Nicolai Bähr, also known as Javier Bähr, is a german DJ and member of the label and collective From Another Mind. Lukas Bodenstorfer is also a DJ under his alias Svar and is now based in Berlin. They are fully integrated in the techno scene in South Germany. Both artists already performed in several unique venues such as Bassiani, Tresor and Griessmühle and they were also residents of the former Mixed Munich Arts Club. Mike Parker, Adam X and Rebekah are just a few big names who have shared the bill alongside both talents. Recently they founded Rohstoff; a radioshow and record label with the focus on ambient and drone. Therefore, we are happy to speak with both guys about themselves and their label.
Hello Lukas and Nicolai, you two have been friends for a very long time, am I right? How did you get in contact with each other, and what role does music play in your friendship?
Lukas: That’s kind of a funny story. We actually met through the online chat of Boiler Room. I had just moved to Munich for my bachelors, this was in 2014, and BR Berlin was doing these regular live streams. So on day I was watching and just like that I asked in the chat if there’s someone watching from Munich too.
Nicolai: I remember that Dustin Zahn was playing and he had this quirky moving tentacle USB stick with him that I tried to find on the internet afterwards but sadly I didn’t succeed. Anyways, everyone in the chat was talking just about the stick because it was so funny. Then someone in the chat suddenly asked if anybody is watching from Munich. I had also just moved to the city to begin my studies, and so I answered Lukas’ call. We then added each other on Facebook and kept in touch and soon met up to spin some vinyl together. And that was the beginning of our beautiful friendship. So you could probably say that music played a vital role in connecting us and is obviously still very important to this day, leading us to our radio show together and ultimately also to our own music label called Rohstoff.
Nicolai, you’ve already contributed a podcast for us and we asked you some questions about your work and role for “From Another Mind”. I guess a lot has changed since then. Can you tell us about the current status of the label, and what you’re up to for “From Another Mind” ?
Nicolai: Yeah, the podcast for you guys has been a while now. I still listen to it from time to time to get a flashback of my mood during that period. Since then a lot happened. I finished my design studies in 2018 and currently I’m working at a marketing agency in Munich. I am not DJing that much anymore and can’t put so much time in music in general, mainly because of my full-time job. But I’m still with From Another Mind and still doing some graphic design for the label and the releases.
Lukas, you’ve recently moved to Berlin and already performed in some leading clubs such as Griessmühle and Tresor. What are the big differences between the Berlin and Munich techno scene?
Lukas: After finishing my sociology bachelors in Munich last year in September I decided to move to Berlin to begin a master’s degree, which I’m still currently working on. I did have some gigs here and there in Berlin already but I also don’t really play that regularly anymore. In part I think that this is because of the fact that the scene in Berlin is of course way bigger than the one in Munich, but at the same time the community is also a lot more close-knit. It seems like you really need to know (the right) people to make it here. I would even go so far as to say that often music no longer comes in first place here (sadly). I really think this one of the biggest problems in this scene right now and this aspect led me to lose quite some fun in it. But of course this doesn’t hold true for every spot in the scene. In Berlin there are so many more niches for every different style and genre than Munich ever could. I think this is particularly due to the liberties and the free spaces the city offers and because of it’s force of attraction for “free thinkers”. But yeah, all in all I would say that it’s much harder to establish oneself in Berlin, even if the possibilities are seemingly more.
You both were residents of the “Mixed Munich Arts” in Munich, which was unfortunately closed this year. Tell us something about the club and how it influenced you.
Nicolai: Right from the start when I moved to Munich I regularly frequented MMA, so it was a no brainer to suggest it to my friends from From Another Mind when they were looking for a place to do label parties outside of their hometown Stuttgart. They were interested in what I had to tell and came to Munich for an Ilian Tape Night at MMA to check the club out. Needless to say that they fell immediately in love with it and specially it’s vibe. A couple of weeks later we got to do the first FAM Night at MMA with Inigo Kennedy and Zadig and after a few parties we became residents there.
After regularly playing and hanging out at the club almost every weekend I became really close with all the people involved and also started working there. I did a lot of different stuff during my three years there, took care of artists before, during and after the events and also did graphical design stuff, marketing and helped with the booking. I gained a lot of experience at MMA, as a DJ but also in a professional work sense. I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to play all kind of different time slots there with so many different and great artists. The memories will be in my mind and heart forever.
Lukas: I remember going to MMA for my first time right after the club opened. I wasn’t even living in Munich yet at that time and drove one hour from my hometown Ingolstadt just to check it out. Spencer Parker was playing all night long. Well, I too fell in love instantly with the club. So after moving to Munich I went there really often, almost every weekend, also because at the time they had bookings that you would not hear at other clubs in Munich. Then through Nicolai I got to know the people working there and after one thing led to the other I played the first time at MMA for a FAM party with Surgeon.
Skipping some time forward I finally became a resident and also started working a bit at the club, mainly doing social media and text work. I can say, that having the opportunity to hear so many cool artists every weekend there and playing regularly myself definitely had a big impact on me and on how my own sound evolved. A residency allows you to finesse your musical style and taste and most importantly teaches you to really connect to a crowd I think.
Nicolai: Yes, a residency at a club is probably the most important thing for evolving your own sound. And MMA gave us both that opportunity. Also I feel like MMA changed the whole scene in Munich. You could probably say that it made techno music big again in the city and got things going, especially with all the legendary events in the so called “Halle”.
Lukas: I remember those Halle nights fondly. The vibe of that location was always so special and parties went for crazy 12 hours sometimes there and were always packed. I didn’t ever think that was possible in Munich before then. Playing Halle in front of almost 1000 people was insane and definitely something to remember. But I think the real highlight at MMA was Nicolais and mine b2b all night long set we played in early 2018 at the club floor. We didn’t really know what to expect because there was no real headliner playing but the club was packed! All our friends where there and the vibe was just crazy! That was truly something special. We didn’t really prepare anything for this night but just went with the flow and it worked out perfectly somehow. We recorded the whole almost eight hours but kept it privately until recently. I think this set probably best encapsulates our very similar idea of techno.
Nicolai: The opportunity to play long sets like our b2b and also the need to adapt to different floors (small intimate club & big room Halle) gives one the chance to experiment a lot while playing. Because you play there regularly in front of more or less the same regular audience it also forces you to always change things up if you don’t want to play the same music every weekend.
Lukas: Yes I totally agree on that! You get the chance to really tell a story and to move between different styles and genres, which definitely has an impact on how you approach sets. We really had some amazing times at MMA and we both are very grateful for the opportunities and the trust the club and its people put in us. But this all being said I also have to say that sadly not everything went so smoothly. Without going too much into details, many things changed for the worse during the years and some bad decisions were made by some specific people. This was probably not really apparent from the surrounding world outside the club. This ultimately led Nicolai first and then some time later me to end the residency at the club. This was some months before the club shut down for good. But even if things ended in a somewhat frustrating way for us there, we will always remember the good times at MMA
Listening through your mixes, it seems like you also have a passion for ambience and drone. How did you get in touch with it, and where did you get inspired?
Nicolai: I got into ambient music through movie scores. I already had some vinyl with ambient tracks on them but I didn’t really know when to play them or for which occasion. Then I went to Berghain my first time ever. It was on a Saturday night and I got to listen to the opening DJ. He created such an intense atmosphere only by playing beatless tracks and ambient pieces. This stuck with me somehow and after that I fell in love with the idea of building up a (opening) set from 0 to 100 and of creating a tension curve throughout my sets.
Lukas: For my part, I actually didn’t really bother with ambient until Nicolai introduced me to it and somehow taught me to appreciate it. At some point I really obsessed with ambient music, during a period when I kind of got bored from club-oriented techno because every new release coming out sounded sort of similar or just plain boring. Also I think it’s more fun to dig for ambient music because the whole genre is so much more complex and diverse in my opinion, so you get to discover way more cool and weird stuff and sometimes I even still get really surprised by certain tracks or releases. A feeling that I sadly rarely get anymore when digging for (at least contemporary) techno.
Let’s talk about Rohstoff, it started as a podcast series and became a label no? When and how did you come up with the idea to start a label with a focus on ambience and drone?
Nicolai: Actually Rohstoff started as a monthly radio show on the Munich community platform Radio80000. A friend of ours who already had a show there approached us and asked if we didn’t want to host our own live program. He knew that we dig ambient music, so he suggested that we do a show with the focus on that, since at that time there wasn’t any other program on the radio that played this kind of music. We liked the idea and really ambient wasn’t a thing in Munich back then, so we created Rohstoff.
Lukas: I guess you could say it’s a podcast at the same time too, because we always upload the two hours long shows on our Soundcloud afterwards. Anyways the idea for the label came kind of naturally as an evolution or extension of the radio. It follows the same concept more or less. To us it’s important to mention that we don’t want to limit the show & label to only ambient or drone music.
We want to play and present music that you don’t usually hear in a “normal” club context, at least not in Munich at the time we started the whole thing. I would say that our mixes and guests are always very diverse. Sometimes for example there’s drum and bass playing, other times new wave or any other style. The only line we draw is that we don’t want to play music which is considered “peak time”. Apart from that we are open for everything that we think is cool.
How do you organize the label? What are the biggest difficulties?
Nicolai: All the conceptual and organizational label work is done by us. We work really closely together and try to share the workload more or less evenly but everyone has of course his own strengths. I for example work mainly on the graphic side while Lukas does all the text work. Also since Lukas moved to Berlin we have to coordinate everything from afar, but that hasn’t gladly really been a problem until now. But we also get some help fro friends with layout stuff mainly. Also mastering is done externally by Nihad Tule and the digital distribution is also done externally by wordandsound. The cassettes we distribute ourselves to records hops like Public Possession in Munich or Sound Metaphors in Berlin.
Lukas: As for the main difficulties I would say that we have some problems sticking with our self-imposed deadlines and timings, for one part because we are full-time busy with work and studies and then also because of delays on the external part. But I guess this is somewhat normal in this business, so we try to not get under pressure by this. I would even say we work pretty laid back on the label. If a deadline is missed we just postpone it and that’s the end of it. I would say that we’re both pretty industrious and organized so missing deadlines on our own part isn’t really the case often anyway.
What was the feedback for your label so far?
Nicolai: We don’t want to put any media budget in the label, we do all marketing and PR by ourselves, so it’s quite hard to grow and gain reach. But nevertheless we got some really great feedback from artists and friends, including some big names in the electronic music scene. This is really motivating and even makes us proud a little bit.
Lukas: Also we are very thankful for every opportunity given to us, for example we got to host 2 label nights at mighty Blitz Club in Munich already. The feedback for those partys was also really good. Of course in the ethos of the label we didn’t play any peak time music, but the crowd really did enjoy it nevertheless or maybe even especially because of this! Things like this help us immensely in promoting our label and releases and enables us to reach people that maybe didn’t even know up until then that they like this kind of music.
You’ve already received two releases by Farceb and Sova Stroj, two unknown but great artists. How did you find these two producers, and how do you generally look for new talents?
Lukas: Preparing a two hours radio show every month requires quite some exploring and digging if you don’t want to play the same stuff every time. We spend many hours every month on Bandcamp for example just searching for new music we like. This way we discover a lot of exciting music and amazing artists and people with whom we think we would like to work with. We are always looking for cool and fresh artists and really also like to support lesser known people we think are talented and deserve to be heard. I would say that finding someone who wants to work with us is always more of a process.
Nicolai: Farceb for example had already some cool techno releases on some bigger labels. But his release Rebirth and Fertility on Rohstoff was his first complete ambient release. We heard his unreleased and unmixed ambient tracks on his soundcloud and thought that it would be cool to release them and also to give him the opportunity to present this other side of him. So we connected and everything worked out great!
Both albums came out on cassettes which is arguably considered a very unsual media format. Why did you choose cassette instead of vinyl?
Nicolai: Cassette is actually a pretty common format for ambient, drone or experimental music. There are many small creative labels all over the world who release music on this warm sounding format. We think that listening to a cassette requires a certain amount of “deceleration” and we like this idea. We want people to consciously listen to our releases. In our opinion this is more important than ever in times of so called “business techno”. Also we think it’s very important to have a physical object as a release because it feels like it gives the whole venture a more special and important feel, at least for us.
Lukas: And then there is also quite frankly a very pragmatic side to this, namely that the production of cassettes is way faster and cheaper. Because of our kind of laid back approach to leading the label it’s just not possible for us to wait six or more months for a vinyl release how it’s often the case nowadays, mainly because we really don’t plan every detail that much time ahead. So instead we decided to do cassettes. But maybe we will also do vinyl releases in the future, we haven’t decided on that yet and it’s a possibility. We will see.
Could you tell us something about the idea and concept of your artwork?
Lukas: Rohstoff is German and means raw material or an unprocessed resource in English. It’s something that serves as a starting point for further stages of development or processing. We thought that this definition would be very fitting for the idea we had in mind when we started the whole thing. We always aim to be true to ourselves and also to our working material or music we release and always try to further develop or evolve the whole concept as we go. The radio show and label are conceived as a never ending, always evolving process and in this sense we think the name Rohstoff is very fitting.
Nicolai: As for the artwork we naturally try to keep it in the same vein: Until now we only used black and white photographies of buildings, raw concrete or similar structures. Mainly because we dig that kind of motives and deem it perfectly fitting for the music we want to release. Next year we’re planning to mix things up a bit and will introduce a different design concept. As Lukas already said, we aim to keep things always evolving, so we determined some time ago already that we are going to change the design concept every 4 releases.
Are you planning some “techno” releases or will you stay on ambience and drone?
Nicolai: As already said, we are very open-minded. It probably depends on how you define techno. We don’t want to and never will release “peak time” music and pieces that are intended to be played in such occasions. But in principle we are not opposed to release also techno if we think it will be fitting for the label.
Lukas: I think it’s really hard to answer this right now to be honest, because as also already mentioned we want to keep things evolving, so we can’t really say what we’re going to be doing in 1 or 2 years and therefore also what will be appropriate for the label at that time. The only certain thing I think is that we will always want our focus on music outside the usual club context.
Last but not least, tell us about the future of the label. Are you also producing and planning to release your own productions?
Nicolai: We are releasing our third LP Porcelana by the talented Portugues Apart on tape and digital formats on the 14th of August and are very excited for this release because we truly think it’s great! Besides that we are working on some merch that will be available soon. We are also already brainstorming what we will be doing next year, especially which direction we want the whole design concept to take. And then besides Rohstoff I’m also working on a different solo project right now: I’m going to start a techno label that will be releasing on vinyl next year. It will focus on more dancefloor oriented music. And finally I’m also producing some music myself here and there when I have some spare time, so let’s wait and see where this leads in the future.
Lukas: For Rohstoff we are always looking for fresh sounding artists we want to work with so that’s always a next immediate step for us. Also we want to do more label parties, maybe also in Berlin and then on the radio part of things we want to invite even more guests to do radio shows and mixes and even maybe start a dedicated podcast series. Apart from Rohstoff I’m also currently working on something else: I’m planning to start an event series in Berlin with my roommate. We are still at a very early stage of conceptualizing and development, so I can’t tell you much right now but we want to do something with a fresh graphical approach. Musically the focus will also lie on more “classic” dance floor oriented stuff. So keep an eye out for that!