Brandt Brauer Frick are unstoppable. In 2010, the German trio’s debut album, ‘You Make Me Real’, successfully fused techno and classical music. The two forms are so different - regimented rhythms and laptop production on the one hand, complex musical theory and virtuosity on the other - you’d be forgiven for thinking a true hybrid was impossible. But tracks such as ‘Bop’, a gently building pulse of shuffling polyrhythms, rich, resonant pianos and warm synth bass, saw them pull it off in some considerable style. ‘You Make Me Real’ may have been built from classical sounds, but the result didn’t sound out of place in a minimal techno set.
In 2011 Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer and Paul Frick took their genre-defying experiment to the next level with the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. Think of it as BBF V2.0. They’ve ditched the computers they used to arrange ‘You Make Me Real’ and expanded the band to a ten-piece so they can play handcrafted dance grooves completely live. Earlier this year at the Eurosonic conference in Holland, they recreated ‘You Make Me Real’ on stage using 80 pages of sheet music per track. The result was weird, compelling and unlike anything else. Dates across Europe followed. An appearance at Coachella in April 2011 kicked off a festival season that includes ensemble shows at Glastonbury, Sonar, North Sea Jazz, Haldern Pop and Bestival.
There’s also a new album, recorded using the same handmade approach. ‘Mr Machine’ sees the group reinterpret five tracks from ‘You Make Me Real’ — Mi Corazon, Bop, You Make Me Real, Caffeine and Teufelsleiter. There are also two cover versions — ‘Pretend’ by Emika and ‘A 606 N Rock N Roll’ by James Braun — although they’re so different they amount to new songs. A completely new track rounds things off.
According to Paul Frick, there are more differences than similarities between the two records: “‘You Make Me Real’ was recorded with just the three of us. A lot of the material was improvised and then put together, often cutting and editing it in a very detailed way. ‘Mr. Machine’ benefitted from the know-how and incredibly broad sound spectrum of ten musicians. Our ensemble has quickly grown together to become a real band and the ensemble album has a vibe that reflects the openness and artistic exchange we are lucky to experience with the other ensemble members. We have written all the orchestral parts in advance, but often the other musicians brought their own ideas into it and surprised us with interesting sounds and grooves. On ‘You Make Me Real’, we still used some effects and more synths, whereas ‘Mr. Machine’ is completely unplugged, except for the Moog synth, which is amplified through a bass guitar amp. ‘You Make Me Real’ was still ‘produced’. On ‘Mr. Machine’ there's nothing like that at all.”
It was a much quicker process, too. ‘You Make Me Real’ took a year to make, whereas Mr. Machine took just five “very long and intense” days to record. While the two albums share tracks, the new versions are substantially different. “To just recreate them would have been very boring,” says Brauer. “So we searched for ways to take them rather as a basis for something new. After playing them live with the whole ensemble for the first time at Eurosonic, we realized that the pieces had changed even much more than we had planned. We fell pretty much in love with this whole process of transformation, and then we knew that we wanted to record it.”
While the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble represents the next stage for the titular trio’s project, it also sees them finally realizing the original idea. “The ensemble is about taking it to the next level, but it’s what we wanted to do from the start,” says Brandt.
The start was three years ago. Daniel and Jan are old school friends. As Scott, they made dance music, hypnotic, minimalistic, jazzy stuff with real instruments. Paul contacted them via Myspace after hearing one of their tracks. “We listened to each other’s music and liked what we heard, so decided to meet up in Berlin,” remembers Paul. “We heard a piece of Paul, ‘Ya Esta’, that was techno-inspired but completely acoustic with weird piano sounds. We thought it would be great if we did a project to combine both our approaches. We tried it and the chemistry was really good. We just knew we had to do more.” adds Brandt.
Three years later, they’re making music using an opulent and unconventional instrumentation: violin, cello, harp, piano, trombone, tuba, timpani, marimba, vibraphone, drumset, various percussion and a Moog synthesizer. Daniel, Jan and Paul found the other ensemble members on the Berlin contemporary classical music scene. Most of them play in high-profile ensembles like Adapter, Kaleidoskop or Ensemble Modern, others in jazz bands like Formelwesen. On occasion, the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble also features Ninja Tune vocalist Emika — see the track ‘Pretend’.
‘Mr. Machine’ is a record that puts them alongside such august names as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but with considerably more groove. More than anything, Daniel, Jan and Paul are keen that the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble are not written off as a curiosity. “Often people focus a lot on this whole "cross-over" aspect,” says Brauer. “We wish people would simply notice we have good chords, melodies etc. and take the music as it is. Because we make it the way we feel, and not for other, let's say purely conceptual reasons. Some only seem interested in how it’s made. Some reviewers perceive us as minimal techno, some as modern classical, some as nu jazz and so on. But we don’t divide the world into techno and non-techno.”
He's right. Don’t bother trying to out the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble in a box. They don’t fit.