Olanskii (Techno set) – live at Jaeger

Techno, it’s everywhere today. From Berlin’s clubbing institutions to highstreet clothing boutiques, the genre has reached peak popularity. It’s travelled a long way from its underground roots as a man made machine music for the underground dance floors of dystopian metropolises, to become a pop-culture phenomenon. Yes, it is pop-culture in as much as it’s embedded in the popular lexicon today with everything from prime-time TV shows name-checking Berghain, to social media trends about how to thwart the dreaded rejection from a club queue.  

It wasn’t always this popular, and for a while it was even a blight in music culture… Even then however, there were places like Tresor and DJs like Richie Hawtin that continued to play this music and release records for a dedicated group of people, for whom Techno’s appeal never faded. Olanskii has always been one of these people.

While most would associate the name with Sunkissed and Jaeger’s Frædag concept, where alongside g-HA, Olanskii has largely favoured hues of House and Disco in his sets, his record collection would reject any specific allegiances in any direction. Dub-, Detroit- and Berlin Techno prominently line the shelves in his office, tracing the anthology of Techno’s history from its early origins in Düsseldorf with Kraftwerk to the latest big room thrillers being played in refurbished warehouses. 

On occasion these have found their way into his record bag and, in what is becoming more of a common occurrence, they’ve taken up residence in the bag for exclusive Techno sets from Olanskii. These are rare and special occasions like this one we recorded during a private event at Jaeger, some time in February. Four hours of machine-driven bliss ensues.

As he prepares for another one of these, this Friday going back to back with Bjørn Torske, we get a chance to listen back to the clandestine recording and we used the opportunity to expand on an ongoing conversation about Techno with the founder of Jaeger and resident DJ, Olanskii.  

Most people will associate you with House, Balearic and Disco in the context of Jaeger and Sunkissed, but Techno has been there as long as any of those, and your Techno section in your record shelf is as big, sometimes bigger as any of those. What is your relationship with Techno and how did it start?

 It was there from the start really. Moving to London in ’96 I landed in a city exploding with all sorts of dance music. Jungle, Acid Jazz, Fusion, Boogie, House, Disco, Techno, Balearic, (dancefloor) Jazz. It was all there. I didn’t stake out much of a set course as a DJ until four years later. Although there was a lot of d&b and jungle up till then (thank you Nicky!) most of my sets were in the more kaleidoscopic territory. Even when going deeper into house around 2000, I never stopped buying or playing lots of different records. I probably have around 500 dub techno records for a start, even though I hardly get to play them out much. Even more balearic at the other end… 

We also mixed things up a bit more back then. Perhaps ironically, as I got deeper into house there were years in Oslo when you could not just stick to a single genre all night at all. Brazilian disco would rub shoulders with indie dance going into some Carl Craig track. And my go to end-of-the-night track those early years was usually Rolando’s ‘Knights Of The Jaguar’. Later Sunkissed hosted artists like Richie Hawtin, Robert Hood, Octave One, Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann, Adam Beyer and more. Moving back to Oslo in 2008 I rented a flat in Berlin as a safety valve slash city cabin. Long nights at the big house had an obvious impact, ha ha!

These Techno sets at Jaeger have been happening for a while now and perhaps even increasing in frequency. What’s behind this development?

Actually I think there was more of an accidental hiatus. I’ve often done the warm ups for techno artists at Sunkissed or Jaeger in the past as well. These sets at Jaeger partly came off the back of a chance private gig a few years back, I ended up playing over 9hrs techno set in a mountain lodge. Techno gets me into a whole different mindset to house or disco. It is both meditative and very intense at the same time. There is real joy and release in these moments, but also quite an energy drain. As such these sets will perhaps be more often than in the past, but still spaced out enough to be something special.

Even in the purview of Techno, these sets tend to be quite diverse, going from dub techno to the harder hues. I think this one is more of the latter. It’s all about the context, right, so what are the main influences that take you one way or the other?

This is funny as in my mind I approach techno in a very linear way; as a set of train tracks that hopefully at some point disintegrates into an emotional state. The dub techno often being the steam train slowly leaving the station. I can sometimes punch a hole in the clouds, as to bring us back around for a brief moment, but I don’t separate my records into old/new or Berlin/Detroit when I pack the bags. Often there will be a couple of post-it’s, with a word on each for that particular part of the set that sums up an idea or a feeling, but nothing beyond that.

With Techno’s popularity today, the sound has become ubiquitous and a lot of it has become kind of generic. What draws you to a particular Techno record and what sets an Olanskii Techno set apart from the others today?

Can I venture that techno for the better has eclipsed already. The commercial juggernauts are carrying on unaffected and techno is moving back home as we speak. 

I’ve always found a sense of inner calm with techno. But it needs to speak to me on a fundamental level. I’m still a soul kid in all of it, and there must be funk. I appreciate people pushing the envelope. Techno is not a museum, it’s the music of the future. But the funk is the human element in the machine. Without it I get unhinged and bored. 

I mentioned records, and on this occasion it’s quite literal. You exclusively play vinyl. That is very unique for Techno today, at a time when most DJs are doing three, four and even more decks, layering loops on top of loops. What effect do you think it has on the way you put these tracks together compared to those other DJs?

It’s about each to their own. I’ve tried digital, and vinyl is just what resonates with me. I totally understand the travelling artists going as light as possible, and equally respect those going deep into the possibilities of new technology. This idea that the ‘tools you use don’t matter’ is utter bollocks though, as if there’s no difference between a human drummer and a Roland Tr 909. I came from a thinking that ‘if the track is not good enough to be played from start to finish, then play something else’. That combined with playing vinyl does set out some restraints and boundaries that definitely impacts my sets. But that’s not a good or bad thing in itself, it’s just the way I prefer to work.  

Do you think the format itself lends anything to the sound of Techno?

Well. There is an easy argument for the contrary. If techno is to remain the music of the future it should move with technology, as Richie Hawtin might put it. But it is easy to get lost in technology too. Too much ‘multideck flaring’ can easily get in the way of letting the music develop and grow. The transcendental moments, getting lost in the strength and beauty of techno, are at least to my mind harder to come by if everything is rushed or lost for space. Mastering your craft is the key either way. Restless interwoven loops can get you there too if they are in the right hands.

There’s always a lot of talk about this division between Detroit and Berlin Techno. How would you define what people mean by that and what are thoughts on this ongoing conversation?

I love both. And don’t forget Dusseldorf. Or UK techno. And others. I understand Detroit can be vexed at some of these other scenes. Paying dues properly is never a bad thing. Though I’m not always sure those dues are done right in Detroit either. But that is a longer story. Watching others take your craft forward will be every master’s lot either way. Cheering others on and letting go is never a bad thing either. And of course UNESCO should have done New York Disco, Chicago House and Detroit Techno first, and in that order. But how that thing works is another matter. Also recognition is fine on a certain level. But not if like business gabber it makes you forget who you are and where you come from. Ultimately Detroit and Berlin have some making up to do, but I’m not sure either will get there any time soon.

Do your own allegiances lie with one or the other?

Everything I do was forged in the predominantly queer and African- and Latino-American dominated scenes in New York, Chicago and Detroit in the 1980’s. And none of that again without Funk, Disco and Jazz. Of course we should not leave out the group of Japanese technicians at Roland who built the machines and sampled the drums and the noise. Nor the obvious nod to Kraftwerk and their project to reinvent ‘German folk music’ on the basis of avant-garde and modernist turn-of-the-century composers. 

We should be informed, after all if you are standing on the shoulder of giants you should know them. But at the same time this is not an either/or situation. Berlin did not just copy, it has to a great extent built its own house as well, and we should appreciate and recognise that too. The scenes that embraced techno in Berlin on both sides of the wall were every bit as important and historical as those that forged house from the bones of disco in New York and Chicago. We don’t build recognition or a comprehensive history by denying place or value, but by recognising and expanding. There is more than ample space for both. 

Yes, let’s also not forget all the other scenes that contributed to the genre from Frankfurt to Gothenburg to Japan and even Oslo. Why do you think the genre has had such a global reach and continues to reach new audiences?

On a very basic level techno drowns out the noise inside many of us. Also like punk, techno is a soundtrack of outsiders, and outsiders are everywhere. In hindsight it is pretty clear why cities like Berlin or Dusseldorf embraced techno. Both had large outsider communities. In modern life we all need a vent. Some go hiking or skiing, others drink or binge shop, many find it in company with friends or partners, some self-combust because they can’t find a way. Myself, I hike, cross-country ski, and lose myself in the dance. This is a universal thing we all share and can find our ways to.

What do you contribute to its latest phase of popularity?

Berlin has been an obvious motor in the recent techno resurgence. Complete with fashion, attitude and a defined aesthetic its spread was a matter of time. It was obvious already when I started going to Berlin regularly in 2008. Interestingly though, when it did spread, it has often been a combination of the most commercial sounds, staged in the least commercial environments. Certainly while the pandemic was an important driver with techno as an antidote to the sterile and grinding lockdowns. Unfortunately like all things coming up from the underground it quickly got the full commercial whitewash. The old grump in me would like to point out that a lot of what has been passed as techno the past few years invariably is not techno at all. For starters if it has an adjective in front it is probably the rank end of tech house. But more obviously a lot of it didn’t spend the day with techno before moving into trance, gabber and hard core. 

Techno has been around since the late eighties really, and while it continues to evolve the major changes are always technology driven while the fundamental core of the genre remains unchanged. What do you contribute to its longevity?

The Funk.

What are those fundamental core values to Techno in your opinion?

I’m not sure I should be the one to put the fundamentals into words. All electronic dance music is political, techno more than most. But it is not anyone’s political party. As music born out of minority and outsider culture techno does speak of tolerance, inclusivity, openness and safe space. But it is also for the same reasons often conservative, close knit and rejectionist. A bit like the Berghain door;  you might not get in at all.. I find with electronic music, and again even more so with techno, that its values are often as well reflected in those that deny or hate it. Dance music has a penchant for instinctively frightening the powers that be, let alone fascists, racists and all creeds of phobes. And if they can sense the force …

This is of course another reason to bring techno back home, back from being whitewashed, flat-ironed, chewed up, and spat back out by big business. Techno is not just the sound of the future, it is our sound of the future. 

What is the overarching theme usually for your Techno record buying habits?

Curiosity at first. But if I buy a record it will be down to whether it stirs something in me or not. There might be a leg moving, some finger tapping, my brain tickled, or just a big grin on my face. Any of those could do…

Your Techno mixes are always a blend between some older pieces and some of the most recent records. What are some of the challenges in bringing different eras of Techno together in a mix like this and how do you bridge these challenges? 

The big change in tempo over the years can be an issue. But otherwise I don’t think about this as a thing. I’ll happily play across a few decades in my house sets, playing with different textures in techno is no different. As long as it feels right in the moment, it’s all good.

This was recorded during one of your regular private Techno events. Can you tell us a bit about it?

This mix was for a small party of techno minded friends. These kinds of gigs are usually really special. The conversation and connection is that much better when everyone is there for the same reason from the get-go. As such this one eventually goes a bit further into the abyss than I would normally on a support slot at the club. Alas key to the support slot is leaving at least some room for the next artist playing after. In this mix there are no such restraints. And this was recorded at the height of the darkest winter blizzards, so I guess I had a fair bit to process as well. Either way I hope it’ll still make sense with spring upon us. If not you might need to pull the curtains, turn off the lights and lean into the volume a bit.