Man at work - Patrice Bäumel
For the next in our series of interviews that explores the psychology of DJing, we speak to the star behind one of last year's biggest tracks.
When Patrice Bäumel first moved to Amsterdam from his home in East Germany he blagged a regular gig playing tunes for free in a bar. It was to be a formative experience as a DJ, teaching him to branch out from his first love of Detroit techno and acquire a broader palette of music that would enable him to play for his crowd.
A lot has happened since then. Bäumel has built up a lengthy discography as a producer and has toured incessantly around the world so it might be easy to assume that his gig schedule these days is a million miles away from that first bar gig. In his time as a professional DJ, he’s been resident for two of Amsterdam’s most influential clubs of recent years, the 11 and Trouw, which closed in 2008 and 2015. In 2017, his Glutes track on Afterlife was one of 2017’s biggest hits, and easily the apex anthem for a corner of emotional dance music that has its roots in trance, progressive house and the desert sounds of Burning Man. The knock on effect has made him one of the busiest DJs on that circuit but the roots of the lessons learned in those early days, still run through the former Red Bull Academy graduate’s every performance as a DJ.
Where do you get your music from?
I get a ton of promos every day but it's rare that I find any that I like. I prefer simply buying music, it's more time-effective. The vast majority of the music I buy comes from Beatport. When I discover a new artist that I like, I go through his or her entire back catalogue, looking for hidden and forgotten gems. I do not care whether music is new or old, as long as it fits my musical vision.
How do you prepare for a set?
I make new Rekordbox playlists for almost every set, usually between 60-100 tracks, ordered by style and intensity. I also have more permanent genre-specific playlists, like techno or prog playlists. That allows me to dig deeper into one direction if the situation calls for it. Good planning makes for better sets, but ultimately every set is improvised in the moment. I have a few combinations of tracks that are made for each other but generally nothing is pre-planned.
Do you ever mix at home or on Rekordbox/Traktor to try out combinations?
Rarely. I don't even own CD players, all the trying out happens live.
Up close with the man himself
Hypothetical situation: you've just got to your hotel after a long flight with lots of travel complications, you have to go straight to your set, you haven't slept properly for 24 hours but you have a big gig tonight in a new country and you're travelling on your own. How do you psych yourself up to play in these situations?
That almost sounds like a normal weekend nowadays. I just motor through. Once I'm in the club, the tiredness usually vanishes. In emergency situations a Red Bull will do the trick. I catch up on sleep on the flights, I always try to get an extra legroom window seat for uninterrupted rest.
What lessons have you learned over time that have made you a better DJ?
Don't drink and do hard drugs. Don't spend too much time in the club before or after a show and enjoy the interaction with the crowd during the set.
How do you prepare for different situations or eventualities?
I try to be relaxed, open-minded and positive and deal with any situation as it arises. I don’t have any rules, I just go with the flow of the moment.
At the controls of fabric's Room One.
Obsessing over what is and isn't your sound is quite a common anxiety issue for DJs. How do you deal with this problem?
I play what I like. I am not interested in fitting into genres at all and allow myself the luxury of continuous change. Music is simply a tool, a means to an end. The most important thing is connecting with the crowd in the most genuine, exciting way possible.
Would you describe yourself as quite a confident DJ who plays in the moment, or are you often perfectionising every detail of a set?
I'm not a perfectionist at all, it all happens live and mistakes here and there are part of the game.
How do you handle things when something goes wrong in the middle of a set?
The show must go on, always. Equipment stops working, acoustics can be bad or I just have an off-day and run out of ideas. On situations like that I push the mental reset button, breathe, relax and trust my routine. Over the years I have gotten better at keeping a positive frame of mind and accepting that not every night can be legendary. It's super important to not lose concentration and play with focus and purpose.
Patrice Bäumel’s next release on Afterlife is out now.
How do you balance production with DJIng?
It's hard to balance the two. When I'm in production mode I don't feel like listening to other music at all but develop a tunnel vision. Sometimes weeks go by without listening to other people's music.
If you find yourself booked to play the wrong kind of crowd, are you happy to go down in flames playing music you believe in or are you open to the idea of compromise to keep a crowd happy?
Communicating with the crowd in a way they can enjoy and relate to is far more important than sticking to my plan. I am there for them, not the other way around.
How do you split your time while travelling?
I do a bit of everything. I listen to a lot of talk podcasts, prepare music, watch movies I downloaded off of Netflix, but often I just catch up on sleep.
On stage with Daniel Avery.
How do you handle negative comments from promoters or the crowd?
It happens. I can take it and try not to linger. I appreciate honesty and try to learn from the good as well as from the bad. Criticism has helped me so much to get better at my job. I try to completely ignore insults or bad vibes in general. I cannot allow one person to affect the energy of a room full of people.
There is a lot of talk currently about the psychological challenges of DJing, can you describe the ways in which you find the DJing game challenging?
DJing is all about psychology. We all want to be loved and accepted and crave the approval of the crowd. The challenge is not to let that corrupt you by making you play hit after hit but play the long game instead and build something meaningful over the course of a few hours and cash in big at the end. I have found that the biggest difference between the absolute top jocks and the rest is mental fortitude. They control the crowd, not the other way around.
What’s the most inspirational part of performing as a DJ?
I love to be close to the fans during and after the set, hi-fiving them, sharing drinks, taking pictures and hugging them after the show. I want the distance between crowd and DJ to completely disappear. I feel that strongly in places like India. At a small open-air show in Hyderabad there was a proper sing-along moment when I played my Cubicolor remix and afterwards I spent all night hanging with the locals and learning more about their amazing country.
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