DJ Koze on panic disorders and severe depressive episodes

DJ Koze “The Job is tough”


Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze (Photo by Katja Ruge)

DJ Koze once again got into the focus of the connoisseurs just in time for the release of his new album »knock knock«. With the album itself, but also with the epically simple and most effective video for the second single »Pick Up«, a breath of nothing. On a black background, the song itself is being taken apart in white overlays, it´s function and perception are being described. ›Did you see?‹, it sounds in the messengers and on the timelines of this world.
»knock knock« showcase Koze virtuosity, his trademark sounds, ideas, old things and new things, his research on a high level and new shores. 

Hand on the record, spinning it counterclockwise, backspin into the winter. I have met Stefan Kozalla, which ich Koze’s real name, in February in Hamburg. The Hanseatic man in his forties is presenting himself as introverted as never before and the metropolis on the Elbe is wrapped up in a thick white blanket. Besides the classical house-summer (which presents itself in songs such as the aforementioned »Pick Up«), the chilliness is also a good companion and certainly not the most incorrect dispositive for this record. A lot is happening in those pop songs, sometimes they are rather incidentally danceable, and sometimes they are dance floor smashers. But a large number of the songs are more precisely described as emotional rollercoasters or breakdowns.

In snowy Hamburg, in one of those backyards that St. Pauli still has numerous of (but which are have to give way to gentrification), sits DJ Koze. I’m meeting a completely relaxed man in his forties, whom I know; not personally, but in a very personal way.

Another backspin: 2006, Cologne, c/o pop Festival. Me, still mostly somewhat interested in guitar music, is standing next to the DJ booth of the Alte Bahndirektion, an administrative building of late-classical-eclectic makeup. DJ Koze is playing on three turntables and a Korg Kaospad. The music that emerges from this seems extremely unheard to me. A mixture that is so smooth, so special, so individual that you can effortlessly get lost in time and space. I can’t keep my eyes from the expertly applied tricks and methods; my ears are taking down notes; my spirit just left for a long trip. At this party, I’m renouncing genre boundaries.

12 years later I am sitting in front of the Maestro who bestowed this moment on me. A very casual, happy person who does not ask when we will start, but instead asks what I am interested in at the moment. I answer that I do not like interview situations at all and instead prefer to show real interest in the artist (also on a human level). That this is how you get to the interesting stuff. Koze answers that this might cause panic for him, he says it jokingly and thereby starts the conversation.


Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze (Photo by Katja Ruge)

Let’s talk about mental disorders…
Ok, for example F41.0, which is the medical code for panic disorders in the ICD10. That’s what we should talk about.

Or let’s also talk about F32.2. Severe depressive episode.
I’m really interested in all of this. I just read »Die Welt im Rücken« by Thomas Melle. A fantastic book about someone who has bipolar disorder. I’m currently reading it for the second time. Up until then, I didn’t know much about mania and delusions. Do you have any experience with this?

I do not have classical delusions. I do know delusion of poverty. And hypochondria…
Me too! Rocko Schamoni also knows a lot about hypochondria. But he once told me: »It is getting less and less with age«, and somehow he is right. The fact that you are still alive after years of having all of these allegedly death-bringing symptoms, such as a strange sore throat or a mysterious tweak in your stomach, lets you become calmer.

This can not only refer individually or exclusively to illnesses. You can’t handle a world that seems to be wavering – and I think that is our world right now –, with its abundance of problems. And we are not really participating on that level. So, and I’m just claiming this here, you are sublimating all of the world-angst and -weariness in yourself. Do you get what I mean?
I am sensing a sensitivity from a lot of people who are suffering from depressions and anxiety disorders. There are a lot of explanatory models. It might also have to do with not working mechanisms of repression. »Repression is a sign of health« is a saying that I would agree to immediately. If you are picking up an incredible amount of negative impulses at the same time, you might be close to going ›crazy‹. You have to create your own filters. Alcohol is very prevalent
in this regard. One thing is clear: The reception of reality can never make you happy; as you said: the world is wavering.

That is something you know from the nightlife. All of the dancers who were happy all through the night and in the end almost seamlessly pass into a hangover: The ecstasy of the night did pull them from the »pretended« reality. And when it draws to a close all of the restraints are suddenly rushing back in. And then you think of Monday, aren’t you?
That’s exactly how I perceive it. When you are at a party, it is like being on a cruise ship. And once you return to port and have to go home, you realize that reality is superimposing the last hours once again.

Do you believe that there is something like an addiction to partying?
I wouldn’t say it like this. But the people are seeing and perceiving there something that everyday life can not offer to them. And they want to experience this more often. The nightlife is just great: Drinking, lights, people, music – that is the best kind of disappearing. These are impulses you can only experience in a club or something similar.
But the hangover is brutal: The show that you are watching then does not also last six hours, but 24 or 48 hours instead. The chemistry of the head is completely out of hand, you do not see the light and are doubting everything. All of this does not exactly stabilize you in the long run.

This does not sound dissimilar to a depressive episode. But I can also picture that music is a way for you to sublimate these phases. To make an assertion: Playing records is even more liberating than producing since you are able to systematically and aimlessly tell a story over a period of time x.
This perspective is beautiful, but not always correct. The expectations are huge. I oftentimes have the feeling that I am just not up to them. But you are right: Especially playing records over a long period of time in an anxiety-free space is better than reality. It is like a first class flight with Lufthansa: Better than real life.


Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze (Photo by Katja Ruge)

How do you connect these two things?
Easily. You are offline, you technically do not have any problems, there are people who call you by your name and are pouring you wine if you want some. On a plane, you additionally are above the clouds – an undisguised view. You are apart from everyday life. Finally, everything is calm.

I realized that especially when talking about DJing and depression or anxiety that it has been a big topic in the last years. Benga, Erick Morillo or Motor City Drum Ensemble, to name just a few, have ›outed‹ themselves as suffering from anxiety or depression. What are your experiences?
The Job is tough. You need to have excellent powers of endurance, a resilient disposition. And DJs are often very delicate people with great antennas. These kinds of people are often suffering in this high performance-›DJ-Business‹. Most of the time the whole weekend is on a tight schedule, you are often playing five gigs in one weekend. You are arriving 20 minutes before your set at the venue, and then you are supposed to play in front of 2000, 4000 or 10,000 people and be brilliant at it. Fulfill expectations. Over and over again. In this situation, self-doubts are poor consultants. And it’s also dangerous to listen too much to yourself: »I do not feel too good today«.

…because nobody on the dance floor would be interested in this.
Why should they? The audience did buy tickets, paid an entrance fee. And that results in expectations: You are supposed to arrive and deliver. It is getting more demanding with age. Oftent you are self-alienated. It feels unnatural to me to stand all alone on a huge stage in front of a great many people.

This raises the question: You are now on the other side of 40 now, gradually moving towards 50. Back when the DJ appeared on the scene no one would have imagined that someone might get old doing this. No matter if the DJ is one of many or already the star of the party. But nobody really wanted to be the Stones.
The Stones are mostly annoying because they (have to) manage the legend. Aging with your old hits is horrible. But there actually are cool »older« musicians, some of them even got better with age. And concerning DJs: I am not that old yet, and we are the first »cool« generation. I, being 46 years old, can say this: Generations have never been closer together. Sometimes children are even listening to the stuff their parents liked. Auto-Tune, trap, Berghain. My father was born in 1930. I turned 18 when he was 60 years old. He didn’t really get Public Enemy and Bushwick Bill.

Wouldn’t you see this as a problem for you in the future?
Yeah, of course. But as long as it feels right contentwise and physically possible, I don’t see a problem yet. Once the audiences will only comprise 20 people, I will start thinking about an exit strategy.

This is were producing comes into play.
Yes, producing is way more fun for me now after all these years of constantly traveling. And I have not yet told everything in that regard yet. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to make movie scores, or to produce Kylie Minogue.


Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze (Photo by Katja Ruge)

That is complicated in Germany. The team of pop producers is very peculiar. Mainly, people you have never heard of before and who are now producing Mark Forster and the like. But we do not have the American way – Timbaland is producing this record, Pharrell another one, and Kanye and so on.
Although, there are The Krauts, who are producing for Materia and Peter Fox. That is where I am seeing myself someday: The credible pop producer.

Evil to him who thinks that you had approached the record in this way.
This is very interesting to me. I love to look at videos from Pharrell; how he and Diddy are sitting in the studio and how they – around day 46 – are assembling and piecing together songs. I really want to stand up for The Krauts. They are making really great things. Or that guy from Cologne, from Die Achse, Bazzazian. Just well made. Even Moses Pelham.

Something else than Rap, or? There is a lot of instrumental hip-hop on your record.
Yes, I love 9th Wonder, I love instrumentals.

Mndsgn is also included on your DJ-Kicks.
The whole L.A. scene is very inspiring. Knxwledge, NxWorries – everything just great. What should I say? Knxwledge, what he pulls off: amazing. Incredible how he was able to create a trademark in such a short time, with his compressed sound that still sounds so organic; and at the same time keeping beats rather secondary. This is really inspiring to me. Soulful, a bit broken.

People can hear your enthusiasm on the record…
Totally. I’m way too old for rapping, but I still love this music. That’s when I thought: I need to include more of myself. I have to create beats. And then I got the idea: No rappers but singer! I didn’t want to dress up in a wrong garb anymore. I am not rap, but I am hip-hop.

Some gushing praise will now follow: You made German hip-hop with Fischmob before it charted, then you moved towards underground house when it became really interesting after the Love Parade drain, and with International Pony you preempted the new wave of filter house; Which horse do we need to back now? It occurs to me that you have an intuition for that?
Oh, how nice of you (laughs). But you are right: I’m currently kind of abandoning the path of monotone club music. This new idea to approach songs, combining electronic playbacks with vocals, that’s what is interesting to me.


Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze (Photo by Katja Ruge)

Do you still have dreams in that respect?
Of course. But some of them I just fulfilled. Speech from Arrested Development, Kurt Wagner and Roísín Murphy – they are all my heroes. Musicians who released inspired stuff detached from genre blinders. It was really amazing to be able to work together with artists like them.

Does this complete a circle for you?
Yes. I did admire them in the past. For this, I gladly vacated the field of electronic music, even relinquished to carry on researching it further. That was a big idea.

So, they are heroes? Can I preempt that Sophia Kennedy is also part of them already?
I am totally gobsmacked by her talent. Making music with her is really fun. Unpretentious, modest, although she has the perfect mixture in her head, between pop theory and emotion. Extremely reflected. The way she can put herself into roles. On both tracks she slips into roles. I’m still totally amazed.

At the end, I would like to clarify what »knock knock« means for you? Where are you knocking?
I don’t really know. I thought: Let’s knock and then we will find out who will open.

This interview was originally published in German on the website of mag who kindly allowed us to translate it into english and publish the english version on kaput.
Domo arigato gozaimasu.

Translation by Denise Oemcke.


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