Rødhåd’s favoured mode of communication is music – especially his captivating marathon dj-sets, which he has become known for far beyond his native Berlin. Nevertheless, we got the opportunity to interview him about his debut album, which was released today. Named after his year of birth, and of course Orwell’s infamous dystopian novel, 1984 was Rødhåd’s first release on Dystopian, the label he founded with a couple of friends in 2012. Five years and eight EPs later, Anxious is his first long player. It continues in the same direction he set out with his two most recent EPs Kinder der Ringwelt and Söhne der Erde. On a remarkably warm and sunny October morning we met in his flat to talk about the dark and menacing sonic world of the LP.
Did you have a clear vision of where you wanted to go with the LP?
In the beginning there was no clear concept. But I had the rough idea to make an imaginary movie soundtrack, inspired by the first dystopian movies I ever watched. These have fascinated me even since I was too young to fully understand them. I took time off from touring in January and February, and began producing things with the idea in mind to make an album. I developed quite a lot of ideas – about 60 or 70 drafted tracks. Eventually I stopped collecting ideas, and started honing the sketches that would make sense together as an album.
And when was the moment you felt that the album was done?
At the end of February, the Dystopian crew got together and made a final selection of tracks. After working so much on it, I didn’t have an objective view on the music any more. I needed a fresh pair of eyes on it. So we sat down in the studio together and decided which tracks should be part of the album.
I guess this is one of the most difficult parts of making an album, to be able to say: “OK, now it’s done. ”
Making the final arrangement, knowing that the track will be like this forever, unchangeable, that is the most difficult part of making music. When you have a cool idea and then have to pin it down like that. To say: “OK, that’s how it should be.” To come up with the ideas is quite easy for me, I would say.
When you decided which tracks would make it on the album, where there some tracks that were difficult to let go?
We had got it down to 25 tracks. There were a few tracks where I was sure should stay on the album. But as time went on, they didn’t make sense together any more, so there was no point in holding on to them. I would rather release them in another way. I am also working on a live set at the moment, so maybe some of those tracks can become part of that instead.
How would you describe the relation between abstraction and function in the album?
Of course there are techno albums that are clearly produced with the dance floor in mind. But right from the start, my intentions weren’t to make an album that only works on the dance floor. The idea was to create something that you can listen to at home – something that has a story and builds up a certain tension that is eventually released again. Many of the tracks are very slow, so I wouldn’t play them in my regular dj-sets. The track Vril and I made together fits the mood of the album really well but is very functional too.
Have you tried some of the tracks when playing out lately?
Yes. Target Line, and Left Behind both work in a club setting. Escape does too. You have to pitch that one up a bit since it’s only 120 bpm, but it still has a certain momentum. You could play all of the tracks in a club, it just depends on the particular level of energy that is present in a certain moment.
When listening to the album, one is drawn into a very distinct atmosphere. How do you build this atmosphere more concretely when you are in the studio?
In the studio I often start by producing a single sequence, or just some drones. Usually I add the drums quite late. Only a few of the tracks on the LP have a straight techno-beat. I wanted to make techno but also stay very open. This helped me to create new ideas and avoid constantly repeating myself. Most of the tracks would probably also work without the drums. The sounds you can hear in the background on Escape were originally part of a separate project that could have worked on its own as an ambient track. It creates a certain mood, which also reflects the overall concept of our label. Maybe it has something to do with the time of the year when I made the album too. I mean, Berlin in January and February can be quite gloomy and cold and grey, and I guess this is also reflected in the music.
Considering the inspirational backdrop of Dystopian, in what sense is techno also political for you?
The world is changing. When you look at Donald Trump, or surveillance laws being tightened and pushed through in Germany. Or when you see how Facebook and Google collect masses of information about people. Or the video surveillance in cities like London, where there is a camera on every corner.
It seems like the ideas and concerns in fictional work like Orwell’s 1984 – which was written in 1948 – are getting more and more concrete and relevant. In that sense there is a certain political aspect in my work. My intention is not to criticise, but rather to create awareness. After that, everyone has to figure out themselves how to deal with it. So I wouldn’t call myself political in a strict sense. I always try to keep that out a bit, because the music should be able to speak for itself.
Is your work as a musician also a way of dealing with living in these dystopian times?
Dark and melancholic thoughts have always moved me more than “instant happiness” sort of ideas. In the end, the things that come out of me just happen. They are not forced in any way. It’s not like I am sitting on a chair and think: “Oh, now I have to make this dark piece of music”. It has always been like this in my music, it just comes streaming out of me. There’s a lot of trial and error as well. It is seldom at the start of a track that I know where I want to go, like it was in the case of Target Line. Vril and I knew that we wanted to make a rave track with a proper bass line. But usually a track just slowly comes into being.
Can you point out a single track that has become especially important for you throughout the process of making the album? Or is there one that you are particularly happy with?
I think that the most personal ones are these short, small interludes. I like Cast a Shadow a lot. The general listener might not find it particularly spectacular, but it is the most personal one. Of course, I like all of the tracks because these are the ten tracks we eventually filtered out of this big pool of material.
How would you say that your sound has evolved since your first release in 2012?
Technically speaking the newer stuff is much better. I try to do everything on my own now. On the first release, Thomas (Don Williams, editor’s note) still helped me with the mixdowns, EQing and so on. The actual content has changed too. I am not that interested anymore in making music just for the dance floor. This probably has to do with the fact that I am playing so many gigs. I don’t mean to say that, lets call it “standard techno” is getting boring to me. I still enjoy playing techno and making dance music, but when I come to the studio after a long weekend of heavy touring, I just want to do something else.
In which direction do you think you are heading with your sound?
My goal for next year is to make a live set. Not just play my music live, but to go a step further by opening up another level through a visual element. Also, I could see myself doing something for a movie potentially. If someone asked me to, I would definitely consider it. Or perhaps collaborate more with artists other than musicians. But of course I can’t predict these things now. And I have a lot to learn.
How did the album cover come to shape?
In the end the cover was a happy accident. The photographer I usually work with, Matthias Wehovsky, and I did a photo shooting. We had some kind of idea that I would appear on the cover in one way or another. But not as Mike Bierbach or Rødhåd, but with a mask or some make-up. Originally, the idea was to put the picture which now is on the inner sleeve on the outside. But, in my opinion, the picture we chose eventually was the most expressive one, and the one embodying the album’s title in the best possible way. Also in the sense that part of being anxious can be to face your fears and fight back.
What does “anxious” mean to you?
For me the term has different levels of meaning. When you release your first album, the expectations and pressures are high. Clearly, this can make you a bit anxious. At the time we were deciding on the title, my father had a heavy accident on his motorbike. Naturally, these emotions also influenced the decision.
On the other hand, “anxious” refers to the dystopian political times in which we find ourselves at the moment. For me it is about an underlying feeling of discomfort. I feel it when travelling, for example. It is not that I constantly think that there is going to be a terror attack, or that there is a bomb around every corner, but it is about this constant subliminal unease. But again, for me it is not about judging this in any way, but to make people think about what being anxious could mean to them.
You can buy the album here.
Photo credit: Matthias Wehofsky