Fiedel (real name Michael Fiedler) is predominantly known for his residency at Berghain and contributions to the Ostgut Ton label, however his musical work and impact on the scene certainly override this eminent status.
Fiedel’s subtle, consistent and multifaceted approach to actively co-create and sustain underground music culture in Berlin (and beyond) could be traced back to the 90s when he started out as a DJ, began his collaborative project “MMM” with Errorsmith and in 2000 became a resident at OstGut Club (now Berghain). Michael is behind one of the most recognised local parties Wax Treatment, affiliated with the eponymous Hard Wax record shop and performs at CTM Festival for the reoccuring piece Dance is Ancient. Fiedel channels the diversity and liberation of music throughout his sets with a meticulous, playful, sometimes hard and always surprising art of DJing.
He speaks fondly on inclusivity in the music scene, the challenges he faces in the context of the dynamic industry shifts, the need to reinvent himself as an artist and the music he releases on his latest project – the Super Sound Tool label. The legendary DJ also shares three records he recently added to his toolbox.
Fiedel, you recently launched the label Super Sound Tool with your signature vision about music: “Big sound before big names’’. The first release saw the debut of Duncan Macdonald and a track by Mode_1, who already appeared on your compilations on the Fiedeltwo imprint. How do you select the artists you want to present on Super Sound Tool and what is the concept behind this project?
I know those guys from playing. Mode_1 is a resident at District 8 in Dublin and Duncan hosted a party last year at The Villa in Oslo. We just exchanged music and I thought it would be nice to have it on a record and get to play it! I also had in mind those records with proper cuts which used to be made specifically for DJs in the past as maxi singles on 45RPM with wider grooves than standard to increase volume and remove background noise.
Is this a way to combine your passion for playing records, and your technical knowledge as a Sound Engineer? Are you introducing something old in a new way which is solving an issue you’ve encountered as a DJ?
I’ve played music for over thirty years now. I started with cassettes in the GDR and after this I got into the technical aspects of sound. As a DJ I still like to play vinyl, and it’s really hard when almost nobody knows how to do a proper vinyl set up anymore. I spend a lot of time preparing records and then the turntables have terrible feedback, so two years ago I decided not to play vinyl anymore when I go abroad. I think it doesn’t really matter whether you play vinyl or digital as long as you are able to put some soul into it – for instance DJ Pete can do some really amazing sets digitally. However, I like the handling, moving around and touching of records. You don’t need to scroll and remember names. Imagine a ten-hour set and having to read all the time! It’s more like an artist playing an instrument, you have to touch the record, the turntables, you need a certain skill in order to beat match. I am not only an engineer, I like to do something with my hands, to build stuff, to paint. I’m a former graffiti artist, that’s really what’s inside me, so maybe this was the call!
The technical issue is that in many recent releases the music is just transferred onto the record in a very normal, standardised process because either people don’t know better or it’s cheaper. Now it works like this:you produce tracks, they are sent to a mastering facility, then they are sent to a cutting facility and so on, and it’s all standardised as people are not involved.
I get to see every little bit of the things I do. I always use Dubplates & Mastering where I used to work in former times, it’s next to Hard Wax. I take care of using the materials – the actual lacquer where the music is cut into, to push it to the limits so the output is the best quality for a DJ. The records are produced with a proper DJ cut and with an easy to use sleeve: it’s a disco bag, you have no inner sleeves – just put on the record, play it, put it back.
That’s handy! You already got the second release of #Tool2 out in December, who’s on it?
Espen (Lauritzen) from Krill Records. He is Argentinian, lived in Tromsø, Norway, and is now in Kiev. And then Philippe Petit, who runs the labels Knotweed Records and Decision Making Theory. He is quite an old school DJ from Belgium but he lives in France now and plays different things like funk, soul, house and techno.
I chose those tracks because I found them very playful, they fit into my sets and they were not outspoken hits that you could remember from their melodies. They really work as tools or weapons when you play them on the dancefloor, they are kind of invisible but powerful. This was the aim – to look for certain tracks that were not too deep, not too dark, with a certain energy that I want to play myself on different occasions. Not like banging hard techno, well.. one of them is, but you can really mix them. The track by Philippe is more like a bouncy Robert-Hood-like track which is a tool you can use in different points of the set.
How do you prepare for the Berghain residency after so many years and what about your set for their birthday at the ambient floor Halle?
I played at Halle for the first time two years ago and I play ambient for twenty years now. I have to step out of the “Berghain resident” stamp and try to play different gigs, so I asked to do an ambient set for their birthday. I am also doing a piece for CTM festival, Dance is Ancient.
How did you get involved with Dance is Ancient? Do you enjoy participating in cultural events like CTM Festival and do you need to step out of the Berghain image for such performances?
Not completely stepping out of it, but taking advantage of my experience there and pulling a little bit of the energy that is created in clubs like Berghain. The choreographer Fréderic Gies dances a lot to my sets there so he approached me to do the music for his pieces. This was six years ago and now we work on conceptual works together.
*** Their next collaborative event is Tischlerei at Staatsballett Kreativ on 21st Feb
I participate for the music, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a club for me, so I also enjoy playing at Halle. I create a space filled with emotions, a journey I want to take people on, regardless of the setting. The audience at Dance is Ancient are not techno heads but they enjoy the music and follow me as I guide them through. This says something about the quality of music and its universal touches – people don’t have to be into techno to be able to see the connection. Communicate without words, have freedom of expression. This is how I prepare for sets.
Speaking of freedom of expression, in the GDR you experienced censorship and distinct rules on what is accessible and what is not. How has this influenced your career as a DJ and the music you introduce people to?
When the wall was still up, for me radio was the window to the world, and there was just music on it. It made me yearn for places to be, as I could feel this energy. I wanted to be there, where this was created. I like to do the same with my sets and show people different music because nowadays so many are listening to “only techno” which is a small piece of my music horizon. I want to introduce them to different kinds and moods of music. Sometimes it’s only dark, sometimes they come and say “Please, play Berghain techno!” to which I think ‘’Have you even heard me playing there?’’. It’s all techno but it is different. To be able to play there for so many years I need to reinvent myself.
***Listen to an episode of his favourite radio show hosted by Monika Dietl here.
You also have a residency at Khidi in Georgia, and travel frequently for international gigs. Do you think music helps making sense of the social climate and political chaos such as in the context of Georgia currently? Do you carry the rebellious Berlin spirit which graced the unification process?
People look for places to be themselves in. In our society, in problematic areas like Georgia, there is so much societal and money pressure – everybody is struggling with their lives. Khidi is a place where people can just be and enjoy themselves without any fear. This is what I experienced when I came to Berlin as a raver. I was hardly eighteen when I went to my first techno rave here. I attended Acid parties before, but not Techno. I was also into Hip-Hop but back then Hip-Hop was more about who’s the biggest, who’s doing the best scratches and was quite homophobic. Whereas the experience in the Techno scene was “Everybody’s welcome!”. It didn’t matter where you come from, whether you have money or how you are dressed. I was dressed normally, some people were dressed like birds of paradise. We all came together to be ourselves, to enjoy the energy that the crowd generated. So that is the experience and the mindset I want to carry on.
Is this why you created Wax Treatment? I heard you used to throw parties with Shed back in your hometown, is this related?
No. Wax Treatment happened when Mark Ernestus (owner of Hard Wax) asked me if I want to take care of their soundsystem as he knew I studied Theatre and Entertainment Engineering. So I am a KILLASAN captain for eighteen years now and I take care of its maintenance and renting it out.
We were looking for a place to install the soundsystem so the best idea would have been that it could stay there when it’s set up and we would just open it and play music. But it didn’t happen. We found places like Horst, Griessmühle and in between Kiekebusch, where it’s set up regularly and is stored in one place. This is a truckload full of equipment. When Horst was about to open, Johnnie Stieler (Tresor and Horst Krzbrg club founder) called Mark, so we got together, we saw we finally have a space for it and Wax Treatment occurred.
I like that you do not announce the line ups which is something radical for the club scene. Especially now when everyone is so hyped about names. You already created a community of people who trust you and know what they are going for. It removes the…
…the pressure of name dropping, of paying high fees to get people in.
It’s basically going against the system of the music industry while thriving in it. Where’s the fine line?
Somehow you have to find your way to live with this. I am really in between both sides,I have this one thing and then the “music industry” thing. I don’t call it “music industry” because I don’t feel as a part of an industry. The industry is something that makes a mass production for mass people, it’s the Business Techno side and they can do whatever they want to. But you have to decide for yourself if you want to do it or not, if you want to be part of it, if you want to be willing to, let’s say, do an Instagram post every two hours with money and promotion, and things like that.
I hardly do it. Only for projects like the record label when it makes sense to push a little bit. If some DJs ask for high fees, they spend half of the fees for PR, photographers and all the rest they need, in order to maintain their high level.
If you actually organise events to push a certain type of music and values, the right audience will always find you. They would stick with you for longer rather than someone who randomly saw an ad amongst all the other PR like you mention. Is this the case with your crowd?
This is also a piece of work. To be honest with you, I wanted to quit Wax Treatment five years ago because it was way too much. Everybody drew themselves out, and everything was on my shoulders, I couldn’t manage it. Then some Wax Treatment friends and KILLA back then said: “We love Wax Treatment and what happens there, give us some tasks and we will do them for you”. I had to let go and let them learn their trade. When we started at Kiekebusch and then at Griessmuehle, a big part of the work of KILLA was to create a community and to find who to book. She took over completely the organisation of all Griessmuehle events. Each DJ you book brings a different crowd, for example rRoxymore. So everybody can experience this and it’s growing bit by bit. You don’t make a big advertisement ‘’We have this, here and now!’’. It is just about gradually creating this crowd and building up the community that we have. It is impossible if you only go for big names. Sometimes I see those posters with big headliners and think “It’s really nice that we don’t have to care about this!’’
You’ve been dancing and playing at so many clubs that don’t exist anymore. Now Berlin’s Griessmuehle is closing after so many attempts by supporters to keep the club open. Do you think it’s good to have this change in the scenery?
Yes and no. It is just the way it works. Look at WMF that changed all the time. For the twenty years they existed, I know six different places where they’ve been and they always reinvented themselves. Tresor also moved. Now there is a big shopping centre where it used to be.
You tell stories and create a journey inspired by moments from your thirty years of experience with music. Some of your most praised music is by Mantronix and Egyptian Lover, or the early Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk. Are there any contemporary artists who make such an impression on you or leave a remarkable impact on the industry?
On my heart or the music industry (laughs)? I really like Mode_1, he’s quite an young artist, very talented producer and a nice person as well. For mastering you don’t have to do anything with his tracks, it’s just on point, all the tracks are really clean and powerful, and really different vibes as well.
He has an upcoming EP on Knotweed, also quite smooth. He told me he signed for another label and I want to do something with him on Fiedeltwo. Maybe a four-tracker because he has so much good music and I want to play it. Of course, I can play the digital tracks but I’d like to have it as a physical thing, as a record, which is also important for the producer. Everything else is just a file that you can copy, share and just use somewhere.
And from the industry…since I am not really interested, it is hard to say. Sometimes l watch all those DJs, male and female, and try to experience them in the venues I play, I stay to listen, to see what’s their magic or craft? Pushing the music to the red, using the same filters, playing Business Techno – that’s it, there’s nothing more about it, and I say “Ok, that’s how it is.” Like I said, the industry is a mass production for the masses.
Is this paradoxical since techno emerged from the industrialisation process and it was how people wanted to oppress the system?
If you go back to history people use the technology, but in a different way. They put some soul into it like the Detroit guys or the Chicago guys, or the New York guys. But the industry is not able to put soul into it, because it’s an industrialized, standardised process, mostly robots do the work, there’s no soul. That’s the difference: using the technology in a different way that is creating some soulful experience with it. In my opinion Business Techno is pushing, yes, that’s it. It just serves the purpose of making money and making people dance with breaks and pushing beats. There’s nothing special to it, it’s rather boring. If you have three hours of Business Techno you would be so bored.
Of course I like to play tracks that go into that direction – harder and faster, but that’s only a part of the journey. You cannot go like this all the time. Currently for the closing in my sets I switch from vinyl to digital towards the end, because digital music is more danceable, more pushy, as means to present that journey, to create those moods on the dancefloor.
Techno became mainstream. It became a whole new place, a whole marketplace with tools you could use, a certain image, advertisement. On top of all is not the best quality product, it is just the product that could afford to be there with their campaigns like Coca-cola and McDonalds. Since it became more mainstream, more people tapped into the music, in which they don’t have the musical background. They don’t have the music history that I have, for instance they just came to the music two years ago. Business Techno was already on, they like the feeling, it’s ok. Nothing bad or good.
It’s ok and on the other side, this mainstream situation allows me to travel, to be booked all over the world, because more people like this kind of music. Maybe they cannot tell the difference but they still came, so there’s comments like ‘’Wow, that’s techno but it’s different!” We need to be able to create something with the music, to touch the people, it is give and take. I don’t want to play too much in this business thing because I want to stay myself. If you do, you are selling yourself, it becomes just a job. I don’t want to do just a job, it’s more than this for me. So I decided not to go in that direction and maybe have a look at it but stay true to myself. In twenty-thirty years i’ll still play music, doesn’t matter if I play jazz or something else.
It’s admirable to preserve your own truth while being part of the “biggest techno club’’.
In its core, techno is inclusive whereas now, after becoming so mainstream like you said, it creates a division in different social groups or between ravers. Berghain and respectively Ostgut initially opened to gather free minded people to listen to good music together. Now the filtering on the door is slightly different – many people inside are there just for the image. I feel like you are doing a little revolution by playing your music to people who were expecting a certain sound but then they come out informed about other genres as well.
That’s exactly it. Berghain became a showroom. It became so hyped over the years and combined with the mainstream situation of course it attracts people who want to distinct themselves from other groups – “We dress like Berghain, look like Berghain, we act like Berghain”…whatever that is. There are no rules how to dress there, so it’s something they made up themselves. They want to be different from the other people but then Berghain as a club has to cope with it somehow.
Do you think they are doing well with introducing all those different floors like Saule and Halle?
They try to be more diverse but still… it’s like McDonalds: you want to eat – you go to McDonalds, you want to listen to techno – you go to Berghain. People who have nothing to do with the techno music say “Yes, I want to go there!” because they’ve heard about it and they just want to go there because of the hype which attracts many people. And then there are the people who have been there regularly, feeling and behaving like they are something special.
Is there a memorable recent gig where you took a risk with playing something unusual and unexpected to the audience but it was received utterly well?
There are a few this year but there was one in Freiburg, just a little city in the south of Germany, very provincial. I was supposed to play closing but then it wasn’t clear when I should stop. So I ended up playing an hour and a half longer than I was supposed to. I played techno and I started playing more bassy and breaks stuff towards the end and in this little city, they actually danced to it. I would expect them to dance to techno but then I could get them on my side and they didn’t want to stop dancing to this kind of music that they didn’t know before. They liked the feeling of it, they could connect to it, that was impressive. Also in Moscow at Gazgolder I could turn the crowd however I wanted to. They danced so much. They wanted to experience music.
What do you enjoy doing most outside of your all encompassing music world?
Sleeping (laughs). I like to be out in the nature. I live outside of Berlin so I go to the woods and enjoy the silence there, the sounds of nature, the fresh air – it calms me down. When I have the time I do some yoga and this relaxes me as a counterpart of this stressful life. It clears my head to be able to make a reset and go back to music with new ideas, or to my other things in life like MMM and my kids. They are eleven and fourteen years old, sometimes I take them for gigs. They got to know my job better and understand me. It’s a possibility to show them my world, escaping the matrix I was experiencing before, show them two options how to live their life and what to choose for themselves. I feel blessed I can make a living out of my passion.
Your last release on MMM (“Messe der Meister von Morgen”) was in 2014. Are you working on something with Erik (Errorsmith)?
We have been working on an album for quite a while already. We did a break for one and a half year as Erik was making his album on PAN Records and then went on touring for a whole year around the world. He deserves this. Now we are going back to making music again. It’s a slow process because we don’t focus on a set release date and take our time. At the end of the day it’s MMM – it is a special project.
What else are you looking forward to in 2020? Is there a certain tendency that concerns you as a producer or a DJ?
I am looking forward to connecting with more people in different ways, like through the label, to ask them about their music, to listen to their works, to exchange about music. I don’t want to get big names on the label. Maybe I would become a bit more important if I do so but that’s not the goal. It’s about getting people together, creating a beast network and connections to certain individuals. When they are in Berlin, we meet up. For instance with guys from New York, from Bogota. Some people live here already and that’s really nice to experience – to get to meet people, I enjoy talking to you for instance.
Thank you, it’s quite exciting and an honour to be talking to you! Finally could you please share three records you recently bought?
Three of my favourite recent records in no particular order are
UFO x01 V.A. – I found 4 rave slammers on this stamped white label, including a track by Ellen Allien. That is a lot of playable music on one record…
Headstrong 004 Randomer – Sleep Of Reason – Hard hitting and some strange melodies. It will drive the crowd crazy. I like it.
Ilian Tape LP 005 Stenny – Upsurge – Beautiful and diverse album with the full range of broken beats. It is always worth listening to a Stenny release.