Prosumer Interview: Euphoria and melancholy

John Thorp caught up with Prosumer to discuss what makes a good club, being an outsider, disco's heartbreaking lyrics and the UK's quiz culture.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 14th Sep 2015.
Originally published: 9th Sep 2015

Image: Prosumer

Achim Brandenburg, otherwise known as Prosumer, is seen as something of a contemporary guardian of modern house music. Deeply passionate about his craft, ebullient and thoughtful in interviews - he is serious minded in all the right ways. Prosumer now lives in Edinburgh, having previously been based in Berlin.

An expert at reading a room (check out the Boiler Room below), a skill honed to perfection at almost mythical spots like Berlin’s Panorama Bar and Frankfurt’s Live at Robert Johnson, his style suggests music and crowd first, then ego later. Not that he’s anything less than interesting.

An occasional vocalist - both on his own productions and in karoake - a self-confessed knowledge junkie and excellent cook, Prosumer returns to Manchester this Halloween, playing Love Dose at Hidden. Beforehand, he spoke to John Thorp about the importance of bass, the irony of individualism, and the joy of a good quiz.

Manchester has had a bit of an odd year, with smaller clubs like The Roadhouse and Kraak closing down for one reason or another. Promoters have stepped in with temporary warehouse spaces, but Hidden is set to be the first large, permanent club in a while, with all mod cons and hopefully still something of a gritty, underground feel.

Having been closely associated with venues such as Panorama Bar and Robert Johnson, what are they key attributes to a good club, from the perspective of both a DJ and dancer?

On the danger of sounding like an old man, from a DJ perspective a good booth is essential for me. One where there is enough room to put my records and where somebody has understood that shining light in my face and leaving the rest dark will probably not help me.

The decks not being put on a flimsy table or a stage element that is shaking, so I can play records without having to worry about feedback and where I can actually dance to the music without worrying that every movement could make my records skip. Good monitoring. Every DJ’s performance will be improved by a good booth. 

The sound system should be able to reproduce all the frequencies that are on the records. If a bass frequency is removed from the sound because of resonating (see 'booth'), we all are screwed. If I play 'Can You Feel The Bass' (below) and the answer is “No”, the party will be unlikely to take off.

The dance floor should not be too bright, a couple of simple lights can do the trick of keeping a balance of intimacy and stimulation. Big light shows on stage will make people look in the direction of the stage. It might look better filmed and put on the net, but this in my opinion is missing the point of going to a club.

As my youngest niece on seeing a Youtube clip of me said “I do not understand while people look at him going through his records” - neither do I. You will have a much better night when not staring at a stage but losing yourself in the music and maybe from time to time making sure the hottie next to you is still there. 

Do you regard yourself as an outsider? And do you think outsiders have a strong hold on clubbing at large now, given the continued prevalence of house music, underground and otherwise.

I often get reminded that for some, I do not seem to fit the idea of 'a DJ'. People are surprised I have no interest interest in drugs or tell me that I “do not look like a DJ”. So I must be an outsider in a way. There are parties where I will feel, let’s say, a bit exotic and there are nights where I feel in place.

There is a lot being written and talked about the subject of inclusiveness in the club scene. Of a past where it was the people that were not in the centre of society finding a safe haven in the clubs. I can not tell how much that was reality or how much it is romanticised nowadays. Sometimes it seems to me that individualism has created a scene of uniformed people, all expressing in the same way how different they are.

We all want to belong somewhere. If you go to a club to have a good time and dance, you should be welcome. We all feel as an outsider sometimes, I guess, but calling someone an outsider puts up borders.

Looking at your schedule, you have a number of great gigs on an international scale, but you’re perhaps not as systematic with bookings and travelling as you once were, especially when that schedule was sandwiched between a Panorama Bar residency.

Presuming you have the freedom to be a little choosier, what appeals to you about certain venues or parties? And having moved to Edinburgh in search of a different pace of life, how do you occupy your time? And after a few years, what’s your Scottish cuisine of choice?

I have decided to take a weekend off every four to six weeks to have more time at home. That can be the studio or time with friends or just for myself. For bookings, I closely work with my agent and it is a mixture of bookings with partners we know and often have worked with for years and new contacts.

For new contacts, we are trying most things where it seems like they will provide the technical requirement, most of it explained in question one. And I am always happy to come back to places where I felt a connection with the crowd and the promoters.

My time off - which is, with the travelling and the work related to DJing and producing that I do during the weeks, not that much - I mostly use for seeing friends and exploring Scotland or going for walks. Stornaway Black Pudding and Cullen Skink are two dishes I cannot ignore.

It’s refreshing to hear a DJ talk about their struggles with mental health and the toll of touring, as you have done in the past. You have previously described your life as “a series of up and down roads”, which I think is a nice way of putting things, and likely true of most people, whatever their profession.

However, as a DJ, you tend to live on the edge of the euphoria and escapism of others, even helping provide it through music. The music you play and produce is, more often than not, tinged with melancholy as well as joy. Do you think you’re naturally attracted to the difference in those extremes?

I would not say that I am attracted to the difference, I guess it is more that I cannot ignore it. I am convinced that we need the one to experience the other. That this is also something that links people. To really relate to someone, we need to see more of a person than what we choose to put on social media to look happy and interesting. It's the same with music, it needs the melancholy to be true. Then it can lift us up. When it comes to providing escapism, it works for me just as well as everybody else in the room.

You've recently played at Homoelectric in Manchester, you are perhaps literally the perfect booking for them, and I’m surprised you haven’t played before! The party was close to the Pride weekend. Thump recently listed you as one of the ‘20 Greatest Gay DJs of all time’, alongside the likes of Larry Levan and David Mancuso. How important or interweaved do you think your sexuality is to your DJing selection or musical ideas?

I have no idea. There is a multitude of things and factors that have shaped the person I am today. Being reminded that I am 'outside the norm' will have had an effect. But even I do not know how much being gay got me there and how much it was other things that are a part of who I am. Most of the time, I am proud to be the person I am and being gay is a part of it. 'I am different to you' will not make a good DJ, it is more the focus on where we all are the same. Which is most of who we are.

Clubbers, journalists and record selectors often speak of this ability you have to provide genuine emotional moments on the dancefloor, but let it be known, you can still get a party kicking as good as the rest of any other DJ. Do you ever feel a pressure to provide these ‘transcendent’ points in the night? It never feels possible to contrive these sort of things.

Like with euphoria and melancholy, this goes together and is often the same thing. I saw the amazing Le Gateau Chocolat perform at the fringe here in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago, performing Whitney Houston’s 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' (below). This track will be a party starter for any 80s night. Gateau Chocolat removed the danceable beat and the sugar of 80s synths and focused on the lyrics. Heartbreaking! Same is true for so many great disco songs. Lyrics of pain and longing plus an uplifting tune and there is your party starter. 

I do not feel pressured about anything specific but the whole thing. I am still very nervous every time I play, I do not want to disappoint. People have chosen this party and paid money to see me, promoters pay me, they all deserve a good time and me at my best. 

What do you think you’ve learned, and continue to discover, about yourself through performing, that’s potentially unique to the position of ‘the DJ’, the mythology of which never seems to cease?

My friend Lindsay who runs Firecracker Recordings compares being a DJ to the Wizard Of Oz, being the man behind the curtain. I do not think you learn anything that is unique to a DJ but you learn about the mythology and how most of it is just smoke and mirrors.

The DJs whose sets I enjoy the most are probably also the ones who are most like myself when it comes to their personality. Happy and grateful that we get to do what we do, share the music we love and make a living from it. Caring about the night and the party, wanting to give people a good time. I think we are lucky to often get a glimpse of how the world could be if people would care more about what they can share and have in common than what sets them apart. 

As a well known knowledge aficionado, having run a Berlin based pub quiz with Tama Sumo, how are you finding that scene in the UK? What do you prefer to watch: Pointless on BBC One, or The Chase on ITV? (This is the question everyone has surely been waiting for you to answer.)

We are still running it, monthly at Südblock. I really like the quiz culture here, basically it is an extension of the pub culture which is more welcoming than the German one is. People get together. I usually only watch The Chase when Anne Hegerty is involved. And I love obscure (useless) knowledge, so I tend to watch Pointless.

Like this? Try Dimitri From Paris: It's cool to be underground but where is it going?

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