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by amy 2015-03-02 13:29:02

An Interview With Nick Höppner

Ahead of the release of his debut album, Folk, I had a Skype chat with Berlin's Nick Höppner...


As a producer, DJ, and life long music lover, Nick Höppner has steadily contributed towards Berlin’s now famous reputation for its music and clubbing scene over the last 15 years through his work for Groove Magazin, the OstGut Ton label, his own musical endeavors with ‘My My’, and as a solo artist, and lastly, but probably most importantly in his own opinion, as a DJ who is simply just renowned for his set selections…


I had an in-depth chat with Nick about all of the above and about his new album ‘Folk’, which comes out on OstGut Ton in March.


Hi Nick, so first of all, tell me about where you’re from, and about your early days as a fan of electronic music...

Well, I grew up in a small town near Hamburg, by the North Sea, and I moved out of there in ‘92 after I finished school. I moved to Hamburg, and lived there for 9 years until 2001, and then I moved to Berlin.
I got in touch with electronic music as a teenager but I didn’t really think about it in the way I do now because 80’s synthpop was super popular and on the radio all the time. Depeche Mode, Erasure, Yazoo, whatever y’know. It was like the popular music, so to say.
I didn’t really buy those records it was on the radio all the time anyway, and when I really got into music seriously I was more interested in rock and indie. But then via hip-hop at the end of the 80’s / early 90’s I slowly got into electronic music. It was basically jungle at first, and then through jungle I discovered 4hero, which had strong ties to Detroit & Detroit-techno, and then through that Underground Resistance, and so on… Then besides Jungle I also got into more abstract electronic music like Warp.

What led to you deciding to pursue a career in the music industry, and how old were you when you made that decision? What did your parents think of your decision?

Well, when I really decided to make DJing my job, y’know I was already older and had been through so many up’s & downs, so my parents were rather relaxed!
I think in secret they were still very worried, but I was like my mid to late 20’s. I had been DJing for a long time but it was more casual, and just for fun when it started out. It was hobby DJing almost, so when I thought there might be a real job there for me I was nearly 30. They were still worried of course, but a lot more relaxed than if I had decided to just finish school, not go to university, and dive right into nightlife and DJing.

The music industry can be tough to get by in. Have you ever felt disheartened by it? Do you have any advice for those who may be starting out on a similar path?

I think my main advice is to be in it for the long haul. Of course there’s always an exception to the rule, but I think if you really mean something and you really want something, it’s pretty rare that that success will come to you overnight.

"I think almost everyone I know has been involved in this for a very long time, and has worked on it, and for it very sincerely for a very long time."

So don’t except like instant gratification. It’s like with everything else, you have to be passionate about it, to have a certain kind of talent, and also endurance and perseverance. In Germany we say ‘a thick skin’ because it doesn’t come easily. It’s an up & down process.
Right now, I’m starting to get into a steadier mode of working, but it’s only now that it’s become more plan-able. Just until very recently, and sometimes even still my job is very un-predictable.
I’m never booked for months and months ahead; I do get dry spells when I don’t know when the next gig will be. Sometimes I look at my schedule and it’s empty, I do get very lucky and get gigs at late notice sometimes but unless you’re a well established superstar or pretty popular and well known I think it’s quite an up and down career.

Interesting you should say that, as I think there are a lot of people who think you can move there and make everything happen overnight. I lived in Berlin and found it very difficult to get by, so it’s good to hear that wasn’t a strange experience to have had.

Yeah, I mean of course I’m in a privileged situation too because when I moved to Berlin 14 years ago it was a very different city, the claims hadn’t been made, the scene was much smaller, very local, there was a bit of international stuff happening and people moving into the city but it was nothing compared to what it is today. So I arrived just before the explosion, and I had a chance to go along with it and grow with it, but also I had a chance to experience the city when it had a lot more freedom to fail almost. I’m not sure that happens really anymore, it’s become tougher because there are more people trying to make it and achieve the same thing I guess.

You’ve were editor of Groove Magazin right? How did that come about? Did it open any doors for you?

In a way I think Groove Magazin was very much the door opener for me because my job there was the reason I moved to Berlin in 2001.
I was working for a small music and events magazine in Hamburg and because of that job I got offered a job as an editor for Groove Magazin. So I started working for it in 1999, and then in 2001 I moved, because music and media and labels were all starting to become based out of Berlin on an international scale.  Groove had been based in Frankfurt but it made more sense to relocate, as two of my colleagues were Berliners anyway, and also because I liked the job and wanted to keep it. Also on a personal level my time in Hamburg was over anyway.
Being a hobby DJ on the side was good too. Groove put on a night in the old Garden of the original OstGut club, and I played that night. One of the owners heard me and liked it, and invited me back a month later, and then he liked it again, and so he offered me a residency. So as a music writer it was definitely a door opener for me into pursuing a career in DJing.


What did you like and dislike about being a music journalist?

It was super exciting working for Groove, because the way I arrived into that job was as a fan, so I never considered myself as a journalist. I didn’t really have that ambition so a lot of the times I really loved it and was very excited about it, but I also felt sometimes that I was too big for my boots. I didn’t feel like I was up to the task almost, because journalism is a very serious, and hard job.


"It’s one thing to want to rave about something and promote it and to be very enthusiastic about something but if you want to look at something more in depth and be more critical about it, or be negative about it, it requires you to argue in a very specific and fair way."

It’s super easy to like something, but it’s very hard to explain why you don’t like something while still being fair. I was the reviews editor, so I was reviewing tonnes of things, and reading tonnes of reviews and after awhile you just feel like your vocabulary is depleting. There comes a certain point when you’ve used every phrase and cliché, and that’s the hardest part about music journalism, because you have to be very short and concise all the time, so you start to rely on using the same jokes or clichés.
I was just bored by myself really. In the end I thought I’d never be the journalist that I wanted to be, or be able to write the things that I enjoyed reading myself, that and I enjoyed what was happening more on the other side of my desk. That didn’t really mean DJing all that much, but more label work and how all that side of things worked.

Did you always want to produce music?

Well, I had dabbled with production very early on. Pretty much right after I moved to Hamburg because I lived in a house with my cousin who played in a band, and went to school to become an audio engineer at the School for Audio Engineering in Hamburg. After he finished that he started as an engineer in a studio and on the weekends we would sneak in there and spend nights dabbling with it, then I bought an old Atari and a really cheap synth, and we soldered our own leads for a little mixing console we had and just had fun with it. We never thought about releasing music or performing, it was just a hobby.
At the end of the 90’s I got my first proper computer, an Apple G4 with Logic on it and just kept dabbling with it. It only got serious in 04/05 when I started DJing more, and when I met Lee Jones with whom I started ‘MY MY’. We struck a deal with Playhouse and we kind of took it from there, but that was never me working as a solo producer, I was always working with Lee. So, when we broke up four or five years ago I tried to start working more seriously on solo producing, but I was still managing the OstGut label then which took up the majority of my time, so I was quite slow with releasing my own music.


"DJing came first though, and when I look at myself I still consider myself a DJ first, and a producer second. I have to say though, I’m really enjoying solo work and happy that I have a bit of talent for it."

It would have been a nightmare to not have that as it’s kind of expected of a DJ these days. I could have maybe hired someone to make my music but I think that’s just like the lamest thing you can do. I really think that producing everything you can hear on my releases myself is extremely important. I really don’t like the idea of ghostwriting.

What was your biggest influence during the process of making folk? Do you have a favourite track?

In a way they are all my favourites, I’m very fond of each one.
Whenever I’ve produced something in the past, like my previous EPs, when it came to the point of release, I was never really happy with it anymore.
I finished ‘Folk’ in early October, and for the first time I can still listen to it, and I don’t feel ashamed of it at all actually!
So yeah I’m pretty happy with it as a whole, and I can’t really tell if there’s an influence really. It’s more of an amalgamation of a lot of things I’m into. On the one hand you can hear a little bit of Detroit and y’know that melancholic quality, and on the other hand there’s German influences like Kompakt and German minimal house in a way. I think those are my main bookends, my sandwich toasts, Detroit techno and Kompakt pop!
I wasn’t really thinking about influences, my goal was to take enough time, to always go to the studio, focus, and to not give up if something didn’t happen for a few days. It was a puzzle, and during that period I wrote about 15 tracks, and finally chose 9 for the album.


You’re obviously known for your impeccable DJ sets, do you enjoy DJing more or less than you enjoy making music?

Ahh, that’s a really tough question! I think I enjoy DJing more, because I feel like I’m a better DJ than producer, so I get more of a kick from it, and you don’t really have to work as hard for it either!
Really though the more interesting stuff happens at the studio because my learning curve is so steep. I still learn new stuff about DJing of course but it doesn’t happen that often anymore. In the studio it’s usually a new experience, that usually brings a lot of frustration too because sometimes I just can’t do what I am trying to, but I learn more so it’s more exciting, though I still enjoy DJing more.

I’m sure DJing was like that at the beginning; it’s definitely like that for me!

Yeah! I remember when I started playing in front of lots of people I was so nervous I almost couldn’t put the needle on the record, and a lot of times I just threw the needle on the record in despair.

Ha, I know the feeling! So, Looking past Folk, what are your plans for 2015?

Touring a lot I hope, and making more music I think.


Finally, if you could pick only 3 albums to listen to for the rest of your life? What would you choose?

Oh that’s a really unfair question because it changes so much, but it’s probably ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis, ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine and uhhh, fuck… ‘Midnight Marauders’ by A Tribe Called Quest. You know 30 would be easier to answer.


Of course but it would be too easy then! Okay, that was pretty unfair, I couldn’t have answered it. Maybe we’ll change the question to off the top of your head then…

If you ask me in 5 minutes I’m sure I’ll have a different answer, but those three albums were definitely some of my top ten.

Folk comes out via OstGut Ton on March 30th.

Photos courtesy of Katja Ruge.

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