In Conversation with Len Faki
Interview by Thore Damwerth
As a pioneering DJ, producer, and label head, Len Faki stands as one of the most impactful figures in the current era of techno. With a career spanning over two decades, he has played a pivotal role in shaping the underground scene since the late 90s. Notably, he has been a resident DJ at Berghain since its inception in 2004, while also founding two highly acclaimed record labels, Figure and Podium.
Captivating ravers on international dancefloors while immersing himself in the crowds he plays for, Len Faki always delivers techno of the genre’s highest quality. At the same time, he continuously evolves his sound which has now lead to another peak of his career. Building upon his extensive musical journey and the transformative experiences that have shaped his development through early starts and major successes, Len Faki released his debut LP album, Fusion on the 14th July.
During our conversation with Len, we delved into this forthcoming milestone and explored his pioneering journey through sound and scene, the energy of the industry and its crowds, future projects, and much more…
As a true pioneer in the techno scene, you have been active for many years, leaving an indelible mark on Berghain since its inception and leading multiple successful labels. With your vast experience and influence, where do you currently position yourself in the ever-evolving landscape of electronic music and its scene?
This is a question I ask myself sometimes too. Over the past year a bit more often and at the same time less if that makes sense.
I spent all my time in the studio during the pandemic. The main goal was to update, rethink and question my production skills, to develop as an artist, and to produce an album. Now, after this process, I’m not the same artist and DJ anymore. I came a bit closer to my inner core, to who I am as an artist and my sound has evolved. With that in mind, I need to readjust my place in the electronic music world, but at the same time, I’m not doing that as I’ve never been as clear and confident about my sound as I am today. I’m rooted enough to not feel the need to follow current trends that come and go. As for the present one, I understand where it is coming from and why it works so well at the moment as I was into a similar sound myself in my early 20ies. All good – everyone and everything has its own time. It comes and goes and there will be a new era again soon when energy is not only reduced to hardness and one constant energy level. There is so much more, it’s like the best parts are missing. I prefer a dynamic course, wave-like ups and downs, integrating unexpected elements, surprising my crowd, and opening new, unknown ways and paths for them.
Today you released your debut album Fusion on Figure, it represents a culmination of your unique sound evolution and extensive journey through the electronic music scene, industry, and personal experiences. Can you share what Fusion signifies to you personally?
Fusion unites all my experiences including my beginnings but there has never been a conscious focus on a certain time in my life while in the studio. The album is a snapshot of time. My current view on what electronic music – what it means to me, and what I was able to express through the studio skills I have.
Fusion, like the word itself, is merging different styles and a big variety of sounds. I am mostly known for techno but I grew up with a bigger sound variety that has always been in my life over the years and that is now shown in a bigger picture for the first time.
Building on that, can you tell me more about the creative process behind this album and how it reflects your musical DNA?
During the two-year production time, there were several long periods during which I didn’t work on the album at all but questioned my production skills and developed and updated my techniques. This was an important base for the whole project.
There weren’t many guidelines or concrete plans I followed – most of the tracks came into being during the process. However, there were several themes that I considered.
Movement was one of them. I wanted to create dynamic tracks with lots of modulations in sound and texture that vary in their presence. I love to discover new sounds or effects in a good album even after I have already heard it so many times. This is something I wanted to create.
Contrast was another important element, both in sound and color but also regarding unusual production approaches.
And to name the last one, Patterns for which I delved deeply into sequences, creating unexpected rhythms paired with midi effects that opened up new possibilities.
Fusion is being described as your boldest and most complete artistic statement yet. What message or feeling do you hope listeners will take away from the album?
I would want the listeners to be open-minded about the different styles they may not have connected with me until this album. I wish that they take the time to really dive into those tracks and to spend time with this music while experiencing all the energies and feelings it creates inside of them. I don’t have anything concrete in mind – it will be individual and different for everyone of us.
As a master in connecting with crowds and delivering exhilarating sonic journeys, how do you establish and nurture the unique relationship between yourself and the audience throughout your projects, but mostly, sets?
I think this is the easiest to see in a club. It’s all about energy exchange and transfer. A lot is based on my experience and gut feeling – I sense the energy in the room, I look at the people and try to get in energetic contact with them. Find out where the crowd is in the moment when I take over, physically and mentally. This is the base from where my set develops in my head. There are still questions like do I have to gather, push or connect them? Which path are we taking during the time we have together? I like to take people on a journey. At times with themselves mentally and at times interacting more with the people around them, more physically. I also don’t know where the night will take us. I have my tracks with me but I don’t have selections. My fans know to an extent what they can expect from me but there are also always people who don’t know me whom I want to touch the same way.
My sets can be quite groovy and contain a wide variety of sounds. I like contrasts and surprising people with unexpected turns. Always within the flow and energy of the room and particular moment. I play for the crowd but at the same time, I consider myself to be a part of them. We are all one through the music.
As a label head, you encounter countless emerging talents, especially with the ease of social media accessibility. What do you look for in artists when considering signing or promoting them through your label these days?
Figure is all about music. It’s the only way an artist can get my interest and attention through. I care about talent and passion. We have released many small or as yet unknown artists that we have given their first release for the sole reason that I liked their music. We get way more requests than we can handle, to be honest. Whenever I think about this it makes me sad since I remember very well how hard it was to get this first step into our world. Today it is much easier – the info is out there to find for everyone. I was sending inquiries by fax and getting the phone numbers was almost impossible and a huge hassle in itself. That was the main reason why I always wanted to offer young talent a platform.
As an influential artist who has played a pivotal role in shaping the underground scene, how do you perceive the transformations that have taken place over the years regarding the scene and sounds?
What direction do you envision it heading towards in the future?
The longer I am in this world the more thankful I am about experiencing its beginnings. Not the very first years, I’m not old enough for that, but still in the early days. It was a magical time to see the electronic music world and club culture rise and grow. To be a part of its excitement and transformation and later internationalization of additional countries. There was so much energy and dynamic in this world, so many people with ideals they were fighting for and who wanted to make a difference in this world. New spaces were conquered and boundaries shifted. It was a whole movement and new youth culture that worshiped their clubs and music knowledge. This has changed a lot and not only for the better.
In terms of sound, at the moment, after the pandemic, it’s all about hardness, and I’m not into that. Eventually, it recycles and is an ongoing process of sounds coming back in recurring waves. Quite a while ago I learned that I don’t need to jump on every one of those waves but better follow my own vision of sound. We are all influenced by our surroundings and what might seem impossible now is the standard in a few years. I don’t know where it will take us, or which technical options will be available in a few years that could influence our production options to a whole new level. And I like not knowing this yet.
Finally, beyond the release of Fusion, what can we look forward to from you soon? Are there any upcoming projects, collaborations, or performances you can share with us?
Yes, there is a brand new project coming in September called Hardspace. It arises from my big passion of remixing tracks. It’s something I do to clear my mind and it started with tracks I remixed for my sets to make them unique and define my sound and vision of energy.
Hardspace gives me the freedom to make my own interpretation of tracks that have a special meaning to me. It’s titles and artists that I admire or with which I have special memories. Back from the time when I was a teenager and on those dancefloors, to present and even unreleased ones.
It’s dancefloor-focused, techno to house, and all its facets in between. I’m very excited to share them with the world soon.
Catch Len Faki play at some of his upcoming performances at Awakenings Summer Festival (July 8), Loveland and Hide Festival (August 12), and dive into his deep layers of highest quality techno.