January 13, 2009

Tea Time with Dettmann

Last week we had the extraordinary privilege of hosting a very special guest in our city for a few days and in our apartment for a couple of cozy winter nights: Marcel Dettmann laid his perfectly coiffed head to rest on the futon in the next room.

In a fit of vanity, I spent the better part of the week prior scrubbing the bathroom tiles, taping down curling poster corners, and arranging the artifacts in our living room just-so in an effort to avoid any silent judgments from the visiting techno royalty.

Turns out my efforts were at least somewhat in vain: the dude was 200% chill.

DJs are a different sort of celebrity. Even when you've seen a DJ perform, your understanding of them as themselves is shallow at the very best. Thankfully, very few techno DJs take on the MC personality, so the only picture you get of them comes in the form of audio waves. Ultimately, I think this is a good thing. But it certainly does make it thrilling to spend some downtime with an admired jockey or producer-- especially one with as much buzz as Dettmann has gotten this year.

As a testament to his coolness, Dettmann hasn't bothered to read any of that buzz. He prefers not read about himself or his releases; for all one hundred and fifty good comments that might be posted in a thread, the one he remembers is the too-harsh critique, and it throws off his game. When he's DJing at a club where his name isn't the reason for the crowd, he says he has to intentionally ignore the people blabbing on their cell phones on the dance floor, otherwise the groove gets lost in trying to make them move.

Without getting too personal... it was nothing short of a whirlwind to have this giant of a man (both in stature and grandeur) sitting across from us in the same living room where we've spent the better part of our year. At the end of Thursday night, after his fabulously fun performance at Make it New, the three of us (Marcel, Will, myself) sat sipping Celestial Seasonings "Sleepytime" Tea and chatting about the dreamlike perfection of his life:
  • ski trips with Ben Klock and Co. once or twice a year
  • double dates with Cassy and Tobias ("Me and Tobias-- the boys-- start to talk, then the girls are all..." *makes chattering noises and gestures*)
  • musical heart-to-hearts with Shed (Dettmann was the one pushing him to make Shedding the Past)
  • afternoons at Berghain that get so deep that he can play Sähkö tracks and the crowd goes wild
  • once-a-month, sixteen-hour party binges at intimate, unknown clubs all over Germany (his description of a club called Muna sticks out in my memory)
  • tired Monday afternoons working at Hardwax after one night of sleep meant to count for two, thanks to six or eight hours DJing at Berghain
  • spending four hours on the airplane to Boston toying with the Korg DS-10 on his Nintendo DS (he was devastated that we couldn't get the 909 app up and running on his new iPod touch before he got on the plane to New York)
  • pulling tracks from his room of over 6,000 records, a collection dating from when he was 14 years old
And on and on and on... every little detail of his life that dribbled out into the room made my jaw drop with the sheer perfection of it. Marcel Dettmann is living the dream.

One of the most memorable things he described to us was his DJing process (on a good night). First thing: don't think, just play. Go with whatever track is speaking to you at the moment. (This obviously only works for someone so well weathered.) He said the best thing is when you have one or two "points" in your head that you're trying to reach in the set, tracks that are basically goals to reach sometime in the night (or, in the case of Berghain, afternoon). You build the set up from a friendly foundation, constructing it up from the ground like architecture in an effort to perfectly approach and incorporate the "points" you have in mind.

"Sometimes it means you have to take an extra hour to bring it back down or something," he described, gesturing the up and down movement of the set throughout the night. He paused and reflected as we listened to Ø's Oleva . Smiling, he said that--in the right frame-- he could play this track (an extraordinarily sparse, beat-devoid, intimate soundscape) at Berghain and people would respond with enthusiasm. Holy shit.

So basically now I go to sleep at night fantasizing about a non-existant future in which Marcel and company invite us to join their little Berghain/Panorama Bar posse. Of course, this could only happen in another dimension, when and where I am actually a good DJ with a better penchant for staying awake for 48 hours on a regular basis... but hey, a girl can dream.

I took a little bit of
video at the end of the night on Thursday, after Middlesex turned on the lights and Marcel started busting out the smoochy fun stuff. I did my best to edit together this little video (trying to learn to use iMovie, for kicks). Photos are by Will (edited by me) and David Day from Basstown (edited by himself).

As usual, can't wait to go back to Berlin.


Steve said...

Excellent, excellent post. Keep it up!

V.Vaughn said...

Great story, I really enjoyd reading it!
Looks like you had a lot of fun.
Does somebody know, which track Marcel Dettmann plays at 40 sec in this video?

Bill Lee said...

nice job dusting this thing off, Sarah. i just have one thing to add--

about playing Ø at Berghain, I believe his exact words were "everyone freak totally out." such a fun night.

emily said...


(the word they made me write out to make sure i'm not a computer is "oungsy"... wtf?)


Hennessy said...

Track at 40 secs...Cj Boland - Camargue

Pigeon said...

Thanks for the ID, Hennessey

V.Vaughn said...

Thank you, Hennessy

what time is your flight? said...

lost this write up ... will blog roll you for sure! :)