As he moves into techno veteran territory, Chris Liebing is more than happy to dish his secrets on DJing. Having started DJing hip hop, soul and house, Liebing got the bug for techno in 1993 and opened up Spinclub a year later in his hometown of Frankfurt. He spent the next 15 years making music, DJing and running his label CLR before taking a break from production in 2010. But he hasn’t rested on his laurels since the hiatus. The German’s focus is now on preaching the values of advanced technology in his DJ sets.
Earlier this year, Liebing shared his philosophical and technical approach to techno with Native Instruments through a series of videos and interviews. With MASCHINE MIKRO and MASCHINE JAM at the centre of his set-up, with TRAKTOR, and the PLAYdifferently MODEL 1 Mixer, Liebing has been deconstructing, twisting and moulding tunes to his own will in the quest for the perfect techno set. His ultimate goal? To make people lose themselves in the dance.
Do you think techno is the perfect style of music for people to lose themselves in?
It has these monotone rhythms and not really any other obvious parts in it like riffs or choruses that keep you cheering and chanting as with more commercial types of music or EDM. The more commercial type of music basically wants to distract your mind on the dancefloor. I believe that techno is more there to lose your mind. You don’t want to entertain or distract your mind like you do with watching a movie or watching television, you want to totally get rid of your mind, like, completely stop thinking [and] just be in that present moment.
It sounds like there’s something quite Zen with techno.
There might be. Are you familiar with Alan Watts? He died in the 90s but he’s my favourite philosopher and in his talks he always comes back to the point that there’s only a few things in our lives we do without a reason. One of them is meditation. It’s just supposed to be like you’re in the moment now. There are only two other things we do in our lives like this. One is dancing [and] the other is when you’re listening to or making music. It’s not supposed to get you somewhere, it’s supposed to get you lost in that moment and there is something Zen about it.
Is there anything you find yourself doing in every set to get people into that moment?
Oh there’s really nothing you can do and it’s something I had to learn over the years, and I’m still learning. You always have to adapt to the circumstances and there are many factors that influence the outcome of a night. Maybe two or three people on the dancefloor having a bad time and looking at you not smiling and you think ‘oh my god they’re not having a good time, what the fuck am I doing!’ I think part of it is the experience you’ve accumulated over the years of DJing that helps you get into that thing because the less you have to think about, your set-up or the technology you’re using or the music you want to play, the better it is, the less you are distracted by what you need to do.
You’ve got quite an advanced set-up, how much does that help you get into the flow of a set?
In the beginning it distracts you from getting into the flow because playing with a more complicated digital set-up, where you’re using loopers and samplers and drum machines, you have to think a lot about what button you have to press. But the more I get familiar with it, the more I don’t need to think about what button I have to press, and then it’s like playing the guitar; you don’t have to think about where to put your fingers to play a chord. The better you are at that, the easier it will be to create anything that comes out of this moment without planning it or thinking about it too much. The set-up that I’m using with features Native Instruments gear alongside the PLAYdifferently and Model One mixer, with amazing soundcards like the Antelope Audio. It really makes a huge difference. It is the most intuitive for me and also the most stable and the best sounding that helps me to get into that flow.
With all this new technology, where do you think the future of DJing is headed?
I think it could, very far thinking, go to a place where you can think of a certain sound and create it in a certain way that you need it right now. I have many moments where I’m DJing and I’m starting to create a certain vibe and atmosphere and there’s something trippy going on and in that moment I’m thinking ‘oh if now a little bell would be coming in on the top, flying around, that would be great!’
Finally, let’s settle this once and for all; what’s the optimum BPM for playing techno?
I used to play much, much faster but I think that was because of the lack of sound quality and production in the early days and I thought I had to make up the energy that was lacking in the track by speeding up the tempo. I’m pretty happy around that 126bpm thing right now with the music I’m playing. But then again ask another DJ and he’s going to tell you something totally different, which is great. That’s the beauty of it; everybody has his own approach and his own ideas behind it.