How German Producer Ben Bohmer Turned Tragedy Into One of the Year's Best Electronic Albums

Erik Weiss
Ben Bohmer

The artist's debut LP, 'Breathing' dropped in late November via Anjunadeep.

The opening track on Ben Böhmer's new album is gorgeous -- six and a half minutes of escalating percussion and warm synths tinged with delicate piano flourishes. It's an undeniable piece of music made for those magic moments on the dancefloor just before dawn. It's also a track that Böhmer, for a time, couldn't really dance to. 

"Dancing is a happy feeling for me," the German producer says on the phone from Berlin. "And so it was a weird feeling -- dedicating a track to a father that was suddenly gone, and dancing away to it."

The song's title "In Memoriam" is enough to indicate why. Five years ago, Böhmer's father took his own life, creating a tidal wave of pain for his son. Making music helped Böhmer process this sorrow, turning it into the dually gorgeous and haunting opening track from his debut album Breathing, released in late November via Anjunadeep. The LP caps a transformative year for Böhmer, who spent much of 2019 in the studio making his LP, while also playing dates in North America and Europe, both on his own and as the supporting act for major acts Rüfüs Du Sol and Anjunadeep co-founders Above & Beyond.

“My life completely changed in the last year and a half,” Böhmer says. “I am in the dream.”

These current circumstances reasonably feel like fantasy for an artist who, until recently, was teaching piano lessons for a living. Böhmer has always been into music, first getting into the underground electronic scene in his German hometown, where he used his older brother’s ID to get into parties. By age 16 he was producing his own music, making a name for himself in the small local circuit and eventually moving to Berlin, where he taught chord progressions and major and minor keys to his nine piano students, while also producing his own work on the side. 

Fate intervened in 2017, when producer Lane 8 and his wife were temporary living nearby in the German town of Liepzig. A friend of Böhmer’s gave Lane 8 Böhmer’s music, and Lane 8 started playing it out at shows, then recommending to Anjunadeep co-founder James Grant that Grant reach out for demos. Grant did, Böhmer passed him a bounty of tracks, and soon, he was no longer teaching children but focusing his time and creative energy to making electronic music.

The result was Breathing -- 11 sumptuous tracks that span deep house to progressive house to melodic techno. The LP spans moods from dark to ethereal, and contains music made for both contemplation and full on dancing. It also takes inspiration from the Berlin scene, where Böhmer, now 25, says the goal is less about going to see a particular artist and instead experiencing the music and freedom inherent to the scene -- with evenings that are less about ‘gramming yourself at the club and more about losing yourself in the sound.

“It’s kind of anonymous if you go out here,” says Böhmer. “Nobody cares who you really are.”

But of course the music he was making was the opposite of anonymous, with the sounds coming out heavily influenced by the deeply personal loss of his father. While Böhmer didn’t intentionally set out to make music about the ordeal, he found his emotions were naturally infused into his output. 

“Very emotional, very sad tracks like 'In Memorium' were created," Böhmer relates. "But also very happy tracks too, because I needed that feeling back.”  

The producer acknowledges that while most audiences don’t know what his music is about, or even the track titles, he’s able to transmit the essential emotions of his work to listeners -- and through that, make it possible for them to have their own personal, cathartic experiences to music that has been so personal and cathartic for him. It’s group therapy he’ll engage in repeatedly next year, with a tour behind Breathing taking him across North American and into Europe well into the spring. Böhmer has always only played sets composed of his own music, a method that will continue on his upcoming tour, particularly as he now has more music to pull from. 

"From a musical perspective," he says, "I only wanted to share the art I am doing and don’t want to use other music to tell the story. I have a story."

It's a story that inspired Böhmer to make Breathing, that's inspiring listeners to feel their feelings and move their bodies, and a story that's also inspiring the next generation of producers. "I still get sweet messages from my former piano students," he says. "One of them told me that his last Christmas wish was for a DJ controller."

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