Marcel Dettmann Talks 'DJ-Kicks' & Why Mixes Are Still an Art Form
It's been an interesting year for the long running DJ-Kicks series: there will be five entries in 2016, more than any other year except 2012, and they've covered a lot of ground. In February, Moodymann released one of the finest installments, a remarkably unpredictable, wide-ranging mix; Dâm-Funk followed that by drilling down into his favorite niche, which he located at the intersection between "funk, boogie, electro, house, modern soul."
The latest installment heads in a very different direction thanks to the German DJ Marcel Dettmann, known for his affiliation with the Berlin techno temple Berghain and its corresponding label, Ostgut Ton. Dettmann's DJ-Kicks includes a previously unreleased collaboration with Levon Vincent and several new remixes; speaking with Billboard Dance from his home, he calls the decision to participate in DJ-Kicks "a no-brainer for me." He discussed his memories of earlier editions of DJ-Kicks and his approach to mix-making. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Have you previous encounters with the DJ-Kicks series?
Since the early 90s - more than 20 years ago - they've been on the top level having really amazing compilations. I think the best known one is the Kruder & Dorfmeister mix. You can find this in every bar. Also the Claude Young and the Carl Craig mixes were big for me — both had a great selection of electronic music. The level is pretty hard to beat. Style-wise, I like what they did. It's not easy to talk about music, but I can tell you I really felt it back in the day.
What other mix CDs have you worked on in the past?
I did a lot of mixes, for example the Berghain CD on Ostgut Ton, one for Music Man, a label from Belgium, a couple of years ago. I also produced a mix for Fabric London. What I always like is to head for a new direction — for each mix, people recognize it's me, but it's important to include something special. Doing a mix means not only mixing some tracks together. It's more like a present — for myself and for the people. Doing an edit of a track I've played for a long time, doing a remix of something I've never released before. As an example take the remix of Infiniti's "Skyway" I made around seven years ago. I wasn’t releasing it because I wasn't happy with it, but seven years later, it felt like, "wow, that's a good one!"
I love selecting music: ups and downs, crazy moments. Club mixes are way more spontaneous and intuitive, because you are mostly reacting to the people and then decide, what to play now and maybe later. This mix has lots of preparation. It took much more time.
Did you have an organizing principle for the mix?
The concept for this mix was looking for old and new unreleased material on one hand and for old and new school Chicago house and Detroit techno on the other hand. I went into my collection from the last 20 - 25 years. I never counted, maybe it’s 7,000 - 10,000, something like that? I was just hanging on the couch and listened to records. There was a lot of material released from the U.S. in the early ‚90s, lots of tracks I haven't heard in ages, like this Clarence G track. The last time I heard it was 15 years ago I guess. I'm a big Drexciya fan. Clarence G is half of Drexciya.
That's a surprising moment on the mix with the rapping.
Yeah it's kind of electro hip-hop. It could be also from now — it sounds really fresh, which was also surprising for me. It was also surprising to me. It runs pretty fast, 145 b.p.m., so I pitched it down to 126. It works pretty well for me.
How did you connect with Levon Vincent?
I’ve been in New York around eight or ten years ago. A close friend of mine is very close with Levon and at this time Levon released really great stuff so I became a big fan. We met in Berlin five years ago then. We just sat down in the studio and started to work on some tracks. One was released on my second album, Dettmann II, another was released on his label, Novel Sound, last year. Last year we’ve been playing together in Munich, and he suddenly handed me over a test pressing of that track — I didn't know before that he was gonna release it. It's really a pleasure to work with him.
Somebody once said: If Levon was growing up in Berlin, he'd sound like me - and vice versa.
Do you feel like mixes have the same weight in the digital age?
It's still an art form. A DJ stands out by his record collection and his taste. I think people are still interested in a personal selection. That's what I was learning when I was younger — I had all these compilations because I didn't have money for the single records. That's a good way to give people a chance to buy some stuff. I started with some crappy electronic music, and I got deeper and found my style and what I liked.
It's the same as reading a book or looking at an artwork. You could do that on the internet, but it's different. It's nice having a great artwork or a great book on the shelf. I'm not really a collector guy taking care of every single record, but I like to collect things I love.