The many shades of Booka Shade and the constant art of reinvention

Arno Kammermeier is a one of those rare and dynamic breeds of person who’s super productive in the morning. When you’re been making music of such calibre for over 15 years and have a family to look after, there’s no time to sleep in. ‘I do most of my work in the morning,’ says Kammermeier. ‘Normally I wake up about 5.30 and am in the gym by 6 before my family are even awake. I’m usually in bed by 10. It seems to work. I’ve even given up drinking alcohol. It helps with productivity.’ If only we could all be super humans too.

It’s a goosebump tingling -2 degrees as I caught up with one half of Booka Shade from his studio in Berlin. Understandably, he and his partner in creations, Walter Merziger, are very much looking forward to packing up their things for Australia to kick off another year of touring and sunshine to start off their first international leg. That is before they treat a few lucky and intimate audiences to a some exclusive teaser shows at London’s Brixton academy and two other gigs in Vienna and Athens.

There are good reasons why Booka Shade make a date to come back and play in Australia every year. ‘We can’t wait to come to Australia again,’ Kammermeier says with obvious enthusiasm. ‘Australia has always been one of my favourite places to tour. Sometimes I bring my family out here too, because they love it so much. The people are lovely and the food is great. And the weather isn’t bad either.’ Staring out of my window, I hope the unpredictable Melbourne thunderstorms I see through my window do not let the side down next week.

There’s a special St Kilda venue that holds a special place in the hearts of the boys from Berlin, who come back to play at it every time they come over. ‘The Prince of Wales is like a second home for us,’ says Kammermeier. ‘Everytime we come over, we have to book to play there, it’s always a real highlight and just our go to venue in Melbourne. We’ve played there many times. For us it’s just always the ultimate venue. I think it’s because there’s a huge disco ball in the middle of the room. When there’s a disco ball, you know it’s a proper rave. We’ve also got the luxury of making our live set there longer than our festival live sets. Either way, we are very much looking forward to playing plenty of new sets in all of our performances, as well as treating people to some exciting remixes of our old ones.’

Booka Shade’s latest album ‘Cut the Strings’ is out in April, with their first self-titled track eagerly anticipated to released on 16 March. Those lucky enough to be going to Pitch Festival this weekend or to their live show in the next few weeks will hear these treats before anyone else.‘We’ve worked on a lot of new stuff we are going to play from the new album, but we are also going to weave plenty of our classic back catalogue into the set. The new sound is definitely a reference back to pure unadulterated rave.’

For Kammermeier, it’s all about evolution. ‘When you have a longer career, there are so many developments and your need to constantly reprogramme and reinvent to come up with something exciting is ever present. We had an album called ‘Eve’ that came out in 2013, which was more experimental. We had a feeling that we sat a lot more in the tech house world and had wanted to do something else and try other thing. When the album ‘Galvany Street’ came out last year, it was very different, a flirtation with pop influences with a lot of vocals. It was exciting for us to do this. We played a lot of pop songs; had a singer and a completely different outlook. For this time round, we are making a welcome return back to our roots.’

‘We needed a fresh start. The entire album isn’t four to the floor; there are broken beats and a lot of atmospheric stuff, but crucially, everything is related to the club. There are exciting collaborations, including working with a guy from Kraftwerk. The title track ‘Cut The Strings’ features Danish vocalist Troels Abrahamsen, the lead singer of electronic rock band VETO who has collaborated with Kolsch on his 2012 hit ‘All That Matters’ and Matthew Dear under his Audion guise for his 2014 Kompakt release ‘Dem Howl’ It’s safe to say we are expecting pretty big things. Kammermeier’s history as a professional drummer quite obviously influences his music. ‘Drumming is always a very important integral part of every composition and show,’ he says. ‘If infuses it with more energy and of course influences the live aspect.’ After a quiet first few months of the year, Booka Shade are looking forward to catapulting their live show into oblivion.

‘You can look forward to us playing a lot of techno and tech house club stuff. There’s also going to be lot of movement on stage. There are plenty of percussive moments, a live set focused on what makes people dance. In the past we have experimented with rock or pop elements. This time we are back to our ravey roots.’ ‘We sat down and considered the essence of wanted to do. We’ve highlighted our strength as club anthems and deeper tech house elements and built the foundations on this. We’re enjoying playing with the layers of sound, where we can build an atmosphere. But there’s also variety. Our song ‘Night Surfing’ has an almost trance sound, where as ‘The Primitives’ has this typical Booka Shade atmosphere. Not dark, like ‘oh I want to kill myself,’ but just deep and kinda foreboding. An atmosphere setter.’

‘There’s a warmth to the darkness, it has a sexiness. We may be German but we’re not really into that kind of marching techno, it’s backed with so much soul. It has elements of techno but with the warmth of house music. It’s always quite difficult to pin us down to one specific genre. But the luxury of having a long career has allowed us to evolve. In the beginning, we were more of an electro house act. Then for a while we became flavour of the month, more commericalised. Now if I had to pick a genre I would say we were tech house. But really, I’d rather not have to choose!’

Perhaps now when you say Booka Shade, people just know what to expect. It’s synonymous with perfectly crafted, flawless music to make your feet wriggle. ‘We put a lot of work into the production, it’s not just about hammering a beat. Our intention was to create music with a real feel. I love it when people tell me they listen to our albums from ten years ago.’ Setting so many trends and making so many anthems for nearly two decades, how could we not. It’s common knowledge that Booka Shade started Get Physical with M.A.N.D.Y and DJ T, releasing their first, groundbreaking material in 2003. Perhaps what some people don’t know is that the original Booka Shade release actually came out in 1995 as an original 12 inch on Dutch label Touche. ‘It was called ‘Kind of Good’ says Kammermeier. ‘I think you can still get it on Beatport, but not sure if you’d find it on Soundcloud. It’s worth having a dig.’

‘We don’t really do that much with DJ T anymore’ he says, when asking if the old days are due for a renaissance. ‘We were business partners, but didn’t really hang out socially. The M.A.N.D.Y guys were already friends; we always talk about getting a release done, but everyone is always so busy. Maybe one day.’

One close relationship that certainly has stood the test of the time without question is with Walter Merziger, the other half of Books Shade. I ask if they live far apart. ‘Oh yeah, he’s here,’ he says, ‘but we have separate bedrooms.’ In typical German, deadpan humour… he’s is of course pulling my leg. ‘No,’ he laughs, finally. ‘We actually live about half an hour away from eachother. He’s in the North of Berlin, I’m in the South West. We get together once or twice a week, alternating studios. Of course we have creative ups and downs, but every long term relationship does. It’s like a professional relationship. But there’s a great harmony between us and as two characters, we definitely go together well. He is very energetic and we push each other in different directions. He’s one of the best producers I know. Over the years we have found how to play to our strengths. Although there are overlaps, Walter is a dynamic creative and often my strengths lie in the business sides. We know how to play to the best of our strengths. You could say that working together we have a great balance of yin and yang.’

After playing nearly 90 gigs last year, there’s never a dull moment for the Booka Shade boys. But they aren’t showing any signs of abating in terms of output.

‘One of the decisions we made a year ago when we started on the new music was that we want to be quicker with our releases. Roughly in the past, we have been working on an album every two years. We have always taken a long time over our productions, but these days, it’s not really the modern way of working anymore, so we have decided to step up our game. We maintain the constancy of music.’ Even though it’s not been released yet, Booka Shade are already in talks about a remix package and some new collaborations. ‘We are constantly working, and some tracks don’t even make it to being released. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the music isn’t good, just that we didn’t feel like it was the right time to release. Say for instance when we released ‘Love Inc’, we were happy the vocal, it was a great song, but we didn’t end up unleashing it the world for 4 years. The timing’s just got to feel right.’

2018 is shaping up to be absolutely huge for two of our favourite DJs and producers, with a plethora of gigs on the horizon to the flaunt the live show and new album as it deserves. After Australia they are looking forward to Rome, Istanbul and back to London for a little but more of some of their favourite venues. There are also some very exciting rumours to return to Berlin where it all began at Watergate club later this year for 16 years of Get Physical, which really couldn’t get much better. We are very much looking forward to welcoming Booka Shade back to Australia once again to Australia next weekend.

Pitch Music & Arts Festival is on from Fri, 9 Mar – Mon 12 Mar just outside Moyston VIC
Days Like This Festival 2018 is at Victoria Park Sydney on Sat 10th March, get tickets from www.dayslikethisfestival.com.au/

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About the author

Kate Stephenson's dangerous obsession with music and words has taken her to every corner of the globe in the quest for the filthiest bassline. Heralding from the mean streets of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, England, she earned her raving stripes in the early 2000s at celestial institutions like Back to Basics in Leeds and Bugged Out in Liverpool, standing in queues snaking for hours round the block in freezing February nights before she knew how to hustle a guestie.Having decamped to (slightly) more clement temperatures, Kate now calls the outstanding city of Melbourne home, feeling oh-so-very-welcome in a place where you are actively encouraged to party from Thursday to Tuesday. Kate stays alive on a strict diet of techno,jungle drum and bass and cheeky garage remixes, smooshed in with a little bit of everything in between. You can either find her with hands in the air, by the front left speaker or typing up a storm in bed drinking Yorkshire Tea by the gallon.

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