Kim Khan speaks with Prosumer about vinyl, drug policy and Mancunians knowing their stuff
Prosumer, a.k.a. Achim Brandenburg—storyteller, potions master and vinyl obsessive. Prior to his appearance at Sankeys this Saturday, we get to the nitty gritty, talking about the origins of house and techno—and whether they’ll ever be the same again—drugs, and his new label Potion.
Original techno and house was started as an underground scene back in the 80s, where people who were considered ‘outsiders’ by mainstream America congregated in clubs across Chicago and Detroit which were open to everyone, regardless of race or sexuality.
It was this freedom which drew people to the clubs and fuelled the rise of Chicago house and Detroit techno. “I think that [the freedom] has mainly gone. Influential people like Derrick Carter have started asking what has happened to the old music as current mainstream artists just don’t reflect the old scene—black kids, gay kids—look at the Top 100, they aren’t represented anymore. Derrick got a lot of stick when he questioned that.”
DJing has become very different in recent years, with a lot of discussion around the topic of the DJ as a celebrity. Certain milestones mark this—Paris Hilton’s Ibiza residency, Joey Essex’s mix CD. “I can’t do the whole DJ booth raising my hands in the air. People should enjoy the music I play. I don’t understand why some people don’t dance, and instead they face the DJ all the time. I find that irritating—what we’re doing is not witchcraft, it’s blending tracks into each other through beat mixing.”
The setup in a lot of clubs has changed as this new ‘breed’ of DJ arrives, which affects people who have been around for longer. “Light should be for the dancefloor, not to illuminate the DJ. I don’t get it. I feel shy and find myself trying to be smaller hiding behind the decks.” In clubs where the dancefloor is the focus point, the DJ can get something back too: “Someone in the audience may be smiling in a way that makes you feel good so you can give that back to the crowd.”
Vinyl sales are at an all time high since 1996, but Brandenburg has always been a proponent of the bigger disk. “For me personally, vinyl is the best medium for music. And even if you ask people that didn’t grow up with records but CDs and MP3s, what the most valuable medium for music is, they’ll mostly answer ‘vinyl’.
“I think that’s because of its aesthetic and its size. The big artwork looks nicer, people can appreciate it. If you really love an album you’ll probably want it in its physical form too and vinyl is perfect for that—it’s something special.
“Vinyl of course has its imperfections, through playing it’ll get marks and scratches and become a bit individual.” I agree, noting when it skips at exactly that point where you dropped it after a heavy session, or when its crackles remind you of that night where you can’t actually remember too much. “It’s these imperfections which can make you feel connected to the physicality of a record. With some of my records, I will spot my copy within a pile of others, because I am so used to hearing a pop or hiss at a certain moment.
“I love visiting Manchester because of its music scene. In the charity shops there are loads of copies of A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’, so you know that at one point it was in every household. Mancunians know their stuff! Unfortunately that means you rarely find a bargain in record shops.”
Prosumer recently completed his Fabric mix for the famous London nightclub, which has recently been in the news after several drug deaths led to threats of closure by the authorities. After a huge social media campaign, the club was allowed to stay open under the condition that they install breathalysers and sniffer dogs outside the venue, becoming one of the first clubs in the country to be forced to do so. Understandably, this came under fire from a number of sources including The Guardian, who called the measures ‘draconian’.
Reflecting on this, Prosumer reveals: “It’s not always been as strict as this—years and years ago in Germany, when I first went to raves, they’d always have a stand with leaflets informing you about drugs, but now this has completely disappeared.
“The fact is that people will always do drugs, there’s no point in denying that. Banning drug use just makes it worse. Many cases of overdoses occur when people panic as they’re being searched and swallow all their drugs at once to avoid being prosecuted.
“Also, people pre-load with drugs before leaving the house to be safe in case of a search. There is little you can do about this as a club and it is putting kids in danger of overdosing.
“People need to be educated. They need to know how to make informed decisions, rather than being punished.”
Prosumer DJs around the world and like many of his peers he observes differences and similarities in the places that he plays in. One particular example of this was when he was with his friend Kerstin (Egert AKA Tama Sumo) in Israel. “We were in Jerusalem and then in Tel Aviv the following night. The Jerusalem crowd was mainly weed smokers and people in Tel Aviv were on who knows what. Kerstin had only packed one bag of records but she managed to play two completely different sets which catered to each audience. It was very impressive, it really stayed with me.” It’s this admiration of his peers and his humbleness which makes Achim Brandenburg such a nice person to interview.
Prosumer moved out of Germany to Edinburgh two years ago, which may seem a strange move for a DJ to make. Explaining this decision he tells us: “I’ve got friends here, needed to be in a German or English speaking country and I’d visited a lot because my friend studied here.” Since relocating there he’s made it his home and doesn’t see a move on the cards anytime soon “I also feel at home, but I still get excited every time I see the castle.”
Brandenburg’s friendship with surgeon and fellow producer Murat Tepeli is closely documented, reaching its next logical step in November last year with the launch of their label, Potion. The name is taken from Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, specifically the lyrics “a man who makes potions in a travelling show.” “As a DJ you’re in a travelling show.” Each weekend—which starts on a Thursday—he packs his bag of potions [records] which “provide relief for ailments so people can have a good time.”
With (almost) two releases already under the belt of the label—Tepeli’s own Drop It Like It’s Hot EP and Copenhagen duo Wilma’s EP due out this month, the label is already looking toward release three and four. The third he reveals will come from Tuff City Kids (Gerd Janson and Phillip Lauer’s collaborative project) and the fourth release will be courtesy of Prosumer himself.
This fruitful partnership and longtime friendship of Brandenburg and Tepeli means they’ve spent a considerable amount of time together over the years. Surprisingly, the duo’s favourite pastime is making music of the karaoke variety; “I’ve got to keep a bit of mystery in this, but a surprise hit is ‘Open Sesame’ by Leila K.”
The last time Prosumer was in Manchester, he’d played in Soup Kitchen at a show which sold out in record time—partly due to the tiny capacity. This time around, he’s at Sankeys along with three of his best friends so this show is set to be considerably different. “We’ll have a lot of fun playing records we all love to build a story which lasts all night.” Interestingly, Achim describes his sets as ‘stories’ or ‘travels’. “Each set of music can take the listener to another place.” It becomes apparent that he is mapping ‘places’ onto feelings, each song or genre inciting a different emotion.
What story will he tell with the others at Sankeys? “I don’t know yet, but one thing for sure is that it will be a fun one.”
Humble, down-to-earth and downright fun, Prosumer visits Manchester’s Sankeys on the 21st February for an all-night extravaganza hosted by Selective Hearing with Tama Sumo, Virginia and Murat Tepeli.