With a comforting regularity, the local (or visiting) indie rock fan can find refuge at the Absturz monthly event “Indie Küche.” It’s usually every first Saturday. The DJ Team Default Rocks, consisting of school friends Hans-Peter Knappe and Thomas Voigt, serve up guitar-driven melodies in the cosy small club at the Feinkost-Gelände, complete with a video installation of historic dance films and light show. The two music lovers were fed up with what was on offer at other local Indie discos, so they decided to take matters into their own hands. Our music columnist Sabine spoke with Thomas Voigt about the ideal disco in times of big clubs closing down due to declining audiences.
LG: Which new songs were you most keen to present last Saturday?
TV: Two tracks from the new Foals LP What Went Down and a new track from Albert Hammond Jr’s new album. Both have a great drive and are very catchy, although one of the Foals tracks is perhaps a bit too dark for the indie disco.
LG: Cool. I don’t mind the dark. So, tell me about your first experiences in discos, whether they were good or bad…
TV: My first disco experience can be tracked back 10 years. In my home town (Halle) Hans and I visited “Turm” several times. They had different floors for rock, mainstream and 80/90s. Most of the time we were switching floors, but we spent almost 6 hours in the club. We always went out on Wednesdays, but often Fridays and Saturdays too. Pretty exhausting, but we were at school, those were the days…
LG: Was it during the breathtaking switching that you decided to become a DJ?
TV: No, I don’t think so. This happened later when Hans and I got sick of the DJ’s selection and the mix of the genres. We both know each other from school, so we had the same “disco experience”. When we finally were reunited in Leipzig we decided to spend our weekend doing what we had done separately over the last few years: listening to and discussing music. When we are DJ’ing we also talk about the track, great parts or discuss each other’s choices. Going out in Leipzig we were always annoyed by the genre mix of electro, mainstream and indie in the discos. So we wanted to create something reliable.
LG: How did you get started as a DJ? Did you take a course to learn the tricks of the trade, be it the use of turntables, software, lighting and so on. After all, at Absturz you have this wonderful video installation.
Hans and I use Traktor. We’ve been using this since they released the software many years ago. But we just played around at home. We made sets for ourselves. So it was just the logical next step to do it in front of an audience. We never thought about using turntables. We love to collect vinyl, but it’s too precious to carry around and use it for DJ’ing. Traktor also gives us way more possibilities in terms of mixing and choosing tracks. We never know the next songs. We are very spontaneous.
We always adjust the light system at Absturz. They have a huge set-up, but way too many cheesy effects. So yes, we adjust the parameters. For a small club like Absturz the system is crazy big. This causes a lot of trouble because the highs are sometimes too much or the bass is too present. It’s hard to find the right balance because rock music differs from artist to artist. But we want to create a new preset next time because adjusting this live is too complicated and because listening to the sound on the dance floor differs too much from what we hear in the booth out of the small monitor. But yes we have a say in the overall sound. I really enjoy having a fog machine, too. This is always fun. We do not have a fog machine at Absturz, but I’m always happy when another venue has this kind of things.
LG: From this I gather your aims were to create the disco exactly the way you think it should be, but could never find it. Would you say you achieved your goals?
No, sometimes we are dissatisfied, I’ll tell you why: As I said, we enjoy showing each other new songs and we let the audience participate in the process. But of course we are also doing this for the music lovers who are keen to discover new music. But unfortunately this does not always work. If we would only play our favourite songs, the guests would probably leave after one hour. They need hits. This is okay, we enjoy playing classics. There is not set without Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party or The Strokes, but sometimes they not open to anything new. As soon as we play a song that they don’t know, even if it has a great vibe and fits perfectly to the classics, some stop dancing. This is sad. Some people do not appreciate that we search for new songs every week. Mostly they appreciate it, but it differs from set to set. The final achievement would be an audience who welcomes every song. Even the new Foals song was not accepted because the people just did not know it. Nevertheless it’s an awesome song. And sometimes they request the same songs over and over. Every club plays Strokes’s Last Night or Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire. I hate it! We are no Spotify playlist. Choosing music is an art form. It’s individual taste and they should trust us and have a good time. Otherwise I just could queue a NME best of playlist or whatever. I digress… (laughs) All in all we are very happy with our current disco setup.
LG: No problem. Catering for the taste of people is always a fickle business. What have been the most outrageous or hilarious requests from the audience?
Sometimes they are very mean: they ask if we play all night. Or if we could play some hip hop, like Macklemore or whatever. They do not get the very obvious focus of indie in the Indie Küche. Also AC/DC has been requested which is okay because it’s guitar music but it does not really fit with our concept. Sometimes they are disappointed if we do not play The Smiths or The National. But sometimes it’s a question of the mood. People like to have fun. And when some request is very sad e.g. by The Smiths, we often we have to say no, even if we know these are fan favourites. The funniest request was for Indian music. Someone obviously did not get the concept of indie music. Other fan favourites are Turbostaat and some German post punk music. This is just not our cup of tea, that’s why we don’t have that kind of music. People think just because we do it digitally we have 300 terabytes of all the music in the world.
LG: Are requests the only reactions you get from the audience while you are at the pulpit?
No, sometimes they are just happy and thank us. It’s very cute. Some people are visiting Leipzig and have never found an event that only plays indie rock and alternative. But I think also people who live in Leipzig appreciate our event (or at least I hope so). We always see familiar faces. Most of the guests who request a song are very shy and ask kindly if they can request something. But it’s always sad when they do not get the concept and request something ridiculous. And a lot of people are requesting German indie rock by Tomte or Tocotronic. Which is nice, but the half of the audience does not like it so this is always a tricky request.
LG: Do you see signs of the ongoing trend of big clubs losing audiences at the venues you work for?
A big problem might be the missing character of a club and also event. If every DJ plays the same songs people get bored. That’s why we try to make it different every time. Regarding the bigger picture: clubs are not reliable anymore. If I visit the Absturz on Friday I have totally different music (electro sing, eurodance or hip hop). On Saturday we might play with an only indie set. The clubs always want to satisfy a broad audience and thus lose their individual touch. I’d like to visit a club every day of the week and have the guarantee that they play the music I like. Unfortunately this is not economically viable. There is no such audience that likes to listen to rock every day. But it’s too broad in my opinion. This thought of profit could also affect the individual set. As I said we need to play mainstream in order to satisfy most of the guests. But this could mean that recent guests get bored after three sets and will come to our event again. Perhaps that’s the reason that small clubs are more profitable. You don’t need to have an audience of 400 in order to get to break-even. So a small club or a bar with a DJ might be more profitable and satisfy a more individual taste.
As a special treat for our visitors, you can make up your mind if Indie Küche is your cup of tea by following this link.