[Interview] Patrice Baumel, M.E.N.U, and Project B. switch things up for a dark and enduring experience.
By Frank Duke
Patrice Baumel is known as a Kompakt Records front-runner. He is a humble, non-fussy guy, that shares his thoughts with the world musically, emotionally, and insightfully. M.E.N.U, who is a dear Macedonian friend of Bobi Stevkovski (Project B.), is an accomplished producer, genius DJ, and an all around lighthearted guy.
Earlier in the day, I had been talking with my sister, who has just moved to Atlanta from Chicago about Patrice Baumel, M.E.N.U, Bobi, Project B., and The Music Room. She has never been to anything like this. I thought to myself, “what better way for her to see what Atlanta is all about?!” She’s really into music, festivals, and dancing the night away. After discussing with her she agreed to join me for a bit of booze and dance moves.
We arrive to The Music Room a bit early so that I could have a chance to show her the fantastic Bone Lick BBQ, grab a fresh cocktail from the Edgewood Speakeasy, and get her acclimated to a venue that I spend a lot of time at. We walk down the staircase, underneath an old drum set on display, to make our way into The Music Room.
We grab a chair at the bar, a few drinks, and make conversation amongst the bartenders.
We sit back, relax, and listen to Bobi Stevkovski start warming up the room with an easy going, laid back, dark, and percussive track selection. Shortly after we sit down, I see a tall, bald-headed, smiling man, walk down the staircase. I thought to myself, “this has to be Patrice.” I turn to my sister telling her I’d be back in a moment, and go up to introduce myself. We walk back up the staircase out to the street side curb, sit down on a broken plastic power supply, make some homeless friends, and begin discussing his music career.
You’re on your Balance Series tour right now. Tell us a bit about how the touring has been so far.
It has just started actually. I love the work I do and am grateful for every gig I get to play, regardless whether it’s just one person dancing in front of me or 1,000. I want to bring people together and give them a great time.
Getting to work on the Balance Series compilation has got to be an exciting project to be presented. How did you approach your track selection, mixing, and the concept you wanted to convey?
Printing something on CD is kind of permanent, so I had to put together music that would stand the test of time. It took me a while to figure out the whole concept. I compiled a list of 100 of my all-time favorite tracks, then tried to find interesting combinations between them. I just went with the flow of what worked and felt right to me. Then 70 minutes later, I kind of came out at the other end of the tunnel. I had my mix CD. With anything creative that I do, it never really feels like it’s coming from me personally. I’m just a conductor or a medium for the music. It just happens.
Your record label EX is known to give artistic freedom, a level playing field, while all being distributed for free. It seems as though your focus has been shifted to other projects. Can you tell us a bit about the current state of EX - past and future?
EX is an experiment. EX meaning outside of the ordinary. I just wanted to learn how the music industry really works with a couple releases just to test the waters. I realized that If I used labels that are more established and have a larger following I would be able reach a lot more people. I put EX on the ice for a while to focus on my upcoming releases on Kompakt, other select releases on some labels I believe in, and some remixes of artist that I like as well.
You’re currently living in Amsterdam after growing up in Dresden, Germany. You have discussed prior that the first year of this move was a difficult one for you. What inspired this move in the first place? What about Holland was calling you from Germany?
East Germany, at the time, felt to me a bit like a hopeless place. After the wall came down in ’89, things really changed in a lot of ways. There was a lot of frustration and a hardcore right-wing movement going on. Being a son of a white mother and African-American father, it wasn’t the safest place to be. I wanted to get rid of that feeling of discomfort and unsafe atmosphere of just walking down the street. Dresden and East Germany, really didn’t feel like a town that was going anywhere. There was no opportunity. It felt like a dead end. I wanted to go somewhere that was growing, booming, bustling, and that was international. Amsterdam was the perfect mix of these things. It’s one of those places that feels extremely connected to the world geographically. Almost every culture and nationality is represented in Amsterdam. It felt like a happy place. People were smiling, enjoying life, greeting you, and there was a feeling of community. There was an air of optimism that really attracted me. It was the obvious choice.
You are well known for a live rendition of Steve Reich’s “Drumming." I grew up listening to a lot of minimalistic classical music. I would love to hear about what inspired your live rendition of that track?
At the time, Trouw Club was looking to expand it’s horizons and work with other cultural institutions in Amsterdam. One of them was Stedelijk, which is a modern art museum of Amsterdam. There was another institution that Trouw worked with called The Concertgebouw, which is the equivalent of Carnegie Hall in NYC or Royal Webster Hall in London. Concertgebouw approached Trouw in 2013 to do something together for the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE).
The team at Trouw thought this would be something good for me, since I had already been DJing at this concept called “Yellow Lounge” , which is an event where the worlds of classical and electronic music would come together for an evening. They would have the classical musicians do a performance for half an hour or so, then I would do half an hour, and then keep repeating this process. Once this collaboration between Trouw and Concertgebouw was presented to me, I was asked to do something bigger. I thought, “what could I do?” Steve Reich was the perfect crossroad between classical music and electronic music.
I searched for a musician that could actually play Steve Reich live. I found Dominique Vleeshouwers, who is a world class marimba player. Then we just started working on the show. He would play rudimentary Steve Reich patterns from “Drumming”, and I would loop them, sample them, re-loop them, improvise on top of them into infinity. Then we would keep playing new loops and repeat this process. It was a free and open format translation of an original Steve Reich piece.
How were you introduced to Steve Reich’s music and what was going on in your life when you got that first connection with his music.
My uncle gave me a Steve Reich CD many years before the ADE experience with Trouw and Concertgebouw. I immediately liked the repetitive, stripped down nature of Reich's compositions. Many years later, when I was asked to do the “Yellow Lounge” concept, and DJ at a classical music event, I was forced to acquaint myself with classical music better, and I rediscovered Steve Reich. I thought to myself, “If I were to DJ classical music, what would I play? What would my voice be?” Steve Reich and minimalist music was the obvious answer because it shares the same DNA with techno music. I properly listened through Reich's whole repertoire. It was extremely rich and close to my own musical understanding. It was the starting point to building a bridge between electronic music and classical music.
What are your plans for the rest of 2016 in the studio and on the road?
For the studio, the big next step is to make an album for Kompakt Records. It’s still in the early stages. I’m defining a sound for the album currently. Once I have it locked down, I can roll out different variations. Through this method the album will have a consistent feel to it. Other than that, there will be plenty of touring ahead.
We both walk back down into the basement, the club is fairly still empty. Everyone must have still been sleeping. Patrice and I continue to discuss music, Amsterdam, Miami Music Week, and life in general as we get acclimated with Bobi’s musical selection. The venue was very dark light all night. No gimmicks for this event. Just the Artist, the crowd, the dance floor, and the extra immense speaker setup the Project B. team brought into the venue.
The DJ booth was different this time. It was an makeshift work horse table, with a piece of plywood and two blue construction style stands. The artwork on the walls were covered with black sheets to ensure that the room had no distractions from the music. Patrice tells me that he would like to go sift through some music to ensure great vibes for us the rest of the evening.
M.E.N.U played briefly, at least I think. Maybe they were playing back to back. It was honestly hard to see with how dark the space was. Either way, the music being played portrayed a more driving and dark tech house selection. Not too long after, the dance floor was quite full, and Patrice made his way to the stage.
He came in seamlessly carrying on what was said musically between Bobi and Marco. Patrice Baumel played to the dark space and the crowd was loving it. There wasn't much socializing going on at this point in the room, the music was too pristine and perfect to even think about trying to talk. He took the music a little darker, melodic, and heavy. I was lost in the space, the music he pieced together truly took me away. And no, this wasn't the booze, or anything else talking. I was completely there, but not at the same time. Bliss.
I walked up to the booth, made myself comfortable in a corner off to the side, and watched his technique a bit. Patrice was extremely focused on his track selection. He then played a track that I hold very dear to my heart. "The Fog (Cid Inc Remix)" by Quivver, is a melodic driving tech house masterpiece that will give you a brief glimpse of what this evening sounded like.
The crowd was all still there till the very end. Nobody wanted to leave. Patrice plays his final statements, and everyone begins to clear out of the venue. I walk in a foggy haze out of the venue, smiling from ear to ear, with my sister, co-journalist James McDaniel, and we were off unto our next adventure.
Project B.’s vision is always coming more and more to light. Bobi and his team are running with full force to offer something unique, forward thinking, and constantly evolving. I am looking forward watching his vision, passion, and work continually shine in the city of Atlanta and beyond.