KEEPING POP IN THE SHADE

Booka Shade Photo 2 - Credit Tim Dobrovolny

Booka Shade Photo 2 - Credit Tim DobrovolnyGERMAN duo Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger had an epiphany at the turn of the millennium.
Having tasted early 90s success as synth-pop act Planet Claire, and later producing remixes of such Euro trash as Aqua’s 1997 hit Barbie Girl, the pair hit a brick wall. Labelled the ‘bitches’ of the music industry for their willingness to produce just about anything, Arno and Walter, under the name Booka Shade, reinvented themselves as one of the few dance acts able to pull off a live show.
Now, after two massive club hits in 2005 with Mandarine Girl and Body Language, three albums and newly acquired DJ skills, Booka Shade have just released their fourth studio album More!
BBM’S DAN JEFFERY met the electronic music veterans as they toured alongside Franz Ferdinand, The Prodigy and Empire of the Sun for the Future Music Festival…ture Music

 

Following 18 months of working on the new album, Australia was among the first country’s in the world to hear songs from Booka Shade’s new album when the German duo toured with the Future Music Festival. After the smooth, orchestra-led offering of third album The Sun and The Neon Light, which they admit was difficult to reproduce on stage, the boys seem happier with their return to the club grooves and melodies heard on More!
“The story behind the albums so far,” explains Walter, “is that we started the Memento album just to produce music we like without thinking about how we would present it on stage.
“We thought we were too old to go back on stage. But then Patrick (Bodmer) and Phillip (David Jung) from M.A.N.D.Y. came back and said, ‘you have to see what’s happening with the [live] stuff. It’s amazing’.
“So we did the Memento album and then created the live show, but we felt it didn’t work. So we started writing directly for the live show, which was Body Language – bigger tunes, more emotions and stronger dance beats.
“After Movements, we started to think it would be nice to have some down beat stuff in the sets – songs with an orchestra. So we started doing this kind of stuff on The Sun and The Neon Light album. But we felt that we couldn’t play so much from that album live.
“So we said during that tour that it’s time to go back to the real club beats.”
It was then that the duo began DJing and preparing material for their fourth album.
“I always feel that there is a lack of melodies these days; [other DJs’ music] is always groove and bass, but for me that’s not enough,” says Walter.
“If you strip down the songs from More! then you have the classic dance beats, but on top of that they’re so much more.”
In other words, it’s classic Booka Shade. The pair are on the record as saying The Sun and The Neon Light suffered from being too ‘self-consciously important’ and ‘brain-driven’. More!, on the other hand, is much more organic.
“This time it came more naturally out of the stomach,” says Walter.
“It’s important to remember that we are different to other electronic acts,” adds Arno. “We don’t have to try very hard to be. Whatever you do, you have to let it come naturally; you shouldn’t try too hard.”
It’s advice that perhaps they have learnt along the way during their long career. Their music is neither underground – where, according to Walter, “Melodies are forbidden – they kill you if you use them” – or the commercial stuff churned out by the likes of David Guetta and Fedde Le Grande: “They took these melody-based lines but did it very obvious with a much harder beat; much more brutal,” says Walter of the two. “In my opinion, the music lost its sexiness.”
Ah. Evil commercialism, eh? The irony is that Arno and Walter were, once upon a time, at the forefront of commercial electro music.
“You mean the pop crap?” says Walter when the subject of their sordid musical past arises. Fortunately, while some artists may have attempted to bury such a cheesy back-catalogue, the Booka Shade boys happily talk about it.
“What happened is when we started with the label Get Physical, we left all the pop stuff behind,” explains Arno.
“We realised it was useless to hide the fact that we had number ones in the charts because, nowadays with the internet, people would find out anyway.”
Perhaps Walter best sums it up though: “On the second press release we got for Memento it said ‘these are the producers of Barbie Girl’ – What else can you say?”
The answer is nothing. So they got on with creating the future.
“We produced 200 to 300 records and, in 2001, I was stood in front of all these CDs we’d produced,” says Walter as he explains the turning point.
“I was asked if I wanted to listen to any of these old records and I said, ‘No. Because it’s all crap.’ And then I added dramatically, ‘I don’t want to leave the planet with the knowledge that I just produced this crap!’
“So we decided to try and create music with more longevity. And it’s amazing the respect you get because they used to call us the ‘bitches of the major record labels’ because we did anything.”
And helping to achieve that desired longevity is the band’s championing of that dinosaur format of the music industry: the album.
“You have this album flow where the tracks blend into one another; it’s one journey,” says Arno of their advantages.
“These days, people pick their favourite songs from iTunes but if you listen to the whole album, you’ll realise there is a whole flow that takes you through various moods.”
It’s a concept fans seem to appreciate. A sign that Booka Shade are becoming bigger is that More! is a joint venture between the band’s own label, Get Physical, which they run with the boys from M.A.N.D.Y., and the Co-Op label. But having done well to shun the major labels until now, are they worried about becoming the ‘bitches’ of a major label once again?
“I don’t have a problem with becoming bigger, but it has to follow our rules,” says Walter.
“Yeah,” Arno confirms. “It’s still a Get Physical release – we’ve just brought help in.”
More than album sales, Walter and Arno’s biggest concern is how their material works on stage.
“With Booka Shade, we decide if something is good enough. The live show is the most important thing we have and, without that, perhaps we wouldn’t be as big as we are.”
• More! is out now on Get Physical/Co-Op