Apparat on “LP5” struggles and adapting to a changing music industry: Interview

J.N. May 15, 2019

“Despite the fact that electronic music is the outcome of decades of technical development, it is only in most recent times that it has reached a stage at which it may be considered as part of the legitimate musical sphere”, one of the founding fathers of electronic music, Herbert Eimert, wrote in 1955 just four years after he established the electronic music studio of West German Radio (WDF).

What Eimert meant was that he intended purely electronic tones to become the new “raw material” in music productions in the future and his own music was going to become a testing ground for new aesthetic ideas about the art of musical sound. In early 1950s he came to the conclusion that “the composing and performing of electronic music will naturally lead to new sounds, techniques, and styles of music”.

What he didn’t realize was that electronic musicians in the future would make albums completely based on acoustic instrumentation although filtered through a wide range of electronic gear to make it sound “unnatural”.

Flash forward sixty years and electronica’s musical figurehead in Germany, Sascha Ring, releases his seventh album “LP5” under his alias Apparat (although “Krieg und Frieden” is a soundtrack and “Orchestra of Bubbles” a collaborative album with Ellen Allien), an album where Ring’s signature sound is poured through an acoustic instrumental setup. Just like Daft Punk left the electronics behind on their breathtaking “Random Access Memory” album, Ring lets the electronic sounds play a minor role in the modern sound of Apparat’s works.

Although it was eight years ago since the latest “real” album “The Devil’s Walk” – “Krieg und Frieden” is basically a soundtrack – Ring hasn’t been unproductive. Together with colleagues Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary of Modeselektor he produced three albums as Moderat, started writing soundtracks, and together with Dustin O’Halloran and PC Christensen he won the Soundtrack Stars Awards for the score to the film “Equals” at the Venice Film Festival in 2015.

Eight highly productive years later he recently embarked on his German tour with “LP5” and when he visited Hamburg and Kampnagel with his band, we sat down a warm spring day in the garden of Kampnagel and talked about a changing music landscape, struggles of putting out a new album and becoming a soundtrack artist in Italy.

The struggle of making an album

When I listened through your full discography ahead of the interview it’s obvious that quite much has happened musically with Apparat since your debut “Multifunktionsebene” that came out in 2001.
Yeah, but such a long time have passed. I get my mid-life crisis during my meetings with the press on this tour because people ask me about my early works and I realize it’s almost twenty years ago (laughs). I’m working through my past while we’re talking, it’s just such a long time.

But I think it all happened in a very healthy and linear way and there’s not too many crazy highs and lows, I would say it was a healthy development all from the start.

But it’s not only musical changes with Apparat. You started as a DJ yourself and back then DJ’s we’re not really festival headliners but today they’re the stars on many electronic scenes.
I wouldn’t say I was a DJ because I was mostly a live act but in the end it was kind of the same thing.

And you’re right, everything pretty much happened in a dark corner of the club and it wasn’t that interesting because it was about music and dancing, but the whole perception of being a DJ has totally changed. Now it’s a major headliner thing ending up at the major stages, and for some strange reason people feel that they have to face the DJ. I don’t know what went wrong (laughs).

It’s not really my kind of DJ world anymore; I like the darkness, the fog surrounding everyone and that everyone was in their own bubble and dissolved into the music. That said, I easily get sentimental thinking about it but I don’t think that the kind of techno scene that was back then is dead.

There’s a big scene that is not underground anymore, a huge and visible part of the whole scene that dominates the picture of what electronic music is today, like Ibiza or other huge techno festivals, but there are still clubs in Berlin for instance where people are totally spaced out and don’t give a shit about who plays, which is good and bad (laughs). There’s this whole new world which is now “overground” and really visible to people.

Let’s talk new music. It has been a long break since the last Apparat album came out. “Krieg Und Frieden” is basically a soundtrack and before that it was the “The Devil’s Walk”, back in 2011. It’s not that you have been laying on a sofa not doing anything if you consider that you’ve released three albums with Moderat during this period, but how much have you waited for releasing “LP5” and do something on your own again?
There are multiple reasons. First of all, after having done a few albums it’s always harder to find something that you find worth releasing. I make music, I go to the studio and create stuff all the time and just put it in a folder, and most of the time it stays in that folder because I think it’s crap (laughs).

It’s harder today than when I started because then everything was more exciting. Every sound was basically worth to put on record, and now it’s not. That’s the first problem, that’s why it’s harder to finish a record.

Right, and you made a post on Facebook where you said it’s not easy to get a new album done anymore. Was it a desperate call for being creatively blocked or just that the electronic music scene got boring and doesn’t create anything inspiring anymore?
I wouldn’t say that it was more difficult to release an album but this was the first time it was quite obvious how much the way you release music has changed. I thought already a few records ago that when I do the next album there won’t probably be any physical sales anymore, which is not really true because there’s still a lot of music nerds out there (laughs) and they will be there forever I guess.

I highly doubt that there’s much iTunes sales anymore because it’s all about streaming now, it’s all really binary, and the way people consume music is not really through albums, it’s playlists.

Also, the way promotion works out today is different; there’s barely any magazines, they all died out. In Germany three disappeared last year, although that’s another topic and doesn’t necessarily makes it harder to release an album. It’s hard to adjust and adapt when you’ve released music that way for such a long time as I have.

Especially if you also consider how you reach people today in terms of all different opportunities in social media, and you are supposed to do that on your own. It’s quite a difference as you point out. Or is it easier today?
That’s one thing but there wasn’t that many labels in the beginning either, the whole infrastructure was quite far from how it looks like today, almost undeveloped. When I moved to Berlin there was something like two or three distribution labels for electronic music, and they wouldn’t deal with you even if you started your own label which made it difficult in quite many ways.

But I don’t know if it’s easier now. It’s at least easier and affordable to make music today, you don’t have to spend a fraction of the money on equipment like you had to do when I started. But you have to face some other really huge challenges, especially to have some promotion talent to put yourself out there, and that’s why I would suck if I would start making music today because I’m horribly bad at that. I didn’t even send my demo to myself, my housemaid gave it to someone who signed me to a label (laughs). It would never have happened otherwise.

I don’t use Twitter that much anymore. I put out some promotional stuff on there but I’m kind of tired to put out anything about my opinions because it’s too limited and every discussion that is started is doomed to end up in very limited positions because it’s not enough space to dig any deeper, and that sucks.

Some people are very successful in putting out photos when they eat dinner because other people love it, there’s a crowd for everything. That’s what I’m saying, I’m not good at it, and I’m happy that I started in the old industry where you needed other skills.

Just like Mark Hollis: Electronic music was cheap to do

How long have “LP5” been in the works? Has it been an ongoing process for several years while you we’re putting out records with Moderat?
A while but it could actually been much longer. I was collecting a lot of material and had lots of ideas but I didn’t like most of them as usual (laughs).

There’s a point with every album where you have that breakthrough moment and figure something out, for example a production technique that leads to a certain sound for the album, or you love the sound of a new instrument and find inspiration to create a new album sound. That moment happened somewhere around one and half year ago with “Voi_do”, the first song on the album.

We just recorded a whole bunch of instruments and they didn’t make sense together or one by one because people were just playing what they wanted to play, I didn’t tell them what to play. After a while we just started to use instruments in a more simple way and played different melody lines, and I really like that because it gave me the inspiration and motivation to write four or five songs; and that’s the moment you get really ambitious, like “Ok, I can see an album now”. From that moment you usually finish something in the next three or four months.

Just like you need a concept created over five songs or a narrative for a full album?
(laughs) Exactly! You need to find the glue that puts it all together, and when you find that moment it tells you that all the messy pieces you have could actually become an album.

But it’s always the same even if I tell myself I don’t have to rush or that no one gives a shit about if I release it this year or next year. You get really ambitious and also excited like “Fuck yeah, I think I have something here!” and you start getting crazy and doing night shifts, and just want to finish it.

It’s maybe even more clear than ever on “LP5” that you use lots of acoustic instrumentation that you sample, loop and add as layers in your songs, even twist it a bit that it doesn’t necessarily sound like a cello or a guitar. When did you reach the point where you started to be interested in real instrumentation and not only use electronic sounds?
What’s cool today is that I don’t need to hide my Talk Talk and Mark Hollis influences (laughs).

I read an interview with Mark Hollis where he said that the reason they had lots of synthesizers in their music was because it was affordable to do it that way. At some point in the eighties synthesizers became fairly cheap although they were very expensive compared to today, but it was much cheaper than renting an orchestra.

For me it was easy and affordable to start with electronic music but I opened up to all kinds of music and listened to so many inspiring things. The problem was that I didn’t know the right people nor did I have a piano in my kitchen to get started. But after quite many years your network grows; I have a band, I know a lot of people that I can invite and they will come over. Every instrument is a phone call away or already in the studio, in the toolbox, and I don’t have to use a synthesizer because I’m lazy, it’s just all there today.

But you don’t feel that it makes you more dependent on other people in the creative process? I mean to some people music is a very personal product.
No, that’s cool to me because I’ve always liked to collaborate with people. In fact, I’ve forgot how to finish a record on my own, I can’t really do that anymore. I just work on it over and over again and then I’ll destroy it at some point.

At “LP5” I worked with Philipp [Thimm] who plays the cello live, he basically plays every instrument. But I never felt dependent on him because when he wasn’t there I did what I could and often put in some guitar layers which at times could be really cool because I do it in a different way than him and not in a virtuous way. When he was there I basically used him as a human sampler.

I just enjoy the freedom to be able to use whatever I can. It was not that I was thinking “I want to make a record with as many instruments as possible”. It’s just that with every melody line you’re writing you will at some point figure out what sound you want and what instruments that make that sound coming out at its best.

Award-winning soundtrack and new opportunities

Until recently in the history of popular music, film directors have largely ignored popular music in favor of using soundtrack “artists”, musicians operating in a very narrow field of music and very often educated in the classic music school. On the other hand, musicians on popular music scenes rarely considered it an opportunity to put together a soundtrack; a music career should involve hanging out in nightliners, dim club environments and embrace depraved lifestyles far from organized nine to five work in Hollywood studios.

However, the last decade have seen an increasing pool of established artists in the popular music industry borrowing their talents to high end film productions. M83, Daft Punk, My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead are just a few great examples, and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was even awarded an Oscar for his and Atticus Ross music work to “The Social Network”.

A reason to get involved in film is simply because it represents a new challenge; another reason is that when money doesn’t flow from record sales and saturated live scenes anymore, it’s another way to live off what you do. For the musicians, the exposure is godsend. The chance to be heard by tens of thousands of moviegoers – and in a context in which those listeners already are forming emotional attachments – provides precious exposure at a social media moment when it may be easier than ever for a band to serve its audience but harder than ever to find one in ‎the first place‎.

For Sascha Ringer it just happened by chance; his music started to turn up in trailers and a bit later in more and more tv-series and films, and he just thought that there may be something in the works of Apparat that attracted film makers – and it turned out better than he ever would have imagined.

You also did a lot of work in the film industry and won the Soundtrack Stars Award at the Venice Film Festivals for your work with Equals, and Apparat’s music is everywhere in tv-series and films. Can you see yourself going more in the soundtrack direction in the future and work more with the overall soundtrack
In Italy I have a great run and I’m working with this great director. It’s always a collaboration to make film music because there’s a director involved and you need to get along, and once you found someone it works out with you better stick to that person (laughs). I have Mario Martone in Italy and he’s really cool to work with because he lets you do what you can do best.

That said, it’s still a collaboration and you’re not the boss, there’s a hierarchy in the film industry and you just need to accept that, it’s a healthy experience. When you’re used to play major stages and think you’re at the top, then go into the film industry and you’re not any hot shot anymore (laughs), and that’s a good experience in terms of decency but also creatively because it’s about adapting to someone else’s vision and try to understand it.

But it has also become popular in the film industry the last ten years to use popular music artists as soundtrack producers. M83 is just one of many good examples of that.
M83 is probably a very good example as well because his music is very license friendly. There are many music supervisors around the world that probably listen to his albums and recommend it to directors like “Just put that in your movie”. There’s people actually working with that.

As you said, my music started to appear in more and more trailers and then you heard it in series and movies, and I realized “Wow, maybe it’s something in it? Maybe I should try to do soundtracks myself?”, that’s how it started. Also, this little box I have where I put all my ideas that I never use for albums, those ideas a very often useful as soundtrack pieces.

But of course, I’m also doing it because it’s a great way to work with music and not always be on a tour bus because that’s how it usually is. Sure, I love it but it’s great to have something else in music, a balance.

You’re touring with “LP5” most of this year. The club tour continues throughout May and the beginning of June before it makes the transition to the festival season and then you’re back for a few more club gigs after the festival season. But what’s the next step for you? Is it to go back to Moderat or staying with Apparat for a while?
I just talked to my manager about what’s going to happen and this year is for sure a touring year with Apparat because we’ve just started touring. We don’t play that many festivals, at least not the traditional music festivals because this set doesn’t work in a festival tent with massive bass drums in the next tent (laughs) and it will mostly be club settings or festivals in theaters.

Then I would like to do a soundtrack at some point again, I would love to just stay home for a while and after a bit more time I will probably ring at the door bell to Gernot and Szary [Moderat colleagues] and ask “What’s up?” (laughs).

It’s always interesting to meet again after almost two years and find out where they are, musically. That’s what happened just before the second Moderat album because we hadn’t met for a very long time, and that becomes interesting because everyone puts in completely new ideas and something will be born out of that.

If we do a new Moderat album that’s what we need, fresh ideas to come up with a new sound.

Photographer: ©Teresa Enhiak Nanni

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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.