Gnarly Fruit: Meet The Durian Brothers
The trio perform their prepared turntable dervishes at the MAC on Friday, May 30
Robyn Fadden - May 21, 2014
German trio The Durian Brothers coax dense, polyrhythmic club music out of prepared Technics 1210 turntables – always empty of any vinyl yet augmented with rubber bands and other unexpected objects – and a sequencer equipped with minimal effects. Live and recorded, the group focuses as much on artistic experimentation as on getting people to dance. Producing music together as The Durian Brothers since 2009, with a diverse history of music-making behind each musician, Marc Matter, Florian Meyer and Stefan Schwander have toured throughout Germany, played Poland’s Unsound and Tallinn’s Rhythm Festival, and released three EPs on their own Diskant label as well as a split EP with Ensemble Skalectrik on FatCat Records in 2013. An LP is scheduled for summer on Kontra-Musik, blending ambient melodies with dubbed-out, fast-paced mayhem. The Durian Brothers spoke to MUTEK about their approach to turntables, playing semi-improvised live music and being labeled “experimental.”
MUTEK: You’ve been playing together as The Durian Brothers for about five years, but started experimenting with turntables long before that – what lead you to using the turntables in the way you do and to form a club-music trio?
Florian: It sort of came from the record players themselves. Disco record players don’t have the mechanism to return the needle to its starting position when the record was finished, so you end up listening to this lock groove at the end of the record. At one point we just put all our record players together and listened to many lock grooves while changing them on the equalizer of the mixer.
Marc: As individuals, we cover a wide range. Stefan makes furniture and dance music [as Harmonious Thelonious]. Flo makes polyrhythmic club music as well as noise and performance work with other collaborators, like fashion designers and dancers with very experimental artistic approaches. And I work in other styles of music as well, and am moving more and more into spoken word and poetry. So it may be a wide range but somewhere in the middle – and maybe not even in the middle – we meet and do this Durian Brothers thing. It’s really three individuals who come together and try to have these magic music moments.
MUTEK: There’s a live energy and continuity even in your recorded material – is your approach to recording and live performance much different as far as improvisation and prepared composition goes?
Florian: Our producing process is both kind of equal and kind of improvised and kind of not equal and kind of composed. It has to do with the instruments we’re using – with Stefan using a sequencer and Marc and I using record players. These instruments in very different in handling, and in how spontaneous you can be with them. In live shows, there’s more space for improvising, especially between tracks.
Stefan: You can’t be too spontaneous with a sequencer because you have to program it. So I’ll program a beat and maybe some chords or guitar sounds before we meet, where Flo and Marc are more into improvising and I’ll find something that fits that. The best feeling is when these sequences interweave with the turntables so you can’t tell which sounds are coming from which musician.
Florian: After some improvisation to find what works well, we’ll compose a track. In the end, we try to always record a track in one take so there’s a nice flow to it and we don’t have to do much editing afterwards. On the turntable side, there’s a big difference when we meet for recording in the studio – we can take half a day for one track, play around, have very elaborate stuff on the record players and listen very closely to what sounds good, take our time to build it up. Whereas playing live, we don’t have that time and have to react quickly in order to keep things going. So we’re bound to use slightly less elaborate stuff that works best live.
Marc: It’s also important to note that we have some tracks that we approach completely improvised: we start a pattern with the turntables and Stefan comes in with improvisations with the sequences. Maybe some of the most surprising tracks for us have resulted from that approach.
MUTEK: Yet in live shows you arrive equipped with an arsenal of objects to use on the turntables – rubber bands of varying sizes, adhesive tape, paper, scratched CDs – and the resulting sounds are both akin to what we often hear in electronic music, such as bassy beats and horns, and completely different.
Marc: That’s why it’s kind of not electronic music at all – we’re using mostly household objects and all kinds of things that can fit between the needle and the turntable’s rotating plate.
Florian: And we don’t use records at all. The horn sounds, for instance, are mostly from big rubber bands. It would be much too frustrating to try to emulate traditional instruments, and at this point we’ve been playing the prepared turntables for 18 years, so they really have become our instrument, though we now allow ourselves to use some effects, like delay and reverb, but it’s our instrument as the sequencer is Stefan’s instrument.
MUTEK: Your music blends many genres – African polyrhythms, jazz, club music, techno. Are these influences purposely direct or something that seeps in more subconsciously?
Florian: We actually made a recent mix online that really shows our combined influences as they’re relevant to The Durian Brothers.
Marc: But in general those influences are subconscious because we don’t let ourselves be influenced too much by any music for any particular track. We decide to do tracks that are wilder, softer, faster, have certain rhythms, but we don’t talk directly about influential styles when producing the songs.
Stefan: And we surprise ourselves too because we usually play at 90 bpm yet sometimes what comes in from the turntables ends up sounding like 135 bpm or 180bpm, so suddenly we have polyrhythms – and sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
MUTEK: Your individual music backgrounds aren’t exactly conventional and span between dance music, punk, noise, contemporary classical and rock – what do you think about the word “experimental” as its used to describe The Durian Brothers?
Stefan: Even if it’s not the best word, it’s the most common word for the kind of music we make, especially in relation to club music.
Marc: It’s not the wrong word, because we do experiment with ways to produce sounds similarly to how people produce sounds when they use samples. And we, especially Flo and I, have reflected this idea of “artistic experiment” for years, including with our other groups. It comes in handy because everybody kind of knows what’s meant by it, but it’s still a bit odd because it’s used so commonly these days when something sounds a bit different even if the process of making music isn’t experimental. Maybe we should come up with a better word.
Florian: I also feel comfortable with using “experimental” because if someone isn’t too deeply into music and asks me what kind of music we make, it comes in handy, it’s kind of a buzzword. But when it comes to devotion to music, like when you talk to other musicians, the word becomes very relative. Even someone who doesn’t have an experimental setting, if he’s playing his oboe with traditional jazz training, if he really gets deeply into its sound and function, he’s also experimenting. Because it’s so relative, we don’t overemphasize that aspect of our music.
Stefan: I think calling The Durian Brothers a combination of “experimental” and “club” music is good though, because it’s some kind of paradox and at least it’s saying that we’re making danceable music.
Florian: Maybe that’s more important for us to stress, that we’re making dance music and that it’s most enjoyable for us to play at 3 a.m. in a tiny, packed club – that’s where we see ourselves. Then the music might sound experimental to some people simply because of its uncommon sounds and speeds in that situation.
MUTEK: Another word for “experimental” in your case might be rebellious or even punk.
Florian: That’s true, though we’re not sure what to rebel against.
Marc: Punk was very much about shocking. And about DIY.
Florian: The experimental thing doesn’t shock anyone; it’s a common approach. Maybe our potential to shock is in our experimental setting for making the music, but really we’re making normal dance music.
Stefan: Though on the other hand, it’s more punk because Marc and Florian do their stuff with DIY equipment and a DIY approach – they do what they want with what they want. You can take a guitar with only one string and make music, or use turntables in a similar a way.
MUTEK: You’re also a bit rebellious simply in being a three people who record and perform club music together, which we don’t often see. Has being a trio affected the way people perceive your music?
Florian: I really like our triangular relationship, because it’s just more interesting than two people, and the third person can be a way out if the music production process gets too intense or complicated between just two people.
Marc: Though it can be a bit problematic as a club act sometimes, because everyone sees us as a band only because we’re three people, since there aren’t many club music acts that have more than one or two people. People might think it’s more about watching a performance on stage, but to be honest, that’s changed a bit over the years, and it’s less important what happens on stage than about the sound of the music. If people like looking at us play, why not, but we don’t want to be reduced to a “prepared turntable act” – I’d almost prefer if people simply close their eyes, dance and listen.
The Durian Brothers perform at NOCTURNE 3, at the MAC on Friday, May 30.