We visited Berlin’s Subjected in his studio to discuss collaboration, studio mishaps and his new Subjected Systems imprint.
Your very first Facebook post this year was about a burglary that had taken place in your studio. What happened?
Yes, they actually broke in here on New Years Eve. It was a bit crazy, since I was in the middle of playing a set at Griessmühle that morning, and Daniel (aka Andrejko), who runs the studios here, was in Amsterdam. When he is not in town I’m the one responsible for the studios. So in the middle of my set Daniel suddenly called me. First I though he was drunk or something, since he knew that I was busy playing. But he didn’t stop calling for over an hour, and finally he sent a message saying that someone had broken into our studio. That was it for me. I couldn’t continue playing. I started imagining everything that could have been stolen. If the modular system had been gone I would have become so angry. We didn’t even have insurance.
No insurance at all?
No, but now we have. Until that happened we were a bit negligent, one could say. Anyway, I had to come here to talk to the police. Fortunately, the robbers hadn’t been professionals, otherwise they would have taken much more. “Only” my MacBook, a few guitars and some movie equipment from two other studios were missing. But of course it was a big shock. And I had to spend the whole 1st of January here with the police.
There was a good side to it as well, though. It really opened my eyes to how important it is to have your equipment insured. And I finally got to buy myself a Mac Pro, which I’ve always wanted.
So it was a blessing in disguise?
Well, in the beginning I was very shocked and thought that this isn’t a good omen for the new year. But actually the year has been quite good so far. And I learned from it.
A few weeks ago, the water pipe at a friend’s studio burst, so the whole studio was flooded. They didn’t have any insurance either, but were very lucky as well, so all of the equipment survived.
I think a lot of musicians ignore these kinds of risks. Last year I visited Speedy J in his studio, and he asked me if I do backups of my work. I answered something like “yes, of course, that is something I ideally should do…” Then he told me about an extremely bitter experience he had made a few years back. He had been working on a big, 5.1 surround sound project, so there was an enormous amount of data. Just before he was finished, both his hard disks crashed, and he couldn’t recover them. From that point on he became very disciplined doing backups, and I have become the same. If he wouldn’t have given me that tip, I would have lost all my recent projects: A new album, and of course the first Subjected Systems EP.
Yes, tell us about your new imprint.
The idea to start a new label in addition to Vault Series came up a couple of years ago. Vault Series has always been quite limited, since I have a fixed group of artists that release there. It has been important for me to have this as a platform for friends, as a place anchored here in Berlin, where we can have a good and direct exchange.
But at the same time I felt more and more that I also would like to have the opportunity to release work by artists I meet when I’m touring across the globe. Many people ask me if they can send me demos, and up until now I could only answer “yes, of course you can send it to me, but I can’t release it.” The new label allows me to be more open, also music wise. When I had decided to star the new label, I sat down with graphic designer Jonathan de Kalbermatten to design the artwork for the first EP and a logo.
What is the story behind it?
It can mean many things. It could be four Diplodocus heads, four of those dinosaurs walking behind each other in a row. Or it could be four quickly written notes. Many people also think it’s a zodiac sign. But actually it’s simply the label code, SSSS, written in Fraktur letters, an old German typeface. It took us some time to arrive there, and now I’m quite proud of the result. Normally, I’m very impatient, but the three months of working on the design sketches were really worth it.
Can you tell us a bit about the collaboration with Andrejko?
Working together with others in the studio is something I enjoy a lot. Sometimes I am in the studio with Escape to Mars, Mistake Made or, as mentioned earlier, with Speedy J. I like having that direct exchange, rather then sending tracks back and forth digitally.
The good thing about the collaboration with Andrejko is that he gives me a lot of new impulses. He doesn’t have such a rigid working pattern as I do yet, so he helps me to break out of the limitations I have set for myself. He takes away my blinkers so to speak.
How did the collaboration happen in the first place?
That’s a good question. We were both residents at Stattbad, and he was also one of the main people running the club before it had to shut down in 2015. They booked me, he liked what I was doing and after a while a friendship evolved. We also dj’ed together a few times, and often talked about that we should make some music together. As is often the case – especially in Berlin – it took some time until we were actually sitting together in the studio. But then it was very refreshing, because he always makes me try new things. And now, here we are with our first release.
He was also the one who came up with the idea to find another studio from the one I had earlier in Marzahn. I didn’t feel comfortable there. It was more like a “creativity killer”. It took about 40 minutes by tram to go there from my flat, and when the tram drove into that grey concrete tristesse, all my plans and ideas just vanished. All of the inspiration was gone. Now we have been in this new studio in Neukölln for almost one and a half years, and are really happy with it.
When did you start working on the EP?
Actually, we started working on the Caldera track before we moved here. At that time I had the studio in my living room, until my neighbours complained. Daniel started with an idea, we worked a bit on that, but we never really liked what came out of it. But at some point last year we sat down again, here in the studio, and finished the track. The other tracks were also made during last year.
Most of the sounds are from the modular system. We made a lot of recordings. When we made WEGA for instance, we had just planned to meet in the studio for a couple of gin tonics. We ended up recording a lot of sounds, not even with the thought in mind to make a track, just to try out a few things. At some point the track evolved out of this. That’s mainly how we have been working, making a lot of recordings and then putting them together in Ableton.
Is Subjected Systems meant as a kind of antithesis to Vault Series, which has a more DIY-feel to it?
Yes. For Vault Series I do everything myself. I stamp each single record, and I do the design for the label. The vinyls just come in a simple black inner sleeve. With Subjected Systems I wanted to do something else, something that looks more professional. It should be a piece of art – also visually.
Another aspect is connected to my impression that techno is so strongly associated with darkness at the moment. If you go to Berghain, almost everyone wears black. There is so much uniformity. For me that doesn’t really represent the techno attitude any more, when everyone wears the same, does the same. And that is something I would like to loosen up a bit. If you were at a rave in Berlin during the late 90s/early 2000s, people were much more colourful. I myself used to go raving in clubs like Casino, Matrix or Tresor with plateau shoes, a colourful outfit and gelled hair.
White gloves were popular at that time as well, right?
Yes, some wore those, and some came in neon-coloured safety vests. I was at the Love Parade for the first time in 1996 or 1997. It was so colourful, with sunflowers and whatnot. And for me that is also part of techno. So yes, in that sense Subjected Systems is meant as a contrast to the darkness a lot of contemporary techno represents.
It’s always nerve-racking launching a new label, but how do you feel now launching Subjected Systems, compared to when you started Vault Series back in 2010?
Well, I just recovered from shingles, and I didn’t get that without a reason. It’s often triggered by stress. I thought I wasn’t stressed. But when I came to the emergency room, the first question I was asked was if I had been under a lot of stress recently. I think there were a few things coming together. Putting together the album, the final work with the new label and so on. There are good and bad forms of stress, but I think I just misjudged it.
When I stared Vault Series, Sawlin and I had collected a few tracks, but no one wanted to release them. Somehow people weren’t ready for that kind of techno back then. It was too hard for most people. A bit too much. So then I just decided to do it myself. Initially, the plan was to do four releases and then stop. Now we are at our 23rd release. I think we were lucky to slip into a certain niche.
And now, after over twenty releases one is older and wiser. I would have done a few things differently, but not everything. With Subjected Systems we just have to see how it evolves. What I can say for now is that there are at least two more releases set for this year.
To round things off, we are happy to present Monument 161, which Subjected himself put together for us. Enjoy!
Markus Suckut – Path | Figure
Evod – Visible | Float Records
Mistake Made – Relief | Vault Series
Ellen Allien – Innocence (Truncate Remix) | BPitch Control
Troy – Redshift | Klockworks
Stef Mendesidis – Operator | Projekts
Andrejko & Subjected – Caldera | Subjected Systems
Wisna – Assesine | ARTS
Gemini Voice Archive – Framauros Plains (Slam Remix) | Soma
Alpha Tracks – Sage Green | Morbid Records
Mistake Made – Knot | Vault Series
Stef Mendesidis – Cyborg | Projekts
Dj Scout – Juno Trip | Tesco
Strathy – Space Nation | Vault Series
Symmetrical Behaviour – Colvolution Neural Network | Soma
Strathy – Jing Jin Ji | New Rhythmic