In winter, when you get off the train at Warschauer Strasse, a station in the famous Berlin district of Friedrichshain, you often see a busker drumming on the street in the bitter cold. Little does he know that just a short walking distance away lies the incredible success story and the flat of Oliver Koletzki, the German DJ and producer whose track “Der Mückenschwarm” was picked up by Sven Väth’s Cocoon Records in 2005.
Originally born in the West German town of Braunschweig and with roots in German hip hop, Oliver Koletzki later moved to Berlin to study music and began making electronic music. It was while hanging out at Berlin’s Watergate club that the inspiration for his track “Der Mückenschwarm” came upon him. Hammered by everyone from Sven Vath to Pete Tong the release was later named “Best Track” in the 2005 Reader’s Poll of Germany’s Groove Magazine and has since been remixed by Dominik Eulberg and Pig & Dan.
Following the release of “Der Mückenschwarm”, Oliver Koletzki has had releases and remixes on Martin Eyerer’s Kling Klong label and Oliver Huntemann’s Dance Electric imprint and has also set up his own label, Stil vor Talent.
FW: Oliver, first of all I’d like to ask you about your track “Der Mückenschwarm”, which has been your most successful production to date. Did the idea to produce that track just suddenly come to you or did it evolve over time?
I actually released “Der Mückenschwarm” on my own label Stil vor Talent almost 2 years before Cocoon picked it up. It was my first serious release but still a B-side. The whole time I’d been thinking that the track just needed some finishing touches to make it an A-side. Then one night at the Watergate club the inspiration came. I partied long and hard there until Sunday noon (smiles) and when I went back home drunk I started up my computer. In the following hours “Der Mückenschwarm” began to see the light of day.
FW: Which Watergate party was it?
Actually I don’t know, but I clearly remember Alter Ego playing a DJ set. That was the time when “Rocker” was fresh and made the crowd go really wild. I went back home with those kinds of party emotions in my mind (and legs). “Mückenschwarm” isn’t similar to “Rocker” but I think the way those two tracks hook people in is the same.
FW: What production equipment or software did you use to make your track “Der Mückenschwarm”? What do you consider to be the most important piece of equipment or software in your production set up?
I produce tracks using almost only software. I started producing music with Cubase and Native Instruments and today I am a little bit of an expert in those programs. I’ve got a simple sampler and two synthesizers (Mini Korg), which I rarely use, but that’s it. I know there are many people who’ll swear on the Bible that analogue equipment is better. I respect that, but due to my career I am a ‘softie’. The few times I’ve performed live, I’ve done that with Ableton.
FW: The Cocoon label is a really prominent international label and very good at promoting their own artists. After they contacted you and told you they wanted to give “Der Mückenschwarm” a bigger release you must have been pretty amazed.
It was an amazing moment indeed, receiving the call from the Cocoon A&R. Somehow Sven Väth had had my record in his case while touring Japan and he said the people had gone overboard when he played it. When he got back to Frankfurt, then everything started to happen.
FW: “Der Mückenschwarm” has been hugely successful on an international scale. It’s been played by many international DJs, listed in many DJ charts and has been remixed by people like Pig & Dan and Dominik Eulberg. Regarding all of the feedback that you’ve received have there been any special key moments which have stood out, or even any negative ones?
If you produce music for a long time and nothing really serious happens, then you really pay a lot of attention to those initial responses. I didn’t really want to have such a massive response to just the one track. To be honest, I would have preferred to develop as an artist, step-by-step, record-by-record.
So then in terms of the response, suddenly you get messages from everywhere, from people who you don’t even know. For example, “I just played your record and 5000 people went insane!” Or you get emails from well-known DJs giving you props. I mean the types of DJs who one carried the torches before. That’s really amazing! (big smile)
There haven’t been any negative experiences at all. Here in Berlin, the feedback has been a little different since Berlin is into more minimal music but I like it like that.
FW: Can you live on the success that you’ve had so far?
Records sales aren’t a very good income. “Der Mückenschwarm” was something different. I made a little profit but there aren’t many opportunities like that. It’s the DJ gigs that bring in the money and keep me financially alive. I’m trying to save some of this money for the future and maybe one day I’ll have a chance to live off my own record label.
FW: Your story is a great success story of someone in the dance music industry, although your roots are in hip hop. Trivially speaking, I think hip hop or urban music is quite different to electronic music. What influenced you to take a U-turn and start producing techno?
I agree with what you’re saying but you have to consider that my hip hop times were a long time ago. Back then, say six or seven years ago, I still lived in the West German town of Braunschweig. At that time hip hop was cool, and techno was at its beginnings. Hip hop was kind of old school. It was about beats, graffiti, the typical stuff and of course, a family feeling. You can’t compare it to the commercial stuff produced nowadays.
I had a girlfriend who rapped and we had some gigs with me producing live beats. But the whole situation changed, the audience changed, hard drugs and serious violence came into the scene and to me that was the main reason I moved away from hip hop.
On the other hand, at the same time, house music evolved and took us by storm and I recognised that my heart was in that. I also moved to Berlin, which (of course) has been massively influential on me in terms of techno. (smiles)
FW: Why did you move to Berlin?
I always wanted to study music and I found a school in Berlin offering an intensive music course. But at first I started a kind of internship to become a banker and I took my A-levels. Then I started studying music at “UdK” (Berlin University of Arts) before everything eventually got interrupted by “Der Mückenschwarm”.
But to get back on hip hop, I’m an open-minded guy and I wouldn’t say that I’ll never make a hip hop track. Hip hop itself has just faded. My heart isn’t in it for one thing. It’s house & techno which I really favour at the moment.
From time to time I even produce downbeat or trip hop tracks. That’s great fun as I make them together with a friend.
FW: How would you describe your hip hop compared to the stuff that is produced and released today?
It was German hip hop, influenced by Die Fantastischen Vier, Absolute Beginner. The message was about social limits, society and drawbacks. It was honest music, not the typical “bitch” seven-times-in-a-row, gangsta rap.
FW: What about your Parker Frisby guise?
Oliver Koletzki is for techno, Parker Frisby is for house.
FW: What kind of house music?
Funky house, with percussions, vocals and real instruments. I mean live bass and guitars, clapping hands and shakers (smiles). I invite musicians to hold a studio session and I mix it at the computer. Those are musicians I meet, for example, in my music class. So far it’s only an idea for the future, but who knows, we already have the idea to do live gigs in our minds.
FW: It’s interesting to see you working in the music business under your real name. There was a time when artists seemed to partially hide behind some pretty dodgy monikers. Even nowadays those monikers are rarely defended.
Ah, I know what you mean (smiles). Before, for about 7-8 years, I was always Beat Master Lenny. When I lived in Braunschweig I always thought “My God, you cannot name yourself Oliver Koletzki…that would be stupid, you can’t do that…”
But here in Berlin I wanted to wipe the slate clean. New home, new city, new people, new name. The funny thing though was that people have actually asked me, “Hey, how did you get the cool idea to name yourself Oliver Koletzki?” (laughs)
FW: I heard that beside your hip hop and techno productions you’ve also composed music for small motion pictures and TV commercials.
Yes, that’s true. That happened all before “Mückenschwarm” got released on Cocoon. My girlfriend studies at the same university, UdK. Her major is social and business communication, specializing in short movies and cinema ads. I was asked to compose the music for 1 or 2 film productions. It’s a pity that now there isn’t time for that anymore because it was always quite a pleasant challenge for me. For example, I’d get asked to compose 12 to15 minutes of special music to underscore a certain film scene. I hope I can do it again one day.
FW: Do you DJ, perform live or do both?
I’ve been DJing since the age of 18 so that’s almost 13 years. I’ve also performed live but of course not as much as DJing. Actually I’ve played live 2-3 times but only with a laptop and playing a bit on the keyboard. In 2007 I hope to be able to perform live but be a bit more professional, with additional analogue gear.
FW: When you DJ, what do you prefer, vinyl, CDs or new technology such as Final Scratch?
Oh, Final Scratch isn’t something for me. I am one of those guys who’ll be defending vinyl for years. It’s tough. In the last one and a half years I’ve really come to like CD mixers. They’re really great as you can test out your own tracks without having to make that much of an effort. I can finish a track, burn it on a CD, go to a club, play it and see the reaction. I love doing live edits with the CD mixer loop or reverse functions.
I think CD mixers are geared towards the future. In the last few years, digital download record stores have become quite popular. I think illegal downloads have also decreased too as people have changed their attitudes. Now they can get the music they want immediately at a nice price. But of course vinyl will always be in my heart. It’s something I can feel, I can see the sound.
FW: Besides your DJing and production you also run your own label “Stil vor Talent”. How old is the label and how is it going?
I founded the label last year in September or October. Our first releases were pretty good, but basically due to the success of “Mückenschwarm” and the hype around my name. When I founded the label I thought it was especially good business practice to use the hype surrounding me to create an independent platform for my artists and myself. I don’t want to be just dependent on Cocoon, for example. Also I have to think about the future. Now there’s hype, but who knows what things will be like in 3 years.
The label is really coming along. Just yesterday, March 9th, my label released the track “Aggravate Me” by Texas-based producer, Maetrik. He’s also released tracks on Treibstoff. Next month we will feature eight newcomers on a release, a special double LP, named “Talente mit Stil”. The double LP will also include a hand-drawn comic book.
In summer the label will see a new Oliver Koletzki release as well as a release from one of my favourite new producers. His name is Florian Meindl from Vienna. This guy makes excellent stuff!
FW: Besides the talented new producers on your label, who are some other producers you respect?
Another great guy is Kai Kurve. Also Stuttgart based Martin Eyerer is an interesting artist. Martin has already released lots of records, but now’s really getting some props. Recently he founded his own label Kling Klong, which I had a release on last month. There’s also the Berlin DJ, Diringer who used to play at WMF club. He’s producing tracks right now and his first release will also be on Eyerer’s label Kling Klong.
FW: I just noticed you have a “Stil vor Talent” night coming up in Berlin. So what are your future plans here?
I run the label night at a club Josef, which is part of the bigger Maria am Ufer venue. Several times I’ve tried to run an after hours, but it’s been quite difficult getting through to the people. But the label night will be completely different. At that I want to present the artists on the label. The first artist will be Florian Meindl, who’ll come to Berlin for the gig. Also I am good friends with the Freizeitglauben boys, who run the same name record shop at Bersarinplatz, just a short walk away. So on the first night Dirty Doehring will do the support.
And of course I’ll try to play as much as I can in the clubs in Berlin. So far I’m booked to play at some after hours at Bar25 or Club der Visionäre.
FW: What is your favourite club and why?
Panorama Bar. The sound system is excellent, but the main reason I like it is because of the phat crowd. There are heteros, gays, lesbians; punks, chavs, craftsmen but also well-off people like bankers and managers. People from almost every social class can be seen there, and together they all go wild.
That atmosphere is so special to me. Wow! Of course it’s a pleasure to spin there, but I also go there just to have fun.
FW: Do you remember what was the first and the last record you bought?
Remembering the last one isn’t a problem at all. That’s easy. Phonique’s “Gaga” on Moodmusic. I just returned from the record store about 30 minutes ago (laughs). The first record I bought…(pauses while thinking)…. I knew that one day somebody would ask me this question. When I started DJing I played funky vocal house so I guess the first record must have been Armand van Helden or something like that.
FW: Which other cities or countries do you want to play at?
Hmm, well, I’m already playing in Berlin (laughs). One day I would love to tour Australia or South America. Things which used to be dreams are the Turnmills gig in London or playing Thai Break in Thailand. This year I’ll also play at Mayday. I’m quite curious to check out the atmosphere at mass raves.
FW: You’re actually playing at two Maydays, the German one in Dortmund and the Russian one in St Peterburg.
Yes, that’s true. I’m also really keen to experience big events as well as the Eastern European crowd. Many DJs/artists say that the Polish, Czechs or Russians party pretty hard.
One thing I am really happy about are the gigs at several open air events such as Sonne, Mond & Sterne, the Melt! Festival and Nature One. That’s what I really like: open sky, the sun, warm weather and great music. I’m really happy that things I once dreamed about are now coming true.
FW: Finally, last year you were named “Best Newcomer” in the German magazine Groove. The year before the winner was Dominik Eulberg, and since then his international profile has certainly come along way. How much importance do you place on receiving such awards?
Hmm… Good question. In my opinion those kinds of reader polls are quite a good reflection of what is going on in dance music and who’s having success etc. Alhough, Dominik Eulberg has always been a strong producer and DJ.
Record sales are something the music industry has always been influenced by and used in an almost manipulative way. However, reader polls are quite honest since the readers state their opinion and send it to the magazines. It’s nice to see the results. I feel honoured, but it’s not like I’m walking through Berlin screaming: I’m the Best Newcomer for 2005!