Future Music In the studio with Florian Meindl
Berlin has earned a reputation as a powerhouse of European music. At every turn there's innovation. Likewise in the incredible ex-factory, ex-shady 'government' ofﬁce where Florian Meindl has his studio.
This vast, derelict slab of a building is home to hundreds of bands each with their own studios and rehearsal spaces in cell-like rooms that line lengthy corridors. It's The Shining meets Silent Hill… Albeit with some guy practicing bass down the corridor and – half a mile away, in a distant wing of the building – the distinctive sound of a Punk band pushing their own private envelope.
Battling with the acoustics of this concrete bunker-like space, Florian has crafted a studio that's the perfect home to his pioneering Techno and Minimal projects and the birthplace of his popular Riemann Kollection sample sets. We caught up with the artist in residence.
Who were your biggest inﬂ uences when you started out in music?
"At the beginning it was Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin, Plastikman… I guess I was into pure Techno! When I was 15 I went out to Techno clubs to see people like Jay Denham, Derrick May, Gillsans, The Advent… All 'end of the '90s' Techno. But I would always arrive early and listen to the warm-up. I was really fascinated by the deep, Minimal sound. It was like the very ﬁ rst Deep House. And they played it slow – at minus four on the turntables. And the place I used to go was in an old wine cellar – it was really big and the acoustics were really special. So there was all this reverb and… deepness! It was loud but the music was really dynamic and there was always this special moment when people started dancing. People would be coming in… The sound would be coming more and more… Then one person started to dance… And then it 'opened'. The night started! I was fascinated by this 'warm-up' sound and so I started to buy Deep House records. Everyone wanted to play peak time so it was easy to get warm-up gigs. I was the young guy, 16, warming-up for some great DJs."
"All my DJing is digital. When I switched, I instantly 'got' the sync button. There's no reason to spend time on pitching any more"
And then you started to make your own music?
"Yeah, when I was 17 I decided to start making music with Reason. I just wanted to make my own tracks as I realised it would be very difﬁ cult to get international attention as 'just a DJ'. I recognised that I really had to focus on producing music and that's the best way to express yourself. I had the ideas but I couldn't complete them as a DJ.
"That was the time when the word Minimal ﬁrst appeared. It was the German-inﬂuenced Minimal with a lot of ﬁ eld recordings included. But that was a co-incidence because I recorded things at home, just because I wanted to record things and was already using them in my tracks. And I sampled a lot of loops from old Funk records because I liked that. I didn't want to copy Minimal but when it started I'd made these recordings already. So I was able to use all my old recordings and loops. Everything ﬁnally made sense. I was using Cubase by this time. I just wanted to make music and didn't know what to use. I even had… what was it… Magix Music Maker! I bought it in a local CD store. THAT was my ﬁrst software. Then Reason. Now I use Cubase."
How do you ﬁnd Cubase?
"With Reason you could produce nice Techno tracks but when it came to cutting vocals and stuff it was very difﬁcult. You had to put everything in the sampler… It was very much a copy of hardware from the analogue world but I was more fascinated by digital things back then. I didn't want to build an analogue studio I was fascinated by having all the sound within a computer. But the sound back then was not that good so that was a problem. I even bought some analogue gear to try and get a better sound but I wanted it in the box. So I guess that's why the UAD is like my dream! It's what I was looking for back then."
"I'm like 'Let's make an experimental clap that has never been used,' and he's 'Let's use the 909 because it works!'"
The term 'minimal' means a lot of things to a lot of people.
"Back at the start it was not just using 'minimal' instruments but having 'minimal' changes. It was the ﬁrst 'looped music'. It was Robert Hood that made 'Minimal' as a genre with just a few elements. But Minimal was not only about less instruments, the music was… less in your face. It was more dynamic. It was cooler. Less aggressive, less dominance and… deeper. The actual word Minimal came years later. Minimal can mean anything but to me it means 'minimal elements'. Now I don't see myself as a Minimal producer. I had some success with it but it was because I had the samples. I remember I produced a track using just my recordings, I event built a kick drum out of different 'knocks' and I sent it to some labels and Trapez released it."
Was there pressure to produce 'more like that'?
"I had already decided to take the sound more Techno. Probably my ﬁrst releases were the most Minimal ones but it soon went more Techno and I always made a few Deep House tracks too."
Would you say that the nature of each single sound is more important that the sum of sounds?
"It depends on the track. On some tracks I really focus on one sound. That sound is essential to the track. On other tracks it's more about an idea – doing something in a special way. A track can be all about how a sound changes when you open a cutoff, say, but on other tracks it can be all about the melody. If you were to change that sound for another it wouldn't make a big difference. Then you have what I call 'tools' when I DJ. Here the melody is just one note, and so the rhythm is everything."
And you've always worked… digitally?
"Yes. In the box. And all my DJing is digital, of course. When I switched to digital I instantly 'got' the sync button. I think that there's really no reason to spend time on 'non-creative' pitching any more. Pitching just makes sense for DJs, it doesn't make any sense for the people. Some DJs need it to feel good but I prefer to use the time to concentrate on my track selection. And I ﬁnd that with the sync button I'm now so quick that I don't even the third deck. I like to align two tracks – a 'tool' with an instrumental or something – then I'll switch to the next track, put in an effect or ﬁlter something and I'm like 'click, click' and it takes me two seconds to put the other one in. I don't feel like I need that third deck."
It's interesting that the performance elements in DJ software are crossing the line into the world of music production.
"Yeah, I want to work more with loops rather than tracks. Blur the border between a DJ and a live act. We're really in the middle of a transition. I want to present my next album – out next year – live and I'll probably do it all in Traktor. Sure, I've got Ableton Live, but I'm not an expert in it, but I can deal with Traktor very well and with what's coming up I'll be able to use that to do my live act within Traktor. Anyway, my experience of using Ableton 'live' is that people always use the same two functions! They'll have an instrumental part and a synth, and they have one effect on the synth that they 'play'. All of them!"
How do you portion up your time: DJing, live projects, album, sound design work…
"I always want to do many things. I want to make loops… I want to make music… I want to do a live act… And I keep thinking that I need to focus in one thing to really have success. "My Riemann sample label… The meetings with Native Instruments on the technical side… And for the album I use my Riemann loops for my music compositions and the DJ set and live set are both within Traktor… Everything is now coming together, which is great."
Wow. So when you come into the studio do you know what it is you're going to work on?
"In the past there was a lot of playing around. Doing things just for fun. Now I separate my sessions. I'll come to the studio just to produce new beat loops. Or I'll compose melodies. Or I'm ﬁnishing off a few sketches of tracks. I have to use my time very effectively but in the past it was a lot more chaotic! For DJ sets I don't need the studio. I prepare tracks in my ofﬁce. I've got good speakers in my ofﬁce as well so this is where is where I produce my music and my loops."
Is it hard to keep focussed, working alone?
"Christian Smith was here to produce a couple of tracks and he's SO focussed. He was here for one day and he was like 'Today we're going to complete one track'. And he does it. I spend too much time on tweaking a sound, but he's 'No, that's good. Move on to the next thing.' That's why collaborations are good. If you move too fast things will not be detailed enough but he's direct and quick, and I do the details and experiment. He also has a lot more experience and really knows what works in the club. I'm like 'Let's make an experimental clap that has never been used,' and he's 'Let's use the 909 because it works!'"
So you always start with a blank canvas each time?
"These days the production of a track is separated up into many stages. In the past I didn't, but now I'll sometimes, just produce kick drums, say, which I release as Riemann kicks later. I always try to get two things out of each working step. I'm making them not just for me, but other people can buy them as well. It's efﬁciency. I'm generating money on the time I spend working on my kick drums. I don't waste time."
Do people come to you for 'your sound'?
"Yes. They do. [laughs] But the outcome can be really different. It's like my DJ sets. When I come to a club, I don't play my prepared set. I play whatever ﬁts at that moment. If a track doesn't suit a 'style' I'll go for another style and just get the best out of the track. I try to ﬁnd what I can take and bring into another context. The creative idea is the most important thing. This isn't about 'keeping my style'. That's not important for me."
What about adapting a track's tempo…
"My favourite tempo is 125bpm."
"Because all the Riemann loops are at 125. I just thought that 125 is a good standard because you can stretch it up or down without big artefacts. If the original track is at 120, say, and the vocal is amazing, I'll work at the original tempo. I don't want to be the guy that just 'pitched it up'. For example my Royksopp remix [This Must Be It] is pretty slow… But they speed it up in the club." [laughs]
Would you rather that your remix client is 'pleased' or 'surprised'?
"I hope that they're pleased… but if I think that I did a good job then I really don't care. Because if you care then that makes things difﬁcult. You will make decisions during the production that are maybe not good for the outcome. They will lead you in a direction that is maybe not the best one. In my experience clients can be overwhelmed when they ﬁrst get it, but then months later they tell me 'I played it a couple of times and then I really liked it.'. So they need to get used to what I did and then they understand it. But that's not my intention. I just do it, and that's what happens."
Do your mixes ever get rejected?
"I get feedback on sketches and then maybe I'll change them but that's always because I agree with their opinion so far. Sometimes I need a couple of days off and fresh ears to judge what I did so I'll sometimes send them a sketch to get feedback. But that's only to people I know."
"Because some people can deal with sketches and some… not. [laughs] With some people, if their ﬁrst impression is that the mix is not good, then even if you make it good, they'll never be happy with it. So I have my own circle of creative people – maybe only about ﬁve producers and ﬁve non-producers – who I know and I trust. And I know how to deal with each of their feedback. So if one person says 'it's too experimental for me' then I won't change it because I know that person and know how they would react. They're like monitors! They each have their own set response and I know how to understand their feedback!"