DJ Koze Interview

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Ahead of the release of DJ Koze’s DJ Kicks mixtape next month, the 50th in the series no less, we caught up with him as he gave us an insight into the method behind the madness…

Did you enjoy piecing it together; it’s very different to other mixes in the series? And was that by chance or was it a conscious decision to be different?

Yeah of course it was a conscious decision, I always try to use something that is individual or different. What is the gain of doing something similar to what has gone before? Even if I’m on a festival tour, I don’t need to be the tenth DJ who plays the same records. It’s always nice to be brave and try to offer something a little bit different.

From listening to the mix, you’ve definitely succeeded in offering something different for the listener. Your mixes have always had that element of surprise, almost to the point where you could identify a Koze mix without knowing you were listening to one. What aspect about piecing a mix together do you feel is the most important?

At first I’m thinking ‘what would be a nice mix tape to receive from a friend…?’ what would impress me? I want to be able to make a mix I could give to an old woman in Spain… I’m often in Spain, and I’m connected to people there who don’t necessarily know what I do. I could be talking with the local carpenter or the baker, and they know I make music and DJ, and at some point I’ll be asked “what sort of music do you make?” and then I realise they don’t know what I’m talking about. I just want to give them a mix CD without explaining. These people who aren’t involved in the scene, who aren’t music nerds, who don’t understand all the codes, can be able to play it and still enjoy the music…. but even for the guys who are really into it, the nerds, if you put a lens on it you’ll appreciate how much detail is involved. Especially with all the edits, I’ll try and keep a thread of feeling going, but do it with records from different genres. If you go into a record store you don’t find these records next to each other.

There are a lot of edits in the mix, is this specifically so you can bridge the gap between genres, or because you enjoy putting your own stamp on a particular track?

I need to produce the edits to jump between trains of thought, as if I didn’t it would be too jarring a clash, so I fine tune the tracks to maintain the flow of the mix. I try to make it as smooth as possible so that a new genre goes unnoticed. Some tracks start only with chords, so I asked some guys if they could send me the stems. I played around a bit with the Session Victim track, and I had an acapella version of the The 2 Bears, and the blend was so good that it began to work like a mash-up, and essentially became a new song. I spent a lot of time working on each song to make sure they sounded right in the mix. I was trying to make music which becomes timeless, so it doesn’t get on my nerves!

There’s clearly been a lot of time and effort put into the mix on your behalf, just how long did it take to compose?

I don’t know… it kills the myth though if I tell you! But it was a long time, as I had to get licence clearance on some of the tracks which took a while. I couldn’t use the second track initially, and it was an important track in terms of the direction I was going. 

Is that how you work? Pick the first track then go from there?

No no no, I need to play around with some tracks, and I try to build some blocks. Like the hip-hop instrumental block, and the 4 to the floor block at the end, and then you try to build blocks… usually 3 or 4 songs together. Really similar to a movie, or a good book, you need to set the mood, and in the best case it always has to increase the tension. So you start to piece the blocks together like chapters, and its difficult sometimes to maintain the mood, so each of the blocks will require editing to work correctly…. but I’m a DJ, I can’t complain, it’s my job!

The idea of producing blocks, is that a similar approach you would give to producing an LP?

Yes, of course. It’s always the same. In a random order this mix could be observed as completely senseless you know. Amygdala was really difficult to bring together into a sense making story. It’s a fragile process trying to bring together different genres into a sense making story. You know it yourself, if you play a really deep song, and then bring in a flat pumping song, all the people wake up… then the song before becomes ugly in this moment and the next song is also ugly… and at this point you effectively lose peoples trust. People thought they were being taken on a trip, and that they could let go, but now they are waking up and it’s horrible. Everybody in the room realises, and the DJ realises, so the order is always the trickiest thing for me.

You mention taking people on a trip, or journey… what would be your ideal environment for a DJ set?

You need an open crowd, and it helps if the music that was played before you was terrible (laughs). Then you get to take people on a journey. Never under estimate a crowd either, you need to take risks to get them along for the ride. If you think they are stupid, and they need to get served stupid formula music, there won’t be a big wild trip. But if you risk something… and you go out on the thin ice, then everybody realises that you are taking a risk, and then they are working together with you. If you risk something, you can feel it in the air. People are always more appreciative if they know you are being challenged, it brings it to their eye level. If you’re just dictating from the booth, ‘this is the music, you know how to dance to, there are occasional breaks in it, you bring back the bass, people scream’… this is the stupid side of house music, where everything is predictable, and there are no surprises in the air.

Who was the last person to take you on a trip?

The Damon Albarn concert in Hamburg in January was super nice. He also took risks that night. He was perfect. He didn’t blow up something bigger for the sake of it. If anything the opposite was the case. He was so humble. He played some wonderful Blur versions on the piano, he didn’t want to make more show than what it was… and it’s the opposite of what you see elsewhere. Everybody wants to be bigger, fatter, harder, better, faster, stronger… but he knows his quality, and that his voice is making the whole room fall in love with him. 

You’ve been in a few bands yourself down the years, most recently with International Pony Club. Any hopes of getting back together in the future?

No no… we really like each other, but we’re far too stressful. It’s really fragile to build bands and let them last a long time. Some of the biggest bands which we love, they just meet on stage, you know? You have to try to make it like a company, you just work and make money.

Do you ever get the feeling of ‘damn, I just don’t want to go to work today’? or is it always a joy to be playing records?

Yeah, but it’s complaining on a high level. Some of my friends will be like, ‘oh I don’t want to go to Dubai’ or ‘I can’t be bothered going to Ibiza’ and in the end it’s a wonderful job. I’m thankful, and it’s a privileged position I find myself in….

DJ-Kicks 50 by DJ Koze

DJ Koze’s DJ Kicks will be out on the 15th June : Pre-order on iTunes now

Tracklist:

  1. DJ Koze – I Haven’t Been Everywhere But It’s On My List (DJ-Kicks exclusive)
  2. Dimlite – Can’t Get Used To Those? (Kosi Edit)
  3. cLOUDDEAD – Dead Dogs Two (Boards of Canada Remix)
  4. Strong Arm Steady – Best of Times
  5. Homeboy Sandman – Holiday (Kosi & Finks Edit)
  6. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Shame
  7. Mndsgn – Camelblues (Kosi Edit)
  8. Broadcast – Tears In The Typing Pool
  9. Daniel Lanois – Carla
  10. Hi Tek & The 2 Bears – Modern Hi Tek Family Bears (Kosi Mashup)
  11. William Shatner – It Hasn’t Happened Yet
  12. Marker Starling – In Stride
  13. Session Victim- Hyuwee (Kosi Remix)
  14. Frank & Tony – Bring The Sun feat. Gry (Kosi Edit)
  15. Marcel Fengler – Jaz (Kosi Edit)
  16. Portable feat. Lcio – Surrender (Kosi Edit)
  17. The Gentle People – Superstar