In Conversation With: Prosumer
During a set at London’s Dance Tunnel (R.I.P.), a young man snaked his way through the sprawling mass to the front of the dancefloor to watch Prosumer work the decks. You could spot his game a mile off, wasting no time to pull out his phone and record a commemorative video. A few minutes felt like a lifetime: it was annoying and obtrusive, a huge beam of light disrupting our perfect storm. Rather than protest, the DJ turned the tables on the protagonist and began to film him on his own phone. The impact was immediate. The man pocketed his phone as quickly as he had brandished it and shirked back off into the darkness of the crowd. It was one of the most absurdly brilliant interactions we’ve witnessed on a dancefloor.
For those that know Achim Brandenburg, personally or as a dancer, moments like this are his bread and butter. An artist as idiosyncratic as he is revered, with no new releases for almost a decade, speaks volumes for his popularity within the upper echelons of the clubbing community. Warmth, humour, grace, world-class ability – to dislike him is to lack soul.
Hailing from Saarbrücken in Germany’s densely-forested southerly province of the Saarland, Brandenburg’s access to early house and techno was largely limited to the more mainstream sounds of Ten City and Blaze that managed to filter through the radio airwaves in the early ‘90s. That is, until a local branch of Hard Wax opened up right in his hometown. This expansion of the store’s footprint would not only provide Brandenburg, still a shy young man in his early twenties coming to terms with his homosexuality, unadulterated access to an abstract and experimental education in the EBM, techno and acid which was coming out of Berlin, Detroit and Chicago respectively, but also afford him chance meetings with some of the individuals who’ve played such key roles in his meteoric DJ career and refined production output ever since.
A move to Berlin saw him throw regular parties that honed an untamable hunger for DJing a varied selection of club music; a selection which at times might have played second fiddle to the minimal sound dominating the city. It resulted in the flourishing of a creative relationship with Murat Tepeli, a long-serving collaborator and close friend to Prosumer whose impact on his career can’t be understated. Perhaps most crucially, it stemmed a bond with the record label gradually changing the course of Berlin’s nightlife forever, Ostgut Ton, with whom he eventually became a resident at Panorama Bar in the mid 2000s.
Alongside nd_baumecker, Tama Sumo and Steffi, Prosumer was – and certainly remains to be – one of the venue’s most recognisable cohorts. Those lucky enough to have seen him play in P Bar’s famed environs say the club are arguably as indebted to him for the sound he created, as he is to it for bringing him to prominence. Timeless house and dug-up disco were his penchant, woven together seamlessly and adoringly by a man whose affection for collection had by this point taken on new levels of obsession.
But in June 2012, at just one week’s official notice, Prosumer announced an abrupt end to his residency with the label and venue. Since then, both club and DJ have opted to stay pretty quiet on the why’s and how’s. We could speculate, but perhaps it’s irrelevant. Relationships and collaborations naturally come to an end in any creative symbiosis. It’s our hyper-informed twenty-first century world that yearns, or even demands, candid entry into the private lives of these public individuals – but why should we expect it? Given the world-renowned secrecy surrounding the venue, it should come as no surprise that the split was kept so intimately close to both parties’ chests. So we might as well just leave that one at the door.
Since then, Prosumer has gone on to conquer dance-floors in just about every corner of the world. Whether touring Asia, or appearing regularly in London, Berlin and his adopted hometown of Edinburgh, his career appears to have blossomed after his decision to leave the club. What is absolutely clear to anyone who hears and sees him play is that this is in large part down to his frankly fabled kindness and humility. Holding down good relations with multiple promoters in any given city is not the easy feat one might think it is, and in London alone Prosumer’s appearances can span the dancefloors of fabric and Dance Tunnel, to Chapter 10 and Louche, equally at home with a six hour solo set as he is b2b with Ben UFO, Tama Sumo or Murat Tepeli.
So it’s with great pleasure that we can bring you this exclusive and in-depth interview with one of the global club circuit’s most respected selectors and well-liked characters. It came about by way of a random encounter during the Edinburgh Fringe festival a few years ago, an encounter which has since developed into something of a personal friendship, and the interview itself took place in his very own kitchen following a lunch of homemade noodle soup (cuisine is another passion of his). We sense it’s typical of the way Prosumer likes to do things; unassuming, affectionate and close to his heart.
UE: You’ve recently been to Asia with gigs in South Korea and Tokyo. How do you find playing so far from home?
Prosumer: Music has always been my home, which sounds super cheesy, but that’s how it is. I used to put music on when my parents were fighting so it was and still is my safe space. When I’m not ok, I put music on; I put on music to be ok. Playing music elsewhere, I bring my home, I bring my safe space. It is of course a privilege and I’m still so thrilled I get to do that. I used to make tapes for people at my old school and they laughed at me, and now the world is showing me that maybe the world is not as shit as those people showed me. Home travels with me in a way, and I am super grateful that I get to see these places where I feel and learn so much just from being thefre. I think going to Japan shows you that a lot of the things we accept as a part of us are just random standards of our society and they could be completely different. I think it’s a great way of travelling and challenging yourself, and being at home in different places.
Playing music elsewhere, I bring my home, I bring my safe space.
You also did a show in Edinburgh recently. That must have been a nice change.
Not going to lie it’s amazing to be able to sleep in my own bed. I loved it. It’s also nice if friends can come.
Would you say you are settled in Edinburgh now?
I have to admit there are still 2 unpacked boxes but that’s just me being disorganised, not me not wanting to put down roots. I caught myself pretty early on saying “us” when I was talking about the Scottish. It’s weird because “us” can be people from the Saarland, or sometimes “Berliners” but also people from Edinburgh or Scotland. I definitely feel at home here, I don’t see myself moving from here. It was an interesting time to come here just before the whole referendum thing started, it was a very good way to learn about the people here. You see a lot… people show a lot during a campaign like that. I saw how the outcome of that made people more political. I have to say I’m under the impression that people here sometimes care about a bit more than just their immediate personal profit, even though I am fully aware that Edinburgh is a very wealthy city… I still have the feeling that people don’t have this very narrow view you sometimes see.
Have you thought of doing any parties or other endeavours up here?
I was planning it for a while with Lindsay [Todd - Firecracker Records], we didn’t find the right venue so we put it on hold. Sometimes I miss having a residency and I think I would like a night, maybe monthly or so, just playing music – it doesn’t have to be a weekend, doesn’t have to be a club night, it should just be a nice sounding system and an atmosphere where people feel happy. I thought about maybe turning my NTS radio show into something more…because I do that here on my dining table when I have guests. We are basically having a cup of tea or a glass of wine and playing music to each other. So I think in the long run that’s what I like a party to be like and maybe I will put the two together and have an excerpt of that as my radio show. The thing is I share music and music memories with so many of my friends who aren’t DJs. If you check some of my radio shows, I’ve had my ex-flatmate and a friend of mine for more than 15 years. Over so many years of a friendship of course there’s music you share; music that is special to someone, that will always translate.
I’m going to tell that to my boyfriend (UE editor, Adam), so he puts me on his radio show. How do you find record shopping in Edinburgh?
Good. For a brief period of time as a kid I wanted this book about all the Greek mythical stories and really got into that and into archeology for a short time, so in a way record shopping is a bit like Time Team. I think it’s really nice to see a city’s musical past through charity shops, so of course I enjoy the regular shops that we still luckily have here, but I think charity shopping is also really good if you’re not only looking for one type of music. You can really find out about what the scene must have been like at one time. For example, if you go to Manchester there will be so many copies of “Voodoo Ray” in the charity shops. So you know this must have been such a big hit and I dearly laugh every time I see that record in a charity shop in Manchester, and I think “Wow this must have been such a massive big tune, everybody must have heard it”. So here at Oxfam, I would also find great house records and you can usually tell quite a lot about what has happened in a city at one point.
Murat Tepeli, your longtime collaborator – how did you come to meet?
We met in a record shop. He is from Hannover and was studying close to where I grew up; we met at the local Hard Wax.
Is it fair to say that you’re at your most productive when collaborating with Murat?
The thing is I am often insecure about things, so it’s always good to have somebody to mirror or bounce things off of. It’s safe to say that I can be so critical [of myself]… when I make music or hear music in my head, is that just working for me or would that translate outside of my world? If you collaborate, you immediately know what is going on because you’re bouncing it off of somebody else. I would see his excitement when he’s doing stuff here, adding stuff there – we inspire each other back and forth.
Potion hasn’t had a release since late 2015. Any plans for new material?
We are putting the label on hold for the moment it seems.
What inspires you to produce?
Usually an inspiring moment comes from waking up with something in my head, something happening, or sometimes just sitting down and it comes. I have lost myself sometimes when producing, so the creative process is sometimes a mystery even to me. So the record I released on Playhouse many years ago, I don’t have a real memory of making it so if somebody at one point would tell me “Actually you fell asleep and I did it” I would say, that’s not so unlikely. It just came together in a trancey experience.
A lot of creative writers I know have that moment where they write something and it’s perfect and it’s just finished. Then for the rest of their lives they spend their time trying to get there and sometimes it comes and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes it takes more work, like it’s a spirit.
I have the feeling that sometimes there is something which is not necessarily me. In a way of course it is me, but it’s interesting how you can switch on from that which is in there somewhere, and then how you can sometimes switch off and reach for something else.
Are you happier making remixes or doing your own productions?
Remixes are easier for me, I have to say. With remixes I can bypass that self-criticism more easily because remixing in a way is a bit like redecorating. You think maybe this rug looks better if that table is not on it, so let’s put a table on the side. Oh you don’t really see it anymore but no, the rug shines. I find it more easy to trust my instincts there, to say this belongs there.
You sing vocals on your Playhouse release with Murat, “Lov”. Is this something you still do?
I haven’t done so for a while.
Do you like to do it?
I really enjoy singing in the shower, the thing is I enjoy singing but I never have been convinced that I am a great singer. I’ve been singing on live shows, but that’s a while ago now. It will happen again at some point.
It’s quite interesting that some of your earliest output was as a vocalist.
Well no, my first release was instrumental. Second was me producing and singing. Then I did guest vocals for Murat and Sebo K. I had done production before so…
In Serenity, vocals seem vital to the concoction – in the vein of, say, Larry Heard or Blaze. Vocals and the emotion they carry seem critical to your idea of house music.
Of course, Larry Heard and Blaze have inspired me. I think I enjoyed the Fingers Inc stuff because it seems like a very direct expression of self, and I think that is a great thing if you can do it with music. With some of the tracks on Serenity, I was hoping to express myself in that way. That can be essential to house.
It’s a very derivative and revivalist version of Chicago house, but beautifully done.
I would be lying if I said I grew up on Chicago house, but once I was able to get access to it I soaked it up and loved it. It’s still some of the music dearest to my heart. I don’t necessarily believe that as a musician, for myself, you should be aiming for something new that has never been there because life has taught me that so much has already been done. You find that somebody has done that 20 years before anyway, and you find this music and think ‘wow, there is such a richness to what people have done already’. If you think something is new, you probably haven’t heard what has been done before. When making music, I’m never on a quest to make something unheard. It’s a selfish self-expression in a way and I’m fully aware that the music I create is very much based on what I consume so that is also hidden in my artist name Prosumer… music based on what I have consumed, basically mirroring these influences.
If you think something is new, you probably haven’t heard what has been done before.
The solemnity of “Lov” suggests an experience of pain in its lyrics.
It was the first time in my life that I was in love with a man, which obviously was a big change in my life. No, it was actually a happy time but back then I still had a much, much harder time dealing with depression, so if that’s in there I’m not surprised.
The percussion is typically minimal, do you still opt for that? How do you feel your sound has developed over the years?
To be honest I don’t really reflect on this. It’s like cooking – you know if it needs salt, you open the door to where the seasonings are and when going for the salt you see other things and some of them will say, “Put me in a dish” and there will not necessarily be a conscious decision, but something screaming, “Put me in there!”. You just sometimes know what to do and know what works. Sometimes you just experiment and things come together and it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. A few months ago I made a dish with pickled mushrooms and I looked around in my kitchen and thought, “Oh what can I put in there?” and I saw jasmine flowers. And in that moment it completely made sense…and it was delicious. I think with music it’s the same thing.
If you weren’t DJing, what would you be doing?
Ohh you never know. There is a plan B and C in my life. It’s hard to tell. This has been something I am doing for 20 years now and it has been something I am lucky to make a living from for many, many years now. If that wouldn’t have happened, I don’t know what would have happened. I might have continued working in catering, I might have started again in advertising…I don’t know.
Your personality shows you to be quite independent, but equally your friends seem extremely important to you, to have around you. Is it a matter of keeping people close but not too close?
I need a lot of time and space for myself, due to my depressive disposition or however you want to call it. I have to watch myself. I know that I can exhaust myself and I know that even if I’m sometimes keeping myself from doing stuff, having a good time, being out there, I need to do it because otherwise I get to the point where it turns. So in a way there are times when I need to keep to myself. When depression hits me and forces me to keep to myself, I have to struggle to get out of it. I think I’ve got the people in my life that I need, I’ve got close friends, I am a social being that sometimes is shy. In a profession like mine, you get to meet a lot of people, people you share a lot with and that is sometimes super tough. If you were in the same city, same continent, you know you would be best buddies and you know you cannot have that through the Internet – working very closely with people for short times.
Do you see your family often?
I mostly see my sister. I try to spend as much time with her as our lives would allow us, so I see her most and she sometimes travels with me. First time I went to Australia, I took her with me. She and her five kids came to Croatia with me, to Tisno. My parents I see less, maybe three times a year.
So about this dish that you made for me…
We have an Udon noodle soup and dalshi and shiitake stock. We have spinach with peanut and sesame. We have perria seaweed salad, scallops in uzu mirin sauce and we have sweet marinated duck meat. Ha ha ha.
So fancy! It was very tasty, thank you. I’d like to move on to the idea of music as escapism – it’s interesting that you have no interest in drugs, given it’s a common route for escapism in the dance world.
Music has worked wonderfully for me as a kid when there were no drugs available. For many years I didn’t know too much about who I was and maybe also didn’t want to know. When you realise you are gay at a late age, it was likely that for a long time I did not want to realise. At the age where you usually start experimenting with drugs, I was probably too terrified that through them I would have to face myself. So I didn’t find them appealing. I never felt that I needed them. I know that I’m more easily tired than other people nowadays, but I don’t necessarily see too many people enjoying the music more than I do – if I enjoy the music. I think at a time when I was more relaxed about it, it would have been super stupid for me to start… things are thrown at me and it wouldn’t have been a good idea.
Also for mental health…
I have to watch out already with exhausting myself emotionally, and keeping my energy and my reserves. And if I look at people who do drugs… I get the lowdown anyways so…
Is the Prosumer outwardly projected in clubs a very different person from Achim, the chef who shies away from the limelight in Edinburgh?
No. Some of the dearest people around me in the business have the same attitude towards all of this. I have this feeling of “Hee hee, they still haven’t found out yet that it’s just me”. A lot of people I connect with who are successful DJs say, “I’m so happy I get away with it”. So yeah, it is just me.
London nightlife has been having a difficult time recently – what do you think about that?
It’s easy to talk about London nightlife, but in my opinion it’s not London nightlife, it’s nightlife in general. This is happening and people are making money from it. We are still talking about underground music and in a way it is, completely ignoring the fact that it is a huge industry and money making machine in a lot of aspects. It doesn’t necessarily help the scene or help smaller parties. There are cities in the UK where there are big promoters who have systematically destroyed smaller promoters. If somebody made a nice booking that cost a lot of money, they will put on somebody at the same level for less entrance fee to make sure that others are suffering. Unfortunately these tactics have been around for a while and it happens when big companies are involved and we have allowed that to happen. It’s happening to big festivals, clubs, the media that covers what we do. The smaller clubs are suffering and that’s everywhere. In London we see the small venues running out of press [coverage]. We need to talk about the drug thing. I have not lived here in this country for very long, so I don’t know how drug politics used to be and how they’ve changed over the years. I have to say from my little naive uninformed perspective I have to say that I find [drug] concepts in countries much more helpful. I think a government that is informing people instead of condemning them is maybe more helpful. I personally think a poster by the police warning people of a certain type of pill that is circulating that has too high a dosage, I think that is much more helpful than releasing sniffer dogs on a queue of people where everybody will just quickly swallow everything they own to not get prosecuted and therefore overdose. I think de-regulating things with opening times and maybe informing might be more helpful than this. People that go out are not always making very informed choices, people go out to do stupid stuff and that starts with drinking and drinking is completely accepted. People drink everywhere and people will do drugs everywhere. I don’t think that can be changed by what they are trying to do with drug politics. It should be more about helping people to make informed choices.
How about that incident in Dance Tunnel with the guy filming you…
My personal opinion is that you have a much better chance of enjoying something if you don’t think about documenting it. I don’t necessarily understand this need to take a lot of pictures. Sometimes I do when there’s a plate of food in front of me that I enjoy, that moment is more important. Or when I was in New Zealand at the beginning of the year, I had some days off there and had a wonderful time and saw wonderful things… I later realised that I had taken surprisingly little photos. I saw dolphins really close, and I was like ‘Wow’ but it didn’t come to my mind to get out my phone. I don’t want to miss any second by getting behind my screen and probably fucking up the setting or something. I personally think people will lose something, and I sometimes think it’s a bit intrusive. I’m there to share my music and I know that people are coming to see my music and also see me, but I have to say I still think it’s weird to just put your camera into somebody’s face. I understand that press people and promoters have to do that, and I understand these mechanics – but I don’t necessarily understand why people have to do that and I sometimes find it intrusive. I don’t want to be in the spotlight, I want my music to be in the spotlight. So sometimes I think, yeah ‘How do you like that’? And you sometimes see people getting uncomfortable and then sometimes you see people thinking “Ah I get it”.
What was your first contact with NYC Downlow?
Ahh The Downlow. Three years ago… I played the Downlow at Lovebox many years ago during the daytime but it was pretty quiet, it wasn’t the full experience like at Glastonbury. I have to admit when the request came I thought “No, Glastonbury has too many people. That’s not me.” I’m not dealing well with big crowded places, I don’t see myself as a festival person. I don’t have a single hippy bone in my body. So Kate [Harahan] and Lindsay were just like “What are you crazy? It’s fucking Glastonbury. You have to do it and we have to come!” Honestly, if I’m really honest, they had to convince me and I’m so happy that they did. I’m so happy they said that we don’t go there just for the gig, we go for the whole thing. Going there the Wednesday, that is one of the biggest highlights of my year. I don’t take much convincing these days.
I don’t have a single hippy bone in my body.
Glastonbury’s importance has grown though, it better represents gay culture now whereas it wasn’t well represented before.
I had a bit of a discussion about that with a friend of mine in Berlin, who’s also a DJ, who hasn’t been there. I don’t know who he spoke to and how he came to this conclusion, but he said ‘Ah yeah I know you go there, but in the end it’s just the exploitation of our culture on a Disney budget’. And I said, ‘Ok, hold it. First there is no Disney budget, everybody chips in and I don’t see it as exploitation’. Of course there will be straight people who come to stare at the queers and the trannies and of course there will be an element of not seeing eye to eye – and ‘ha ha freak show’ – but that is the reality for every gay bar. And then you have the hen and stag do people who find it funny to go to places that are some people’s safe places. Recently I was in New York and there was this straight couple and they were both really loud and annoying and taking up so much space. The girl felt the need to tell every gay guy in the bar, ‘Ah my boyfriend he’s so amazing, he’s even going to the gay bars with me’ so basically everyone said to her ‘Are you in any way aware of what you are saying right now?’. My friend responded, saying ‘Wow can you imagine me and my boyfriend going to a straight bar and saying he’s so amazing’. And she obviously started thinking and her boyfriend didn’t like that, and that turned into almost a fight. I think yes, there will be a tiny element of that going on at the Downlow. There are maybe some people who come to see the freaks and then realise maybe the freaks are not so different to us, or the freaks have a pretty good party going on, and maybe we should party together. I think for non-queer identifying people, it can be a very eye-opening and positive experience. Even if 50-60% of the people there were straight, gay people would still feel that ‘I’m represented’. There’s still too many young kids killing themselves for having the feeling of not fitting in, not being represented and that there is no place for them. And it is so important that a big festival like that… I mean everywhere it should be like that… but that a festival like Glastonbury should have this place that says ‘You are welcome, you are celebrated’.
*Achim takes a phone call and sings happy birthday in dulcet tones*
Questions: Andrea Spisto
Words: Adam Tiran and Jack Smith
A huge thank you to Achim and Andrea for making this happen. Catch Prosumer rocking a dancefloor near you soon.