ART:CAST #63 & INTERVIEW Kollektiv Turmstrasse

Self-reflective, critical, edgy, highly motivated and passionate about music – artist duo, live-act, DJs or simply spoken Kollektiv Turmstrasse reveal their story of success, which has not always been going into one direction only. Christian Hilscher and Nico Plagemann have been a scene’s mainstay for a good 20 years; two decades of intensively working, living, traveling, laughing and arguing with each other or, as the both say, ‘having a marriage-like relationship’. But aside from the all too human sides, Nico and Christian provided the community, the scene with several formidable releases like ‘Abenteuer Alltag’, the duo’s first EP on Diynamic, ‘Blutsbrüder’ on their very own label Musik Gewinnt Freunde, ’Rebellion der Träumer’, their album on Connaisseur Recordings, ‘Sry I’m Late’ or their upcoming ‘RibbonReef EP’, just to name a few. But their discography contains more than catchy chord-influenced potential hits, it reveals what’s most important to them, their relationship, what they enjoy in their time off, the everyday life and situations they experience and also unveil certain gaps in-between some of their music. ‘In-between’ seems to be the word that best describes the chat with Christian and Nico as Torture the Artist catches up with Kollektiv Turmstrasse in-between the release of their ‘Noisy Nights’ remixes for Holtoug on Connaisseur Recordings and their first EP, ‘RibbonReef’ on Musik Gewinnt Freunde, after three years. The music collective gives reasons for temporal gaps ‘in-between’ their releases and if you read ‘in-between’ Nico and Christian’s lines you’ll discover what, aside from the obvious and mentioned reasons, is significant to the both at a human and musical level and why they are still as motivated and passionate about what they do as back then when they started – just a little bit more mature, maybe professional but definitely honest and (self)-critical.

Torture the Artist: Hey guys, tell us something about your day.

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: It’s a Monday in mid-June and a typical (summer) festival-weekend lays behind us. Mondays tend to be our Sundays as we do everything in a more relaxed and laid back way at the beginning of the week. Mostly we get back to all the people who’ve written us over the past few days, then we also check our social media, make notes for the rest of the week, then finally spend some time with our families – go to the beach, meet up with friends, barbeque – you know all the things you do in summer…

We were disappointed or rather dissatisfied about how we performed.

Torture the Artist: Musically we catch up with you in between two of your releases. Firstly your remixes on Connaisseur were just released and now an EP on your very own label is about to drop. It’s been a while since you released new music, what caused this creative break?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: In a nutshell: We were disappointed or rather dissatisfied about how we performed. If you perform and keep playing your music live one weekend after another – highly dosed, of course – you get stuck in a rut and you won’t even notice it. It took us quite a while to figure out the reasons why we were dissatisfied with our (studio) results in the first place. You know, we did not really take a break between the releases before and the ones now, because we’ve still produced music. The music or tracks we produced though just did not fit into our live-sets or the context we used to perform our music in.

Torture the Artist: How did you musically get back on track?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: Just as we realized we needed a break from our live-sets we focused a little bit more on DJing. As a result we found a lot of new music while preparing for the gigs because we browsed through various music-pools and discovered artists and their interesting approach to music in a way we had almost forgotten. That’s what we call ‘tunnel vision’. If you are always in the studio, stuck in your self-created micro-cosmos, if you only partly look to your left and right to see what’s musically happening there, you will end up dissatisfied like we did. So the key to regain our motivation was preparing for our DJ-shows and listening to all the club music we had access to.

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Torture the Artist: How do you plan to handle the ‘dose’ of your releases in the future, like is it possible that there are breaks of 2-3 years in-between again or what’s your time table?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: Honestly speaking, we do not have a time table or a concrete plan that we want to put into practice when it comes to releases. We do however know what kind of ideas, sketches and final tracks we have on the computer. Some tracks have to wait there for some months or years until we decide to finally release them. Of course, the wish to release a certain amount of EPs or tracks each year is present but it’s not our goal in the first place. Kollektiv Turmstrasse will always remain a project that gains its strength through its flow but not by forcing us to do something or putting pressure on ourselves. A bit of luck and the right moment – that’s all we need.

Torture the Artist: Those remixes on Connaisseur rested a bit, too and you opened the project once again and then they were released. First off, how did working the project again come about and secondly how do generally deal with ideas or sketches you once started but never finished?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: The remixes on Connaisseur are a good example for music that has gained our attention again after some time. Together with Alex, the Connaisseur label-head, we listened to some older tracks and ideas and those remixes stuck out. We ended up opening the project again, not exaggerating here but we were so highly motivated, along with some fresh ears we easily added the final touch to the project. We were lucky that the project still existed in our files and had not been deleted during our yearly clean-up of not finalised music.

I mean you won’t call your child ‘Jaqueline’ for a year to then give it a name like ‘Thomas’, will you?

Torture the Artist: The ‘Ribbon Reef‘ EP will be released shortly, why did you name it after the Australian riff, what do you connect with it or was it rather the alliteration you wanted to make use of?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: We don’t take track names very seriously and already spoke about the idea of renaming the tracks or EPs once they are finished, so everything sounds homogeneous. Most of our tracks or ideas are provided with working titles like ‘Brummi1234’, ‘Geht_abV3’, ‘im_Supermarkt_epischerBreak_v9’ or just ‘RibbonReef’, therefore we make use of the everyday situations we experience ourselves or something we witness on media and name our tracks after them. Long life to creativity I would say!

If the working title has been ‘RibbonReef’ for months then it will be ‘RibbonReef’ when it is finished even though it can be renamed to ‘The Light of the Sun’. Still the track will always be ‘RibbonReef’ for us. I mean you won’t call your child ‘Jaqueline’ for a year to then give it a name like ‘Thomas’, will you?

Torture the Artist: ‘New Star’ is the second track of the EP, who’s your ‘new star’ and what does ‘Gollowitz’ on the isle of Poel has to do with it?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: You don’t know how much we wish to tell you what kind of a great idea or what new star lays within this name and that it marks the turning point for Kollektiv Turmstrasse. But ‘Gollowitz’ is simply a little beach section in our hometown, the place where we grew up. So it is more of a dedication to the place and a small group of people who spend typical summer days, afternoons and evenings, there. That’s it.

The good thing about today’s times is that it has never been so easy to work together as a team.

Torture the Artist: You both live at different places now, Christian resides in Wismar while Nico lives in Hamburg. The distance is not too big between the two places but not as short as to come over within a minute. What influence does this have on the time you spend together in the studio, and do you have set hours in the studio or do you rather work from your homes?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: The good thing about today’s times is that it has never been so easy to work together as a team. Due to the physical distance between us we mostly work from our homes. And having worked together for such a long time we are both aware of the process and how to proceed in the studio, therefore not working in the same studio isn’t much of a challenge for us. We both have different roles when producing, one of us is the studied and overly creative mouse-cursor moving musician and the other one the forever nagging and criticising arrangement partner, you have a guess who’s who. But those two assignments are easy to split up so each of us does what he’s best at to then evaluate and improve the project either on the weekend or when speaking via one of these modern communication tools. From time to time we do go to the studio together, though we often end up just playing on the Playstation or having a barbeque.

Nowadays it’s a bit easier to come up with positive results if you want to start making music.

Torture the Artist: If you could choose any period of your creative being, what would be the time or the moment in your lives you are most likely to return to and why?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: The advantages of today’s times are immense simply because there is so much knowledge and resources in different forms available out there, e.g. videos, tutorials or written texts/ books, which is something we never had when we started producing music and somehow we would have loved to have all these opportunities back then too. When it comes to operating studio equipment and gear, we learned mostly by trial and error. Nowadays it’s a bit easier to come up with positive results if you want to start making music. What you need are some tutorials and workshops, both available online, a strong will and some ambitions and soon you’ll have a new club track. Back then it was slightly different and more challenging, but also a bit more exciting, because we could and would discover everything on our own and we just did not know what the results would be like, so they were less predictable hence more exciting. I would say that the time from 2003 – 2006 was most fascinating to us, because we were not influenced by anything nor did we follow a concept or plan, we experimented with sounds without having a particular goal or having to fulfill expectations as Kollektiv Turmstrasse.

As a producer you strive for this one specific moment in the studio when everything flows naturally.

Torture the Artist: Picking up on the previous question, what kind of track would you have produced back then with having the technical knowledge of today?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: We would rather work on some of our tracks’ arrangements and emphasize more on the final mixdown than to change something essentially or wanting to do something way better. That’s just not on our list of things to do. It’s more like a quality thing than coming up with something totally new, but as we said before quality is based on experience and this is something you gain over the years or nowadays by watching YouTube. For us, tracks are highly connected to these so called magic moments, and those can happen in the studio, but are also tied to an expiration date. Don’t get us wrong here, we are not talking about the track itself but the moments we connect with it and when it is created. The track itself shall be somehow timeless, if possible. As a producer you strive for this one specific moment in the studio when everything flows naturally, so the magic moment in our personal opinion is when you finally reach this moment but you cannot repeat or relive it but just remember it. Sometimes when we listen to our old productions we just ask ourselves: ‘Man, how did we do this back then?’

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Torture the Artist: Apart from each other, what’s an artist you would like to work in the studio with and what kind of track would you like to produce?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: First and forever we would like to sit in the studio with the infamous duo Milli Vanilli, who were responsible for ‘Girl you know it’s true.’ <laughs> At the moment we are big fans of Denis Cruz, whose productions have such an intense groove and we are sure we could learn something from him. I also believe that Trentemøller, Lambert or &ME would be great studio partners as each of them sounds different and you wouldn’t know what to expect sound-wise when working with them.

When being drunk you can certainly mix up a rejecting fellow with a German accent with your wife in a mini-skirt, can’t you?

Torture the Artist: Kollektiv Turmstrasse has been existing for quite a while, what was the most funny or bizarre that happened to you guys?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: During our travels a lot of bizarre, funny but also adventurous things have happened. There is this little anecdote about a loving Siberian husband on a plane from Moscow to Tjumen. He thought that he was sitting in a beach chair and his wife was next to him, wearing a mini skirt. In his imagination he was not in a plane but somewhere on an island. Maybe it was his imagination, but also likely due to his drunk state. I mean when being drunk you can certainly mix up a rejecting fellow with a German accent with your wife in a mini-skirt, can’t you? Stupidly the German accent was a major turn on for him and he poured his love down on us with some kissing. It took nearly 15 minutes and the help of the flight-attendant to make him realize that we were not his wife but Kollektiv Turmstrasse on their way to one of their gigs. Because the plane was just too small there was no escaping the situation.

So we had to meet at some point, actually we all met… at some point.

Torture the Artist: What was the pick-up line for your musical relationship?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: Our pick-up line dates back to the time between 1997-1999. We are originally from a province in Mecklenburg-Western-Pomerania and electronic music and its events could really be considered as a subculture because not much of it existed where we lived back then. Within 200km there were approximately two smaller events for a handful of people over the course of a whole month. So we had to meet at some point, actually we all met… at some point. In retrospect, these lovely party community experiences reflect how we grew up and got involved with electronic music and the scene. These times were shaped by cohesion, building up and taking care of the scene here and we ascribe this phrase to this time: ‘Gerberei Schwerin – living for the night’. (editor’s note: The Gerberei was a club in Schwerin)

We got to know each other through party-chats and promptly realized that we shared common interests, meaning we had much more in common than just partying and producing music. It took an invitation to a Star Wars movie, some McDrive action and the plan to found a flat-sharing community and è voilá we had the basis for what was yet to come.

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Torture the Artist: And then you became the infamous duo Kollektiv Turmstrasse and got well-known for your live-act. Speaking of the latter, as you said you also DJ, do you prefer one thing over the other?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: Earlier we mentioned the reasons why we put the live-act on pause, but there will definitely be one in the future. When, how, solo or as a duo, is something we still have to decide and we also have to figure out what we want to focus on with it, meaning the club- or show-aspects or maybe even both? We are still figuring all that out right now. But one thing is for sure, the DJ-performances and the energy that we gain through them for our studio work is something we highly appreciate and therefore we decided that DJing shall still be part of our stage performance in the future somehow.

Torture the Artist: Christian, what’s a thing that you remember about Nico doing, but he has no recollection of?

Christian: <laughs> I do not want to answer this. It would simply go beyond the constraints of this interview and I do not want to have further discussions with Nico after this has gone live.

Torture the Artist: Nico, what’s something Christian is a perfectionist about?

Nico: He’s a control-freak, who loves writing these to-do lists.

It’s not always easy, but it’s also not meant to be that easy because we both want to live and that means there are ups and downs.

Torture the Artist: After so many years in the business, what’s your relationship based on?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: That’s actually a question we ask each other a lot. It would be a lie, if we told you that our relationship has always been about love, peace and harmony. No relationship is like this. What strongly connects us is our friendship, our success and all the reverie, dissatisfaction, inequality and on the other side that we are somehow alike, but what is most important for us is the common love for music. We could go on and on about it and find further facts that describe our 20 years of friendship, almost like a marriage even. It’s not always easy, but it’s also not meant to be that easy because we both want to live and that means there are ups and downs. What really characterizes our relationship is that we trust each other blindly, when it matters.

It’s more about the amount of your followers than the music.

Torture the Artist: You’ve witnessed several generations of people becoming part of the electronic music scene ever since you both entered it, what’s the direction the scene is developing and what development is most flamboyant?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: That’s a difficult question or in other words: Never bite the hand that feeds you. We are fully aware that if a product becomes something for the masses it is accompanied by several changes that aim to go into a certain direction. So the scene has changed and we cannot deny that we and our project have profited from this change too. Over the years we as well as the scene have become more mature. While in the beginning things were done with ease they’ve become part of a tough business with tons of competitors. We don’t mean the variety of music and the artists but rather the agencies, festivals, distributors, platforms etc. which kind of took the magic away. It’s more about calculating contributions than delivering something timeless. It’s more about quantity than quality. It’s more about the amount of your followers than the music. The muddy paths behind a festival’s stage is now a solid road. We now have catering behind stage and french fries, kebab or bratwurst to the left and right of the dance floor. A lot of things have become more professional and perfectly organized and consequently everything has become arbitrary and lost a bit of its former sparkle.

As long as we are still passionate and motivated about producing electronic music, we will still have our place in the ever changing scene.

Torture the Artist: To what extend do consider yourself as a part of the scene, aside from your music?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: What is this scene you mention and who defines it? Is it important to feel as a part of it? Everybody has their own imagination what the scene is to them. The changes over the past years and the setting we now work in have little to do with what made us join the scene a good 20 years ago nor does it go along with our former motivation and incentive to become part of the whole. As we said earlier we partly have problems identifying with certain developments within the scene and the scene we are part of at the moment seems to be influenced rather by consumption than the music itself. Generally it is to say that we still do not think much whether we belong or fit into the scene or not. As long as we are still passionate and motivated about producing electronic music, we will still have our place in the ever changing scene.

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Torture the Artist: What’s a club you would like to visit as a private person and who would be in the lineup?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: There’s neither a concrete club or location nor a lineup that has to be fulfilled. We still like places without a roof. A place where any kind of music could be played, whether it’s electronic music, Indie-Rock, Pop or some good HipHop. Most important for a great night are a handful of good friends and quality time.

Torture the Artist: What subculture would you like to be part of, if nobody could see.

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: We are already part of a subculture that emphasizes on anonymity and therefore nobody knows that we are there.

Torture the Artist: What was the last thing that emotionally touched you?

Kollektiv Turmstrasse: Memento Mori – the thought of morality and of course the ending of Game of Thrones.

Interview by Holger Breuer