Podcast / 11 February 2021

VOLTAGE Podcast 03 - A. Brehme

A. Brehme is one of our most active local acts in the Belgian's capital city. His taste reflects an appreciation for deep, hypnotic, and sometimes even psychedelic dance music with the increasing touch of an identifying nervosity that’s felt through higher tempos.

When going out in Brussels, specifically Fuse, it’s really hard to miss A. Brehme's name and there’s a few reasons for that. Being one of two residents alongside Peter Van Hoesen of the infamous Technoon Sunday parties in Brussels that sadly ended last March, Sonata Forma label head, and Fuse resident having played alongside - you literally name it.

Interview

Did you go in a specific direction for the mix? In the past, you’ve expressed that you like to keep the listening experience up to the audience’s own imagination. Though, what are you trying to get across with this selection?

With this recording, I aimed for a mix that represents my sound for the dance floor, which we all miss so much nowadays. From that perspective, it was a pleasure to implement a selection of unreleased tracks from friends such as Dardenne and Daniel[i].

Besides that, it was a good opportunity as well to integrate a handful of my own tracks that I’ve recorded over the last months. In terms of flow, I wanted to create a mix that swiftly builds up from a light and open sound palette, gradually moving towards a more rapid tempo and a mixture of tracks containing textures that float over the place - while paying attention to a continuous groove in the low end as a nearly constant main layer.

In contrast to the majority of my previously recorded mixes, I chose to shift down at an early point in the mix, offering the listener a more soothing rounding of the set in order to land smoothly and resume the order of the day of night of the current situation we are still finding ourselves in. As I prefer in club sets, I opted for an approach with four channels.

You’ve been a part of the Brussels’ techno scene for more than a decade. Your participation in local initiatives has been notable; having contributed a track on C12’s new label, performing on Kiosk’s ‘Support Your Brussels Scene’ live stream, and even playing at one of Fuse’s Plein Air events over the summer.

Did any of these projects help fill a void created by the confinement at all?

Actually, the experience of playing at Plein Air by Fuse was one of the most interesting experiences music-wise even though these moments were quite limited this year, but it was the closest to the real feeling. So it was fun to see people dancing again, even though they found themselves in small bubbles. Many people had a good time. And of course, it’s triggering us to look forward to what’s coming after this period.

You are deeply rooted in the local scene and have a lot of connections. Can you talk to us about your connection to Fuse and the impact it has made on your career?

Fuse was basically the place where I got to know techno music. It was also a place that offered a lot of opportunities, like having the chance to experiment with a lot of sounds, and to do some all-nighters too, which is obviously the thing I like to do the most. Playing from the very beginning until the end and to be able to go on a mutual trip together. I always refer to Fuse as kind of my second living room.

Talk about your creative space for mixing/producing. What gear are you working with and is there a particular piece of gear you tend to use more than others for productions?

I recently sampled a lot of the Korg Polysix alongside a range of different emulations and effects processors, such as the Eventide H3000 plugin. Another instrument that instantly comes to mind is the Waldorf Blofeld, which offers a lot of interesting sounds, especially for atmospheres and pads - this one has been a mainstay in my studio for years. I enjoy experimenting with hardware and software so I’m not really focussing on one specific way of dealing with music production, to that extent the addition of a UAD Apollo interface has been an enrichment to my setup as well.

I’ve always been working inside Logic for music production - obviously, it’s the main source. And also field recordings. Over the past few years I always brought my recorder with me. When I was in Asia last year I recorded sounds, whether it was nature or even the airport. I love to just record one sound and tweak the hell out of it and see what comes out.

Full tracklist handwritten by A. Brehme

In what circumstances do you feel most comfortable to work on music?

It depends. To be really focused, on mix-down etcetera, it’s always important to do it in the studio, of course. But I also enjoy making music sitting on the carpet, spreading out the gear. Or in my couch. And on the road. Taking inspiration from one place to another and see where it goes. But there’s inspiration to be found anywhere. This is why I also like to make music inside the box, so with software. So there is an idea or a sound and you’re just able to work with it instantly.

Also, it’s fun to do it after a night of playing or going out, because you’re still after glowing from the specific vibe of that night or thinking about which sounds might have been interesting to play that night - to try to recreate it on the spot.

In 2016, you said that developing a live show wasn’t one of your primary goals, that you didn’t feel particularly comfortable playing live at that point in your career. Has that changed? Have these past months given you some extra time to start exploring the idea of a live set?

The idea has been in the back of my head, but to be honest I always considered myself performing-wise more a DJ instead of a possible live act because the DJing offers me way more space to adapt myself more to the crowd, the circumstances, the soundsystem, to certain frequencies.

So let’s say that when I DJ, I enjoy using a kind of a live set approach with multiple decks. So to, for example, use a groove on one side, let it loop and to layer on top of it. But performing live I believe would limit myself a bit in the performance I would like to bring. However, the first concrete ideas about building a live set have been taking shape recently. Over the last weeks I’ve been working together with someone who’s name I won’t reveal (yet), and we’re currently building the first blocks of what’s supposed to turn out in a live act.

Your playing style has been described as ‘hypersensitive deep techno’. Hypnotic, more uptempo & textural tracks are also recurring elements in your mixes as well as in your own productions. How do you manage to find the right track for the right time when performing? Are your music libraries or playlists adjusted to that ? How do you prepare?

I’m not sure if I would label it as hypersensitive. If you’d ask me I would say it became groovier over the last few years instead of atmospheric and sensitive maybe. It also became faster over the years.

Since forever, my music collection has been categorized chronologically, so it means that I save my music on a monthly basis. I can browse through all these monthly folders knowing that from January until March it’s a certain type of sound. I kind of know which sound resembles what period in time. For example, in a winter period it’s usually a bit more obscure.

Also, for my vinyl collection they are all organized in a chronological way again recently, starting from years ago up until the latest shelf with my most recent discoveries.

At an event I know the first two to three tracks I’m about to play, then I just see where it goes. It always depends on the vibe of the night, on the soundsystem, on how many people there are, and the acoustics of the building. I stopped preparing meticulously for sets and I just see where it goes, it feels the most natural to me.

A. Brehme's setup for the VOLTAGE Podcast mix.

In 2016, you founded your own label called Sonata Forma. You’ve made quite an impression with this label - even landing a collaboration with Peter Van Hoesen. Can you tell us how this project came to be and what it was like to work on it?

The main idea with the label was just to have a platform for my own music where I didn’t have to take certain delays or whatever into account depending on what a label owner of someone else might need. To be honest, there wasn’t really a big philosophy behind it, just that whenever I felt like releasing something without having to think too much about it, this was the place.

For the remix by Peter, it seemed obvious to me because he is a guy I feel really connected to as an artist and a person. He always felt very close to me since the very beginning. For me he was the very first choice to ask for a remix.

What are the next steps for Sonata Forma?

Who knows? As I said, it’s more of a platform for impulsive ideas. If tomorrow I might have a certain idea, it might be my platform of choice. But it could even be that the label stays quiet for the next year.

You were a resident of the Technoon Sunday parties here in Brussels. With names like DJ Nobu, Wata Igarashi, Donato Dozzy, and Eric Cloutier among countless others, this concept has built itself an irrefutable reputation internationally in the deep techno scene. What does technoon mean to you, especially now that it’s over?

The very last party was, whether it’s a coincidence or not, right before the pandemic broke out. We had 30 editions in total. It’s kind of symbolic that it ended just before the pandemic, but it also offered us the opportunity to end it in beauty, to be able to call it a day - to just conclude the whole journey in a very warm way.

The party and concept means everything to me. From the very beginning, all the people that were involved in it still feel like family. This is something to cherish for life, and I believe that everyone who attended a technoon party can agree that it was a very special thing to experience. We are all very happy about what happened over these 7 years. It was a huge adventure that I think everyone will cherish.

In a way, it was perfect. Farah, Jeroen and Johan, the 3 main people behind Technoon, wanted to end on a high point and they absolutely exceeded in doing so.

What are some tracks you’ve been listening to inside techno and out, lately? Any guilty pleasures?

I’ve been digging a lot into 90’s hip hop with the outbreak of the pandemic. I discovered a lot of new music during that period, early east and west-coast rap and hip hop.

Do new genres still emerge or is it just a new form of genres? I believe the latter.

I’ve also been reinvestigating a lot of my old drum n bass records, from the pre 2000 era. I would say a lot of early dnb, a lot of Photek’s stuff, which I discovered and am now rediscovering again.

I definitely get inspiration out of these reinventions. I’ve also been experimenting with the production of hip hop and drum n bass over the last months, so this was quite interesting to explore the sonic elements of all these sounds and to try to put them into practice.

Lastly, is there anything else coming up you would like to share with us?

I prefer not to spoil anything or to ask you to stay tuned because big things could be coming up, but I’ve been spending quite some time in my studio again, which feels incredibly satisfying. After a couple of months of feeling drawn back from electronic dance music during the biggest part of the pandemic, I’m elated to experience that I’ve found my groove back. And groove is what it’s all about.

Interview by Michiel Demeulemeester
Article edited by Noah Hocker

Next up: Ryan James Ford