Where are you based?
On the 14th floor, overlooking the Western half of Berlin, Germany.
Where do you work? What do you do?
Exactly there, at my desk to be precise. I’ve been editing the magazine field notes since January and work as a writer, editor and translator for some festivals, labels, and cultural institutions because music journalism is an expensive hobby these days. I do however also freelance for a lot of German-language music magazines. Some people used to joke that I really work for all of them, and now that most of them have died and there are only, like, three left, I can confidently say that yeah, that’s true.
What are you listening to?
Right now? Jim O’Rourke’s Eureka while wondering if he consciously ripped off Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” on “Through the Night Softly.” Recently though? Lots of promos or music related to projects that I’m working on and records that I will review of course, but also very erratically whatever I feel in the mood for. Lots of Merzbow today, some New Order yesterday, Arvo Pärt’s “Miserere” on repeat last Friday and the new Azu Tiwaline remix EP thrown in for good measure whenever I had 20 minutes to fill. I listen to music for about 98% of the time in which I’m awake and I don’t sleep much. Plus, I am obnoxiously fickle – my next super intense four day long black metal phase is always just around the corner, but after a glass of wine or two or three or four you can spot me in my kitchen singing along to Loredana Bertè (especially the “CAZZO!” part) while preparing a lasagna.
How do you discover new music?
Most of it finds me. I download up to 50 promos per week and I try to make sure to give all of them a spin, which is mildly insane. But of course I also like to find something that is not filtered by PR agencies and sent to me so that I hype it. I obviously read a lot of music press and will sometimes buy stuff that I’ve read about in Wire magazine or elsewhere, without even listening to it first. I guess that’s my way of challenging myself, but maybe I’m just romanticising the idea that being a music fan of something means that you sometimes will get disappointed and that this is somehow thrilling. I’ve been a heavy (and I mean heavy) Bandcamp user since I finally created an account in 2016 and while I’m critical of the platform’s near-monopoly within the quote unquote indie world, it is a great tool to find music outside the Western-centric narratives and traditional music industry spheres of circulation. It also has the added bonus that you can compensate people somewhat fairly for their labour. And of course I know a lot of journalists, musicians, label owners, and music nerds who won’t shut up about this or that record so I regularly find out about stuff through beautiful people like these.
What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?
I mostly listen to audio files, which comes with the job since I’m dealing with mostly unreleased material and the days of receiving test pressings are long over. Privately, I have an ever-growing tape collection and I’ve also been buying records since I’ve been 12 years old or so, which is why I have a bunch of them standing around that I like to dust off from time to time. CDs however are not for me – too retro. Apart from the occasional YouTube video or DJ mix on Soundcloud, I don’t stream music. I had a Spotify free account a few years back when I was writing copy for a content platform run by a major label and Daniel Ek probably still thinks I’m a middle-aged man who went through a really rough divorce and can’t stand listening to a Queen song for more than ten seconds. He’d got that for about 33% right.
Where do you do most of your music listening?
At my desk, in my bed and in my bathtub. For some mysterious reason, I’ve however also been going on a lot of walks instead of socialising or going to clubs and concerts since March 2020. I’d like to thank my past self for buying a lot of tapes. For some very stupid reason I cannot listen to music on my not-so-smartphone, so I’ll take my walkman with me. I’ll go as far as the A side takes me and then turn around knowing that the last note will fade out at the exact moment when I open the door to my apartment. Of course though this is only what theoretically should happen but in reality rarely does.
How do you find and listen to pre-release music?
People just keep sending it to me and I’m not complaining (most of the time).
What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?
I could say something about artists sending me Dropbox folders titled “.wavs” with files in them that are called something along the lines of “A1_MASTER.wav,” or complain about the fact that very few people acknowledge the superiority of the FLAC file format, but really what I hate the most about music consumption in digital environments is that it is based on so much exploitation. Whether it’s the songwriters and performers who get fucked over by multinational tech companies and their own labels (which, of course, has a long tradition) or consumers whose data is sold to third parties: all of that is deeply dystopian and we need to imagine and then build better alternatives. If you’re into streaming, want artists to be compensated adequately and maybe even have your say in how your preferred streaming service conducts its business, check out Resonate. Not a perfect model in my eyes, but definitely better than the other ones on the market.
“[I could] complain about the fact that very few people acknowledge the superiority of the FLAC file format”
How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?
This likely is the most ridiculous answer someone, in the year 2021 A.D., could give to a question like this, but I’m still very active on last.fm. Apart from that, churning out a dozen or so reviews on a monthly basis makes it possible to go through a neat little archive by the end of each year. I usually discover a lot of music through that, even though I personally have never heard of it before! I also just write down what I especially like. Obviously, this is helpful once the EOTY list season rears its ugly head, but I’m also fascinated with cataloguing and archiving as cultural techniques. Which is a very sophisticated way of saying that I’m a huge nerd who, for a millennial, is unreasonably fond of his anachronistic habits.
Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist
Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.
Do you tip other people off to new music? How?
Professionally all the time, privately almost never. There’s a few people who I know appreciate the occasional e-mail or message with a recommendation from me, but other than hoping that some people will check out my articles and what I write about, I don’t really approach anyone directly if the opportunity doesn’t arise organically in a conversation. I’m basically a snob by trade and not only is that exhausting for me, but also potentially for everyone around me. I can’t stand the circle jerk aspect of music people talking about music all the time, which is why I try not to contribute to that too much. In fact, I usually enjoy hanging out with people who do not care much about what is probably my greatest passion. One of the most memorable conversations I’ve ever had was with a person who told me that she simply does not like music, but will sometimes lie about it, telling people that she’s putting on the radio from time to time so that she doesn’t alienate them. That was incredibly sad to hear since it made me realise what role acts of consumption play in how we define ourselves and what we think of others. In a weird way though, I could relate to her story much more than to most of the music world professionals that I deal with in my daily life.
Anything you want to “promote”?
You mean apart from a different system than the one we’re living in? Sure. I was asked to do this interview because my friend and Das Filter co-founder Thaddi Herrmann and I started a series in which we will discuss each major work of Jóhann Jóhannsson on a monthly basis. That should take us two years in total. We also translate every conversation into English so that even more people will be able to see what massive geeks we are. The series is called “Jóhann Jóhannsson – A User’s Manual.” The first pieces on his debut album “Englabörn” and his second record, “Virðulegu Forsetar,” one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created, came out in February and March, respectively, and at the beginning of this week we begrudgingly dove in “Dís.”
"I also like to find something that is not filtered by PR agencies and sent to me so that I hype it"