Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering tutor Christopher Jarman, aka Kamikaze Space Programme, and Charlton Ravenberg perform a live techno set in this episode of Catalyst's (formerly dBs Berlin) Studio Sessions series. Watch the performance, read our interview and go behind the scenes.
“Berghain is nothing compared to Recording Studio P2,” jokes DJ and producer Charlton Ravenberg as he grabs his American Spirits and heads outside to settle his nerves with collaborator and Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering tutor Chris Jarman. It’s a beautifully sunny Friday afternoon, but you wouldn’t guess so on set, the dark studio in such a smoke machine haze that the staff were convinced they’d been toking shisha.
The room is heavy with razor-sharp percussion and pounding basslines, too. The techno veterans are halfway through the recording of their Studio Sessions live set, gracing the film team with a sound bite of the button-slamming, multitasking madness they had delivered at Berlin’s most famous nightclub just a couple of weeks before.
Chris, from the U.K., and Charlton, from the Netherlands, have been in the scene since the ’90s. Chris has evolved from an accomplished session musician, to a touring D&B producer, to the experimental musical renegade he is today as Kamikaze Space Programme. Charlton fell in love with electronic music at the seminal rave parties of the turn of the century, an obsession which soon drove him decks-side to fuel huge crowds with his inventive, acid-laced sound. Now regulars across Berlin and beyond’s most prestigious clubs, and both signed to Rotterdam-based label Mord, the good friends have joined forces to formidable effect.
Press play on Chris and Charlton’s earth-shaking live performance below, and scroll down to read the interview and watch the behind the scenes.
“I sort of fell into Drum & Bass by accident and got lucky with a big hit in that scene, but deep down I always wanted to play slower tempos”
Chris, you’re really big on field recordings. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever recorded?
Chris: A Pachinko amusement arcade in Tokyo. There was this one lad who clearly should have been at school. He was on the arcade machines tapping out a intricate rhythm – the machine was full of ball bearings. I had my friend ask him in Japanese if I could record him playing the game. He was a musical genius and he didn’t even know it! I often use this recording for complex metallic rhythms.
I have to ask, how did you come up with the name Kamikaze Space Programme?
Chris: The name comes from the first EP I made for my own label when I was making Drum & Bass as Raiden. I always really liked the the name and it connects with my past. It’s usually the biggest name on the flyer but it’s also my email so I have to type this long name everyday. My next alias will be two letters at most!
At least both of your names combined is only four words, otherwise it would all start to be a bit of a mouthful! Are you going to come up with a name as a duo?
Charlton: Maybe in the future. But for now we just have the same vision musically and go as Charlton / KSP.
You guys have been in the scene since the ’90s. Do you remember the moment – or the party – when you first fell in love with Lady Techno?
Chris: I think I was seeing Jeff Mills play at Lost in London towards the end of the ’90s. I’d never heard music sound so deep, hypnotic and sci-fi without being cheesy. Although, I started out as a Drum & Bass artist. I finally started producing techno around 2010 as Drum & Bass started becoming a regime to my creativity and I kind of went as far as I could go with that alias. I sort of fell into Drum & Bass by accident and got lucky with a big hit in that scene, but deep down I always wanted to play slower tempos. I wouldn’t say I strictly produce techno; I’ve always preferred the blurry lines between genres.
Charlton: I started in 1999 so I missed loads of the ’90s, to be fair. Really, I started to get involved in the early 2000s.
“That’s really how I got into production. I learnt it by myself and then I wanted to boost my knowledge by going to electronic music school”
Did you have a musical background before DJing?
Charlton: Not really. I used to listen to loads of hip hop and other black music in general because of my parents. My dad is a musician and that’s the closest I get to a musical background.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in session music, Chris?
Chris: I was a bass player and I seemed to have a photographic memory for songs. For whatever reason, if a band needed a bass player for a studio session or a tour where there was limited time, I was brought in as I could quickly learn songs. It was a good part-time job, but after a while I wanted to make music for myself rather than being a help for other people.
Charlton, you say in your bio that you like to incorporate techno from “the old days.” What was Dutch techno like back then?
How did you make the transition to producing electronic music? Where did you learn your skills?
Charlton: It all started with some tracker program called Jeskola Buzz, and that’s really how I got into production. I learnt it by myself and then I wanted to boost my knowledge by going to electronic music school in Rotterdam.
Chris: I enjoyed my experiences in the studio more than playing in a band. I found the studio equipment fascinating and loved the fact you could do it on your own at any time. I saved up and bought a basic setup made up of a big Amek mixing console and a bunch of hardware samplers, learning everything on my own via trial and error. In the ’90s you didn’t have websites or YouTube where information was readily available, only magazines which were limited. Producers were also very secretive and protective over their techniques. So, I was completely self-taught, but I feel this was a good thing as all those bad habits I picked up ended up giving me my own sound and I’ve perfected those methods over the years.
“My biggest failures have ended up being some of the best lessons and led on to some of my biggest successes. Too many to mention!”
Say you were just starting out right now. What do you think you would have to do differently to make it?
Charlton: Be on social media, make sexy pictures and pay for promotion. I would never do that, let music speak!
Chris: I’m not sure if you ever really feel like you’ve ‘made it.’ Your tastes and ambitions are constantly in flux and you have ups and downs. I’m not sure I would do anything differently; my biggest failures have ended up being some of the best lessons and led on to some of my biggest successes. Too many to mention!
How has your music evolved over the years and what lessons have you learnt?
Chris: I’ve been through many aliases and genres over the last 20 years: Drum & Bass as Raiden, avant garde experimental music as one half of Dot Product, and Foley rhythmic music as Kamikaze Space Programme, to name a few. The main thing I’ve learnt is just to enjoy the ride, everything follows from that.
Charlton: Well, I’ve got more technical over the years with production and I keep on trying new things. I’m never done learning!
What brought you to Berlin, and how does it compare musically to other cities you’ve lived in?
Charlton: My ex-girlfriend. I would not be here if it wasn’t for her and I would have stayed away from the beast!
Chris: I was coming to Berlin fairly often for gigs at some of the best venues. Each time I came out here, I would stay longer and longer until I just stayed. I grew up on the South Coast of the UK in a tough naval city, not far from London. I’ve lived in Amsterdam, Chicago, San Diego, Tallinn, Bristol and Berlin during the last 20 years. I really enjoyed the solitude of living in Tallinn, Estonia, where I lived for eight years. I found the architecture really inspiring, and there’s not as much stress in Tallinn compared to living in a major city. But, in the long term, it was hard to sustain a music career in Estonia as there’s no music industry. Still, it has inspired my creativity till this day!
After that, I spent four years living in Bristol, which is heavily driven by dub music and sound system culture. I do miss that in Berlin but I didn’t enjoy being back in the UK; it’s a depressing, stressful place to live and I had to get out there once again. Also, since the music venues have been shutting down in the UK, there’s very little happening there unless you are a property developer. I’m starting to see the same thing happening in Berlin which is sad.
“I call him the Jimmy Hendrix of techno as he’s the king of riffs. He’s extremely talented in programming synths, sequencers and capturing a vibe quickly”
You said behind the scenes of Studio Sessions that you kept bumping into each other at clubs and airports before you inevitably decided to start collaborating. The bromance was made to be! What do you love about each other’s sound, and how do you think it complements your own?
Chris: Yeah, we were hanging out at parties and had no idea we were both producers, even though we were aware of each other’s music. Charlton’s sound is chaotic, raw, emotional and very real. I call him the Jimmy Hendrix of techno as he’s the king of riffs. He’s extremely talented in programming synths, sequencers and capturing a vibe quickly.
I’m detailed and rhythm-focused with a strict portfolio of sounds and a background in art and sound engineering. I think we both have recognisable styles which complement each other well; we have way more similarities than differences. Ultimately, it’s just about having fun, enjoying the process and catching a vibe. There’s no pressure for us to do anything unless we feel like it and all our jams or collaborations are always spontaneous, never planned.
Collaborating on a live set looks like it could be a real challenge, and yet you guys make it look effortless. What did it take to achieve that level of synchrony and stay cool doing it?
Charlton: Well, it should be about fun and then the rest will come.
Chris: I guess it’s a combination of experience, understanding what each other does, respecting boundaries, and knowing to let the other person take the lead when they are onto something and when to back off. It’s the first time we’ve jammed together in public and we never plan anything; you can’t make a mistake if you are making it up on the fly. Ironically, during the Studio Sessions recording, we were using Charlton’s phone to create the clock via Ableton Link. It would drop out after some time and we would take a while to realise. Somehow we held it together long enough to get a decent bunch of takes. The vibe is everything!
“It should always be about music – that’s the most important thing!”
What’s your absolute favourite piece of gear?
Charlton: Drum machines – any sort or kind.
Chris: It’s hard to pick just one thing as my setup is more than the sum of its parts. I love my field recorder with coil pick up and contact microphones. I’d be totally lost without these as it’s where the majority of my sounds come from before using bespoke software to manipulate the recordings. I’m a big plugin junkie and midi controllers are also a very important part of the process, particularly my Vestax VCM600 which is mapped as a futuristic dub mixer.
If the two of you got locked in Berghain with only one track on loop, what would it be?
Charlton: ‘Money March’ by C Biz, just to make Chris completely mental. And that’s not even techno; it’s trap music.
What gigs are you looking forward to this summer?
Chris: I’m really looking forward to playing in New York in July and touring China at the end of the summer, to name a couple.
Charlton: If it works out, I’m going to Colombia. That would be my first time out there, and techno is pretty new for them so I’m looking forward to that.
Finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps? Chris, as a Catalyst tutor, I imagine you get asked this question all the time.
Chris: Yeah! I’ve had this conversation many times. I would say you have to enjoy the process of making music, first and foremost, and everything follows from that. There’s no award ceremony or moment where you ‘make it.’ Focus on the small victories that make this journey worthwhile and its cumulative. Be honest with yourself about what you want to create; the only competition you have is yourself. Never stop learning. Forget trends, as today’s fashion is tomorrow’s unfashionable; it’s better to be good rather than cool. Be humble and an easy person to work with. Once things are moving, don’t lose that momentum and drop the ball.
Charlton: My advice is that you should always stay true and real to yourself. It should always be about music – that’s the most important thing!
Meet the sound engineer
Go behind the scenes of this Studio Sessions performance to meet the Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering student who recorded the audio: George Baird.