Get To Know: Apparat

2 October 2012

Like many among the crowd at Apparat’s blueFrog, Delhi show, I expected something very different from what I got. Far from the techno DJ night that we anticipated, a multi-instrumentalist band of five played an analog-digital fusion set of vocal pop-rock with a surprisingly traditional song structure.

And, surprisingly, there was nothing wrong with that. The music, which recalled 2000 era Mogwai (if Mogwai developed some serious skill with synthesisers), ranged from plaintive to pulsing, but never strayed from the territory of solidly good.

After the show, I sat down with Apparat headman, guitarist, and vocalist Sascha Ring, and the band’s multi-instrumentalist, who asked that I only refer to him in print as Nackt, German for “naked”.

Despite my efforts to get the two to talk about India, Apparat’s whirlwind tour didn’t seem to give them much opportunity to see the country:

“To be honest,” Nackt told me, “there wasn’t enough time to experience India. We just got thrown into the place… we were in cars, or airports, or waiting for stuff. I think the right way to experience India is to get out of cities and just fucking relax. But on a tour like this, there’s just no way.”

The interview was a blur. Somebody made the mistake of letting Sascha loose with a marker, and he proceeded to sign every knife, plate, and fork at the table, almost as if he needed to keep his hands busy to keep his head clear. When the cutlery had been exhausted, he turned to promotional fliers.

Seemingly every other question was interrupted by a svelte Euro-type coming to chat in German, but the atmosphere was convivial. With the vodka-red bulls – the team’s apparent fuel of choice – flowing freely, Apparat was clearly ready to unwind on their last night on tour.

Two experiences from their tour did get Apparat going, however.

The first, perhaps not a surprise to some of us, was the monumental apathy of Delhi crowds; “I thought it was lame,” Sascha said. “Maybe that’s because [blueFrog] is such a yuppie place. We played all the other places [in India], and we didn’t have a massive crowd, but the people who were there were getting crazy. Insane. … [T]he people were fucking into it. And they didn’t talk.

“[Tonight], I told our sound guy to turn the ambient mic off. I felt really stupid playing this soft emotional thing, and then people are like, [imitating crowd] ‘So, how’s Wall Street today?’

“There are definitely lots of fans who want to be with you, and focus on the show, and then there are just people who want to go somewhere because it’s fancy, and it’s in. And it’s a global thing. And those people just want to talk all the time - ‘Yeah, I tweeted it.’ - and it was like that here more than other places in India. Maybe it’s more fashionable; there are more of these people.”

But the team wasn’t all doom and gloom;

“Usually, “ Nackt told me, “we use our mobiles a lot to record sounds we hear. But this time we didn’t really have the chance to. I started doing it a lot, but all I got was ‘meep-meep’ [imitating horns]. But we went to see music shops, and we bought tons of instruments, and we’re going to take them home.

“And I have a party called String Theory. It’s about networking, it’s about crossing boundaries and genres and cultural diversity, and my plan is to bring twenty European musicians and twenty Indian musicians and do a record together. Electronic Indian artists.”

“The funny thing is,” Nackt continues, “that here, music has a religious background. It’s like Bach. … And every night, I’m trying to find that spot when it becomes more than fun. More than entertainment. And that’s all we’re trying to do on stage.

What is...?

The first piece of vinyl/music you bought with your own money?
Nackt: 'Band of Gypsys', Jimi Hendrix.
Sascha: My very first record? I made somebody buy it because we couldn’t get that in the GDR [East Germany]. My father was fortunately able to go to the Western part because he was an engineer and went there for educational purposes. I was nine or something, so he brought me Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ on a tape. It was the most amazing thing.
But seriously, the first good record was a compilation I got called “In Order to Dance”, which was on R&S Records, I think. That was my gateway to good electronic music because it had all this Detroit stuff at the end of the 90s. That was a very important compilation.

The best set you’ve ever played?
Sascha: Actually, I have no answer. Seriously. For some reason, only the really bad stuff gets stuck. But not as extreme as it was. You save it somehow but… your brain pushes away bad experiences somehow. We played three shows in Berlin, and each of these shows was really good. The Hamburg show was surprisingly good. … That’s interesting because when I was an “electronic act” [he mimes massive air quotes] whenever I went to Hamburg, it never worked… but the first time we went into Hamburg as a band and played in a theatre place, it was amazing.
Nackt: I’ve been conducting orchestras. Standing in front of a whole orchestra, when the right sound comes, it’s hard not to break out in tears, and keep focus. … I have to say that that’s really a super experience, talking about good shows.

The one song you’d want to listen to while you were blasting off into outer space?
N: [Immediately, with no hesitation] Lou Reed, Perfect Day.
Wild City: That was fast.
N: There are so many songs. You just have to go with the first thing you think of.
S: I buy it, I buy it. That’s why we’re in a band [together].

The best album for making love?
N: My nightmare… [pause] I mean, I love Sascha’s voice, but my nightmare would be listening to Sascha’s voice. We’re just too close.
So, we did a secret record, nobody knows of and it’s going to come out soon, and… [We’re interrupted by the arrival of more vodka-red bull, and the guys start speaking to a pretty girl in German] No, but let me just finish. There’s a lot of instrumental music on it. I really could imagine making love to that music we just made.
S: I… dude… I could never make love to any music I was involved with, because I would just start to analyse stuff.
N: Like going “Oh, we should have put more reverb on there?”
S: It’s not even a fucking joke. It’s the truth. I just can’t switch into this, ‘enjoy mode’. I’m just listening to it like I was mixing the record.

[Sascha then breaks into a sex and drugs and Sigur Ros story about the best music for making love, but later swears me to silence, before picking up the knife on his table, signing it with a marker, and telling me:]

S: You know, there might be people who really would enjoy to be killed with this tonight.

One track that’s a guaranteed dancefloor filler for any crowd?
S: Seriously, that has been my problem for most of my career. I mean, I started as a hard techno DJ. And actually, people were dancing, because it was late, and banging, and whatever. But these days, I just reconnected with dance music a few months ago. I was out of the whole dance thing. So I’m just rediscovering it, and right now I would always still play some old school Carl Craig songs or something. I’m sentimental about that. There’s definitely good stuff right now going on. I realise that, and I’m happy about that, because I thought everything was boring. It’s not. But whenever somebody’s going to ask me a question like that, I would always play 90s stuff. Like old school Detroit techno. Because it just barely developed. It’s all basically copies of what was going on in the 90s. Or maybe, there’s this Dave Clark Retro Record [he hums it]. That’s the answer right there:
Old School Shit.

Your favourite book?
N: Many, many books. You know, I just read 'SiddharthaS: Can I do the easy option? Have you ever read396227'Kill Your Friends?'
N: No. [pause] Have I?
S: That’s not a lyrical book, whatever, it’s not an important thing, but it’s some guy who used to work in the music industry [John Niven], and he quit because he hated it, and he was writing this book just to tell the world how much it sucked.
N: By the same guy who wrote the Jesus book?
S: Yeah.
N: That’s an amazing book.
S: It hits the point of the music industry. … You’re gonna laugh your ass off.

[Another pretty young thing comes by to ask if they want to join the B.L.O.T. crew at an afterparty. Despite the fact that one of them has a flight back to Germany in five hours, they agree]

Your worst/most embarrassing DJ experience?
S: I can tell you the worst band experience. SXSW festival in Austin, this year, 2012. Everything over there is about quantity, not quality. They’re promoting it like “1,500 bands play in three days.” So obviously there’s no attention to any detail. Everybody enters the stage, they play, and they try to sound good in the worst conditions. And it doesn’t work for us, because we need a certain technical setup to sound, at least…
N: [Interrupting] I have to say I differ. Because in Austin, the circumstances were so tough that we had a great excuse to be a bad band. But we had a show without excuses where we really sucked big time, and that was Venice, Italy.
We decided to change the set, because we tend to play the same set, we’re very slow in changing [it]. Because it seems to work really well. And we forced ourselves to do something different, starting with a totally different song.
S: We were like, yeah, let’s be smart. It’s a seated audience, so let’s play a very mellow set. So we changed the set, put it upside down or whatever, and nobody got into it at all, and it was a fucking nightmare. … I felt like leaving the stage for the first time ever. It was like, I feel embarrassed by the performance. “I gotta get the fuck out of here.” I don’t want to be part of that.
N: Imagine you told a joke 70 times, and it always worked perfectly, and then you decide to go a different way… That’s how it went. That was Venice.

Your favourite city to spin in?
S: Berlin?
N: No, I love New York.
S: Okay, he loves New York, but what I always have to say when people ask me that question is that I never really played much in Germany. When the electronic scene went off, it instantly went international. So when I started playing shows, I played all over the place, but just a few, like three shows a year, in Germany. So this is the first fucking record where we really toured Germany, and almost 90% of the experiences were good actually. So it was good to see, finally, that stuff also works in our home territory, like ten years after I started this project. That’s what I also said about Hamburg. As a rave city it didn’t work, but as a band it’s fucking amazing. So maybe just in some places it needed a little change to a different context, and suddenly it was good.

An artist or producer whom you admire or respect, but rarely feel compelled to listen to?
N: There’s a lot of entertainers where I have that feeling. I really respect how pro they are at what they do, but when you strip it down to the music, it’s like an empty… it’s like hot air, kind of. Like for instance, I hate to mention the name ever, publically, but Lady Gaga is an example of that. This icon she became, I really respect that, I have to literally puke when I hear a few seconds of her music. … It’s so selling out what so many people have been doing for so many years with a totally different idea behind it.
S: I don’t even have that because… I don’t know. If I hate something, I hate it with every little cell of my body. It’s a very honest hate.
Probably, the only kind of thing where I would think that is jazz. I would never listen to jazz. I don’t like the idea of being a virtuoso musician and showing off.
N: See, but you don’t get jazz. There’s good jazz…
S: [Interrupting] Probably.
N: …and bad jazz. And jazz musicians who don’t get electronic music say that electronic music is just pressing buttons and there’s no music behind it.
S: It’s a cliché, yes I know.

The effect of zero gravity on the downbeat?
N: Zero gravity? That’s funny because I wrote a symphony called 'No Gravity'.
Wild City: Synergy right here.
N: Exactly. I’ll send the tape to you. Because that’s what I think would happen if you would turn off gravity on music. It would sound chaotic, non-structured, and unfocused. Like the opposite of a laser.


Words: Kerry Harwin


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