Recreating relevance and finding innovation: Booka Shade on how they’ve stayed at the top
Slightly jet lagged after the long haul into Melbourne, Purple Sneakers spoke to Arno of BOOKA SHADE, just before the duo headed off to play Strawberry Fields Festival in Victoria.
It is clear that music is Arno’s passion, and his intellect goes beyond just the sound, but also to creating an energy, which after two decades of making music is impressive.
We spoke about everything from the good old ‘Bush Doof’ to the possibilities of Booka Shade heading to America for a few months to make music where there is a much broader view than in Germany. Australia may even be on the cards for some future recording if they can find the right studio as we’ve managed to nail Booka Shades’ needs in terms of food, temperature and relaxed people.
You guys have come out to Australia to play strawberry fields, have you heard of the term bush doof before?
Arno Kammermeier: No, the bush what? I’ve heard it’s quite a hippy festival, which I love.
Do you have many expectations for Strawberry Fields?
AK: I hope its going to be as much fun as I think, I like hippy festivals and I like the energy around it. I think the stage is going to be a smaller stage, not a lot of production, not a lot of lights, but a lot of music lovers, a lot of people being out there really for the music and not just because they have to be there and they have to look good. We have a new show and a lot of new tunes and tracks we’ve mixed so we’re very much looking forward to it. I have trust that Australian audiences are as crazy as always.
Do you prefer club shows or festivals?
AK: Um, I mean we need both basically. The club shows are more for the intimate feel and for the sweaty feel. Sometimes you are much closer to the audience, and sometimes I even like when its laid in a in a way where its not so much the stage here and the audience there on the other side, but people stand around you and stuff. I enjoy this from time to time, but it can also be very exhausting as normally those clubs that are very small and sweaty and can be very hot and that can be physically exhausting, but the energy can be amazing.
And then the festival side, most of the time, there is great production, we can present ourselves with the videos that we have, and the big light shows, we bring our crew, and that’s the way we can bring across more of the production value we have, whereas in the club we can bring across more of the physical presence, we’re banging on our drums and keyboards and have the music speak for itself. You know we love both, and both have their advantages
What are some of your favourite locations for festivals, or festivals that you have played at?
AK: Well the ideal location is always outside. I love it because then there is air for playing the drums, which is always a very physical action. It’s always best if you have a lot of air, and obviously it should be dark so that the lights and the visuals work really nicely. And of course it should be warm, so many of these things are good in Australia! Not too humid, a temperature of lets say 22 degrees, that would be perfect! We just played a show in Egypt for the first time a couple of weeks ago and at night it was 40 degrees, which I though oh god we’re going to die but the air was so dry we didn’t really realise and it was a great performance. But we can play, whenever, wherever, just tell us to start and we start.
Because you guys have been making music together for such a long time how do you keep things fresh in terms of your sound? ‘Wildest Things’ is a bit more techno than perhaps in the past, so how do you keep new things coming and Booka Shade moving in new directions?
AK: It’s from live playing and the song writing where you need to keep things fresh from time to time, because as you say we have been doing this for quite a while now and we don’t like to be too repetitive, and we don’t like to repeat ourselves all the time because it gets very boring. In the live situation we re-work all the music all the time. This year we played different arrangements of those songs we have to play because people want to hear them, you know the ‘White Rooms’ and the ‘Body Languages’, and so we always have new arrangements. We only just started the song writing process for a new album which I hope could be released next year in Autumn, so pretty much one year from now. This time around we want to bring in a lot of other people to have other opinions, like top line writers and singers to try out things, and to get fresh perspective and everything. And then for the production, we enjoyed it very much for the last album, Eve. We went to a different studio in England, not our own studio, and I can imagine it would be very good to do the same thing again; get a producer in or an engineer in, and go to a different studio with a different surrounding to get a different energy. I think that’s always refreshing.
You guys have been voted one of the top live acts in the world, and obviously put a lot into it them, what do you think makes your live shows stand out, particularly to people that may go to live shows a lot?
AK: Well that’s what we hear from people! With the music that we do to a great extent, you know club music, electronic music, not many people perform this music live with instruments. Both Walter and I are musicians, Walter plays keyboard, I play drums, so we really know what we are doing and we know how to get the best out of ourselves and our instruments. And obviously there is this energy that we bring across by working with our instruments, which is a whole different thing than if you stand behind the DJ desk and you only have a laptop.
There is only so much energy you can bring across unless you jump around all the time, which many people do of course. We don’t jump around that much, we just do our thing with the instruments, and we think this is special. Many of the songs that we play are known to the audience so they enjoy listening to the music. There is a difference between underground music and commercial music. The interesting thing with an act like Booka Shade, is that many of the songs are known to the fans and the public, but they have never been overplayed on the radio. So a song like ‘Body Language’, which is one of the most massive club tunes of the last ten years or so, it was never in the charts, it was a real underground song, which just happened to be played by so many people, and DJs today still play it. People know it, but it was never over played on commercial radio so people have never gotten tired of it. So that is a great luxury that we have by incident. It’s is probably one of the reasons why people enjoy the music so much when they hear it during the shows.
How would you describe your music in one word?
AK: One word! Normally its at least three words or so. One word, I would say probably elegant. You could say atmospheric, but we aim to have the quality that you can listen to the music in a couple of years time and still enjoy it, so I always hope there is a certain elegance around it.
Do you think that your music is heading in a different direction now based on changes in music trends?
AK: Yeah, its about finding a new angle for ourselves, a new angle in our music, in our universe. We can be very proud of the fact that we have created a sound universe with Booka Shade which is recognisable, even though we don’t have a singer or a front man. I always give the example that if a band, or someone like Sting, can do anything they like, he will always be recognisable because its his voice. Now with instrumental music it is always quite difficult because you don’t have this element, so you have to find a different language that brings your music to people as recognisable music without doing the same thing all over again, that is quite boring. You can do the same tune backwards and forwards all the time and then its recognisable, but then it is quite boring for everyone. What we always try to do is to define a kind of universe for ourselves, but then play around with it and find new territory in it basically. That’s what’s happening at the moment again. So we have told a lot of stories with Booka Shade, you know we have the story telling bass lines or the riffs of ‘In White Rooms’ and ‘Mandarine Girl’, and now the next step probably is to bring in a couple of vocals to try something else, but still have it in the typical sound of Booka Shade. That’s something that we’re experimenting with at the moment and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully in one years time, you’ll know what that sounds like! Its just finding ways to keep the story interesting for yourself.
Do you have any dream people to feature as vocalists?
AK: Not really. It is more the dream to find young singers and young talent to work with.
We did remixes for Depeche Mode, and we also opened for Depeche Mode a couple of times so there is a connection, but if you would ask me if I would want him on a Booka Shade song, as much as I love him, as much as I’m not sure he would do it, the name for us would then be so big that our band would probably disappear beneath it. For us, it’s much more interesting to have a fresh singer, and fresh voice to it. Then we can experiment more with the music we make and combine it more with the music we do. We look for young talent and unknown singers, so if you put this out on the website, you can tell all those young singers to contact us!
Where do you see the trends of the Berlin music scene heading? People think its becoming commercialised. Do you still find it inspiring?
AK: With Berlin I’m never too sure. I always have the feeling that Berlin is the same thing again and again and the clubs are always the same. I have a feeling that the fresh stuff is coming from somewhere else. So much is happening in the whole world that people are picking up trends that probably happened in Berlin originally, but then they pick up their own sounds with it. This is what I find interesting. Berlin is our hometown, but we get our inspiration from many places in the world. I always like it when the kids just throw in everything that they hear, and that they know. They throw it all in a pot, shake it, and come up with something new and exciting. Sometimes it’s a bit like the Style Police, they say techno is this and only this, but I like it when the kids say fuck it, I like this from hip hop and I like this from rap music, and this from electronic music and I’ll just throw everything together. That’s fresh and that is what excites us.
Booka Shade‘s new single ‘Wildest Thing’ is out now through One Love Records and is available to purchase on iTunes.
Words by Madeline Kilby