The heaven and hell of Michael Mayer

The iconic DJ reveals his mix album and talks politics.

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How to introduce a techno legend like Michael Mayer? The DJ, producer, remixer and co-owner of the leading Kompakt label has been around the block since the early 90s and has unmistakably been influencing the scene while you were feeding your Tamagotchi. With an extraordinary count of 23 EPs, 4 albums and 170 remixes, Mayer is looking to “push the envelope” once more, this time with a contribution to the iconic DJ-Kicks series on !K7.

Finally, a contribution to the DJ-Kicks series! What took you so long?

After finishing the Immer trilogy in 2010, I told myself that if I would do a mix album again, it would be a DJ-Kicks, as it is one of the highly prestigious series out there. I’ve been following them from the very beginning when they first did the X-Mix videotapes, and I collaborated with !K7 for the release of my last album, &, last year. It was a conscious decision for me to take a step aside from Kompakt and be the artist for once, which was an amazing experience. I’ve been running the company since forever and felt the need to liberate myself from not only being the artist, but also the guy who takes care of technical decisions regarding marketing, promotion and distribution.

What does a DJ-Kicks release mean to you?

There are not many labels that managed to leave a mark like Fabric, !K7 and Balance Music [with the Renaissance series] did. That said, !K7 is a very respectable company, a kind of kindred spirit to Kompakt, but slightly different. It was important to me for the release to not use the same record over and over again, but to push the envelope a bit with risky crossovers to, you know, keep it entertaining. This form of open-mindedness means a lot to me, and to Kompakt as well, that’s why I’m talking about kindred spirits.

How did you select the tracks?

I was aiming for a more—dare I say it—organic sound for this mix. I didn’t want to repeat anything I did in the past (which was probably the most difficult part of it, to distinguish it from mixes I did before). All of the selected tracks were ‘road tested’ for many years and are records I can really rely on. Doing a mix cd should be enduring, similar to what I did with the Immer series. It should become something timeless that you can listen to after a decade and still be able to feel the story, albeit detached from time.

What’s the story behind the album?

It’s slightly darker, suitable for the times we live in. It starts off quite murky and dark and takes the listener to the path towards the light. I’m striving to touch people’s souls somehow, and hope that people feel reconnected with the universe after listening to it. It’s not about the latest technological developments, but always about the deeper meaning, that of what music can do to your mind; it’s a spiritual thing.

In the press release you mention that all selected tracks went “through heaven and hell” with you. What is heaven?

Heaven can be many things. I’m really happy behind the turntables and I’ve always been; this is where I feel the most complete. But I also have a family now and I have kids, which is heavenly—as long as they listen to me. [Laughs] Food is another heavenly spot for me, but overall I’m a modest person; I don’t need much to be happy, it’s the little things in life.

And what is hell?

In the context of the press release, hell refers to first world problems, such as missing flights and being stuck in airports, that sort of stuff. For me personally, hell refers to a lot that is going on in the political work these days. I’m very attached to my wife, who is half Moroccan, and I feel a strong connection to Arabic and Middle-Eastern culture. There is so much we can learn from this culture and so much it gave us in the past thousands of years. It’s heartbreaking to see what is going on and why. It has a lot to do with us, really. After what happened with Brexit, Donald Trump and all that, I swore to myself I would become a more political person than I used to be.

But at the same time hell can be a good place. I obviously like dark places and am a huge fan of David Lynch’s work, and many other horror and dystopian ideas. It is all very fascinating to me and in the end, it needs both; it’s two sides of the same thing. There is no heaven without hell. In my music I am using both darkness and lightness. It’s a classic disco thing, in the end.

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How do you see the current political situation reflected in your audience?

In recent months I’ve been playing more lyrical, punk-like techno tracks and gained the impression this is something people have been waiting for to happen. In the worst case we will go back to the electro clash days [Laughs], there are rumours about the genre coming back somehow! Simultaneously, there is a void between Berghain techno and romantic tech house. It’s quite possible that people are in needs of vocal messages, something to hold on to, rather than some swooshes or banging beats. Something is coming up. This also reflects in my DJ-Kicks release, in which I’m using a lot of vocal tracks, something I’ve always had a passion for. I like to have a moment in a set where somebody speaks to you and there is a message. The human voice is a magnificent instrument and its possibility of getting a message across can’t be neglected.

Can you tell us about the cover art?

It’s a nod to my past. The hat that I’m wearing is a traditional headpiece that women wear in the Black Forest, where I grew up. It’s an iconic piece really; think of Switzerland and you think of cows, think of the Black Forest and you think of that hat. The idea came about last year at Sónar, when I was showing this hat to my partner Wolfgang [Voigt] and told him I was thinking about ordering one. It’s a handmade piece and was filled with excitement upon receiving it. The obscurity of this hat really spoke to me, but it’s not meant to be ironic! After doing the shoot it turned out to be the best photograph ever taken of me. The photo has certain sincerity to it that I enjoy a lot. I still feel very connected to my roots, something along the lines of: ‘you can take a man out of the Black Forest, but you can’t take the Black Forest out of the man.’

What’s the perfect situation for listening this mix?

I don’t have enough distance to the album yet to answer this question in full, but it works in many environments. While I don’t have a car, I was told this mix would work pretty well in a car—people spend a lot of time in cars—but also in a rocket, or any form of spacecraft! It would also work during a dinner party, or just to get naked and dance, or a combination of both.

Michael Mayer’s DJ-Kicks album is out now on !K7

Listen to Michael Mayer on Spotify

Words by Ruben Baart

Photography: Frederike Wetzels

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