Subjective Machine Music – In Praise of Barker & Baumecker

Within the diverse and esoteric worlds of Sam Barker and Andreas Baumecker, music can exist anywhere and nowhere at the same time. From the apocalyptic dimensions of German Techno to the innovative rhythms of a UK dance trends, Barker & Baumecker eschew the generic in favour of a complex musical language in which they question preconceived notions from within the system. They exist as a single entity all unto their own, an abstract singularity of a multiplex framework, constructed from diverse musical incongruities and honed into an idiosyncratic sound, that is uniquely theirs. It’s in the complex fabrication of a diverse range of influences and vision that they work and which has cemented their appeal on and off the dance floor.

As individuals their musical identities extend beyond their combined artistic pursuits, with Sam Barker’s origins taking shape around an experimental electronic scene in Brighton, while Andreas Baumecker was already an integral part of the Berghain / Ostgut / Panorama Bar musical family. Barker, a polymathic musician, favoured the more experimental side of electronic music, occupying the leftist boundaries as Voltek and providing a platform for similar artists/DJs through his weekly Brighton event, “Instrumentality” in the early 2000’s. Baumecker’s first adventures into the artistic waters of music, away from the decks, would have far more fragmented origins back in the early nineties, which resulted in him giving most of his equipment away and coincidently starting the career of another musician, Isoleé. “But that’s another story…” muses Baumecker in an interview for Track it Down back in 2011.

Their musical paths would first cross in 2008, and not as musicians or DJs but rather as booker and agent. With Barker following his day job for the Little Big agency to Berlin and Baumecker looking to book a more diverse program for Berghain, the start of a very significant partnership would gestate behind the curtains and what started out as an Autchre event at Berghain would eventually lead to regular events under the guise as Leisure System. With nd_Baucker and Barker as residents and bookers, Leisure System would bring some of the most innovative acts to Berlin, and eventually to the wider world through the Leisure System label. Names like Joe Farr, Rob Clouth and Dopplereffekt, names that personify the most forward thinking aspects of dance music have been regular features on the label, while people like Blawan, JETS, Joy O and Marcel Dettmann constituted the progressive event’s line-up.

With a roster like that, it’s no wonder Barker & Baumecker don’t occupy generic corners of dance music and instead fill the many empty spaces between the margins of electronic music. What started out as a vehicle for the non-conformist attitudes in dance music would naturally lead to an creative outlet too as such a working relationship between two creative individuals could never be contained behind a curtain. Their first adventures as a production duo would only come in 2011 when Baumecker was asked to remix  Sleepy Eyes Of Death “Final Hearts Beat Black” and called on Sam Barker to help him, which came out as a Voltek & nd_Baumecker remix.

A 130 BPM body music take on the indie synth original, is the first taste we get of Barker & Baummecker’s very eclectic yet singular musical personality where energetic staccato synth sequences can disappear into a miasma of legato textures before coming back to the dance floor, as if by its own volition. It cemented in Barker & Baumecker a hardware focussed sound where the driving force behind the music is the space where the two musical personalities overlap and create something unique as an amalgamation of their efforts. “I’m most satisfied when there are parts from both of us that are kind of working together and supporting each other” justifies Sam Barker in an interview with RBMA and this particularly comes through their music as pieces that can drift into surprisingly unique directions to obscure corners of electronic music’s most diverse landscapes.

Sam Barker refers to it as a “diorama” in an interview with RA and since their debut original single “Candyflip” that idea of the diorama is exactly what is communicated through their music. “Canyflip’s” breakbeat origins will fall into 4/4 Techno and even electro with a sparkling piano, and trancy synth movements, communicating something far more visceral than the functional beat could ever express. There’s something of a push-pull relationship between these elements that shouldn’t theoretically work, but find a common ground through the personalities behind the music. Much like a nd_Baumecker set, which can draft maximal Techno into the same sphere of eighties pop music, there’s a red thread that drifts through it all, these contrasting musical anomalies finding a connection through the creative relationship of artists behind the work. It’s cemented in the way one artist will channel something of their own experience and skills to the other.  Where Baumecker has learnt “how to use a synthesiser “ through his accomplice and Barker has come to grips with “the structure, dynamics and tension of dance music” through the dance floor statesman (according to that RA article), a surprising cohesion has formed, where their work is only informed by the way they work together.

It’s been it’s most impressive in the album format, where the extended player allows them to work even further outside the usual constraints of genre or immediacy and their bold experimentalist tendencies shine through, most incandescently lighting the way to an equality between all these dance floor derivatives. What’s more is that it’s very much a concerted effort by the duo, one that Sam Barker explains as such in his interview with Track it Down:

There’s a lot of generic music around, and always was. As soon as a formula for a particular genre arises, it can be repeated almost mechanically, and so quality and ingenuity can quickly disappear, (and) the genre along with it.”

He goes further in that interview to suggest that “some formulas like House and Techno become a common language” that some “(p)eople can use it to say unique and powerful things, and communicate interesting ideas” and here is where we get to crux of the Barker & Baumecker appeal. It’s exactly through these common languages that the group managed to say something unique so what were essentially records made up from the generic elements that constitute House and Techno and their various sub genres, form a symbiotic relationship with their origins while pushing at the borders of electronic music as a whole. Whether it’s the glitch-informed peculiarities of “Transsektoral” conspiring with dub’s sonic palettes or the cinematic nature of “Turns” juxtaposing dance floor beats, the progressive natures of Barker & Baumecker are very much informed through the simple music languages we know, without resting on their formulaic laurels. It makes for an accessibility to their music where words like experimental and innovative are just the signifiers of their methods and very rarely inhibit the execution of the work.

Barker & Baumecker redefine the dance floor at every turn and the pun is indeed intended here. “Turns” breaks down the stoic barrier of Techno’s more functional insistence of the age and infects it with a visceral component, that might question its club-ability, but transcends the very notion of club music for something far more human – a subjective machine music. It might have something to do with the album’s origins as an ambient work, which “then, in the end, we decided to put beats on” according to Baumecker in that interview for RBMA. There’s a life that exists through the beats that certainly hint at that very notion, and communicates something raw and visceral, something club music in its purest form hardly brings across. Barker says in that interview that there might still be an ambient record, and it would be very interesting indeed to hear the results of such a work.

Perhaps we’ll get a little foreshadowing of that proposed work in their hybrid live/dj show at Jæger, performance being yet another dimension in which they challenge preconceived notions. Barker & Baumecker are unique and deserve their space in club music’s canon alongside the Klocks and Dettmanns of the world for their ingenuity and the persistence in challenging the musical zeitgeists of the age. Their broad takes on the House, Techno and Bass genres, allow them to move the whole nature of club music forward while breaking down the barriers that exist between them, and finding a sound and personality that extends beyond the dance floor.