Berlin’s Paul Kalkbrenner is a unique international talent - with eight studio albums and more than 2.3 million Facebook fans, he is a superstar of the techno scene. Paul’s desire to experiment musically is supported in his hometown Berlin, where he watches Bayer Munich regularly and keeps his feet on the ground. He can rave with the best of them, raise his arms to full dance floor delirium, but Paul's head will never spin right off.
Paul Kalkbrenner’s demanding compositions are full of energy... they exist to take listeners away from the everyday, from the weekly grind, into rapture - into art, ecstasy, absurdity, friendship, hope and love.
Just 12 years old when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Kalkbrenner watched, as East Berlin became an anarchic playground for a previously oppressed generation, recently freed from an overbearing state. Techno music became a way of expression. In the autumn of 1992, together with his friend Sascha Funke, Paul started to DJ at local youth clubs. Very quickly Paul and Sascha were either DJ’ing or obsessively collecting records as electronic dance music’s first tidal wave spilled over dance floors in Berlin’s legendary clubs, Tresor, Planet, Walfisch and E-Werk.
“The city had been crazily divided before,” Paul explains. “And suddenly in the same club there were West Berlin drag queens hitting on East Berlin techno hooligans. Absolutely everything changed. For East German youth there had been no part of life that was not touched by politics. Always the flags, the anthems and the uniforms - this was peace, love and pancakes... for the first time we had a chance of doing something hedonistic, what we wanted as individuals.”
At 18, he took a job at German television, spending his days sitting in editing suites watching as staid German political parties held national conferences. This would make him enough money to buy audio equipment, to produce his own tracks, Paul wanted to play his own music live.
Paul’s first tracks were released on Ellen Alien’s newly founded BPitch Control label in 1999. In contrast to the darker, monotone sounds that characterized techno at the time, Paul’s music was considered more melodic. After a number of 12” singles, Paul realised he was better suited to producing albums - in 2000, he released Superimpose, followed by Zeit in 2001. His third album, Self (2004) resonated beyond the dance floor at a time when the punk-ish sound of electroclash was dominating the dance scene – it was deemed a statement of creative independence.
In 2004 Berlin-based film director and self-confessed Kalkbrenner fan, Hannes Stoehr got in touch with Paul. He planned to make a movie about an electronic musician in Berlin’s techno scene around 2000 and wanted Paul to produce the movie’s soundtrack. As the script for the film developed, Hannes suggested Paul might well be perfect in the starring role.
Paul and his old friend Sascha Funke moved to Aix en Provence for six months. There, far from Berlin’s dreary winter, Paul came up with some of his most diverse and mature compositions yet. “Techno always did have a touch of melancholy,” Paul explains. “It could be really sad – it could touch a heart gently. And there’s a difference between music that’s
just for popular entertainment and music that’s serious. I was making serious music.”
Paul returned to Berlin to start shooting Berlin Calling. The result is an unconventional but outstanding performance. Somewhere between Paul Kalkbrenner and his character “Ickarus” an intimate dialogue developed between actor and audience. “I'm not an actor,” Paul concedes. “But I merged with that guy for so many years, that's why I could play the part authentically.”
Following a successful premier at the Locarno film festival in Switzerland, Berlin Calling kept drawing audiences, playing in cinemas around Europe and staying on the big screen at Berlin’s Central Kino for several years. The soundtrack went platinum and the single, Sky and Sand, spent 121 weeks in the German singles charts, a German record.
At the end of 2009, Paul split with his long time label, BPitch Control, “at a certain age, a man seeks to take responsibility for himself.” A sold out European tour and a documentary followed. Made with help of the Berlin Calling team, Max Penzel and Hannes Stoehr,“2010 - A Live Documentary” featured an 8-camera shoot of 15 concerts, with computer graphics created by Pfadfinderei (who also worked on Berlin Calling). The documentary remains an intimate insight into Paul’s life on the road, sprinkled with his dry, deadpan humour.
In June 2011, Paul released his seventh album, Icke Wieder. On this album, Paul brought the dreamy qualities of “Self” back to the dance floor. 18 months later, he released his next album, Guten Tag. “It was the first album where I knew what I wanted to do, sat down and did it," he explains. "I went deep down to old sketches, through my entire archive, and tried to grab things I thought were too difficult or unachievable at the time. What makes it so special for me is that it's somehow the essence of my sound.”
These two self-released albums, Icke Wieder and Guten Tag, are Paul’s bestselling albums yet - both went top five in his native Germany, with Guten Tag topping the charts in Switzerland as well. “It’s still pretty strange,” muses Kalkbrenner, ‘that it’s my techno music that’s being heard in these halls. Sometimes at live shows, where everybody’s screaming and things are going crazy – it’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for 14 years. I’m not going to stop now.”