Booka Shade: their name is as synonymous with the term 'tech house' almost as much as the term 'repetitive' is. But the duo - Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger - have laid claim to be the most innovative live act of not just the genre but of dance and electronic music in general. With legions of fans gained and a position on the global dance music scene after their milestone album 'Movements' defined a period in dance music, the duo are calling time on tech house roots, instead opting for a more organic, live and pop driven sound.
As the duo reflect in the following interview, the band has expanded to include the vocal talents of ex-Archive singer Craig Walker, echoing strains of their former pop-leaning band, Project Clare.
Walter and Arno - welcome. Where are you guys at the moment and what are you up to?
Hola Ibiza, we´re currently in Berlin, but we´re about to embark on a European tour to present our new album 'Galvany Street'. The world premiere will be in Brussels on Sunday 9 April, and the UK premiere will be at Printworks London, on April, which also coincides with the album release date.
For those that don't know, you actually stated making synth pop music as Planet Clare. Back then, what made you change from that to the Booka Shade we know now?
We always loved electronic music in all it´s forms, we're children of the '80s with it's British new wave (Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order) but also embraced the early '90s rave and techno culture. Throughout our career, we kept swinging between a rather song-orientated setup and full on club music.
I had a little look on google maps, but couldn't find 'Galvany Street' - what is the meaning and thoughts behind the title?
Actually, it's a play on words, based on the galvanic process, where chemical energy (Booka Shade meets Craig Walker) is converted to electrical energy (the music).
For the new album, Booka Shade are harking back to pop roots - why did you decide to head back to this original aesthetic?
For us as artists, it's always about creative progress. We get easily bored and when we feel we have said it all in a certain musical context, we try out new ways to express ourselves.
We are proud to say that throughout our albums, especially the instrumental songs, we have created a 'Booka Shade sound universe', a sound that is recognisable; which is difficult if you don´t have a singer. But, after our previous album Eve, we had that feeling that we had explored tech house so much that it's time for a change.'Movements 10' was a milestone for you in 2016, but was also the closure of a chapter. Can you tell us more about the reasons for wanting to leave tech house behind?
We don´t like to repeat ourselves and get stuck, so let's just mix it all up. Movements 10 last year was a wonderful opportunity to close the chapter, with a sold out show at London´s epic venue The Royal Festival Hall.
3 years is a long time to spend writing and recording an album - what has been behind the process of producing and writing?
For the new album we changed our routines, opened up for collaborations with singers - especially the ex-Archive singer Craig Walker - and used different instruments than we usually would. Basically we tried to do everything differently to before.
Apart from the worderful singers, the input of producer / mixer legend Mark Plati was remarkable. He's best known for his works for David Bowie, New Order and The Cure. We cooperated with him on three songs - Diggin' a Hole', 'Eyes Open' and 'Fall Down'. Further mixing input came for our long time friend, Fritz Hilpert of Kraftwerk.
A big focus on the new album is the use of vocalists throughout, where some of your earlier work contained no vocals at all. Do you think that vocals are key to the new sound, and also pop music in general?
When we discussed the sound of a potential new album, it was certain that it should feature a lot of vocals. Before Booka Shade, we had worked with a lot of singers when we produced pop music. We have featured singers here and there on previous Booka Shade albums, but never in a way that it would be a 'vocal album'. The two directives were firstly, It shouldn't sound like the classic Booka Shade and secondly, no tech house beats. That's not to say that we say good bye to dancing! We still love it when people dance to our music. But now it´s rather 'disco' than 'techno'.
Do you think the album format is a dying art in electronic music?
Dance is generally more a compilation genre, there never were many seminal electronic albums. But we're fans of the album format and it´s rewarding to hear that, for instance, our album 'Movements' was considered one of the important electronic albums of the last decade by many people.
What can we expect from your live show when your premiere it at London's Printworks? Is it an update of your previous performance or is it a brand new concept?
We hear great things about the new venue Printworks, and are looking forward to the UK premiere . We're presenting our album throughout Europe in April and May, mostly in intimate live clubs. For the first time ever we have a singer with us for the concerts, Craig Walker, who also plays bass. While the focus is on the new album, of course we also play some classic tunes for our fans, and the exciting thing is that the songs sound very fresh and different due to Craig playing live bass. We will also play some tunes we haven't played in a while, so we hope the audience can enjoy the experience!
What are your views on Ibiza? Do you have a connection with the island at all and have good memories?
We've come for our holidays for the last 20 years, of course there a tons of great memories. And since we started to play Live with Booka Shade in 2004, we have played every season. Ibiza plays an important role in our career, very early we received the award "Ibiza Track of the Season 2005" for the song 'Body Language' (with M.A.N.D.Y.). It's great to see that 12 years later, a young DJ from London called Jax Jones still gets inspired by the bass line and uses it for the world hit "You don´t know me".
What will be taking up your time for the rest of the year? Where to now after your return to pop music?
“Forward ever, backward never" - the old school techno motto still applies! But we´ll be touring 'Galvany Street' for most of this year, and will continue writing songs.
'Galvany Street' is released on Blaufield Music on 7 April, with a worldwide launch taking place at Printworks, London.