MP3: Apparat-Ash Black Veil
Listen to any one of the tracks on Apparat’s lush new album The Devil’s Walk, and a natural first response might be ‘who are these guys’? You see, the complex, densely arranged, and multi-instrumental music on the record sounds like the work of a post rock band such as Sigur Ros. That it was made by a man who is still better known for wearing the cap he started out with (techno producer and DJ), is testament to Sascha Ring’s irrepressible talent. But not surprising. Ring has refused to stand still over the course of a long career that began with dance-floor oriented techno and since progressed to take in ambient music, collaborative electronic pop, and now, on The Devil’s Walk, a grandly ambitious sounding full-band endeavour that could be one of the year’s biggest crossovers.
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“It’s quite an organic sounding record” says Sascha sounding cheery on the phone from his Berlin home. “That definitely comes from playing with a band. Even though you will hear electronic sounds and effects in there, the timing is human and I like that”. Indeed, he seems to have taken to the band experience like a duck to water, joking about touring “rock and roll style on a Nightliner bus”, and being able “to experience this whole different music lifestyle”. Yet the transition from playing solo perched behind a laptop, as he used to, to being the front man of a proper band must have entailed some difficulties? “It was difficult to play live for the first few shows” he says, describing the few gigs he has already played touring the new album in Europe. “It took me quite a few shows to do that transformation from laptop geek to some kind of frontman. I had to realise that there are quite a few eyes on me including the audience and even the band. If I act insecure that’s going to transfer to the guys in the band and to the crowd. It’s not going to be fun”.
It sounds like he is describing one of the classic points of divergence between live dance and rock. Whereas the rock experience requires personality, onstage hi-jinks, presence, and charisma, the DJ’s or producer’s traditional function is more anonymous - it is the cult of the track which counts, and the person selecting the music is in the background, physically situated behind a mixing desk or laptop. Sascha elaborates on a slow realisation he experienced around these differences, “you could say the kind of music I’ve been making for quite a while now is ‘listening’ music, but when I’ve played it live I’ve always compromised in a way. I always ended up remixing it for the live situation, putting in beats that weren’t there, because I played club shows all the time. But with this record I want to do it differently. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy doing it the other way before, but artistically it is just more rewarding to play the music appropriately to a crowd that appreciates it”. And it seems like he’s gotten over the awkwardness of the early shows too. “Yeah, I’m definitely more into it now and it’s getting more fun. I realise that of course playing live is going to be fucking hard for me if I am that introspective dude who doesn’t connect with the crowd. If I play like I enjoy it, then the crowd enjoys it, the band enjoys it, and that’s what makes it easier. This is a lesson I’ve learned”.
Another big learning experience for Sascha was discovering a hitherto untapped ability to sing. “That first happened when I was working with my friend Ellen [Alien] on our collaboration Orchestra of Bubbles. I was basically forced to do it. Since then I’ve been singing more or less for myself in the studio”. Interestingly, this chance moment was a creative eye-opener for him and it appears that discovering his singing voice has had a significant effect on the increasingly emotive path his music has furrowed since. “I realised that the human voice is more or less the most direct instrument you can play”, he says. “It’s really intuitive and the result is often much closer to a creative idea than it is if you need an interface like your hands or a computer to capture an idea. When I worked on The Devil’s Walk I wanted to change my way of working. I didn’t want to just layer sounds to make a song more intense like I used to do before. I wanted to build the song quite close to the original idea and its emotion. That’s the reason I sing so much on the record; not because I had my story to tell, but because of the emotional qualities of the human voice as an instrument”.
‘Emotion’ – it’s a word that crops up again and again talking to Sascha, and it is as good a descriptor as any for the stirring ebb and flow of The Devil’s Walk. Another good descriptor might be ‘romantic’, in the literary as opposed to the Hollywood sense. Does he consider the music on The Devil’s Walk romantic? “Yes, definitely. It’s funny you should say that, because the title of the album is taken from a poem by Shelley”. Intriguingly however, while he willingly criticizes the state of Berlin techno for other reasons (“too much formula”, “increasingly affected by club owners and money and profit”), he doesn’t see romance or emotion playing a role in that sort of music. “I only did one DJ night this year. But I realised that night that techno works not because of emotion or anything like that. Techno has a function. It is functional music that helps people escape. I mean if you think about it, it is a dark room full of people dancing and fucking strobe lights and repeating music. That is what it is for. And that is beautiful in its way too”.
The location where Apparat recorded The Devil’s Walk was about as far away from a strobe-lit darkened Berlin warehouse as you could get. “We recorded it in Sayulita in Mexico which is a beautiful place, and the studio was near the ocean”, he says; and while he feels that the location did not inspire the songs themselves, “the beautiful weather and location” had a definite effect on how they were recorded. It also influenced the cover art, an ornate ‘day of the dead’ style image of Ring dressed as a Conquistador presiding over a table full of skulls with the Devil’s shadow looming behind him. “That was inspired by the painter Posada”, he says. “When I visit another country, I always try to find out lots about its culture and when I checked out Mexican art I discovered this guy Posada. The guy was quite a social critic, and then I discovered that Shelley poem and found out he was writing about the same sort of thing. The meanings are similar and very relevant today”. The poem and Posada’s art prod and satirise the hypocrisy of the moneyed classes, and it is not surprising that they chime with an East German wary of his adopted home city of Berlin becoming a “techno industry”.
Yet in spite of the album’s earnestness and all the talk of romantic poets and political painters, Sascha Ring remains animated at heart by a party spirit. “I can’t wait to go on the tourbus with this record”, he says, sounding like the polar opposite of every moany rock star ever, “it’s going to feel like a school trip”.