds of experimenting with the way we make music. Some were just stereo jams from machines and others were more laid out. I think, for this album, the process was a lot more similar – we’ve found a more consistent way of working together.”
This idea of cohesion sparks my interest given the that fact Sam and Andreas’ outfit is forged from very different backgrounds. It's also important to acknowledge the very physical nature of the analogue gear that they use to produce their music. Sam tells me that they’re always together in the studio, that it’s group work where both have a firm grasp on every process. He tells me that whilst neither one of them does more fundamentally he probably adds synth parts that Andreas invariably then takes out, a statement that evokes laughter from both. There’s a compositional bias the duo have but no real bias towards the studio process itself. Andreas, at this point interjects, excitedly telling me how he likes playing around with the effects, taking apart chord progressions and generally tinkering with what’s there. If one works on a beat the other finds something else to complement it, each firing off the other. Given the dynamic of our conversation, the spark and prompt that each gives the other at any given point you can see that there’s real sense of cohesion between them.
The idea of interaction, both between people and with machines, in my mind, plays into the more fundamental aspects of music, namely emotion and creativity. I raise a point, joshing almost, with Andreas about a flyaway comment I'd read about how nowadays he feels the emotional content of music can be lacking; that there are certain sets he can’t engage so much with anymore. Could this simply boil down to being a veteran of the game or was there something more fundamental in the way he approaches his craft? It prompts a very long discussion.
“I don’t mind hard music but if it's just repetitive and it’s over a long time, say, 4 hours, and its all perfectly mixed then there’s something missing if there’s no breaks or any stuff like that… I need this 3D element in music when I go to a club. All of it is 2D at the moment and that's what I can’t really relate to – that’s what I meant when I said I need the emotional content, I need that 3rd dimension.”
I ask what that 3rd dimension can consist of. He continues, explaining how the duo use of a lot of pads, chords and other elements to help bring out this emotional side. Andreas tells me that a lot of techno tracks getting played out these days don’t necessarily include that. It’s this idea, he says, that if you put a pad in a track everyone says it's trance. But for him, it's not about pigeonholing something into a specific, and limited, definition – that element has a more fundamental aspect to it. There’s a certain excitement to the pair’s tone as they delve into the intricacies of this and it shows their absolute lust for the newest overall sound- the ability to create something nobody has heard before.
“It’s like, building tension. For example, 10 years ago when Berghain was in the beginning, there were always some tracks that people considered a hit – something heard upstairs and downstairs, played 4 times over the course of the night. For example, it was Audion – Mouth to Mouth and Âme – Rej. Those were tracks that the Berghain and the Panoramabar floor could live with and the reaction of the audience was crazy! If you listen to these tracks they have a certain way of evolving and a certain means to how they grab your attention on the dancefloor and I think that is now missing.”
For them, there’s both the idea of DJs and producers taking risks and having the resources to actually do so. We discuss how every sound in house has already been made, first wave Detroit techno with its ingrained funk, the idea of ‘authenticity’ within an established genre and craving the latest, newest sound. I find myself delving into the more fundamental ways as to how the duo approach music on the whole. Andreas explains that in the past 30 years new music has always come from new machines. This was prevalent in the ‘80s and continued into the ‘90s but then, to him, it somehow got stuck. He tells me that we really need is a new machine that makes a new sound that brings back the fun into club music. In that respect, asking what he thinks comes next is fruitless – if he could define it then the pair would be doing it. Until then, both agree, producers could put different intention into what they're doing, that the way to something new is in the structure and the programming. It’s the idea of the advent of a genre such as techno, built around the advent of new instrumentation or methodology continued on however many years later is, to an extent, contradictory.
“Techno was a futuristic thing, it was a look into the future and trying to find the new, and I think making authentic techno, to think that its copying how those people did it is sort of like tying to make an authentic sci-fi film where you just use all the familiar/generic motifs. It doesn’t make sense.”
That’s not to say the pair feel stuck or at loggerheads, and I question that if there’s not the risk factor or the instrumentation to utilise in this way then maybe it all lies with breaking the rules. Both agree that there is a lot of new interesting gear coming out even if based on established ways of making sound but, conversely, it’s still the idea of the well-trodden interplay between ‘cutting one thing out, putting it back’; that everyone knows how to respond when a hi-hat comes in. To them producers and DJs shouldn’t be afraid to stray away from the tried and tested techniques for getting a room full of people on the same level. Perhaps that is what comes next, and perhaps that’s exactly where Sam and Andreas stand out.
Turns by Barker & Baumecker is available now on Ostgut Ton. Find out more HERE.
Photo Credit: © Lee Wagstaff