Torsten Pröfrock is one of the guys from the Hard Wax universe. Hard Wax record shop in Berlin has been very influential for the whole German techno scene. I had been ordering my records from Hard Wax since I was 16 but it’s really something else if you’ve ever been there, talked to the people and seen the records. I moved to Berlin around 12 years ago and that was about the time I found out about Torsten’s label, which was called Din. All the Hard Wax guys did a lot of amazing stuff but I always liked the stuff Torsten did best. He’s been working there for 20 years and producing records under various names. The thing is with his Din label is that he basically made most of the records himself under different names (Dynamo, Various Artists) and what drew me to him was the sound, the aesthetic.
Throughout my whole musical career and life, I’ve always been interested in something not so static – little mistakes, the human factor. Even 10 years ago I was making crazy computer music and programming glitches and stuff – it’s not even a human factor, it’s more a machine-like thing but the fact it’s not perfect makes it human in the end. So I think that was one of the reasons I liked Torsten’s music because it had all these noises in the background. It didn’t have perfect digital sound, it was this warm hiss or whatever. It was exactly the same thing that people liked about Burial. If you listen to Torsten’s old work you can see that this could be the beginning of the sound that Burial made famous. I don’t even know if Burial knew about this Din stuff before but I can really hear a connection. After Moderat, people would say it sounds a little bit like Burial – but what I did was take samples of old Din records and we used that because that’s really the sound, that’s where it comes from. Burial made something very beautiful but I don’t think he invented it. Monolake released early records on Torsten’s Din label, and Monolake is all about space. You can really tell where a sound is happening; it’s a real headphone thing. That’s also in Torston’s sound. In fact, put Torsten and Monolake together and you have some sort of Burial sound. And then you need the dubstep thing. But that was already in there because Hard Wax was really about dub.
There was a time when I’d forgotten about Torsten’s music, when I wasn’t listening to electronic music at all, and then at some point – actually just before Moderat – I went through my records and I found those Din records again. They’re kind of timeless, that’s the cool thing about them. It wasn’t really like techno, he didn’t follow any trends when he made it; he just made some really special sounding music that still works today. Also that’s a very good thing to do with electronic music because lots of electronic music can sound dated. He never used a 303, for example.
I think Torston still works at Hard Wax. We’ve spoken a few times but not in depth; we just met in the store. When I made my DJ Kicks mix I really had to include some of his tracks so I talked to him to get it licensed. I had to do it personally because he really wouldn’t give it to random licence requests because he’s a humble guy. His first records on Din were released under the name Dynamo. They have a certain sound structure: there is this really warm, noisy feeling to it, there is space in it, it’s dubby but then again still every song has its own sound universe. It’s not like some artists who’ve figured out a formula to do something and they always use the same samples and reproduce the same track again. That’s what I like about Torsten: everything is always completely new sounds but they still have his sound signature. If I hear that in people’s work I always really admire it; that’s the way to go.
Torsten’s long term influence on me has definitely been the idea of sounds having a patina – sounds that don’t sound like pre-set sounds, that have this feeling. That was actually what I learned from his work. That sound really needs something like that – a little dirt is always important in your music. It makes it more listenable because nothing is perfect in the world, you know. Every signal you hear, everything you see, nothing is crystal clear. So you’re used to it. But at some point ten years ago, people started making perfect sounding music: radio pop, plastic music. These days it doesn’t even sound strange to people anymore because their hearing habits have completely adjusted to it. It’s weird.
I’ve made a big change with my sound with my new album but if you can still hear some Apparat in the background, that’s what it’s all about. Torsten is way more consistent when it comes to his work. His new stuff doesn’t sound completely different; you can still relate it to the old stuff. But also, he doesn’t have such a big output. He only makes a record when he feels like it. I used to go to the studio every day a few years ago. Every fucking day! And then I’d get bored and that would be when I’d change – look for new influences and start doing something else but it’s always good if there is still something left.
I was never really interested in making music with vocals a few years ago and then I got more into acoustic instruments and then I started liking vocals as an instrument. When I worked with other singers I always used to say, “I don’t care what you sing, it’s an instrument to me.” It started to change when I wrote my own lyrics because suddenly you connect to it and you figure out that there’s real meaning there. I found it hard because it’s not only about telling a story, it’s also about choosing the right words to make it fit, to make it sound good. It took me quite a long time to be able to do that. The reason I wanted to use the voice was that I’d made computer music for so long and I was really nerding around with sound, programming for ages and with this album I really didn’t want to do that. That’s why we used so many acoustic instruments because the way to the actual sound is much faster. On a piano there’s a beautiful sound and you can make it custom by mic-ing it in a special way. You’re still playing around but the sound generators were very intuitive. The voice is the most intuitive thing because you’re connected to your voice. Sometimes I’d be in the studio and I’d have no lyrics but I’d feel inspired and would just start to sing something. I recorded it and it sounded awesome and there were already some lyrics hidden in there. You don’t even know where it comes from but it comes from somewhere, somehow. And then you just have to work a little bit to grow it. That’s the main reason I started singing in the end, it seemed to be a very good way to make an album that’s not so produced or whatever. Because before I was working too much on songs and sometimes the original idea got lost, buried under lots of layers of sound – even nice layers of sound! I wanted to avoid that this time.
Before I started this album I had an idea of how it wanted to sound and I listened to the old Din records again. My original idea for this record was to take some bass sounds from current dubstep music and lots of strings. It got a little lost though. Especially the bass sounds. But in the early stages of these songs you can totally hear some Torsten Pröfrock in there. I even took some samples of his. There is a very good example of that on a song I made in Mexican two year ago – where I started making this album. I don’t even know the name right now but it ended up on this Monkey Town compilation that Modeselektor released. It’s a very not-typical Apparat song – it sounds a lot like T++ [Torsten’s pseudonym]. I basically make a song that could be on the Din label. Because it was the most extreme version of my album vision it didn’t end up on the ‘The Devil’s Walk’. But if you listen to my new album there are still remains of it there.
As told to Ruth Saxelby