At Work with Nick Höppner

Nick Höppner’s career is one that has been entangled with the Ostgut Ton family since day one. A resident at the precursor to Berghain/ Panorama Bar, Ostgut and the man behind the creation of the Ostgut Ton label, Höppner has been a steadfast figure throughout the Berlin clubbing institution’s history. An integral part of its rise into mass consciousness, he has avoided popular tropes and negated preconceptions around every turn through the mmusic he picked for the label and his own work. He concentrated the eclectic sound of the Berghain/Panorama Bar into one consolidated voice, Ostgut Ton and has released countless classic electronic LPs and EPs during his tenure there; a versatile and diverse approach that can still be felt through the label today.

His work has made its own innumerable impressions on the label’s discography and the electronic music landscape with titles like “she parked herself” and “as above so below” (with Gonno) considered alternative dance floor classics today. With influences ranging from Dub, Punk and House, Höppner’s music is always a rich medley of styles and genres coalescing around a DJ’s perspective. Cutting his teeth as a DJ on the sound of UK Garage, Höppner couldn’t be pigeonholed for long as his sets called on an eclecticism that has made him the sought-after DJ has become today.

 

A few years back he left to offices to Ostgut Ton to focus on his own music, and in a short time he’s output exponentially increased, with a host of 12” and EPs and probably most significantly two albums under his belt since. “Folk” and “Work” are debut and sophomore LPs, that suggests that Nick Höppner’s creativity might have indeed been stifled while at his day job, and have individually propagated the sound of his productions while also allowing for some rarefied album cut moments on each record.

An intriguing music personality and a permanent fixture in the Ostgut Ton / Berghain / Panorama Bar family, Nick Höppner is an artist and DJ whose career extends way beyond a mere introductory paragraph. He continues to be a prolific contributor to the Ostgut Ton repertoire and after the release of his second album earlier this year – the second LP in as many years – Höppner also appears to be enjoying a tidal wave of creativity at the moment. We sent over some questions via email to find out more about where this new spate of creativity is coming from and just what work might be like for Nick Höppner.

You left your day job as Ostgut Ton’s label-manager a few years back to focus on your own music and since, you’ve released two albums and a few singles and EPs. How did that move away from the label affect your creativity?

Simply speaking, It has got more time and room to thrive.

“Work” is the latest release. Can you tell us a bit about what went into the album in terms of ideas and concepts?

I didn’t have a greater idea or concept when I decided to do a second album, but as it wasn’t really planned at all, I allowed myself to go with the flow more and to not think about if what I was doing was usable in a dancefloor context or not.

 

“Work” follows closely on the heels of your debut LP Folk and suggest a period of creative flurry for you. Besides stepping away from the label what else has inspired you recently in the studio both musically and beyond?

That is a tough question to answer. I can’t tell you exactly, what influenced me and what not, but I believe that everything happening to me and surrounding me has an effect on how I’m approaching my work in the studio on a particular day. Having said that, in retrospect I think there is a huge amount of sincere emotion on my new album which has to do with my wife and me eventually breaking up.

What have you found you’ve been able to express something in the album format that’s eluded you maybe in the 12” and EP releases in the past?

Generally speaking, with my albums I didn’t want to cater for a huge amount of functionality needed by a lot of dancefloors these days. Working on a collection of more than two to four tracks also provides a different premise for me as a producer: It’s a different narrative, an album is a bigger space to fill with different colours, atmospheres, states of energy etc. Ideally, in the end it works as a whole.

You almost exclusively continue to release records on Ostgut Ton. What makes it such a conducive outlet for your music?

Well, I have a long history with the company running Berghain and the label. I even set up the label myself and managed it for seven years, so of course it is my first choice as a home for my music. But I’m also not the most prolific producer out there. If I made a lot more music worth releasing, I’m sure I’d started my own outlet already or I’d work with other labels, too.

I know you cut your teeth on UK garage as a DJ, and I can often pick that up in your productions. How conscious are you in referencing styles and genres in your records?

I think that UK Garage reference is the only easily recognisable reference I put into my music now and then. But then again, I’m mostly a House producer and I’m certainly not reinventing the wheel, so there are a lot of influences or references in my tracks anyway. Take “Clean Living” from my new album, for example. It’s kind of my take on Chicago House/Wild Pitch…

From your recent Playing Favourites article I gathered you have quite a diverse musical tastes and influences. How might those musical experiences, especially the earlier stuff like My Bloody Valentine, have influenced or continue to influence your own work?

My Bloody Valentine actually still continues to influence my way of producing until today. My music mostly consist of endless layers, some of my tracks feature 50+ tracks. I mainly layer synths and also atmospheres in the background. Every single element has its own modulation, its own movement. In combination with each other they interlock and create an effect that I couldn’t really have planned for.

There’s a remarkable moment at the end of “Work” in which Randweg join you for the incredibly serene “Three is a Charm”, a track that fuses acoustic elements with electronic elements. How did that track make onto the album and what does it signify as the outro to the album?

Before I started to work on “Work” I made a remix for Randweg, which I enjoyed doing a lot, so I just asked them if they would like to work with me on a track for my next album. They said yes and I sent them a simple demo soon after. As I said earlier, I wanted to allow myself more freedom with “Work” and that is exactly what we did with this track. It’s at the end of the album, because it made the most sense there. Again, there’s no greater idea there. But I would love to collaborate with real instrumentalists more in the future, that’s for sure!

 

I can imagine that track being played at the end of a night and everybody leaving on this uplifting moment. Does it have any associations with a dance floor or a club night for you?

Not at all. I actually haven’t played it out once. For me it’s a bridge into my musical interests and influences outside of electronic dance music.

The title of the album “Work”, are associations most will make with a kind of humdrum life, but for you work is probably a set or a studio session. What associations does work imply for you and does it have any relevance to the album?

Well, a studio session can be very dull. More often than not it is just that: work! Starting a track is easy. With a bit of experience and talent ideas also flow constantly. The hard thing is to finishing it: arrangement and mixdown. In my experience, work is a requirement for creativity. If I’m not going to the studio on a regular basis, I won’t be creative. It’s as simple as that.

Does it ever feel like work in a traditional sense when you’re in the booth and when you do get bogged down in something that feels a bit like routine, how do you keep it interesting for yourself?

Frankly: Yes, it does and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, because it doesn’t mean I’m doing a worse job because of it. On the contrary: It makes me constantly try harder to keep it interesting, for the crowd and myself.

This year marks twelve years of the label that you helped develop and almost twenty years of Ostgut, the club that became Berghain and where you rose to prominence. It’s a significant career through one of the most significant chapters of electronic music. How does that history perhaps affect you when you go into the studio or the booth?

It still makes me feel a huge commitment to the levels of quality the clubs and the label continue to stand for. It’s not so much a sound or an aesthetic, I’m rather trying harder than ever to express my own voice.

You played the last time Ostgut Ton had an event at Jæger two years back. What are your memories of that event, and what do you remember about the venue that might inform your set coming back?

It got going really quickly, which I absolutely loved. Sound and booth are quite unparalleled, of course and I played a demo of a track which ended up on my Box Drop ep released just before the new album, which went down really well.

And to round things up Mr. Höppner do you mind playing us out with a song?

As I’ve complained about the fact I couldn’t find enough contemporary techno I like in a recent interview, here are not one but two slices of extremely fresh contemporary techno ;)

 

 

*Nick Höppner plays alongside the rest of the Ostgut Ton delegation at Jæger this week.  

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