Terence Fixmer: „I saw the start of Techno!“
Berlin in December is quite a challenge. The city is dark all day and night, and the cold comes as they say directly from Russia and is supported by gruesome winds eating their way into the bones of everybody. Kinda fitting for a night out at Berghain dedicated to EBM and Techno associated with the names of Nitzer Ebb, Marcel Dettmann and Terence Fixmer.
Terence Fixmer welcomes me with a huge smile on the face and very open, communicative eyes. Tonight is a special occasion for him, Nitzer Ebb were maybe not his first musical love (that was Front 242), but it´s fair to say that Fixmer is a real fan boy when it comes to the band. Even tho he is now for some years part of their inner circle – he runs together with NE-singer Douglas John McCarthy the Fixmer/McCarthy imprint under which they released the two albums „Between The Devil“ (2004) and „Into The Night“ (2008) – it feels like a honor to him that Nitzer Ebb are playing his second home Berghain (where he holds not only a live residency, Ostgut Ton is also his mothership label, he just released his new album „Through The Cortex“ on the label).
Terence, right now the yellow vest protests are happening on the streets of France. What´s you view on the current state of your home country?
Terence Fixmer: This question is difficult to answer as the topic has many perspectives. Macron is not considered as left or right, he is more a politician of the middle. The last forthy years every politican in France talked about change. But the problem is, they don´t do these reforms in the end. Let´s take for example the age of retirement – we have to push it to a later age as everybody lives longer now and by that has to work longer. But every time a President wanted to change this we had a strike. After three weeks of strikes all the Presidents said „no“ to the reform. But Macron, he acted different. He did not want to bent on it. He said: „We have to do these changes!“ Of course, the people were not happy with that – and he? He was not listening to them,them, then he increase tax on gas, and reduce the speed to 80 km/h, people didn’t understand and the situation degrade in a crazy way.
Well, the current protests are the result of a fast lane change of the fuel pricing. In Germany those changes happened peu a peu over a very long period of time. I mean, it makes totally sense that those changes are now also happening in France, but mabye his tactic is too fast and radical.
Exactly. Macron kind of act acts arrogant: „I do my change – and I don´t listen to the people.“ His behavior was all about doing his things and not listening. He saw only his economic way without thinking maybe in a human way. French people like to manifest, and this one I have to say is quite impressive. And we don´t know yet where it will lead to. There is a kind of excess here as well which I find it crazy to be honest.
Are you positive Macron will balance this out?
I hope, because we cannot let the country exist in such situation, it is not normal, and a danger for the socitey. The problem is: he already signaled some compromisses, but there are people who don´t care about what he gives to them – they don’t care about his compromises, they simply don´t want him! Or they just want the chaos. For those people it is not about logic anymore.
You mean they act anarchistic as they do not operate within the paradigm of politics?
There are people who express they unhappiness by demonstration, which is ok, but there are also people from extreme right or left or anarchist, or people called the «Casseur» (Breaker) who are happy of this situation and push it to the extreme and out of control . They just want again the chaos.
Politics are not just a topic on the French streets right now, they were also an integral part of the electronic music scene in 2018. From gender equality discussions in regards to bookings over the happenings and protest in Georgia to the boycott of Israel. The scene these days is very reflective, much more than a few years ago.
Probably. The people are very fast these days to express their opinion – and mostly it is a pro or contra reaction. Sometimes the vocabulary can be very tricky. It is so easy to misinterpretate words.
And some people want to misinterpretate.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Some people make a big thing out of each comment. Personally, me, I am an artist, I want to express my art without a politicial message. I felt in the past sometimes the wish to express myself on some political issue, but I avoid it. For example, I hate Trump, I could post every day on how horrible this guy is but I rather keep this to my inner circle , I don´t want to mix my politics view and music.
Trump is very difficult to ignore for a lot of people.
He is everything you hate. He don’t give a fuck about nothing except his own ego – living in his lies with his extreme supporters. Terrible to think that the world balance is so linked to one persons instability mood and ego.
He is a difficult enemy as he does not play the rules of politics at all.
He is difficult to predict for sure, he just follows his own rules with no other consideration than his own person and his ambitions.
Terence, you started your career as early as 1993. In that age electronic music was a huge utopia, it was the sound of the future and represented the idea of a different society built on the base of music.
Looking at the protests in Georgia made me feel this old power again – as suddenly music was able to bring people together to define the world they wanna live in again.
That´s true. I saw the start of Techno music in early 89, 90! There was no Techno existing when I was a teenager. There was EBM, there was New Beat – then Techno came up as a kind of modernization of New Beat . A lot of people were saying that Techno music is terrible music and in one year it will be over, but to me that was no option. I was loving that new music so much – and other people love Techno as music as much as I do, that´s why it will never stop. Look, we are still here! Back then it really felt like a family, everybody was linked.
Do you miss the musical openness of those days?
There are good things happening in every style. But now all is separate. If you wanna hear House you have to go to the House floor, if you wanna hear Techno you have to go to the Techno floor It is rare to have a bit of everything on the same floor. You have to be in a category. People categorize you.
I never thought about it, but yes, we are not only the last generation before the mighty Internet, we are also the generation who was born into a world without Techno.
Yes, Techno was not there. But New Wave, Ebm…
You know, when I was a teenager, we all had those stickers of bands on our jackets….
… you mean like Depeche Mode or …
Yes! And I had nothing, there was sadly no sticker as I was not fan yet of something. I also wanted to be to be a fan of something. I was really happy when I discovered Front 242 around 1986, I became an instant fan. Finally I found a kind of music who speaks to me – and put the sticker on my backpack. As there was no Techno yet, Electronic Music was my awakening sound; and then New Beat came and I was „wow“ – more electronics, less vocals, and then Techno happened. I did not realize it as a radical change, more like a small switch. But then at one point I was like: „I love Techno!“ Sooner than later EBM was over for me; but we should not forget, it is still existing until today.
As much as we all have our ears on the Zeitgeist, a lot of genres keep going on by the energy of the people dedicated to them.
That is true. With Fixmer/McCarthy we were booked to the Wave Gothik festival in Leipzig around 2003, it was a big surprise to me: „Wow, there is still a scene for the EBM and New Wave, music which I was listening to when I was a teenager.“
Do you still remember what expectations you had when you started to produce music?
It is a really long story. I am an artist by accident. Originally I did not see myself as an artist, I just loved Techno and was listening to music all the time. A friend of mine had synthesizers, so I was learning from him, but more likely as a hobby – I was still doing my studies at that stage – then I went to an economic school to study economic, marketing.
For my business school, I had to make an internship and chosed the marketing department of the BMG label. My goal was to work in music for a major label, and to create from those experiences with a friend my own label. That´s how I started to produce around 1991, just for the fun.
This friend, I don´t want to mention his name, actually had a massive Techno hit in 1996 and felt into heroin. Sadly I couldn’t count on him anymore, as he was totally in another dimension due to his addiction, he was not reliable anymore. As by that I did not have any other musician to produce for my label Planete Rouge,
I had to use my own productions. As a test I did release for the beginning under pseudonyms – until the moment I felt confident enough to go for my real name. That´s when the « Electrostatic » ep came out. This ep became really big in 1999. I didn’t expect this, and I didn’t expect that Il´l be an Techno artist.
When did you realize: this could be my career?
I never thought I will have a career in music. But after « Electrostatic » came out, I got lots of requests to play live. Sven Väth invited me to Frankfurt – that was my first gig. Then I released on Gigolo records and tracks like « Electric Vision » and « Body Pressure » became big … and now we are in 2019 and I am still producing and playing live.
Terence, are you happy with the road you have – passivly or activly – chosen? Have there been times in between in which you struggled?
Yes, I am happy with the road. I am trying always to express the music with sincerity, doing no compromises and being an artist.
I still feel the need to produce a lot, I still have this energy to express. I love electronic sounds so ,much, that I cannot imagine stopping experimenting and producing Techno and Electronic tracks.
Nowadays not all is based on the music, there is this trend or hype on some artist, but I just try to keep my road and being loyal to the sound I have in my head.
The day I feel felt bored with my sounds, I´ll stop… but it am really not there.
Which leads us to the new album „Through The Cortex“ – or I better have to say the new albums. There is not only the Ostgut Ton release, there are also albums on Nova Mute and on your own imprint Planete Rouge Records.
Terence would agree with me that you are a Techno producer of the old paradigm? At least you seem not to care about a strategic rhythm between the releases, more likely the theme is: „keep it coming.“ Which is the old spirit of the early 90s when people were publishing an endless stream of 12 inches and had no second thoughts about the market.
I don’t want to release too much, I just try to release regularly, maybe two eps per year maximum and one remix – and one album every four or five years.
I love to produce, and I find it frustrating for me to not communicate my music, I love it and it is my way of expression.
You have to know, when I release one ep with 3 tracks, there are another 15 tracks which I will never release.I have tons of unreleased music which will never gonna be released.
Terence, what is your goal with your music?
First, I just want to satisfy my ears with a certain sound, I want to create a mood, an atmosphere. It is important to me to keep the soul in the music, to feel the vibrations on my synthesizers. I want to hypnotize the peopke by bringing in a special energy. I love doing dancefloor music with an edge of craziness.
To me „Through The Cortex“ sounded like it was written as a homage to the Berghain. From the first tracks as the soundtrack of entering the building by climing up those stairs in the hallway till the end – which is not really an end and more likely a new beginning, of course a reference to the endless-ness of our current state of club culture.
Actually, when I did the album, I was thinking of producing a soundtrack to a science-fiction-movie – like a potential new soundtrack for the « Alien » movies.
The first track on „Through The Cortex“, „Something Invisible“, is really spacy, very 1970s and reminds me of my old series of tracks called « Cosmos 1999 ». Or « Event Horizon » or « Expedition », when you listen to them, you can see this futuristic pictures in your head .
I hear ya. Even tho to me it sounds more like the music to a Cronenberg movie like „Scanner“ and not so much to „Matrix“. Very colored out images and that subtile feeling of something is going on.
Exactly. Take for example the second track „Shout In A Black Hole“, it sounds like a stretched voice falling in a Black Home.
Stephan Hawkins was questioned by children: “What will happen to us when we fall into a black hole?” His answer: You will come out as spaghetti.
„The whole album is pretty dark – and then, with the seventh track, „A Halo Somewhere“, you see the light, the end of this dark tunnel. The heaviness is behind, now we have the exit.
As mentioned, to me this particular track repesented the new beginning. Well, your explanation and my interpretation are not so far away from each other, my review of your album circulated around the club, and your science fiction set-up is also very architectional in its basic configuration. The difference is maybe the absence of the people. Your territory is missing the people. Right?
It is about a journey into the unknown. There is this mystery, which could be oppressive, and which is for sure scary. The population is unknown.
Terence, you mentioned before that you wrote the Front 242 logo on your back. Did you also write Nitzer Ebb on it?
Not first. But I was a fan. I discovered Nitzer Ebb after 242. There was a club called Skyline in the French region where I was living, close to the Belgium border. One day I got a tape with the music from the club, there was mainly EBM music on it, and at the end of the tape I found « Let Your Body Learn » from Nitzer Ebb – it was un coup de foudre for me, I went to a record store to buy everything I could find from them.
That said, does them performing tonight at Berghain has a special meaning to you?
Of course, for me as a teenager fan of Nitzer EBB playing support for them is a kind of life reward.
Life could be strange, I never expected to be an artist, but somehow I became one. Daniel Miller of Mute Records asked me to remix Nitzer Ebb in 2002. So did I and handed it over to Douglas, the singer – and from there we created our project together. We made so far two albums as Fixmer/McCarthy. And when Nitzer Ebb went on a reunion tour in 2006 they asked me to tour with them as their support as well. So I feel really linked to them.
Coming back to you early fan perspective on their catalogue. Do you remember how it felt to start working with you idols? Was it difficult to lose the fan approach?
At the first meeting I was a fan and asked them many questions. But after a while it became more normal. Now my relationship with Douglas is that of really good friends. After 18 years we know each other really well. We partied together, shared many life situations. We are real friends.
Did you ever ask him how it felt for him to meet you?
He was disconnected from music at that time. They stopped Nitzer Ebb in 1995. We made the first record Fixmer/McCarthy record « Freefall » in 2003, eight years after the last NItzer Ebb release. By listening to my album „Muscle Machine“ Douglas made a new connection with Electronic Music. He understood my music. When he came to visit me at my place an awakening happened to him, he felt a new challenge.
You remember the first reactions of the Nitzer Ebb fans?
The old fans were really happy: „The voice of Nitzer Ebb is back! The voice of McCarthy is back!“ Of course the beat was more heavy, more modern than the ones by Nitzer Ebb, simply because it was more Techno and dancefloor orientated – but we also tried to keep the vibes of the old Nitzer Ebb Music. For them it was really new, a mixture of Techno and EBM.
When I interviewed Veronica Vasicka of Minimal Wave records, she told me that at school she always felt like an outsider. And then, somehow, without her really understanding what changed, the music she was listening to was popular and so she was.
I tell you this, because I have the feeling that nowerdays weirdly Industrial music and EBM music are super popular. Is it of surprise to you that those aesthetics are so popular?
Not really, for me it is not something new of course, as I already experiences the sound in the first place and also the 80s revival in the early 2000s, when I was releasing music on Gigolo records.
When I hear this kind of EBM/Techno these days, it doesn’t sound new to me. I mean, there are still nice tracks and new artists which are good producing this kind of sound.
(We have to interrupt our conversation for a short call by his wife and daughter. It is about time to go to bed for the little one and she wants to say good night to her daddy.)
Terence, how did being a father change your life?
I have responsibility now. Before I was only responsible for myself, now I am not alone. My little daughter relies on me, I try to be good father, I try to be there for her, to give her love, education, fun –
So, of course my life changed totally. It is a new page you open in your life, but a beautiful one.
Does she understand what it means when you leave the house for the weekend?
She does not really yet understand totally, she is only four years old. But she knows I do something with music.
Are you playing less since her birth?
I never wanted to play too much – maybe three or four times a month –, because I like to feel present in my life and not always on travel. I try to keep here and there a weekend free for myself and my daughter. It is important that playing abroad is fun instead of a burden because of the travels. Personally I don’t understand djs who are playing ten times or more per month. I don’t see the fun to be honest.
Well, often those people are still very young kids. When you are twenty something of course you could play more often.
Right. Also one has to consider, we are living in different times nowadays.I remember that even in the early 2000s it was not possible to play that often. We needed to build the road for Techno. Now there are more Techno clubs than ever before.
But you are right, if you play more than ten gigs every month, on the long run you will burn out.
Yes, I think so, you kind of disconnect from the reality. You have to be strong or otherwise you get on the wrong way and it will have negative effects on your health, your private life and your creativity.
Talking about the changes that happen. When you started, Techno parties happened in dark dungeons with smoke in which you barely were able to see the artist djing or performing. Nowerdays everybody dances in a kind of bright environment in direction of the dj. How does that feel to you?
Sometimes we loose the focus on the music. These days the dj seems to be a God to the people. Back in the days we often did not know where the dj booth was, we just checked out where are the speakers. It was only about the music.
To me the dj could be hidden behind curtains, I don’t need to watch him mixing, smiling, or giving the clown for me, I just need to listen the music he is playing.
You are mostly a live performancer, it is quite rare you dj like you do tonight together with Marcel Dettmann.
You are right. I only dj from time to time – but then I enjoy it a lot.
Tonight is really special, because we play for Nitzer Ebb. I told Marcel: „You know what? Let´s play only New Wave music.“ We do not have the chance anymore to hear those old tracks on loud soundsystems. But I want to hear Soft Cell really loud, New Order, Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Severed Heads…
To be honest with you, we do not have any idea where we will go to tonight, but we will definitely not play clubby. It will be like a private party for friends.
Terence, thank you so much for this long conversation.
Terence Fixmer “Through The Cortex” is out on Ostgut Ton.
Nitzer Ebb “Body Of Work” will come out on Mute Records on the 8th of March.