Fritz Kalkbrenner: When music becomes more than just a hobby
Fritz Kalkbrenner is successful producer from Berlin, that ever-trusty hub of creativity. Although he’s been making music since he was in his teens, Fritz initially pursued a career in music journalism, before he found the success of himself and his older brother, Paul, meant that he could ditch the journalism to become a full-time musician. He’s a famous face in Germany and recently put his talents to work on an excellent mix CD for the Suol label. A retrospective mix that represents his various influences, it includes everything from Boo Williams through to Pete Rock and CL Smooth. With such an interesting life so far, he made the perfect candidate for an interview.
When did your musical journey begin?
It started when I was 13-years-old, I was listening to hip hop music. I was into the east coast stuff, like Wu-Tang, Eric B and Rakim… at that time Paul was also producing, because he’s four years older. He was already DJing and producing. I was also into club music, I didn’t divide it like some other guys did. I was into both at the same time.
Some people can get quite tribal sometimes and stick to one thing.
Yeah, when you’re a teenager you can be quite hard-headed and focused. When you’re young, you need to have your own thing and be… protected.
It helps you to form an identity.
Of course, in your youth for socialising and identity, it helps. So you can say “I’m a hip-hop head” or “I’m a club head”. But the special thing here in Berlin, is that the club scene was pretty strong from the beginning of the nineties, and so was hip-hop so I didn’t make a clear difference between the two things. It’s either good music or it’s not.
That’s quite a mature way to think as a teen!
I was lucky to have that position.
So when Paul was making music did it make you curious?
It did, of course it’s a family thing – I started producing music when I was 17 and Paul gave me help when I was starting. After two years we were both into it so strong and doing well, Paul became a professional musician but it took me a bit longer because I had a day job as a journalist. I worked as a TV arts journalist for the public broadcaster here, which is comparable to the BBC, I guess. I worked for MTV as well, sometimes on cheesy topics, but you have to do what you have to do.
When did it come to the point where music took over from being a journalist?
It came in 2008 when more people, internationally, took an interest in what Paul did and also to what I did. I was freelancing in both fields [music and journalism] and I finally realized “Oh, I haven’t written anything for a newspaper or made a TV show in over three months” so it changed gradually over a long period. Then there came a separate moment where I realized “Oh, I’m a full-time musician now!”
It’s cool that you didn’t make the choice, it just naturally happened.
It happened by accident! [laughs] I have to say, after the huge success of Sky And Sand people paid attention to the stuff that I did and then the moment felt right to change over and I did it.
So did you have any other ambitions as a youngster or was it always music?
I started working as a music journalist when I was 19, and producing music at 17. So I had my day job and my hobby, but I never thought of anything else. It’s the only thing I can do so I stick to it.
It must be handy to have a brother who’s involved in music as well?
Of course! He’s a great support and every time we meet, which is twice a week, we have a lot of stuff to talk about – he’ll show me a new track, I’ll show him a new track and we talk about technical details. It’s always a creative session, he might say “You need to change that, the break is too long” – it’s always a good help, for him like it is for me.
Sounds like a lot of fun.
I’m grateful for it, every day. Imagine one of us worked at a bank, it would be like “Hey, how’s mum?” – ‘Fine’ – “How are the children?” – ‘Fine’ [laughs]. We always have a LOT to talk about.
Can you tell me about your new mix for Suol? How long did it take to put together?
It was a pretty long process. Usually when you do a podcast or an unofficial mix, you can do what you like, but for an official licensed mix it’s pretty difficult. So I started by picking out 60 or 80 tracks, then we started to work out the licensing – there were times when we realised we couldn’t get some of the tracks, so the number of tracks got smaller and smaller. We ended up with 25, which was the inner core and then the idea was to put those in a logical line. The first half of the mix represents the heritage stuff, in the middle it changes into club stuff. From beginning to end it was around two months.
Would you say the mix represents you and what you’re about?
Yes, it represents my whole musical background. Maybe some people who only know my debut album could be a little bit confused, but the mix is everything that has influenced me – music without boundaries, because I see soul, funk, early house to techno, it’s just one to me.
Sure, there’s a very strong relationship between those genres. What’s coming up next for you?
I’m already working on the next album. There’s always work to do, I have loads of other ideas that need to be finalised. There’s already a date in mind, but I don’t want to talk about it because sometimes there is a delay…
That’s the worst thing to do, say: “The album is out in August” and then December comes and there’s still no album.
Yeah, so hopefully it will happen this year. I already have 20 sketches that need to be worked out, so we’re on the way.
Do you find time to keep up to date on modern-day hip hop at all?
Yeah, there’s stuff that I like. Diamond District or Tanya Morgan so sometimes I have an eye on it but not as much as I used to – when I was addicted and I would spend every day in the record store. I don’t have the time nowadays, I’m more selective now. When I was 25, I bought 20 or 30 records a month, now it’s like two or three, but only the best.
So, who are you really into at the moment? From any genre…
Graham Clark (The Revenge) from Scotland, I really love what he’s doing. My guys from the label [Suol] – we are a little bunch of guys but we stick together really closely.
Finally, where do your musical ambitions lie now?
[laughs] That’s a good question! I want to incorporate more studio musicians on the next album, to bring more real-life instruments to my production. I don’t know how it will work out, but I’ll try!Berlin, Fritz Kalkbrenner, germany, mix, Suol
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