Getting Down With Cocoon's Alex Bau in Montréal

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Bayern native Alex Bau has become a household name in the world of techno, and boasts a successful career that’s lasted nearly fifteen years. He’s released his own records on the likes of CLR, Cocoon and Sleaze, and has set up a great platform by the name of Credo that releases often new and unheard of acts from around the globe.

In April, he released his third studio album ‘Musick’ and has gone on a world tour off the back of it. Catching up with him after his Montréal stopover, he took some time to share his thoughts on everything from running his label to playing in the U.S. and the life of a touring DJ.

First of all, can you tell us about your history? How did you get started, what proved to be the key to your success and what was/were the pivotal turning point(s) in your career?

Alex Bau: My "history" is pretty common... Born, raised up, being a football-fan as a kid, then switched to tennis until the driving license and the girls came. these also were the first steps into nightlife of course, became music-interested, bought lots of records, was asked to DJ at a party of my schoolmates because of this, got money for it, bought more records and then techno changed it all. That's a rough stripdown. A key moment with this techno thing when I first managed to beat-match and mix two records on the same tempo, it was a magic moment, especially because of the many unsuccessful attempts to manage before. From then I knew "this is my thing", it was magic and like learning to ride a bicycle, once learned, never forgotten!
Your third album ‘Musick’ came out recently. As compared to your last albums, what were you trying to achieve with this one? Did you set out with a particular vision when writing it and how close do you think you’ve come to realizing that vision?

This time it was all about the flow! I just let it happen. There was no concept in the beginning, I just started to produce and when discovering or creating a sound that lead to a step beyond I continued and created something out of it, even though the sound was maybe already used on another part of the album. It`s like a tree that grows, I was sure that it will happen, but I couldn`t tell before where the next branch will pop out of the root!

The album was released on your own label Credo, a label that has become home to some lesser-known but fantastic talents. How have you found owning and managing it and the artists? Was there any reason in particular why you opted to release the album on your own label as opposed to on a bigger label?

Alex Bau: Seems like I achieved my goal and that I released good music without any focus on the names or publicity-relevance of the artists. Isn't this what a label should be about? When it comes to an album I always feel much better to have total control and to be able to look back one day and see my label with all its releases incl. my albums as a whole and the main outlet of my creativity, and for this reason it`s essential to have my albums all on my own label. Once you release on other labels it´s about having compromises, and for an album I find it very hard to work like this because you want to deliver your personal message and not the one of the label.

Your music has an interesting combination of driving but carefully crafted sounds, crossed with oftentimes rhythmical and minimalistic beats. Is there anything in particular that’s a go – like a synth or drum machine – that you know straight away will work? Have you any studio tips for guys and gals starting out?

Alex Bau: Well, it`s not about the gear being used in my eyes, for example, I produce all the digital way and not with analogue stuff even I`m told very often "hey Alex, you must have a big analogue studio, your sounds are so heavy and organic, great sound...". Funny, but it`s always about a certain sound you develop. You can`t tell in the beginning, but once it`s there you hear it immediately, and then the track turns into the right direction. Voise Pt. 1 and 2 are good examples. Once I heard this vocal sample it was clear to me into which direction the sound will develop. Then this massive bassline came in and everything was clear, almost ready, the rest was sound tweaking only...

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Your ‘Musick’ album tour recently brought you to a secret warehouse party for Circuitry 6 in L.A. Can you talk about the event and your thoughts on the reception of techno there, and in America in general?

Alex Bau: Hahaha, funny that you ask about this show, maybe you heard what happened? The guys did parties there for some time, always crowded and very nice vibe as they like this underground warehouse style and I do as well! Even much more than shiny clubs. This time it started the same way, Erphun was playing a nice set, place started to get crowded and 10 mins before my set the cops showed up and busted the party. They were kind of relaxed and cool, but they said it has to be finished within the next 30 minutes... too sad I didn't get to play, but we already talk about some new date at an official venue, then with me playing an extended set. Well, nothing you can do in such a case, sorry for the people there...

Where is your favorite place to play and where have you not played that you’d like to?

Alex Bau: Hm, it wouldn't be fair to name only one or just a few. There are, thanks god, much more good and really kicking shows as bad ones. I experience that it`s always related to the venue. As long as you have an authentic and cool venue where the sounds fits to the shape of the place, people will recognize and are set into a different mode somehow. I think you can have a great party anywhere as long as you find a place with lots of steel, concrete, big soundsystem, flash, fog, a great open-minded crowd willing to party and go wild and... good techno! What`s still missing is China and also Africa in general. I`d love to play there!

Following your gig at Penthouse recently, can you speak about your history with Montreal and what makes it different from elsewhere?

Alex Bau: Montreal will always be a special place for me as this was my first overseas-gig many years ago. Even from my first visit in this city I realized that there was and still is a special vibe different to all other north american cities I know. Djing on parties there always felt very european in a sense of that the people always knew exactly what techno is about, no matter if it was at some one-off-location or clubs I played in the city like Gravity, Circus or also the famous Aria back then. It was definitely one of my favourite places!

The touring life of the DJ is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. How do you manage to stay focused and on form when moving about so much? How do you get back to reality after so much moving about?

Alex Bau: I got used to it. Of course, sometimes it`s quite demanding. Lack of sleep, travel-issues like delays, missed connections etc. which can happen sometimes, but as soon as I find myself behind the mixer, playing my first track and seeing smiling and dancing people on the dancefloor in front of me, everything is fine and I`m in a different, very positive and excited mood, fully focused on the music and with an idea where I want to bring the night. Sorry, I can`t explain much better, it`s kind of magic!

Is there anyone out there right now that inspires you, someone who you think epitomizes what it means to be a good producer and DJ?

Alex Bau: Back in the days it was, of course, Sven Väth, who really got me. His way of playing techno was different and sophisticated in a way. I still think that, once he plays proper techno sets, he is a real leader. But apart from this I think I found my own way and I think that as an artist you need to be selfish to some certain extend and don`t look left or right what others do.

Being the head of a label, you must come across some exceptionally talented people. Is there anyone that springs to mind that we should be keeping an eye out for in the future?

Alex Bau: Oh yes, definitely. Apart from the fact that I consider all the artists, who released on Credo, are super talented I think that Dirty Basscore sees a promising future. He is crazy enough, techno-addicted, nerdy in a positive sense and he brings a certain "aura" during his live appearance. He draws attention. And his music is getting better and better. I look forward a lot to his first full length EP on Credo later this year, I already can tell that this will be a slammer!!!

What lies in store for Alex Bau and Credo in the coming months?

Alex Bau: Beside touring I will release a track on Dr. Motte`s "30 years of Motte" compilation soon. I also work on some new stuff which I hopefully can release as a follow up on Cocoon after my EP with them in February. There will also be some great stuff on Credo, like Dirty Basscore's release in fall. Before there will be an EP by Thope from Hamburg with a great Nikola Gala remix, I`m working on some edits from cool demos I received becoming the fifth chapter of "Recycled Tracks". As you can see, it never gets boring...