Friends since their teenage years struggling to find a decent club in rural Germany (and eventually just starting their own), Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling took their sweet time forming Session Victim.
As respected for their loose but tight live performances as they are for their crate digging, vinyl only DJ sets, the pair effortlessly and often experimentally connect the dancefloor between disco, classic soul and hip hop.
Their albums so far, Haunted House of House and it’s follow up, See You When You Get There, have received widespread acclaim, and Seth Troxler recently utilised ‘Stick Together’ as a centrepiece of his recent DJ-Kicks mix.
With Reilling based in Hamburg (where he also produces solo EPs, such as his touching work for Giegling), John Thorp caught up with Hauke Freer in Kreuzberg, Berlin not far from his home and prior to one of his regular, unpredictable production sessions as Session Victim.
Session Victim is perhaps unusual as a band, in that the pair of you don’t live nearby to each other. Matthias is in Hamburg, whereas you are in Berlin, and they’re very different cities. How does this work out for the two of you?
We’ve always been living in separate cities and always doing music projects together, but it was 2007 when we really started working together. It was home studios, one here in Berlin, and one in Hamburg. But it was always visiting each other. The disadvantage is, you have limited time. The advantage is, you have limited time.
I think over the years we have learned to focus quite well. So I'm going to Hamburg this evening, we’re going to make music all night, sleep in the studio, wake up, get a coffee, and make music all day. If the flow is there, I'm going to stay another night. There’s no games, no distractions. You never know, because it’s creativity, that spending twenty hours in the studio will result in something good, but we were there, and we worked on it. And then at some point, the spark is happening.
What was your friendship like prior to your collaboration?
We met in 1997, not in the same school, but in the same year. Some friends of mine were putting on a party, and they got Matthias on board. There was not a single club in our town of 60,000 people, apart from two or three commercial places.
Our goal was to hear somebody beat match records that we like. And these parties were quite successful, we ended up doing it for five years in our home town. And we were forced to become DJs, because we didn't know any! There was one local DnB DJ, a legend from our town, and we asked him to play and that was it.
Nowadays, it’s easy for people to absorb club music and DJing styles without visiting clubs, but what were your influences without a resource like Soundcloud?
Compared to nowadays, when 18 year old kids know everything about J Dilla and Moodymann, it took me fifteen years to get to know and appreciate this music. I had three sources. I had my older brother, and he basically made me tapes. When I was 13, he gave me Metalheadz tapes, and R&S Inordertodance and Acid Jazz. He was listening to a lot of stuff, and without him, I wouldn't have had a chance.
Then, later on, there was a radio station in Germany called Evosonic, that was a DJ radio station on cable and satellite. I got a satellite dish just to listen, and I actually had a tape recorder ready in case I heard something I liked. At that point, it was a constant stream of music, and I never had to buy anything.
Then there was one record store in our hometown, and I’d skip school to go there and listen to every record they got in every week. I’d then take two weeks to decide which one I wanted, because I didn't have much money. If the guy in there had scared me away, things would have maybe turned out very different. He wasn't really profiting off it, as he had to close at some point, but I think he knew he was getting new guys into music.
Did you feel those records you did buy naturally had a bigger impact?
Yeah, most definitely. I’d take it home and listen to it over and over, as my collection was just super small at that time. And I still have all those records, and a few are still really good. I did a radio show with a friend, also out of necessity, as the Evosonic station closed down in 1999, so it was silence.
What happened in regards to your club, and how did you end up eventually forming Session Victim?
Matthias and I moved to Berlin and Hamburg, and at one point the crew tried to move the whole party to Hamburg, and it didn’t work, nobody came. In Hamburg, we were just one out of twenty parties that weekend, and we were disconnected from home.
Matthias was playing in a heavy metal band, so he was touring a lot in the early noughties, and I was in Berlin working for a techno label. Then, with no plan, we made a beat together and it was sort of fun, and we met up every weekend from then.
Have you always made music in the same way as Session Victim? Was that dynamic there from the start?
I think, yes in terms of how we make music. We’ve learned a few tricks on the way, to make everything sound a little bit better. But we’re called Session Victim. So we always go out, buy some cheap records, listen to the records together and find something we like to sample.
Sometimes somebody brings something and says, “This is good.” But we don’t have the tempo set in our sequencer. We don’t set out and say, “Let’s make a house record.” We listen to what we’ve got and think, “What could this be?” Often, the initial sample, whatever got it started, goes out in the end after it’s set the tone.
Where do you find these records?
Everywhere. When we wrote See You When You Get There, and used the two or three euro record boxes. You can’t really listen, so we were going from look, or name, or chance. The funny thing is, that the more and more we tend to get to like these tracks, we actually end up playing them.
As DJs, the pair of you play vinyl almost exclusively, as you have had since your beginnings. Why does this remain important to you?
In public, I don’t need to tell people that I buy vinyl, or that they should. But for my personal tastes, I grew up solely in a record store. That’s how I learned music.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Oye Records, but it’s a record store like they were originally, you meet people, you know? The music makers, the music lovers, the party promoters, they all meet there, you know? And I like Discogs. If I want to buy something, I can do it without digging in a crate. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take advantage of that.
What’s a record you finally got your hands on, and what was the feeling when you finally obtained it?
I was living in Australia in 2006, and my flatmate was a super record nerd. And I discovered this Andres guy. And he had all his albums and all his singles, and I was completely unaware, but it really hit the spot.
Then, me and Matthias were in England, digging in either Manchester or Liverpool, and came across his stuff after I’d been looking for it. If everything is too easy, it doesn’t have any value. An MP3, you can copy it until it doesn’t have any value. It’s not about how expensive your records are or how many you have. Everything has a tiny story attached to it. It doesn’t necessarily make a DJ better, but you have to commit to those eighty records you’re travelling with.
Retreat, the label you run, seems very community based. Has that always been your intention?
Me and Quarion just have friends releasing on it. We get sent good demos, and we’ll tell people, “It’s good, and you’ll find a home for it”, but it’s not us. We don’t want to get involved in releasing just anyone’s music. We had a bit more scope on our five year compilation, but they were all people we had a connection with.
Your albums aren’t self released through Retreat, you put them out through Delusions of Grandeur. What are the advantages of giving your own music to somebody else?
At Retreat, we have no compromise, we do everything ourselves. We do promotion hand to hand, we don’t sell anything digital. We make fifteen or twenty white labels and go to clubs to give people a copy. But the worst thing is to do an album and nobody to realise we’ve made one.
With the first LP, Haunted House of House, we were under such a stress doing it. Big fights, and we couldn’t listen to it any more. And it was great to have someone external mentoring us. Jimpster, who runs Delusions of Grandeur, we love him as a DJ. And he can be a super harsh critic, but he’s someone we respect. And we told him, “Don’t make it easy for us. This needs to be as good as we can.”
What do you get out of working in a partnership?
I think when we have a good moment in the studio or when we’re DJing, and we’re better together than apart. The best tracks are those when I think, “I did this”, but I can’t remember how it came together. That rush in the studio, when bits and pieces fall together into one thing.
Me and Matthias get to share these moments, and I think you get addicted to it. By no means is it easier to reach this point. Because you won’t be fulfilled by doing it again. It never gets easier, in a way.
What sort of stage are you in now, with the live set in good shape, and presumably between albums?
We’re now at the stage where we have no deadlines! We did lots of remixes, and often, we went to the studio and had something concrete to do. But the best time is just to see what happens. We have a few things lying around.
Your last record really broke through, especially ‘Never Forget’. Do you feel any pressure now?
We actually got a message yesterday to tell us that ‘Never Forget’ had been used on TV for the football, for UEFA. But you never know what’s going to happen, and that’s certainly not why we do music.
What me and Matthias realised, or what we get to here often, is people say, “Normally, I don’t listen to ‘this kind of music’, but I love this album.” There is an element of crossing over, and I like that effect, but it’s not something we’re trying to make happen. I guess we’re not afraid of melody, a little bit of cheese, which helps.
With Session Victim, we just like to see what happens, and we just want to keep going. We had more confidence with the second album. It wasn’t a cakewalk, but it wasn’t a struggle. And we realised that if both our heads are nodding, some more people will like it.
We trust our instincts. And we’re having lots of fun with music. And I meet lots of people who have music as a job, and I don’t see where the fun is coming from. Going to the record store was fun, and it needs to stay that way.