This former soulful house producer is now conjuring complex soundscapes that combine indie, dance and ambient influences
Musicians reinventing themselves is nothing new. From David Bowie and Neil Young to Prince and Radiohead, some of the greatest artists of all time have been prone to taking some startling stylistic leaps from one album to another. In dance music, such self-reinventions are often accompanied by a change of name, with many DJ/producers juggling several different musical noms de guerre under which they make several different styles of music.
But the artist we're chatting to today has reinvented himself in really quite spectacular style. Germany's Michael Schreiber first emerged onto the global dance music stage in the mid-00s as King DK, under which name he produced a string of deep, soulful house singles on labels such as Black Vinyl and Conya. Now he's back, as re:deep - but don't expect any happy-clappy dancefloor belters this time around.
Instead, his debut re:deep album In Between is a downtempo affair that blends deep house, indie, folk and ambient influences, and that's laced throughout with field recordings made while Schreiber was holidaying in Iceland and visiting the country's famous volcanic fields. It's an album that's best served whole, preferably while in a horizontal position, and frankly not something you'd expect - based on Schreiber's previous discography - for one second.
So what brought about this radical transformation of his sound, how did he go about making the album, and what's next? There was only one way to find out...
Can we start by finding out a bit about your musical background - when you first got into electronic music, when you started producing, etc?
"Going to discotheques and clubs in the mid-90s got me hooked. It was pretty much the birth of the house era in Germany. More clubs popped up, I started DJing and after a while I just needed to start producing myself. After some failed attemps to sell my tracks, Black Vinyl Records finally signed my song Can't Read Your Mind (as King DK) which came out in 2005. I'm still thankful today that [Black Vinyl owners] Alan and Janet picked it up, else I might have given up already back then."
Back in the King DK days, you were known for making deep, soulful house. So what inspired your change of musical direction?
"Time. I do not really understand how people get stuck in a specific genre their whole life. Don't get me wrong, if it makes them happy, that's cool, but it's just not my kind of thing. It needs to evolve at least slightly, try new things, mix new elements to the known, keep it interesting."
The hype sheet for the album describes it as blending "deep house elements, experimental folk and extremely minimised indie pop". Is that a description you're happy with?
"I don't think it's easy to put my album in a genre. Ephemeral is ambient, Wearing Lights is probably indie-pop, Paradise Flycatcher is some sort of house, One is... I don't even know what. And so on. Although I know that some categorisation is needed, I find it a bit tiresome. What's important is if you like it or not."
A lot of electronic artists right now are flirting with what might be called a 'neoclassical' approach - long compositions with full orchestras, etc. Do you see yourself fitting into that nebulous 'movement' or is this something different?
"I didn't even know the term neoclassical three weeks ago, to be honest. But yes, that's what I listen the most to at the moment and it surely influenced me, while I would still say that it's not the same. The only orchestral element in my album is a single cello, for example - the rest of it is guitars and synthesizers."
There are a lot of different instruments and sounds employed on In Between. So where did those sounds come from - did you play most of them yourself on real instruments? Bring in session players? Or use a lot of samples and VSTs?
"It's a balanced mixture. I love to integrate natural sounds, I've even been lying in the mud to record some of it. That's also a moment where you realise how much noise there is, even if you think it's silent. There's always a car or an airplane in the distance, but when it finally happens, it's generally a sublime moment.
"The synthetization is, besides an old Roland, software-based. The versatile guitars and other additions are played by my friend Patrick Lins and the cello by Raphael Zweifel, who's also touring with quite some famous German and international Bands. Both of them had quite an impact on the album and made it what it is."
In fact, let's talk about the making of the album generally. How long did it take, and was that 'full-time, eyes-down' or were you juggling other projects as well?
"I started back in the beginning of 2016. I don't want to force myself to work on music, it's a creative process which needs time and the right mindset and mood. I'll still try to be quicker with the follow-up though."
The album features four guest vocalists. How did you come to hook up with the four of them - and as it's only four tracks, why was it important to use four different singers and not just one?
"I thought about this myself for quite some time and came to the conclusion that it's simply easier to have different vocalists. A) because they usually have their own projects and can't/don't want to invest all their time on mine, and B) as already mentioned, there is a variety of genres on the album, which require different vocal styles. I like working with the individual strengths of different singers and their influence on the song.
"I'm very thankful to be able to work with each of them, especially Claudia AKA Lucid, who's been working with me since day one and I'm hoping will continue to do so in the future."
The album also includes field recordings made in Iceland, I've been told. Why Iceland, specifically?
"Whenever I go on vacation, I carry my field recorder with me. Although most landscapes are mainly nice to look at, each also has its own sound in certain places. It adds charm to the song and a personal remembrace to myself."
The album comes on your own Vordergrundmusik label. Is that true of ALL re:deep material - and what made you opt to go down the independent route in the first place?
"There’s quite some range in my music, which makes it hard to find one label that covers all. To get rid of the hassle to find one for each release, I created my own to give me the freedom to produce and release whatever I feel like. It is a tough task to establish a new label these days, even more if it varies with styles like mine, but I hope to grow over time and convince with quality releases."
As someone who's moved from making straight-up club tracks to making something aimed more at home listening, are there any key things you've had to learn - or any bad habits you had to unlearn?
"It's more the other way round: doing this album, there was way more freedom to do whatever I wanted. I didn't have to think about any standards or that it has to work anywhere. No specific length, no easy to mix intro/outro, if the story is told after three minutes it's done. Marvellous."
Is King DK dead now, or are you likely ever to revisit that name and style?
"I actually released a Latin-vibed house tune named Coming Home last summer on Black Vinyl Records. But there's nothing else planned at this time.
Are there any plans to perform this work live - either as a regular 'band' thing or perhaps special one-off shows?
"It might be unusual for a musician, but I have not too much interest in playing live right now. I'm not someone that needs to be in the limelight. But never say never... maybe one day?"
Finally... what's next for re:deep, or what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I'm about to finalise the last bits of the upcoming Driftwood music video. I'm also looking forward to an In Between Remixed EP by some of my current favourite producers. And on a personal side, the Lofoten archipelago in Norway has been on my wishlist for quite some time and will get real in August. That should be inspiring for new music once again."
Words: Russell Deeks
In Between is out now on Vordergrundmusik. You can hear/buy it on Bandcamp.