50 Shades

19 December 2012 | 7:00 am | Matt O'Neill

"It doesn’t get any easier. It’s our fifth album and we’re still looking for ways that we can still sound like Booka Shade while exploring and growing as musicians."

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Arno Kammermeier does not speak as you would expect. As half of German house duo Booka Shade, Kammermeier has been responsible for igniting dancefloors across the globe for over a decade and his speech rarely betrays his occupation. In both temperament and topic, his conversation seems more related to that of a composer than a DJ or producer. Speaking in tones of warm detachment and philosophical enthusiasm, he frames his career in terms of artistry and academia. When he does reference his live work, he seems to speak more in terms of spreading joy than wrecking dancefloors.

“We are musicians. This is where we come from. We come from the live side and the production side and this is what we care about,” the producer says. “I firmly believe that we wouldn't be where we are today if we didn't have the live show – because this is what makes us special. I can't think of many bands who play in the way that we do. You know, who take club music and actually perform it on a live stage. It's not just button-pushing.

“The DJ thing was more something that came along after a tour back in 2008. I was very, very tired of playing the same songs in the same way again and again. We wanted some diversity and DJing really seemed to satisfy that. And, in the last couple of years, we've figured out how to do a lot of what we do live in a DJ set. What we call our DJ set, I think other bands would gladly call live and probably call live.

“You know, because we have our live show, we have to acknowledge a difference; so we call it a DJ set,” he laughs. “But, within our so-called 'DJ set', we have all these little synthesisers and effects units that we use to make quite a bit of noise. It's never just the two of us beat-matching songs.”

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It says something about Booka Shade. They're often discussed as one of the bigger dance acts in the world. Their live show has supported the likes of Royksöpp and Depeche Mode while, as remixers, they've been commissioned by Moby, Roxy Music, The Knife, Hot Chip, Yello and countless others. Their own production work saw 2006 sophomore album Movements listed by XLR8R magazine as one of the top 100 albums of all time.

“Really, I think that has a lot to do with us just being cockroaches,” Kammermeier laughs of the band's success. “You know, we're still constantly playing those bigger stages. Even when another sound comes along. Often, a harder, bigger sound. We're still there with a nice sexy beat for the hips, though. It may not be as loud but I think it often has a lot more heart and soul in it. I think people pick up on that.”

Except Booka Shade have never simply been a club act. Kammermeier and Merzinger were making music for nearly a decade before introducing their most celebrated alias. Their initial collaborative efforts were grounded in synth-pop (releasing two albums as Planet Claire in the early '90s) and they also found success as trance producers Degeneration (delivering crossover hit Una Musica Senza Ritmo in 1993).

They've shown considerable variety even within their work as Booka Shade. Their early material was considered emblematic of Berlin's infamous minimal movement. Since then they've expanded their style to include elements of electro, pop and techno. Their output has always been grounded within house music but, with each album, they've carefully expanded their palette.

“Booka Shade – and Walter and myself with other things that we've done in our past – we've never been in one box. You could never put us in one box or one niche,” Kammermeier explains. “When we released our first album Memento in 2004, it was called minimal – but it never sounded like any of the other stuff that was called minimal. When we did Movements in 2006, it was a sound that was later on considered electro-house.

“You know, when we started out as Booka Shade with DJ T's Freemind in 2003, we were considered to be one of the forerunners of this new disco sound with electronic, techno-ish sounds in it. So, these categories… We don't care about any of them. We always think of these categories as things that will come and go and, like those cockroaches, we'll always survive until the next trend.

“That's why I'm so proud that we have our own Booka Shade sound,” the producer reflects. “Sometimes, our sound coincides with what is happening in the clubs. Other times, we feel like we have absolutely nothing to do with what is going on in the clubs. Eventually, it will all come together again and we'll be back in the clubs. We live in our own little bubble and we're just happy whenever anyone comes to dance with us in our bubble.”

Whereas most DJs and producers eventually evolve into artists, Booka Shade appear to have done things in reverse. They aren't even peripherally concerned with conventional club issues of relevance, social media profiles or DJ polls. As trite as it may sound; they're devoted to the art. From their live work through to their recorded output, theirs is a profile built on exploration, experimentation and expression.

“I always think, with electronic music, we like this to push forward. We like to create something that excites us and keeps us going,” Kammermeier says enthusiastically. “If you stand your work on the same point and don't move forward – then you're doing it wrong. We are both people that are easily bored. We always need something new. That was the most challenging part with writing our new album.

“You know, it doesn't get any easier. It's our fifth album and we're still looking for ways that we can still sound like Booka Shade while exploring and growing as musicians,” the producer explains. “We're very proud of the fact that we have this Booka Shade sound of ours – because it's taken a lot of work – but we still need to grow and to move it forward. I feel we have with this album.”

It's in Kammermeier's attitudes to the pair's abovementioned forthcoming album that Booka Shade's devotion becomes most apparent. The longplayer is due next year and, in both composition and delivery, Merzinger and Kammermeier have prioritised innovation – exploring new sounds and reconsidering their delivery of the album format. That focus – particularly at this late stage in their careers – says a lot about Booka Shade. “We're very happy. It took us a long time and it was very frustrating. At times it wasn't at all enjoyable. I'm quite proud to say that it's finished, though,” Kammermeier sighs.

“It sounds like Booka Shade, but it's more… We went to a music studio and recorded much more acoustic elements. That doesn't mean it's an acoustic album. It will always be very electronic. There just feels like there's more depth within the music. You can walk around within the songs a bit, which is something we've always tried to do with Booka Shade.

“We haven't decided yet in what way to release it, though. We don't want to go with just releasing one album and leaving it at that. We're from the old school of releasing music as an album – but, apparently, if you release an album like that nowadays, the story's old after three months,” the producer laughs. “So, we're looking at a lot of different ways. We're thinking singles, or maybe record some new music and do a couple of releases. Really, it could be anything. It's actually quite exciting for us.”

Booka Shade will be playing the following shows:

Monday 31 December - Summadayze, Rymill Park, Adelaide SA
Tuesday 1 January - Summadayze, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 5 January - Summadayze, Doug Jennings Park, Gold Coast QLD
Sunday 6 January - Summadayze, Patersons Stadium, Perth WA