Photo by Paul Pieper
Photo by Paul Pieper

Techno’s Punky Kid: Berceuse Heroique’s Kemal

August 6, 2016
Text by Florian Stöffelbauer
Photo by Paul Pieper

Kemal worships chaos and craziness. When we convinced him to do one of his rare interviews, he encourages us to embrace our inner freak again.

Kemal “the boss” aka Gizmo is Greek-born and London-based. He started his club and music career back in his youth in Athens, where he organized parties, started digging and DJing. He is fascinated by music and everything surrounded, making a living out of his obsession by running the label Berceuse Heroique, which is settled in England’s capital. For Gizmo that fast moving life London demands, is an essential part of his successful work as a label head. It forced him to be constantly productive and so he was: Up until now, more than 30 releases with artists such as Hodge, Koehler, Ekman, Don’t Dj and Gesloten Circle – most of them sold out within a short time.
PW-Magazine talked to Kemal about clubbing’s impact on politics, current problems the club scene has to face and the artistic approach to music production and DJ sets.

You might have heard that Pratersauna now closed down and turned into a completely different space. Not only in Austria we have to face drastic conceptual changes and club closings, also in the UK more and more clubs are forced to shut their doors. What do you think is the main reason for this development?

It depends on every country, I don’t know the Austrian situation, but I can tell you about London. It used to be a place where the best clubs were based, the best sound system, the best light installation and the best music. For me a good party was like a ceremony where you could loose your mind, it wasn’t a business. You would go to a party and get out of your safe zone and out of the ordinary life. The difference between the 90s and the current years is that right now it’s really expensive to stay in London. Basically you don’t have enough money to live there and only produce music, or do art or anything related. It’s not easy for all the creative people to be in London and focus on creating music for example. And if you don’t have creative people in the city, the scene has a problem. When the creative people are leaving London - and right now I feel like most of the creative people are going to Berlin or somewhere else in England, Bristol for example - most of the music is not produced in London. The people who can afford to stay in London are not creative workers and they’re mostly not into clubbing. They are more into bars or restaurants. So right now there are not a lot of clubs in London, because only few people are going out at club events.

Speaking of the gentrification and restrictions that go along with it, do you think it has become a more and more political issue in London?

Of course! If you go back to the 60s when people where doing festivals and other things, going out and having big concerts, they could express themselves in a free way. That is not a good thing for politicians, not for anyone that wants to have all these people in control. If you take the history of music, each and every time you saw people where revolting through music and art, there where always the politicians trying to suppress it. In the 90s people said: “Look, I don’t want to go to a club, I’m going to have a rave inside a forest“, you had all those raves outside of the club context. And suddenly the English government made a law against it. In London it’s pretty difficult, right now it’s very controlled, there are millions of laws. As I said, I feel like London is not very creative at the moment, but you see other places like Bristol. It’s a smaller scene, where everyone is influenced by everyone else’s creativity.
I’ve been to clubs in Bristol where the Young Echo guys are doing parties: in one night you are going to hear someone playing the cello, someone playing dark ambient and someone playing the gnarliest grime ever. There you have a crowd that will respond to that and who likes it. If you do the same thing in London right now: no way. The clubbing there is very strict. You have to play dance music.
But to the best of my belief there is always a punky kid saying: “Fuck it all, I’m going to do it my way!”

You talked about the freedom of artists in Bristol, they could play everything they wanted and the crowd reacted in a positive way. Do you think that the media causes these problems, since it activates certain presuppositions of the audience on how the artist should perform? What influence do you think the media has on both artists and consumers of music?

Even in the past there was a music press. Back in the days, when I was young, I was getting all the music magazines to check what was happening. Also there was the radio and the television, you would get your info from. But the difference now is the time span. You had a month to learn all this info and have your own opinion about it. When I was listening to jungle I had to buy a fanzine from London called Atmosphere that was really difficult to find. I had to send someone to pick it up, send it to me and wait for it. If I wanted to listen to the pirate radio shows, I had to send tapes to a friend of mine in London and tell him to record the sets. Those tapes were gold for me.

Now everything is available, which is a bad thing but also a good thing. Back then it would be a burden to get magazines and records. I had to order records from a mailing list and send a letter with money inside. Back then you had to travel there to find out what is going on, what the good clubs are, the good DJs and who the people running the labels were. Now, with Resident Advisor and Fact Magazine I can find out what is happening in Düsseldorf and Hamburg in a minute. You don’t have the time to evaluate what you hold in your hands, you don’t have a lot of time to spend with your records. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with media’s progress. For example even a kid in Lithuania could get the stuff that I couldn’t get when I was young.

When I started doing a lot of releases with people from Bristol, I have never been to Bristol before, so one day I just travelled there. I got myself a gig, I got an offer from some friends of mine and I went there to learn about the scene. Before I release stuff from guys in Bristol, I have to meet the people behind the music. I stayed there for a week and met the artists and record store owners, I met everyone. Then I had a different view on the whole thing. You need to do your research.

Photo by Paul Pieper

Would you say it has become harder for artists to surprise their audience through all the reviews and previews of parties and journalists writing about scenes, artists and their sets or clubs?

For me making music is expressing oneself. It’s what you have in your mind, you just want to take it out of your head and transfer it into music. If someone is doing it in a pure way like that, there is no surprise then. You don’t need any concept, but I guess the current trend is to have a concept. Writers need something different to write about, it’s pretty difficult to write about sound, to describe sounds because they are not in the head of the artist. So they need concepts, and now you see a certain trend of written conceptual stuff. If you do it in the pure way there is no gimmick, good music doesn’t need to have it. The pure way is to take out whatever your opinions are about the world and reflect it through a piece of music. If it’s honest, it’s good. I don’t think it’s this surprising element what’s missing in music right now, in my opinion what’s missing in music is honesty. People are afraid of doing exactly what they have in their heads, because they are scared of critique. That’s the problem with the Internet; now everyone is afraid of critique and not being cool enough. But coolness is not the best thing for music, but honesty is. Right now people are scared of being freaks, they’re scared of being themselves.

Is it honesty and the things in your mind guiding you through your DJ sets or are you planning your DJ Set?

My opinion is that a DJ set is not a form of art. Other people will tell you otherwise, but for me making music is art, that’s the purest thing ever. When you’re mixing records together of course you have a concept, of course you have a flow. For me, the best DJs are not the ones with the best mixing skills. The important thing is the flow. That’s where it gets more artsy, with the way you put the records together. When I go to clubs and play records, I’m really happy when the people respond in a good way but I don’t feel important. When a producer comes to me and gives me a tune and it’s burning my mind, that is really important, that is creation. I think DJing is not creation, it’s a trade. It’s a way to express yourself, but not creation.

When I’m preparing my sets, I have certain tunes that I know I’m going to play at a night. If I have to be honest, I plan my sets, but I never know what I’m going to play in the end. If I’m going to a party and the week before I listened to a lot of Reggae and Dancehall at home, I go to the party and play Reggae and Dancehall. If I want to listen to electro I’m going to play electro. My last gig was in New York and the whole line up was focused on electronic dance music, but I played a full Dancehall set and it went down amazing. And even the promoter asked me: “Are you sure you want to play only Dancehall for two hours?” and I said: “Yeah, I’m in the mood for Dancehall.”

The other thing I have to tell you about my DJ sets is that I like to play mostly new tunes. Some of the first stuff I was listening to was Detroit techno and jungle. The jungle scene had this culture, the DJ at a party wanted to play the unreleased stuff, the freshest tunes. 80% of the tracks I play are new. I love getting unreleased tunes, new stuff from people that are not even out yet. Now suddenly I’m in a position that certain people are going to give me unreleased tunes, and I love it, that’s why I’m promoting new music. The second reason is because nowadays kids only want to play old music. Of course I also love playing old records mixed with new stuff. But when you see an 18 year old DJ playing the same set that some DJ would play back 1996 and the 37 year old guy is playing new stuff, isn’t this a little bit weird? For sure an old school 12 inch by Jeff Mills is cool as fuck, but it’s cool as fuck because after 20 years there is a mythology about it. A new 12-inch by Tolouse Low Trax is something new, it doesn’t have the mythology of a 20 year old 12-inch and in my opinion you have to promote that. You have to take it, put it in front of the people and tell them: “This is the new stuff!” Those are my only rules about my DJ sets, playing new stuff and playing whatever the fuck I’m into.

To round things up with one of the standard questions in interviews with label heads, what’s lined up for the label in the future?

That’s one of my least favorite questions and I’m not going to give you the schedule for the next releases. We’re going to release all the stuff that I signed for this year - that’s all I can say.

You managed to get a lot of records out in the last two years. Will it look the same for Berceuse Heroique’s last year?

Yes I managed to get all the records out because the thing I always wanted to do was ‘hit and run’. A lot of people are criticizing us about the small runs of the 12 inches we are putting out. But we’re doing it for three reasons. First, it’s easier when you only do 300 to go to the next one. I can press three releases together, 900 copies of three different releases. It was a lot easier to go from the first one to the next one and then to the next one.
The second reason is that I don’t have the luxury to fuck up. The label started with money for two records and it’s still going like that. As soon as records don’t sell, we have to stop. I cannot take risks. 300 copies are enough for people to buy all of them and I can go to the next one and put it out.
The third reason is that it doesn’t get difficult with money issues between people. With 300 copies you are doing it in the Jamaican way, you take the 300 copies to Honest Jon’s, give it to them, get paid, and then give the money to the artist. The artist doesn’t feel like he got ripped off. You can tell the artist: “Don’t stress, it’s only 300 copies. Give me the stupid stuff. Don’t give me the bangers, the stuff that is going to sell, just give me the stupid stuff.”

I think the essence of Berceuse Heroique is doing stuff like a kid. I’m 37 years old but I still do stuff for the stupidest reasons. I did the Horsepower Production repress, which wasn’t expensive on Discogs. And I never believed in expensive records on Discogs being good. It was an amazing record, I had the original record and someone put it on one side with two other tracks, and when I asked Benny Ill, he said he didn’t even master it. When I played it on a big sound system it sounded shit. I always wanted a really nice whole side of that tune, it would sound huge on a big sound system, so I did it because of that. A lot of stuff on Berceuse Heroique is very chaotic, but I like chaos. A problem is that people expect underground labels to be professional. But the reason why you have an underground label is because you don’t want to be professional. Everything with Berceuse Heroique for the last three years is “work in progress”. I want chaos and craziness, that’s what gets me inspired. If we aren’t making money from that thing, we should at least have fun. Most interesting things were created by chaos, crazy people, chaotic people, stupid people.

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture run by Luca Büchler and Lewon Heublein. 

PW-Magazine is supported by the Federal Chancellery of Austria and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.