Anatomy of :: DJ Koze

Words by: Ben Raven
Posted: 11/5/18 14:24

With a new album that’s already a contender for dance music’s long player of the year and a lead track that’s destined to be a summer smash, we take a look at what makes DJ Koze one of electronic music’s most beguiling characters.

Stefan Kozalla is no stranger to the tops of lists. For the best part of twenty years he’s been carving out a niche for himself as one of electronic music’s exciting producers and delivering a steady stream of envelope pushing productions. He originally hails  from the small but peculiar German town of Flensburg whose biggest claims to fame are being the last seat of the Nazi regime for a week at the conclusion of the second world war and as the hometown for two of Germany's biggest erotic mail order companies.  Unlike many of his generation who couldn't resist the gravitational pull of Berlin, he still lives in the Flensburg's nearby city of Hamburg, the city from where over the last two decades he has established himself as one of those few dance music artists capable of honing the double act qualities of DJ and producer close to perfection.


The Cosy Equation

Each of Koze’s contributions to dance music feel fresh and new. Timelessly on the front foot, even in 2018, his first batch of productions dating from the early 2000s often feel as fresh as his latest. Every track seems to be an attempt to one up his last. And are characterised by an endless quest to take the often formulaic nature of dance music and mess with the script. Much like his persona as a comedy loving prankster (his latest album is titled ‘Knock Knock’), his production is characterised by his irresistible urge to mess up each track. Beats are constantly dragged out of time. Melodies pulled out of key. LFOs and delays wreaking havoc on synthesizers and samplers.

His affection for weirdness is naturally often identified by the dance music press as his strongest suit but perhaps his tendency towards off kilter sounds is merely a ruse to distract from his pop-like ability to write addictive hooks and melodies. In truth, Koze is one of those dance music acts, non dance music fans can like. An artist who manages to be accessible but not too accessible. And fiercely independent in his but approach to releasing music via his label Pampa, but careful to still remain within grasp of dance music’s wider world.

Just as identifiable is his attachment to emotion and in particular his love affair with melancholy. He often refers to both in interviews or in the titles of his music. To prove the point, his second album Amygdala is named after the area of the brain that is responsible for emotion.



Thinking Big

Like his last album, Koze’s third long player again draws in a cast of ambitiously collated collaborators. While 2013’s Amygdala tapped into electronic music’s front line of forward thinking producers by involving Caribou, Matthew Dear and Apparat, his latest ‘Knock Knock’ goes a step further. Modern day folk hero Joze Gonzales and alt country star, Kurt Wagner make surprise appearances alongside Mano Le Tough, Róisín Murphy and new artists Eddie Fummler and Sophia Kennedy. And the vocals don’t stop there. Album track ‘Bonfire’ contains a American indie folk singer Bon Hiver and Glady Knight’s ‘Neither Of Us (Wants To Be The First One To Say Goodbye)’ yet again returns to make a claim for dance music’s tune of the summer spot for the second time in a decade.

Koze's most recent summer hit and the lead track from his new album.

Midland lit up 2016 with his use of the vocal in his ‘Final Credits’ smash and Koze treads similar  disco edit waters with ‘Pick Up.’ Most producers might have been chased out of town for using the same idea two years on from someone else’s biggest hit, but dancefloors across Europe proved they couldn’t care less over as the track’s Extended Disco Version was played relentlessly around the world on release and marches towards the top of Beatport’s Top Ten.

The track is further proof of his  knack for crafting anthems that are as clever as they are big. It’s a trait that goes right back to 2004’s ‘Brutalga Square.’ Although it didn't take him long to shake the tag of minimal, the track became an anthem for the minimal sound that had began to sweep European dancefloors in the early 2000s. Bouncing back to more recent excursions, ‘XTC’ was widely agreed to be one of the tracks of the year in 2015 but while the title and the track's bliss laden pads and melodies might suggest a love affair with dance music’s gateway drug, the pitch bent vocal sample casts doubt on the honesty of MDMA’s euphoric qualities.


Hip Hop to House

As a teenager Koze was captivated by early hip hop and in particular acts like Public Enemy. His first forays behind the decks were as a scratch DJ and he spent much of the 90s in the German hip hop trio, Fischmob. The german hip hop scene was never taken quite as seriously by the rest of the world as it was at home and the act fizzled out in 1998. When he first heard the seminal Acid Tracks by Phuture. “It was like a big bang for me,” he told Resident Advisor in 2009. “At the time I used to listen to all the real British and American rap stuff, but this music was blowing me away, because it was hard and without any compromises. I got deeper into this, and a bit later I was exalted from Chicago house on the one hand and the British sound of Warp on the other hand.“

Daft Punk

The Germans are sometimes quite wrongly and xenophobically labelled as a humourless nation. Koze is a fine example of a serious German artist who doesn’t take himself too seriously. In addition to his regular supply of tongue in cheek press photos, he adopted a stern and serious tone for a video interview for Berlin’s Slices Series while wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.

In 2011 he helped promote Native Instruments ‘Maschine’ with a hilarious low-fi shot and off the cuff demonstration of the controller from a tropical beach. His album cover for Amyglada is a photo of the artist riding a Reindeer set against a psychadelic background and wearing a military outfit from the first world war. After being criticised for describing it as his ‘St Pepper’s in reference to the Beatles’ watershed album, he used a photo of a Joshua Tree for the cover of his latest album, no doubt a reference  to another watershed album for pop music, U2’s 1987 hit album ‘The Joshua Tree.’

The Remix Master

Glittering remixes and lauded reworks litter Koze’s discography. His take on Moderat’s ‘Kingdom’ is widely agreed to be his best, but that particular accolade is widely contested by a career spanning resume of big remixes.There are 198 entries to his Discogs remix folder and the acts he has worked on read like a who’s who of electronic music’s most vital artists of the last two decades.

He first came to my attention as a remixer with the sublime rework of Heiko Vozz’s 2005  ‘I Think About You’ which cleverly stretches the very first vowel of the sample all the way through the track until it’s midway breakdown where it stretches out into the much loved chorus that gives the track its title. The remix was an anthem for minimal house’s electro influenced offshoot sub genre that summarised the sound of acts like M.A.N.DY. and Bookashade as well as labels like their home label Get Physical and Crosstown Rebels.

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