When are we going to blow the subwoofers again? Sooner rather than later. At least, if it’s up to ELEKTRO GUZZI. With “TRIP” the techno trio – BERNHARD BREUER, JAKOB SCHNEIDEWIND and BERNHARD HAMMER – has released a new album. And with it, brings a “turning point” in their 15-year journey. The “magic of the live set” has been captured on record – Houdini greets us from the chambers of the techno temple. While the drum rattles and ELEKTRO GUZZI clamps the knife between its teeth, the four-four beat becomes a promise of salvation. No “TRIP” has hit that close to the bone for quite some time now. Two of the three Guzzis talked to Christoph Benkeser about revelations, the insecurity of fragile emptiness and how consciousness has changed for the moment.
Getting into “TRIP” was quite difficult. Not because the record is unapproachable, but because the experience in the club feels decades away.
Bernhard Hammer: It’s a live record, of course, but let me elaborate: We actually had the album ready in June 2020. Due to the Corona situation, there was no prospect of a release tour. But, not only did we postpone the date, we decided the record wasn’t good enough.
Not good enough?
Bernhard Hammer: Well, let’s say, we weren’t satisfied with it …
Jakob Schneidewind: The actual recordings came from a phase when we were still able to stand on stage. A video was made, we recorded a few tracks, and separately fiddled around with the production during the lockdown. But when we were able to play live again the following summer, we realized that the recordings were pretty far from the way we play in a concert setting.
Which was not the plan, I suppose.
Jakob Schneidewind: Yes, it was supposed to go much more in the live direction. But in the long production phase we moved away from that. That’s why we – with the same material of the same pieces – reopened the case …
Bernhard Hammer: … And re-recorded in October. We deconstructed the pieces, so to speak. What you hear on the record now are mostly excerpts from longer recording phases, in which various moments of oscillation, acceleration, and decay took place over 40 minutes.
And from these phases you again hear excerpts?
Bernhard Hammer: Yes, excerpts from longer passages, all of which are played, of course. Through this approach we have managed to reconstruct the live mindset in the studio. After all, we try to create a certain arc over an hour during our concerts. That arc should be on the record.
Exactly, it captures the moment of the live concert, the mood in the club, the arc of tension – a feeling that feels distant and alienated by now and by the situation.
Bernhard Hammer: Honestly, we don’t think much about that. The goal of the record was to capture the live character – simply because we had failed at it till now. With “TRIP” we succeeded for the first time. At least better than before!
On “Achse Dachse”, the last real Electro-Guzzi record, it worked differently.
Jakob Schneidewind: Although that was also a set!
Bernhard Hammer: Yes, we only took out the transitions between the parts. But on the limited cassette release you can hear the whole recording of “Achse Dachse”.
That’s the reverse approach to the deconstructed approach you mentioned earlier in relation to “TRIP”, isn’t it?
Bernhard Hammer: On the first versions of the new record there were some concrete melodic and rhythmic themes. They were the basis for the new compositions, but often don’t even appear on the tracks on the record anymore, because they were the starting point of a recording, from which longer improvisations developed. Going into the recording process with individual themes, so as not to just start from nothing, certainly served us well. We were immediately inside and could improvise freely – the uncertainty of the fragile void fell away.
So, the kind of democratic band approach. Everyone brings loops and fragments, single bass-lines and so on. And then you see where it goes.
Jakob Schneidewind: Exactly, we all have our repertoire of themes and ideas, but we are also able to flexibly respond to the ideas of the others and interact with them. That’s how the deconstruction came about automatically. Unlike previous records, we just didn’t want to exploit the infinite possibilities of studio work, but go back to the roots of the first albums – one-take sessions without overdubs. That’s the approach we’re taking live, but capturing on record this time.
Which automates the arc of tension in a way.
Jakob Schneidewind: Yes, just because of the setup. The sound aesthetic follows the live pattern. Even though we tried a lot out in the studio, we totally pared down.
You can hear that. At the same time, the approach reflects the depth of the production. You have also recorded with Nik Hummer before, but “TRIP” sounds even deeper.
Bernhard Hammer: We’ve been playing with an in-ear system for two years and made the headphone mix ourselves for the record. We also recorded this mix as a reference during the recording process. So we had the individual mic tracks and at the same time those that we had heard while playing. This has the advantage that the essence, the best part of a piece, is not lost; that afterwards we know how some things sounded to us and in the moment. When you mix afterwards, you can only approach that moment, you never quite reach it, because you always distort the mix a bit. On the record now you can hear what we heard while playing.
On the record now you can hear what we heard while playing
That underscores your live approach.
Jakob Schneidewind: The fact that we work and interact as a band distinguishes us from others in the electronic field. We create a moment that takes on a life of its own. That’s our strength, that’s what we focus on. While others can produce fatter stuff in the studio, when it comes to the live, we merge our sounds and create a dynamic that can’t be reproduced.
Watching you on stage, or most recently in the video, it’s a beautiful image: everyone is absorbed in themselves and their instrument. Nevertheless, and this may sound a bit esoteric, one feels a connection between you.
Jakob Schneidewind: To continue in the “eso” direction: Yes, there is something magical about the three of us finding those moments where the whole thing takes off. That’s why we chose the tracks on the record to be made up of recordings where that magic happens.
The same magic would never be possible at the mixing desk, right?
Jakob Schneidewind: We can’t, but of course there are people who get into a flow at the mixing desk. I’m thinking of dub guys like Adrian Sherwood, who tinkers away on the mixing desk and records a take where he can zoom right in. For us, that doesn’t work. We only achieve the magic, live.
We create a moment that takes on a life of its own. That’s our strength, that’s what we focus on.
On “TRIP,” the magic also comes from repetition. The melodies from before have disappeared, it’s hard, functional techno.
Bernhard Hammer: That’s right, there really aren’t any melodies on it anymore.
At most in their fragments.
Bernhard Hammer: Exactly, they are individual fragments. But we gave up playing melodies again.
The trombone excursion you made a few years ago has been canceled.
Bernhard Hammer: Yes, but that was really something completely different. The idea was that the trombones emulate Haitian tubular instruments …
Jakob Schneidewind: And in the end it became very poppy. I’m still happy with the record, though. It was a contrary approach to what Elektro Guzzi usually was. We spent more time – also with the three trombonists – to establish a structure and even wrote scores. The live moment was automatically more difficult to achieve as a result.
Bernhard Hammer: A moment that again works fully with “TRIP”. That was a pivotal moment.
In what way?
Bernhard Hammer: In the last 15 years of our collaboration, we recorded every rehearsal. In the summer we wanted to change something and started to leave out the parallel recordings. Suddenly we had to rely on how it felt while playing, without the recording as a reference. It brought us back to being in the moment while playing – a turning point!
The safety net of the recording, as a comparison, falls away. A moment in the past will never happen in the same way again, but always in memory. This makes pieces change automatically, doesn’t it?
Jakob Schneidewind: How you capture playing the moment, and what state of consciousness you get into, changes. The focus goes away from your own single track and towards the common sound that happens in the moment. That’s also related to the fact that we’ve been playing together for over 15 years. We don’t have to rehearse anymore; we can press record at any time. Still, a piece of music would come out that could be released.
That sounds very confident.
Jakob Schneidewind: It was important to realize this self-assurance. After all, we’re not messing around. Whether the recording is on or not doesn’t matter. When we play, everyone plays with full concentration. In the studio we had problems with that for a long time. Without the mirroring from the outside, it is difficult to achieve this form of focus for oneself.
You’re virtually surrendering yourself to the laboratory scenario.
Bernhard Hammer: It’s a bit like streaming, isn’t it? In any case, I had a hard time taking the same serious attitude at streaming concerts as at an on-site concert. Maybe it was due to the novelty of the situation. But giving it my all was difficult for me.
Jakob Schneidewind: For me, it’s not like that. I can separate between streaming concert, studio recording and live concert on location and adjust my consciousness to it. That doesn’t mean I can always do it. But in the case of streaming, it worked quite well. I was more bothered by the lack of feedback.
Bernhard Hammer: Yes, but your approach is right. And the compartmentalization is important.
Jakob Schneidewind: The awareness of the moment changes in different situations. In improvisation it is probably strongest, because the state of consciousness has an immediate influence on the music in the moment. If the concentration breaks away, the music is invalid.
How do you get into this state?
Jakob Schneidewind: I imagine it’s a bit like meditation. You try to block out all disturbing thoughts and influences. That’s why we play with our eyes closed, to concentrate solely on listening. In addition, we listen to the same mix on our in-ear system, Elektro Guzzi as a whole, so to speak. This creates a common connection.
Thus you are wired in listening.
Bernhard Hammer: The guitarist doesn’t hear himself louder than the bassist – we hear ourselves as individuals in the whole. That keeps the balance between the sounds coming together into something that is better than the individual sounds on their own.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, a bit like an organism. One that follows the zeitgeist of techno and bangs hard on the twelve.
Bernhard Hammer: I know what you mean. But it doesn’t happen consciously.
So before the pandemic you weren’t out until half past six in the morning, to demolition techno.
Jakob Schneidewind: Rarely.
Bernhard Hammer: Now and then that did happen! But we don’t follow a trend because of that.
I don’t want to say that at all.
Bernhard Hammer: Yeah, we know. The musical decisions come more from an impulse. It’s a coincidence when we hear a record on 128 beats a minute and get into that tempo ourselves.
Which would be rather slow in current techno.
Bernhard Hammer: Well, in Vienna the Heimlich-Crew managed to make downbeat a thing a few years ago. But that’s again …
… Gone, isn’t it? There’s more of a push for escalation in speed.
Jakob Schneidewind: I don’t follow it closely at all, but I do notice that an incredible amount is being produced. Nevertheless, I don’t recognize a trend from this mass of releases. Everything is constantly changing. And much faster, because many styles mix. That’s why it’s impossible to get an overview. The wholeness can no longer be grasped. And genres are losing their meaning.
In a way, techno has become a phrase that sells well.
Jakob Schneidewind: Yes, absolutely. The music has gone through an insane commercialization.
Bernhard Hammer: And this wild, hard approach in current techno is also just a phase that will pass.
That’s why you should concentrate on “TRIP” for the time being.
Bernhard Hammer: We had a hard time with the album title. That has always been a longer process with us.
How important is naming to you?
Bernhard Hammer: We realize more and more how important it is to find titles in advance of the recording. Also in order to be able to agree on where we are going.
In the sense of a pursuable goal towards which you run together?
Jakob Schneidewind: Exactly.
Doesn’t that contradict the approach of free improvization without a prefabricated framework?
Jakob Schneidewind: For this reason, we have named things in the past only after the recording.
Bernhard Hammer: But we always have certain guidelines anyway. If we were to improvize completely freely, there would be no parameters. We move in a style within which there are certain guidelines – or at least they are possible. That’s why we give the pieces titles right away. In the name you store a feeling, which then gets altered in the sound. Through the name, the piece gets a different quality. And that’s pretty interesting!
Thank you very much for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Arianna Fleur