In the thirteen years that Hamburg’s Peter Kersten has been putting out records under the moniker of Lawrence and Sten, he’s clawed out a near unblemished reputation. His glossy, yet murky approach to crafting deep techno and house has earned him plaudits across the board, whilst his back catalogue of records, put out through iconic labels such as Kompakt, Pampa and his own Dial Records, still sound as fresh as they did when they were first pressed.
The secret to his success? Well, to some extent it would be Kersten’s ability to avoid quotidian dance-music trends, whilst still keeping one foot firmly planted in contemporary club culture.
Whilst his music might be isolated from the turning cogs of the dance-music hype-machine, his tracks continue to pack dancefloors from Panorama Bar to fabric to, somewhat surprisingly, Pacha. Along with contemporaries and friends such as DJ Koze and Pantha Du Prince, Kersten’s position is paradoxically both on the fringes of dance music and slap bang in the centre of it.
His new album Films & Windows offers a working example of this paradigm. It’s a record that is decidedly club orientated (many of its tracks were road-tested at Frankfurt’s Robert Johnson), yet it also transcends the dance-floor as something that is, without meaning to sound pretentious, true art.
I-Voice phoned up Kersten in his Hamburg studio to chat about the new record.
Hi Peter, thanks for thanks for the interview! It’s 9pm and you’re in your studio, do you compose most of your music at night?
Actually, I’ve just come in to pick up some cables for my live show in Helsinki tomorrow night and also some records for my DJ set at Robert Johnson on the following night.
You still play out with vinyl then?
Yeah, but I also use USB sticks and CDs too. Although in some club, such as Robert Johnson, I only play vinyl because it just sounds so great and they have a great setup. I only use my USB stick if there is not a proper vinyl setup in a club, but I haven’t got to the stage where I’m recording MP3s from my vinyl records, so it does mean that [I can’t play some of my records].
When I produce an album I focus on a certain ‘feeling’, but at the same time I would say that my new album is quite a journey...When I Voice last interviewed you, back in 2011, you told us that you were starting to feel too old to be a DJ. Is that still the case?
I think every DJ who is constantly on the road has that feeling at some point, but at the moment I’m feeling inspired and enjoying touring.
And you’ve just come back from playing at Dimensions festival. Have you had a good summer gig-wise?
Yes, it’s been a really good summer. I was in Ibiza weeks ago, playing at [Guy Gerber’s party] Wisdom Of The Glove in Pacha, which was great. It’s nice to get over and just hang on the island. Dimensions Festival was also fantastic, I have to say that every soundsystem I checked was really perfect sounding and the crowds were really nice, plus I cannot imagine any better line-up for a festival, I mean 3 Chairs were the headline act! Also, all my friends like Move D, Efdemin and Roman Flügel were playing, so there were a lot of nice and funny people around. Touring is fun when you’re snorkelling in Croatia whilst at home it is raining.
Autumn comes early to Hamburg.
I love the autumn as well! But it was nice to extend the summer a little bit too.
Let’s talk about your new album Films & Windows. It’s your first LP since 2009, why was it such a long-time in the making?
Well I had intended to make an album for a while and I’ve been constantly telling people that I was going to release one soon, but each time I produced a track I decided to put it out as a 12” rather than keep it as a track for an album. [In 2011] when I was working on the Kurama 12” for Pampa Records, which is essentially reduced club music [in its sound], I thought to myself: ‘this could be the sound for my new album’. That was the starting point.
Your music has a reputation for being consistent in its range, but how do you think Films & Windows progress from your earlier work?
I always find it very funny when people think that my productions are consistent. Of course there is a Lawrence ‘feeling’ to my work, [but I produce] everything from minimal to deep house to ambient music to breakbeat, I can hardly imagine a producer with a wider range of music!
When I produce an album I focus on a certain ‘feeling’, but at the same time I would say that my new album is quite a journey. It opens with some old school ambient works and travels through post-deep house to some more experimental productions.
You mentioned there that you look to create an over-arching feeling to the record and there is a certain melancholy or wistfulness that runs through Films & Windows. Where does that come from?
[Pauses] I don’t think [the album is] melancholic; I think it is more like that feeling that you have when you’re in a club that you cannot describe. The album has a very close relationship to clubs.
Almost every dance track on it I tested either in Panorama Bar or in Robert Johnson. I wanted to capture that feeling when people are in a club and forget how they felt before they were in that room. That’s how I [approach creating] techno.
I mean I’m not too melancholic myself [laughs] There are a lot of feelings in techno music, even the harder music by Robert Hood or Jeff Mills never created aggression, but neither was it melancholic.
I’m constantly influenced by watching movies or reading certain books. But, producing music is not conceptual to me; I don’t watch a movie and decide that I want to make a track...The album title alludes to its cinematic scope, and I’m interested as to what extent the record was informed by other cultural mediums. I know for instances that the title of In Patagonia is a reference to a Bruce Chatwin book.
I’m constantly influenced by watching movies or reading certain books. But, producing music is not conceptual to me; I don’t watch a movie and decide that I want to make a track. Instead these influences emerge as feelings, with Films & Windows I have tried to express this through the titles I have chosen. They are all titles that meant something to me whilst I was producing the album, whether it was a book by Bruce Chatwin or the beautiful mountain of Kurama near Kyoto, which I visited with DJ Koze, or even the album title itself which is named after an exhibition series in Mathew Gallery in Berlin. But, the other thing is that I just love titles. Once I’ve finished an album or a 12” I think about titles a lot.
That’s interesting, as all too often in dance-music titles seem to be not very considered. There are a lot of very bad titles for some really great tracks.
There are three aspects to a record. Firstly, it’s meant to transport music to a single person or a big audience. Secondly, you have a cover and at Dial Records we have always thought a lot about covers. Originally we played with the idea of having corporate graphic design identity, and there are some great examples of that such as Perlon, but as we have so many friends who are artists we decided that the cover would be a display for actual art. The third aspect is this title. Of course, you can call a track XY13 or something like that, but you have this field and you can play with it. I often end up laughing when I see some track titles coming out, my own included.
You mentioned cover art. The artwork for Films & Windows is from a triptych by Monica Michalko. How did that end up being the cover for the album?
I’m a huge fan of Monica Michalko and I’ve been to almost all of her exhibitions, and each time I’ve been to one it has been an almost magical experience. Whilst visiting an art exhibition is very different to being in a club, you experience the same kind of blown-away feelings. Monica is based in Hamburg, and so we often see each other in clubs and on the street, and I asked her if I could use her triptych, which is two by six metres, for the album artwork. She has heard my music before and was really happy with the idea.
This isn’t the first time that Dial Records has used an artist’s work for the cover art.
At Dial we never ask artists to produce art for us, because a serious artist would not paint a cover or something. Instead we look at what existing artwork [that we might like to use].
It’s certainly a very striking album cover. Dial seems to be having a great year for albums; there’s the new John Roberts album, the Queens LP and obviously the new one from yourself. Is the label focusing more on albums than 12”s at the moment?
Dial Records is very chaotic, so there are years when we might put out seven 12”s and one album, and then years when almost nothing is happening. But Dial is a great label for albums, because we take care in things like the packaging and the running order of the record, as well as the production. Although, a lot of the time what is released is usually the result of coincidence than concept. This year we focused on putting out albums and next year there will another two or three albums coming out, with new LPs from Efdemin and Roman Flügel.
Finally, if someone was coming to Hamburg where would you recommend that they went to enjoy themselves?
There are some really great small place in Hamburg. I would say a perfect day would begin with shopping at Smallville Records [the record store that Kersten co-owns], then going next to Galeron, which is really close to the store and is a nice restaurant that has a mixture of local food. Then I would recommend that they continue on to Golem, which is the nicest bar in Hamburg and has a dancefloor in the cellar, plus a cinema! Finally, they should go to the Golden Pudel, which is the club that I started djing in more or less. It’s open seven nights a week and has a very special atmosphere and great residents, as well as international DJs.
Films & Windows is out on Dial Records now.