Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Paul Kalkbrenner is a man overcome with nostalgia. No, we don’t mean he sits in floods of tears watching old rave videos on repeat talking about the good old days when warehouse parties didn’t feel so corporate and electronic music wasn’t in the mainstream, but rather, that the Berliner understands that his job as a musician is to bring about an emotional reaction in others, and to do that he must be true to his inner self.
Now that may sound a bit wishy-washy in the harsh millennial light of 2017, but the point remains that honest music will always shine through, and in the case of Paul’s new retrofitted live concept Back To The Future, the results are positively dazzling. Set to land at recently opened London venue The Printworks April 30th, Kalkbrenner’s new show promises to be much more than an ‘old school’ set, with the German maestro having devoted the past few years of his life to tracking down the numbers that defined his musically formative years before rearranging them within the framework of his own more contemporary stylings, the end product being music that generates a strong feeling of familiarity whilst retaining a current edge.
“I fell further and further down the rabbit hole, feeling like an archaeologist searching for artifacts and became more and more excited about unearthing each new gem." – Paul Kalkbrenner
“Around two years ago I stumbled across a track from teenage years on YouTube and was overwhelmed with nostalgia,” Paul begins down a crackly phone line. “The track triggered long dormant memories of listening to West German 1980’s radio but frustratingly I couldn’t remember who it was by or what it was called. At that point I was too young to go to clubs and so commercial radio was the only way for me to access this amazing new music. I then wondered and feared how much this material may have been lost only to see that most of this content had been uploaded online – just not in the best quality.
“I then fell further and further down the rabbit hole, feeling like an archaeologist searching for artifacts and became more and more excited about unearthing each new gem. I knew quite quickly I would want to edit them as I had wanted to edit a lot of these tracks from before I was a producer. I knew in my head as a teenager what I would like to tweak, change or take from them.
“It’s been a very introspective experience” he continues. “When I decided to embark on the Back To The Future project, I had no idea I would end up sorting through over 4000 tracks. I’ve managed to whittle that down to around 80 which I’ve edited for use in the live show although I would like to work on many more! It was a long process as the files immediately available were of too poor quality to use on stage and so I had to go about tracking everything down that I wanted to edit, which gave me more time and led to better edits before getting them mastered.
“When I was younger I probably wouldn’t have devoted so much time to this but now being about to turn 40, it felt like a calling. I think a sense of duty came over me to shine a light on this music, to repackage it and present it to the world.”
This deep appreciation and understanding of techno’s origins in Europe is something Paul enthuses time and time again but how does he feel his history soaked concept will go down with the digital generation?
“The reaction from young people to this music has been fantastic so far,” says Paul excitedly. “I knew it would appeal to people of a certain age but electronic music really does seem to defy the aging process. People going out for the first time fall in love with techno and acid in much the same way the generation before them did.
“Location wise, I’ve really invested in the look and will continue to develop that as the show evolves. I want the location to feel like its 1991, that whilst it might be 2017 outside, this space has been frozen in time for the past 26 years. Banners, projections, décor – everything has to feel like we’ve just entered the 90's and are full of optimism for what’s to come. It’s designed to feel like a time warp and so I have selected venues that feel right, that are small enough for us to really make a mark on. Hopefully this will please both time travellers who were there the first time around and those visiting for the first time!”
"Everything has to feel like we’ve just entered the 90's and are still full of optimism for what’s to come!" – Paul Kalkbrenner
Having discussed his decision to displace his listeners time wise, talk turns to the importance of the dance hubs that dominated the era he’s so keen to recreate. Are traditional hotspots such as London and Berlin as important as they once were to the development of the electronic landscape?
“No, places like Berlin aren’t as important to the scene these days,” he states unequivocally. “You don’t have to leave your small town or village to be exposed to this music. Kids from villages show up to London or Berlin with a deep knowledge of techno before they arrive because of the internet. Those who move there these days do just as much for the culture but it’s no longer a necessity. Where I grew up I South West Germany it would have been very difficult to forge a career like I have whereas now that might be so much the case. The personal relationships formed by the scene are obviously still very important though and I can’t think how many records have been released or careers launched because of chance meetings in clubs.”
With new genres sprouting up from online sources rather than a geographical location he may have a point production wise but as he’s also keen to highlight, clubs, the beating heart of the industry require a physical presence that the internet will unlikely to ever be able to provide. So having changed his surname to McFly, dusted off the Deloreon and found himself an orange body warmer [Ed. Enough with the Back to the Future references already…] we enquire as to what we can expect from Herr Kalkbrenner in the near future.
“I hope to get back to producing original music soon!” he laughs. “And I hope my new music will be influenced by the sound of Back To The Future. This project has been a very personal journey, as all of this music helped form my musical identity growing up and having worked on these edits for so long it almost feels like I’ve made an album and in regards to the live show, I feel like I’ve gone from a V12 to a go kart… but go karts are fun! With this retro set up I feel like I’m wearing my father’s clothes, which is an odd sensation.
"In regards to the live show, I feel like I’ve gone from a V12 to a go kart…" – Paul Kalkbrenner
“As for my new music it’ll be techno for sure but I hope it can take something from the various palates that make up the show. If a few British influences sneak in that’d be great – adding some breakbeat or British techno sounds to my arsenal would make things interesting. As I get older I feel the bpm dropping in the studio and then I end up thinking actually, why not go to 130 bpm, why not go faster? That must be age catching up with me!”
Paul Kalkbrenner brings his Back To The Future show to London April 29th with support from Derrick May, DJ Pierre, Extrawelt, Session Victim and KDA.