Berlin based Booka Shade are Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier. Conceived in Frankfurt they moved to Berlin in 2002 and formed the now legendary dance label Get Physical Music with M.A.N.D.Y., Thomas ‘Dj T.’ Koch and Peter Hayo. 2005 their EP’s ‘Mandarine EP’ and ‘Body Language’ (the latter co-produced with M.A.N.D.Y.) launched Booka Shade into the stratosphere, swiftly followed by ‘In White Rooms’ and ‘Night Falls’, setting alight dance floors World-wide. Sónar 2005 was the beginning of Booka Shade’s unrivalled live heritage, including being named 2010 Resident Advisor’s Top 5 Live Act in the World, opening for Depeche Mode, playing at Lollapalooza, Tomorrowland, Montreux, headlining stages at Coachella, Glastonbury, Rock Werchter, Red Rocks and many sold-out live shows around the Globe including London´s Royal Festival Hall.
First of all, please tell me how you both came together over a decade ago, & the name Booka Shade was born?
We first met in a school band a loooong time ago and realised quickly that we shared the same dream of becoming musicians, and maybe even being able to pursue it as a profession. We worked very hard on production and song writing, and over the years we actually had multiple different projects. Then when the techno virus infected us in the early 90’s we released music under a great number of individual project names. Booka Shade was one of those projects. When we got together with M.A.N.D.Y. and DJ T. in 2002 to found our label Get Physical we remembered that name and we’ve used it for our productions ever since.
You guys have been at the forefront of electronic music for over two decades now. What has got easier and what has got harder about staying in the game as it goes on?
It’s not so much about staying in the business game for us – and in recent years, particularly during the production phase of this album – it was more about finding way back to who we are and what we love to do. It´s easy to get lost in everyday routines, and it´s difficult to break with old habits and dare to walk a new road. At the end of the day, it´s always about personal growth, not the growth of your bank account. If it was that, then we´d not play live shows that are quite expensive for us to take on the road. But we are not DJs , we are musicians, and playing our own music on stage is what we do and what our audience loves us for.
You were saying you’ve developed a unique sound for Booka Shade. What goes into creating an album like Cut The Strings to achieve that sound?
It’s mostly Walter starting the song writing process, which is the most time consuming thing, to come up with new melodies, arrangements, or just sound clusters that are interesting and don’t sound like anything else we’ve produced. There are a couple of vocal collaborations on the album. We have a basic arrangement before sending it to a vocalist, so they can work on it. All the vocals are quite atmospheric. We either have a demo instrumental and send it to a vocalist or we start with a sound, like a vocoder and work from there.
How do you feel your experience as ‘hired guns’ in the industry (producing for other people) laid the groundwork for Booka Shade?
In the beginning it helped in the way that Booka Shade was never about making money, because we earned our living producing for other people.The project Booka Shade was always about creating interesting music that we love. This gave us a lot of freedom, we never had the pressure to follow a trend that told us what music might be successful. Booka Shade was always different and never fit in a box.
You have been releasing music since 2004 so nearly 15 years. You have obviously developed and changed over time. How have you kept together as a group and how have you kept the creativity flowing?
I think that’s the focus. To keep challenging yourself. We don’t like to repeat ourselves and we get easily bored. We always want to see what else is out there. There’s always a distinctive Booka Shade sound no matter what we do. If you listen to our albums its quite diverse! We don’t want to be one trick ponies so to speak. I’ve known Walter since school days it’s a long, long time. What keeps us together is first of all mutual respect. We compliment each other quite well. Of course its difficult like any relationship, and it does take a lot of work. We don’t take each other for granted. Ultimately we have the same vision. We want to create music that we enjoy and that we are proud of. And of course you share in all the feelings. The great feelings when you’re on stage and everybody loves it, and the terrible feelings when you’ve not slept in days because the travel was bad and the shows weren’t great for some reason and you just want to go home. You’re stuck together so it break you, but it can make you stronger.
You guys are from Germany, and you grew up together like you said, I didn’t know you guys grew up together from such a young age. It’s another layer to why you create music with such great chemistry. What do you think the music scene in Germany is like? How has it impacted you?
We always say that the music from England especially in the early 80’s has had a lot of influence on us. Ya’ know the whole The Cure, Depeche Mode era. That was the first big influence on us. Then the other big influence was the early techno that we heard in the early 90’s. Especially in Frankfurt, especially in a club called ‘The Omen’, by a man named Sven Väth. Who is still around, we just met him at a festival in Sydney last weekend & this is somebody who influenced us in a great way. So German techno shaped us in so many ways. It’s a German influence. And also you can never take away an influence like Kraftwerk from Düsseldorf, Germany. They started an entire world on electronic music & it’s quite a privilege because we have to opportunity to play a support show for them in Stuttgart, Germany this summer. Which is in particular fantastic because they normally never have opening acts. English new wave & German electronic are our influences.
If there was a “go to” piece of production gear for you, what would that be? Would that answer be the same if I asked 10 years ago?
In 2006 ,when we produced the MOVEMENTS album, our most used instrument was the minimoog because we did everything from hi hats to bass with it. Nowadays we use a mix of everything that we have. We love the stuff from Native Instruments, from Audio Damage, Aturia or soundtoys (the microshift is great on everything) and we love the stuff from Universal Audio a lot (especially the Neve Plug ins).
Is it difficult to transport your gear?
The setup varies for club shows and big festivals. At the moment, we play a very handy condensed live setup which is designed especially for club shows. In the last 12 months, our music has gone very much ‘back to the club,’ and we wanted the setup to represent this and give us the opportunity to play nightclubs as well as festival stages. Still it gives us full flexibility to use our keys and drums
How do you decide which tracks to remix? Which remixes of other artists’ tracks are you most proud of?
We have’t done many remixes lately I have to say, because due to the touring and our private lives, our production time is limited and we’d rather focus on original Booka Shade material. We’re proud of the remixes we did for Depeche Mode and Dave Gahan, simply because we are huge fans.
What should we look out for in 2019?
We’ll continue to release new music regularly. There are tours in Australia and Asia lined up, and we certainly will be back in the States more than once in 2019. But first, see you at the show at Bijou. We’ll have our keyboards and drums waiting for you!