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The Funhouse Mirror World Of DJ Koze

We Talk ‘knock knock’ With The Alien Disco Producer

On May 15, 2018

The typical DJ Koze record scans like a poorly organized record store. Techno is found in the same section as ‘70s soul, while krautrock and dub are across the store sandwiched between obscure soundtrack records. But this cacophony of sound has never been Koze’s downfall, rather, it’s where he shines the brightest. DJ Koze is a collagist in a well, Koze-like interpretation of the word. It’s not as if his music is made up of disparate parts that only fit together as a whole, rather, these are parts that should fit together, that always have, yet no one was able to see them from such an angle until Koze came along.

knock knock is another entry into his funhouse mirror of a discography. It’s both definitely Koze’s koziest record, and the most indebted to those he collaborates with: Bon Iver, José González, Sophia Kennedy, and more. Everything you need to know about the record is right there on album opener “Club der Ewigkeiten.” A spooky sample seemingly from an old Halloween soundtrack is bolstered by pummeling bass hits straight from a trap beat, before a talkbox laced vocal part enters the conversation. Moments later: the talkbox morphs into a beefy cello, which in turn becomes a flute accompanied by an old school hip-hop snare knock. The picture is clear: nothing is off limits for DJ Koze’s knock knock, and the album is only a minute old. He balances this act with seasoned professionalism over the record’s sixteen tracks, never wavering from the kooky, deliriously fun style Koze has spent his career pioneering. knock knock is another affirmation of this mission, but, because it’s DJ Koze, it somehow sounds like nothing previously imaginable and everything all at once.

VMP: It’s been quite some time since an original LP from you. What do you think took so long to move from Amygdala to this?

DJ Koze: Um...Like, depression [laughs].

I don’t know. I’m not the fastest worker. It needs time for me to be happy for the result. I’m really picky and strict. Also, touring really takes it out of me. There’s not much space for creativity and producing. I can do one thing or the other.

Do you need to be in a particular space or have a clear head to work on your music?

Yeah. These days, no one has a clear head though. From every side you have pressure everyday. To create the perfect condition is difficult today. You get stressed and the time flies faster.

Was this new record cathartic to work through some of those issues?

Well, the depression was a joke. But, everything does take time. I have a label to take care of, DJ touring, and a family to think about. It doesn’t feel too long for me in between records. I also think you don’t need to present a new album every two years. I like to take my time and come up with something, not necessarily every year.

There are a lot of unique voices you collaborate with on this record. Was it difficult incorporating all of those sounds into one coherent album?

I don’t think as much about the concept in the beginning. I just try to do something that moves me—which is not so easy. I try to finish each song for itself. Of course, even if I try not to copy the formula—even if I have a unique sound—it somehow, because it’s from me and my world, sounds like me. I have some problems invoking these moods and these guests because if you put it in the wrong order, it doesn’t make sense. It was difficult for me to combine these things in such a way that you could follow and that it’d make sense. If it was in a different order, it wouldn’t make sense. It’d be confusing. It’s a really intense fine-tuning of atmosphere and vocals. Especially Speech from Arrested Development, his track is one of the first real, concrete vocals on the album. It was difficult to involve it and find the perfect place for it. It was really tricky.

How do you know when the order is ready then?

I try to listen to it in different combinations with different moods. Drunk in the morning, drunk at night, drunk at day [laughs]. I make notes and figure out what works well together in each condition. I try to note when the energy wavers. In the end, it’s a little bit...I don’t know. I guess I know how it works from learning what’s not works. And the only consolation in the end is that it’s the only one that does work. I knew, for example, that the first song had to be “Club [der Ewigkeiten,” and the last one would be “Drone me Up Flashy” with Sophia Kennedy. I knew the frame for everything. Somehow, I felt this was a nice place to start and a nice mood to end. Between these poles, I tried to put it all together. It was just for my very weird specifications, I’m not sure if this is the way it sounds to everyone else.

You mentioned that when you first started working on this, there wasn’t a concept or throughline. Is there a point when you know that there is a uniting factor for all of the songs you’re working on?

I always realize it’s going to be an album too late. On top of this record, I probably produced ten more songs. I want to make sure that it’s good and strong. My friend Marcus [Fink] from Pampa Records says, ‘No, no no...You have way too much.’ So I go back and try to focus on the songs I already finished. I get really insecure as an artist whether a thing is good or bad if I’m in a cocoon and don’t have feedback. Every person has a different opinion, so it’s not easy to judge what you do.

Were you nervous to get this album out into the world because it had been such a long time between releases?

Yes, I can say so. But I don’t have any options. I can’t do anything better. I tried my best. I don’t have any influence on the perception of the album. You can just do your best and hope it sounds the way you’d like it to sound. Then it’s done and I’m already thinking about new music.

Because you work freely and generally without limits, do you impose any restrictions on your songwriting process?

Maybe I try to keep a color in it, and it’s still an overwhelming and confusing mix of genres and music. I try to make some sort of organic sound, but I already have too many constructions. So when I start, I never really know where it’s going to go. I try to copy something I like. I hear a Dr. Dre beat, and then I think, ‘Oh, I want to make a Dr. Dre beat.’ And then I think it’s a really bad copy and I fuck things up by randomizing it. Then, out of nowhere, it’s a techno track. If I want something, I don’t get to realize it. If I let go and surrender, something can happen. This happens all the time. But it doesn’t have to! It’s just as often I surrender and nothing happens!

Can you describe what your collaborative process is like? Do you reach out to musicians after writing songs? Or do you decide you want to work with a musician and they help shape the song?

It’s super inspiring for me. It’s like a screenplay for cinema, like, ‘Ah! This is a perfect role for Christoph Waltz.’ Then Tarantino writes the dialogue and the story for him. It’s the same for me when I’m working. Like, ‘This could be a good song for Róisín [Murphy].’ We’re in contact, and that will inspire me. I’ll hear her voice, I leave the space for her to work. I know what her history of music is—that inspires me. Even if in the end these artists aren’t singing on it, it’s still nice to have a vision. It’s better than a blank piece of paper.

For at least half a dozen of these songs, Damon Albarn was in my mind. But it hasn’t worked out yet that he’s singing on one of my songs. Maybe in the future.

What’s it like running a label like Pampa Records and how that’s different from being an artist on that label?

I’m happy that I’m working with Marcus. He has eyes on the logic, the financial, the structure, the business, and the distribution/production side of the label. I’m more of an A&R guy among my friends, trying to find some music. We don’t have a strict business plan we have to fulfill. If good music reaches us—which is not so often because we’re very picky and we like to have a sharp profile—we’ll put it out. I like to work with my friends and combine music, work with them in collaboration. The label is an artistic thing, too. It’s like having a vision for something.

Is there a philosophy for the label other than putting out really good music?

That’s a strong philosophy! Keeping it to our personal tastes, which is weird and really special, is important. But there’s no market plan, either. We started a second label called Hart & Tief for techno music. It offers a little bit more freedom for artists to experiment. If something happens in the studio that’s too hard or monotonous, we built this platform for them, where they’ve made this hard to digest music and they don’t want to release it under their name. So this is for smaller tricks that we find, new channels of creativity for artists. We don’t have a bigger philosophy than that. Well, maybe it’s this: We don’t want to pollute the world with more music that’s only mediocre. We only want to be an addition, adding to something that isn’t there. I think that’s really special. But I think every label is like that [laughs].

What do you hope fans of yours take away from the return of DJ Koze.

I would laugh if it stuck around with them for a long time in different situations: alone, with other people, outside or inside. I try to present a small world that makes sense for me. I know it’s not so easy to adjust to it, but if you adjust and and are good to it, I hope it will be your friend for some time. Until the next record comes.

Do you think the next one will come more quickly?

Um...I don’t know. I don’t know. I hope you got some answers you can use!

Profile Picture of Will Schube
Will Schube

Will Schube is a filmmaker and freelance writer based in Austin, TX. When he's not making movies or writing about music, he's training to become the first NHL player with no professional hockey experience whatsoever.

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