Exercise One- on Madness, Ibiza and Gothic Horror (extended interview)
“I was deeply into goth: Full make-up, no sun, eternal darkness. In that time (around 1988) image was great, it was so much fun, a big adventure. And I breathed all this amazing music in and discovered great artists and bands.”
Chatting to Skrufff this week about their new album ‘Tales Of Ordinary Madness’ Exercise One producer Marco Freivogel is refreshingly candid about his gothic past as well as how he escaped its clutches.
“Techno came around the corner and it took one ecstasy to beam me out of my goth cave into the colourful world of rave; the next adventure,” he beams, “I’m still in love”.
Goth culture’s loss has been techno’s gain as he’s forged a fruitful ten year career with fellow Exercise Oner Ingo Gansera, an anniversary the Berlin duo are marking with the aforementioned album (technically a remix album of 10 tracks, plus 9 brand new ones.
Previously putting outa a string of acclaimed underground techno releases on labels including Anja Schneider’s Mobilee Records and Sven Vath’s Cocoon, more recently they’ve been releasing mainly via their own label Exone, though are selling ‘tons’ of tracks they stress; before laughing and confessing they’re joking.
“These days releasing music is more like you’re putting out your business card, it’s an investment so that the bookers, promoters and press etc. get something and hopefully speak about you,” they cheerfully admit.
“If that all happens then you have gigs and then there is some money coming in. But both of us could not live only from Exercise One. We both have jobs on the side.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Starting with ‘Tales Of Ordinary Madness’- and all the EPs” you’re releasing a flood of music all at once: why so much all at once?
Exercise One: The initial spark of this release was our decision to release something special for our 10 year anniversary of playing live with Exercise One. That’s why we wanted to release 10 remixes of our back catalogue from artists that mean something to us, to represent the 10 years with all the good friends we met in this music scene.
On top of that we wanted to release our newest, original ideas. This went so well and was so much fun that it became a full-length album. We decided to limit the tracklist to 9 tracks to consequently represent the 9 years of releasing music as Exercise One.”
Skrufff: A question I often ask electronic music producers- club music has always been about singles: why make an album at all (particularly now the format is also dying for rock/ pop albums?)
Exercise One (Marco Freivogel): ” Not sure I agree with your statement, I have tons of electronic music albums. And mostly the albums have been different to the usual club 12“. I am from a generation where albums were super important and as an artist you spend much more time to collect and write music for your album. A club track has to work, which is as well a big challenge - a good album you should listen from the start to the end without skipping a track, even if you listened to it hundred times.”
Exercise One (Ingo Gansera): “An album allows you to venture into some uncharted area and that is something we really enjoyed to do again. It offers more space (time) to fill with whatever you desire to do as a musician. Of course you can put anything you please on a 12″, but the charm of an album is to explore your story telling ability.
Ideally an album is held together by a vibe, atmosphere and/or sound whilst offering different kind of tracks. The challenge to create this connecting line in a larger amount of tracks is very interesting and can be revealing. It is a much more intense confrontation with your musical ideas and intentions which hopefully transcribes positively to the listening audience.”
Skrufff: What do you hope to achieve when you’re creating tracks? How much do you (And did you with this album) start with a clear vision?
Exercise One: “It is always a bit different. Sometimes you play and jam around and then suddenly you get an idea. The idea creates the vision and you start to finish the track/song. What also happens often is that you are inspired by other artists’ music or your musical influences, like „oh i wanna do a track like this. Thanks to music’s wonderful chaos, these tend to go in a totally different direction.”
For our album we had quit a lot of tracks written. It was like 20/25 tracks.
As we were working on all those tracks we also started to realise how the album should be. So we carefully selected 8 tracks out of this pot. But we wanted 9 tracks so there was one missing for which we had a clear vision and produced it in one night session – that was ‘Look At The Harlequins’.
All in all we felt like we had a much more clear idea of what we wanted to achieve this time round but still took time to explore and let things happen. When it was time to consolidate we did that relentlessly and then added what was missing.”
Skrufff: It’s10 years since you started performing together as Exercise One: how much does it get easier? (Or not?)
Exercise One: “You go through phases, the beginning is easy and super exciting, things start to roll. Then when it gets slow the first time you become nervous. But then you find your trust in yourself and things get rolling again.
Technically it gets easier because we taught ourselves how to produce so over time you get more confident abut the technicalities of creating the sound you want.
In terms of ideas and creativity it can be a rollercoaster. Inspiration is a very volatile good and strikes you at different times. So it can feel hard to make something that stands the test of your own judgement and that gets tougher over time. But in terms of this album we had a great flow and for this project it felt like it has gotten easier for us to create results we are happy about.”
Skrufff: In the press release it says “In the last two years Exercise One completely overhauled their live PA, throwing out the computer and returning to the root of techno armed with an arsenal of blustering analog machines”: why did you make the change? (Why get rid of the computer?)
Exercise One: “One reason is, we did it to limit ourselves to what is essential. A computer is always a source of endless possibilities and a fixed live-setup confronts us with a limitation that unleashed creativity. That may sound weird but it’s true. Especially in two you can do a lot with a selection of little machines.
Secondly, it is a complete different approach of interaction with your machines/instruments which leads to a different way of interaction between the two of us and between the crowd and us. This is also possible with a plethora of mapped controllers, but individual machines just fit better to the way we work. Computers are great, but since we got into electronic music it was the gear that was most attractive, not computers.
Finally, it is also a matter of which sound you want to create. For our personal taste this approach is what makes us feel excited about the sound.”
Skrufff: It must be awkward carrying all the equipment around? How does that work in practical terms (do you have to turn down lots of gigs on cost/ logistical terms?
Exercise One: “The club/promoter always has to organise two pieces of gear for us to make it work (a mixer and a sh 101). Which is not too complicated actually. Then there has been a big step forward in developing smaller sized hardware lately which we benefit from when travelling. So we basically travel with the same amount of luggage as we used to in the days when we played from computers because we always had extra kit then as well.
Nevertheless the amount of gear involved makes the live set a bit special and it will not work in certain venues or parties. We also love to DJ, so we offer to do that when a live-set in not feasible.”
Skrufff: Are you still using computers for DJing? If so, why?
Exercise One: “Yes. But I think it is time to switch to the CDJs soon. The great advantage of Computer DJing is to have access to all your music all the time. That was valuable quite a few times. It is also the way we have been DJing for a while and we didn’t want to make too many setup shifts in a short time. We are currently using 4 channels on the DJ mixer and we play back to back with 2 Traktor systems. It works pretty good.”
Skrufff: Berlin’s in a permanent state of flux; what do you make of the city today compared to 5 years ago (in terms of its club scene- and overall vibe?)
Exercise One (Marco Freivogel): “Well, 5 years ago I was pretty much playing or going out every single weekend. Today I have a 4 year old boy and 10 months old daughter, so my life has been mixed up a lot. But there is still time to go out and have fun. I’m still loving to go to Berghain on a Sunday morning. I am living in Berlin since 1999 and from that time it has certainly changed a lot. It has become a completely different city.”
Exercise One (Ingo Gansera): “There have always been countless parties in Berlin but my feeling is that there are even happening on the last few years.
Maybe my brain is just not capable of digesting the same amount of input anymore but it feels like I used to have a better overview of most of the parties back in the day.
Also a kind of main stream acceptance of the party culture has occured which has led to a kind of expectation of partying 24-7, any time, anywhere for visitors. I always loved the rawness of underground parties which were finding spaces and niches to create something out of the ordinary. But maybe I’m just grumpy and looking for negatives – overall the city is still amazing and pumping.”
Skrufff: How about Berlin compared to London? How much attention do you pay to London- and to club scenes outside Berlin generally? (Detroit, Ibiza, Vegas?)
London will always be a Mecca for music and lives up to the hype by the unmatched variety of music it produces. Not only outside of electronic music but also inside club music. We are not familiar with the intricacies of the London club scene so we can’t comment on the newest developments.
Of course we pay some attention to other influential cities, but wouldn’t call ourselves experts on worldwide clubbing trends. We never played Detroit and that’s a shame. Especially the controversial state the city is in right now makes it a unique city on different accounts.
We are dearly hoping despite all economical distress Detroit can again emerge as an influential city for music and art (and not sell their treasures). Ibiza was not so convincing the last time we were there and Vegas just sounds gross.”
‘Tales Of Ordinary Madness’ is the new album from Exercise One.
It’s released via Exone Records on Monday 4th November on CD.
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff