Few embody the title of “dance music veteran” as thoroughly as Paul Kalkbrenner. Since the turn of the millennium, the German artist has played many roles in the scene. Kalkbrenner is revered in the techno community for his intricate live shows and productions for labels ranging from Sony, to Ellen Allien’s BPitch, and his own label, Paul Kalkbrenner Musik. He also quite literally played the DJ role when he portrayed the flawed star Ickarus in Hannes Stöhr’s 2008 film, Berlin Calling, for which he produced his most renowned hit, “Sky and Sand.”
Despite Kalkbrenner’s longstanding success in the industry, the pomp, circumstance, and affluence that come with his post aren’t the basis for his motivations. While acknowledging the benefits of electronic music’s spike in popularity over the past decade, the artist regards the ever-increasing commodification of dance music with a sense of wistfulness.
“The ’80s & ’90s innocence is gone,” he remarks, noting that society’s constant connection to social media is “much opposed to those early rave days where the interaction was much more human.”
For Kalkbrenner, the “early rave days” came after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Only twelve years old at the time, he did not come into the scene himself at the very beginning of eastern Germany’s cultural renaissance. However, the music that defined this movement remains at the core of the artist’s inspirations.
“I had no idea where that YouTube dive would take me when I first began.”
Turning nostalgia into productivity, Kalkbrenner has sought to recapture the purity of the late ’80s and early ’90s through his Back to the Future project. In 2016, the endeavor began as three-part mixtape, which drew upon personal edits of 5,000 tracks from the period.
“I was browsing YouTube, and created a playlist of about 5,000 tracks,” he notes, detailing his process behind Back to the Future. “From there i began narrowing it down to a few hundred of these tracks, selecting, editing & compiling them. Then chasing down all original vinyls, re-recording them, and making personal edits again and preparing them for the live show. I had no idea where that YouTube dive would take me when I first began.”
While many may view the mere notion of performing such a tremendous feat as exhausting, Kalkbrenner calls it a “labor of love.” And, indeed, his passion is evident in his continued dedication to the project; since releasing the mixtapes in 2016, he’s turned Back to the Future into its own performance. Alongside his renowned live act, the artist has brought the unique show across Europe in 2017, quite notably remarking his return to DJing for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Paul Kalkbrenner will debut the experience for American audiences on September 22 at New York’s Knockdown Center, however, this set will mark his second performance in New York for the month. Tomorrow, September 1, the artist will perform his famed live show at the city’s premier dance music festival, Electric Zoo. Kalkbrenner is set to play at the Awakenings stage alongside acts such as the legendary Sasha & Digweed.
Ahead of his performance this weekend, the venerable DJ spoke with Dancing Astronaut about his inspiration for Back to the Future, the experience of remixing Leonard Cohen, and more.
Read our interview with Paul Kalkbrenner below.
What does the ‘Back to the Future’ project mean to you?
A labour of love, giving me the freedom to perform something altogether different. It’s something very personal to me, diving back into a really magical time of my life. It’s a project that also came with a sense of responsibility — preserving, recording, and now sharing, a moment that was so critical to me, to Berlin, and to our music as a whole.
Can you describe process you used to recreate these classic tracks through youtube videos in your edits?
I was browsing YouTube, and created a playlist of about 5,000 tracks. From there i began narrowing it down to a few hundred of these tracks, selecting, editing & compiling them. Then chasing down all original vinyls, re-recording them, and making personal edits again and preparing them for the live show. I had no idea where that YouTube dive would take me when i first began.
How do you think that the current, commercialized state of the dance music industry could return to its earlier, purer form?
I don’t think this will ever be possible again. The ’80s & ’90s innocence is gone, as we are all constantly connected through socials, much opposed to those early rave days where the interaction was much more human. The scale has also changed, it seemed like it was a very small world back then. The growth obviously has its benefits, but I don’t think we can ever go back.
[interviewer]What are your thoughts about bringing your live show to New York’s Electric Zoo?[/interviewer_bubble]
It’s great to be back after my first time in 2010. I have always enjoyed playing NYC, great crowds, great history, great city.
Your younger brother, Fritz, has become a successful artist as well. What’s it like running into him at festival lineups where you’re both booked?
It’s just like you imagine it is: meeting your brother at work. Mostly a brief encounter, an update on each other’s weekend’s travel schedule and rarely a chance to see each other’s show.
You received the honor of being the last artist to officially remix the great Leonard Cohen? How did it feel to be asked to do this, and what was this process like for you?
It is a great honour. The whole process was very swift. I received the parts, did the remix, and was granted immediate permission to premiere it at Lollapalooza before the release date was set. Sadly, Mr. Cohen passed shortly after this. He was an incredible artist, a force of nature. That remix certainly took on extra poignancy when you look at the lyrics in the context of him passing.
Stream Paul Kalkbrenner’s Back to the Future trilogy below:
Single day tickets for Electric Zoo are available here.