Music can trick us into thinking it’s something it’s not. And in the case of German trio Brandt Brauer Frick, our ears are deceived into believing they hear drum machines and synthesizers when really it’s acoustic instruments that are being pounded and thrummed.
The trio are not the first to cast threads between electronic and classical music, but their approach – inspired by Detroit’s techno legends like Robert Hood and Jeff Mills as much as their own classical backgrounds – results in wonderfully warm electronic music.
Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer and Paul Frick met in 2008, though Brandt and Brauer had first joined forces in school jazz ensembles and also formed the jazz-influenced dance group Scott.
Frick studied composition at the Berlin University of the Arts and had been writing house tunes that sampled orchestral instrumentation, but with Brandt and Brauer he was able to make the leap into a new brand of techno.
After releasing EPs for Tartelet Records and their own imprints Doppelschall and The Gym, their album You Make Me Real (!K7) dropped in 2010.
Employing drums, strings, pianos, timpani and tuba, they show that music need not be confined by the stereotypes usually associated with genre. There are no drum machines here, but you’d never even know it, or miss them.
When State speaks to Frick, he tells us that he and his bandmates have been busy in rehearsals. They’re on the cusp of a European tour, during which they will play at the Body & Soul Festival on Sunday afternoon. They will perform with an ensemble for some of the dates, including the Sonar festival in Barcelona, but sadly, they won’t have the full ensemble when they play Ireland.
The band pulled the ensemble together almost as an experiment, but it went so well they’re now recording an album with the new line-up. What has been revelatory for the three original members is that the new lineup has meant their songs have evolved into entirely different beasts.
“It has changed so much and it’s becoming some new pieces and sounding so different,” notes Frick. “We recorded five of the older songs [from You Make Me Real] and we have three new ones, but even the old songs sound so different. For us it’s a crazy process of transformation. We realised it had changed in a very interesting way.”
“Anyway,” he adds, “I think music can never really be planned.”
This new record doesn’t sound like an electronic album, says Frick, who is curious to see if anyone would play it in a club. Given that they straddle both the classical and techno worlds, Brandt Brauer Frick are as comfortable playing in Berlin’s Berghain nightclub as they are on a festival stage, and therein lies their appeal – they show that there need be no divide between musical genres that might otherwise seem entirely disparate.
Frick doesn’t see them as being a “crossover” band, explaining that all three are DJs and producers with a healthy appreciation for many genres. Growing up in Berlin, Frick associated techno with the Love Parade festival – “fast and aggressive” – but as he discovered artists like Matthew Herbert, realised that there was far more to electronic music than he assumed.
I have a lot of friends who just never want to cross the border to ‘machine music’
He knows, however, that not everyone is open to such music. “Even though in Berlin people are familiar with it, I have a lot of friends who just never want to cross the border to ‘machine music’,” he acknowledges.
For Frick, making music is a matter of taking inspiration from others. “I think even if people don’t sample or play something on piano they are sampling the whole time. Only the relationship between the musical elements can change but the music itself, if you play a chord on a piano it’s not more original than if you sample that and press play.”
Thanks to their sharp look, the trio has of course drawn comparisons to Kraftwerk. “Musically we’re not really inspired by Kraftwerk,” says Frick, who is nonetheless a fan of the deadpan minimalists. “Everybody thinks we are inspired by them but I think that’s more because of the way we look. I think it’s no problem to have a style that’s close to that, but musically it’s so different.”
He sums up that difference by describing Brandt Brauer Frick as “more human”; a band that wants to make what are robotic sounds using warm, natural instruments. It’s not until you see how they do that – which you can if you watch the video for the single Bop – that the true scale of what they have achieved really hits you.
What Brandt Brauer Frick have done is opened up techno to audiences that might normally dismiss it, and shown how accessible and enjoyable ‘machine music’ really is. That’s the joy in music – the unexpected moments, the realisation that you don’t need to confine yourself to listening to a handful of genres. There are armfuls of new sounds out there, just waiting for you to grab them.
Brandt Brauer Frick play the Body & Soul main stage on Sunday 19th June at 3.30pm.