In Music and Life, Acoustic Techno Mastermind Daniel Brandt Keeps It Real
“It took me forever to park,” Daniel Brandt tells me as he walks into his Venice rental. “Me too,” I lament. We walk around the corner to the bodega.
“Venice is definitely crazy," Brandt says. "You go to the coffee shop and you get a croissant and a coffee and it’s like 20 bucks. Every item is $10.” He laughs as we reminisce over the way Venice used to be. Brandt has split the last few years between Berlin, London and Los Angeles, when he’s not on tour. Everywhere he lives, gentrification is inescapable.
Brandt is taking off for Europe again tomorrow, having recently finished a record in L.A., but he’s called Southern California his third or fourth home for a while now. He's best known for being one-third of German electronic trio Brandt Brauer Frick, but he’s got plenty more going on than that. Before he leaves to Europe, he’s got to run back to the studio, where he’s co-producing an album for his girlfriend, Austrian pop singer Anna F. If he’s stressed out, he’s not showing it. He’s calm, adjusted to the perpetual chaos of having your mind operating in several different time zones.
We make it back to his apartment and trace how he got to where he is now, a person living out of a couple of suitcases with seemingly endless options in front of him.
He grew up in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, “in the middle of Germany.” His father was a “proper drummer in a rock & roll band called The Contrast in the ’60s.” His mother’s parents were an opera singer and a pianist. As a child, he was listening to a bunch of metal, until he discovered electronic music through 4hero, a seminal drum ’n’ bass outfit from the U.K.
“I thought, how could they be playing these beats? I didn’t know they were sampled.” 4hero actually had live drumming, Brandt explains, but most DnB producers didn't. He was listening to a lot of jazz and acid jazz around this time as well and joined a live drum ’n’ bass band.
“I quit the band because I moved to Cologne to study film directing,” Brandt says. “I wanted to make music videos, because this was at a time when music videos still had budgets.” Then in 2006 he got sucked back into music, via the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne, Australia, where he studied alongside dozens of young producers from around the world, including Nina Kraviz and Flying Lotus. Soon after, he co-founded Brandt Brauer Frick, which was and still is a project that makes dance music with acoustic instrumentation and arrangements.
Drawing on his filmmaking background, Brandt directed the group’s first video in 2009 for "Bop," which Kanye West found and blew up on his blog, a huge step in getting BBF catapulted into the international touring, festival and press circuit. They had arrived, and their mixture of live instrumentation, classical music and techno has sent them around the world several times over the past decade.
Brandt burned out on touring. “We were never the types to say after the show, ‘Let’s go back to the hotel and just sleep.’” They later realized that many of the acts that stay around for longer than five years are “more clever” and learn how to say no to the afterparty. He’s since learned to pace himself and has taken time over the last few years — before the fourth BBF album drops sometime in the next year — to follow his filmmaking passion and solo music projects.
His first solo album, Eternal Something, drops on March 24 via Erased Tapes and was largely recorded and produced in Joshua Tree. The percussion and compositions are baroque. At times, the songs bleed into proggier territory. Tracks like “The White of the Eye” seem to pull in many directions, as if he’s drawn and quartered the composition. Some of it feels like Steve Reich. No matter the touchstone, it perfectly straddles that line — between classic techno and “live” genres like classical, jazz and rock — that his label Erased Tapes is so deft at exploring. It’s a nuanced home listening album and not the typical bang-it-out fare you’re likely to hear at the club.
Our conversation inevitably veers into geopolitical discussion, because his three recent homes — Germany, England and America — all face the threat of far-right fascistic power shifts. He’s aware of the moral question posed by the left in 2017, “Is it OK to punch a Nazi?” “In Germany, you can’t even show the swastika” in public, he notes. “You cannot dress as Hitler and walk through the street. That's not allowed.”
He moved to London to set up his more permanent home there a week before Brexit. So what does that mean for his status there? “I don’t know,” he honestly replies. I ask him what happens if he gets hurt or sick while he’s in America. “I have travel insurance,” he explains. “It’s basically just 12 euros a year and then you get everything. You just have to prepay it here and bring back all the invoices and you’ll have the money back.” Socialism, ladies and gentleman.
When he’s not flying around the world and running into right-wing reactionaries at every turn, he’s also got a online video network he’s been working on for the past four years called Strrr. It’s similar to the idea of a curation channel like Network Awesome, except Brandt also will be creating original content to surround videos from the web, presented by hosts. It’s due to launch this summer.
We commiserate on what a poor job streaming algorithms do of recommending good new content. “The YouTube algorithm just shows you the same shit all the time,” he says. We discuss many failed web video platforms where the hosts are stiff and forgettable.
“We don't want to see anyone hosting a show where it’s just like a person standing there and he has no idea about what they're talking about, where it’s just scripted. It must be real." That, he explains, is the reason for the tagline on Strrr's website: "Real Recognize Real."
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