DJ Koze: A warm place

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Hamburg’s Stefan Kozalla, better known as DJ Koze, started his career as a hip-hop DJ and recording artist who found some success on the German charts in the ‘90s. But electronic music soon became his passion and true calling, and he’s spent the last decade becoming one of the brightest lights in the crowded constellation of German dance music, thanks to his singular and stubbornly experimental approach on a slew of sought-after releases for the mighty Kompakt and other labels (including his own imprint, Pampa).

His productions and remixes (of Caribou, Matthew Dear, Battles and many more) are as unclassifiable as they are propulsive and melodic – lush, eerie, surreal, often beautiful, straddling the line between dance music and arty electronic pop. Meanwhile he’s kept up his reputation as a top selector with impeccable taste, transmogrifying his old hip-hop skills to fashion a famously rough-hewn but dynamic mixing style.

This week, locals will get a chance to check out Koze in person for the first time, as he’s embarking on his first tour of Australia. His itinerary includes the Future Classic gig at the Festival Bar in Sydney’s Hyde Park and the Rainbow Serpent Festival gathering in the Victorian bush.

In anticipation of his upcoming voyage down under, Koze took some time out to have a chat with us. Even a brief 20-minute conversation on the phone revealed Koze to be a deep thinker with a bone-dry sense of humour who is deeply suspicious of the club scene; and a sensitive, restless musical spirit who never stops analysing his own output.

This will be your first time playing in Australia. Do you take a different approach to DJing in a new place or a new country?
Yes. I make an image in my mind from all the input I’ve gotten about the club, about the country, about the people, about the scene. For this picture I prepare myself and prepare the music a little bit; I ask who’s playing before me, how many people, who’s playing after me, how is the sound…and then normally it’s totally different from my imagination, and I have to do it all spontaneously [laughs]. But it’s good, it’s better to spontaneously change your ideas than it is to travel to somewhere without getting inside the idea, getting deep inside the feeling.

So what is your image of Australia?
Hardcore drinking, people screaming – in a nice country. [laughs] No, I don’t have so much of an idea. But I think maybe it’s nice and relaxed and…somehow it must [have] affected people that they’re really, really, really far away from, for example, Europe.

You started out DJing hip hop. Does it remain an influence on your style?
Not directly. Maybe from the mixing a little bit, the way I like it a little bit rough… But, not directly, no. In DJing, it doesn’t affect me so much. But I’m still searching for the warmth of hip-hop in house and techno music, and the level of energy. I’m always a fan of sampling in music, of organic sampling, because you have the sound of the old studio, and a little bit more history than software plug-ins.

For me the most impressive sound design was always from hip hop. The minimalism, a beat and a magic loop in the best cases, and an organic sample with a little bit of dust, and crunchy – this is the sound and energy I’m always [after]. I’m really satisfied if I find it a little bit in house music or electronic music.

Does DJing inspire your studio production, or the other way around – or do they work together?
Of course it’s working together. It’s interesting to get inspired every weekend. And a nice thing about electronic music is that you can always make a claim, or a proposition, or a statement. If you just keep a danceable rhythm in the production, then everything else [can be] fresh and new and never heard before, and you can still say this is new – “This is the new shit, now dance!” And this is the only scene where this is possible. It’s really difficult to do this in rock music, to have the effect of people dancing. Or in hip hop – you can do intelligent hip hop and arty stuff, but then people are more confused, maybe.

But with the electronic scene, you can do this. Nearly every fusion and every mix and every sound has been tried, but still, always this scene is coming with something fresh. And you say, “Ah, interesting, this is house music too, this is techno too, this is dance music too!” And this is what I still like. And of course, it’s nice that you can get inspiration every weekend. Sometimes you get a record and you don’t understand it; and then you listen to a friend who’s playing it loud in a club, and you have a whiskey in your hand, and then you say, “Ah! Now I understand this – this is wonderful!” This kind of enlightenment is wonderful, and of course it inspires you for production…but to be honest, it’s not that I get it so often.