“I try to handle it straightforward. I’m not an analyst” – PW-Magazine met with Robert Johnson’s musical curator Oliver Hafenbauer.
Offenbach’s Oliver Hafenbauer is a key figure of the highly respected Robert Johnson: Not only is he resident DJ and musical curator at the club but he’s also in charge of label management at it’s in house label Live At Robert Johnson. Three years ago he also started his own label Die Orakel. In December he stopped by Vienna for an hours club night at Werk. Over a glass of beer and some grilled calamari we spoke about his various projects and his home in the Rhein-Main area. Lisa Nickstat took photographs.
People often describe Offenbach’s Robert Johnson as a club close to perfection. I also hear some saying, a similar club is missing in the Viennese scene. How would you describe the spell?
I think that some aspects run together. Robert Johnson is opening it’s doors for more than 17 years now, so there was enough time to establish the club. In the beginning there was a flourishing mixture of DJs and labels, which grew together with the club. Playhouse, Ricardo, Zip, Dixon, just to name a few, were and still are strongly connected to the club. There has always been a focus on quality concerning the whole experience, from the alcohol to the DJs and the soundsystem. Furthermore it has paid off to locate the club on the outskirts of the city. If people want to go to Robert Johnson, they have to commit to this place, and won’t leave the minute they hear a track they don’t like. Last but not least you have a beautiful view on the Main.
You already mentioned some names, which play a major role in the history of Robert Johnson. How do you consider the evolved identity of the club when programming the line up?
In 2009 I was kind of thrown in the deep end. At that time I had already been a resident-DJ for a few years. I continued in the spirit of my predecessor, including the residencies by Dixon, Andy Weatherall, and Zip. But soon I also started to involve my own ideas. That was the time when Hessle Audio, L.I.E.S. as well as the guys from [a:rpia:r] got more and more attention.
I have the impression that the electronic music scene in the Rhein-Main area is pretty vivid at the moment, concerning the quantity and quality of the output, as well as concerning its diversity. What do you think about it’s development?
There have always been a lot of interesting people in this area. At the moment many young people get some well deserved attention, for example DJ Slyngshot or the Hardworksoftdrink crew. The diversity of the scene is indeed beautiful. Some people are more into oldschoolish house, some go into the direction of L.I.E.S., others do kind of british stuff. I don’t really like the term minimal, but there is also a big scene, which is focused more on electro, minimal, nerdy music. Yes, there is a lot going on. But in my opinion the focus stays in Frankfurt and Offenbach.
Do you think the musical dominance of Berlin decreased in recent years?
You cannot compare it with Berlin at all. Many people are moving to Berlin who already participate in a scene. Clubs like Berghain are mentioned in US comedy shows. In Frankfurt the focus is different based on the fact that less people are involved. Frankfurt has a vivid scene, but besides the Robert Johnson there aren’t many other interesting clubs.
It seems to me that the local scenes in Frankfurt, Leipzig, Düsseldorf or Munich become more and more interesting. Is there a decentralisation happening?
It’s a little bit like in the early days. During the 90ies a lot of different scenes existed that kind of competed with each other. Munich with Monika Kruse, DJ Hell and the Ultraschall Club. Berlin with Tanith and Westbam. Frankfurt with Sven Väth. Hamburg with Boris Dlugosch and the Front Club. After this period there was something like a vacuum and many people moved to Berlin, but not everything in Berlin was golden. This development changed a bit, maybe also people moved back. Actually in all of these cities something great is happening.
Being in Frankfurt I always considered it as a really special place, not only music-wise. In comparison to Vienna it seems to be more urban, conflicting, faster, rougher,…
Frankfurt is a rough city. It is regularly described as a dangerous place. I grew up in Offenbach, which is the city with the highest percentage of foreigners in Germany and I don’t find it dangerous. I guess people perceive a place as dangerous, when they see many foreigners without being used to it.
And then they think of Haftbefehl.
Yeah, Haftbefehl is also from Offenbach and only speaks about ghettos. Real ghetto-ghettos do not exist, but for sure there is poverty. What I like about Frankfurt is that it’s direct. This can also be a disadvantage. Berlin for example is much more open in terms of fashion because people dare more. Frankfurt is different, people are holding back a bit but they are more direct at the same time. It’s not pretentious or insincere, but rather getting straight to the point. That’s actually quite beautiful.
You are in charge for the booking at the Robert Johnson, doing the A&R for Live At Robert Johnson, you run your own Die Orakel, working for the restaurant Club Michel and last but not least DJing a lot. How do you manage all of that?
I have quite a normal working week, where I put all these things together. All things are somehow connected with music. It’s not like sweeping the chimney and selling salmon. I am an organised person.
Besides the two labels which you manage, you just released a series called the “X-Files” on Die Orakel. How do you define the sound that fits into one or the other project?
I really liked the tracks by Orson Wells, Pablo Mateo and Christopher Rau, which were finally released as the X-Files series, but they were all slightly too focused on the dancefloor for Die Orakel. Orakel works better on the edge of club music. So I didn’t know what to do and stored them in a folder called X-Files, which was the starting point for this series. Music on Live At Robert Johnson should be fitting for the dancefloor, not too complicated, should be melodic but also innovative. Die Orakel aims more for the experimental side, which doesn’t mean that it’s not working on the dancefloor. I guess all artists on Orakel are linked by a love for electronica and deep music, in many facets. I am not thinking too much about my taste. I guess it’s more about a certain feeling I have, which can also change in the future by the way. LARJ probably found it’s sound identity quite strongly. Visually I am working together with Michael Satter for a while now, both for Die Orakel and LARJ. Usually I somehow have a vision, which can be inspired by my private occult archive. This is what I hand over to Michael, who turns it all into his artwork.
In my experience it often seems inadequate to use genres when talking about music. I guess Die Orakel is a pretty good example for this. How do you talk about it?
When speaking about music, I try to find comparisons. For example Chinaski, who recently released on LARJ, often refers to John Carpenter and is a huge fan of B-Movies. This is something you can hear in his music. So we’ve called it a John-Carpenter-proto-house EP.
In another Interview you made use of the term “Beton-House”, right?
Exactly, I try to handle it straightforward. I am not an analyst. I am using Beton-House from time to time. It works, doesn’t it? Not house, not techno.
Text by Paul Firlei
Photos by Lisa Nickstat