No trip to Berlin is complete without a visit to SchneidersLaden, the legendary synthesizer boutique in the heart of town. And no year for a synth lover is complete without Superbooth, the global gathering that has fast become an electronic sound mecca.
At the helm of both is Andreas Schneider, who has built these institutions by putting the community of instrument builders first. With Native Instruments participating in this year’s Superbooth edition – and with REAKTOR and Blocks connecting with modular synthesis in ever-expanding ways – we took the time to sit down with Andreas to learn more.
Schneiders’ office and SchneidersLaden are both tucked into the sprawling maze of architecture at Kottbusser Tor. Finding the entrance means ringing a doorbell next to a grocery store, then emerging from a stairwell into a cozy, inviting den of electronic instruments. In another storefront, the team are planning Superbooth, a massive cultural event that is part trade fair, part nerd reunion.
Visiting SchneidersLaden and his team has turned into a ritual for those visiting the city. “And Hard Wax,” he adds, meaning the vinyl record emporium down the street. “It helps that we’re both a block away,” he says. “A lot of people come in and they don’t know why they’re here – they’re here because it was recommended to them. And they’re standing there; ‘What is this, what is that?’ And we tell them to come in, feel comfortable, and have a coffee.”
The trick with Superbooth is taking that same welcoming atmosphere and making it apply to hundreds of partners, exhibitors, and artists – and then opening the doors to the public. But what began as a series of exhibits and events around Frankfurt’s Musikmesse has, in Berlin, morphed into a standalone event that inspires others around the world. Now, synth gatherings from the USA to China will often say they want to be “like Superbooth” for their own locale.
“The most important thing is that we meet up with each other,” says Schneider. “We need one place where we all meet up.” That’s particularly important for the “scenery” of the electronic musical instruments world, builders and users alike, he says. “It’s branches of the same tree. We meet up and shake hands and respect each other.”
Making it to Superbooth yourself means making the trip out east to the former DDR community centre FEZ, deep in a tree-lined, multifunctional park either by rail, or for the best chance to take in more music and meet like-minded people, by boat cruise from the centre. Once there, you find a day structured as to balance between interests. “In the morning, there are the pro-talks, talking about business,” Schneider explains. “In the afternoon, public with entertainment, because all the exhibitors are happy to see how the customers react to the products, mixing up everything with the cultural program.”
Attendees aren’t just limited to crowding around booths to get their hands on gear. There’s also a rich workshop program, beginner-friendly events, and DIY classes. School students get special trips and arranged programming, not just from Berlin but from Paris and London and other locations. (“The pro visitors of the future are the students,” Schneider declares.) And you can get your hands dirty, and with builders like Befaco and Thonk, make some of your own gear to take home.
“It’s very important for people to understand that they’re welcome to have stupid questions. Maybe they don’t even know how to hold a soldering iron,” says Schneider. “Perhaps they want the physical education experience, or they want to have a musical instrument that they make on their own, or they need this module that is only available as a DIY kit, and they don’t trust them to get it done by themselves.” Now you’ve got the hardware’s engineer to instruct you on that soldering job.
But even with the pro concept for the mornings and the public and beginner-oriented programming later on, Schneider is all about mixing everyone up. “It’s more like – let’s do something together.” Even the concerts, he says, are about “communication between the exhibitors and the artists,” not just someone up on a stage.
And, oh yeah, be prepared to have Schneider and his team entice you – and the exhibitors – to stay. It’s all part of the community-building program for the industry. “We say – oh there’s no boat shuttle at 7, there’s another at 8:30, but you can have another beer at the front,” he says. “I want to force them to at least stay for another beer, and if they’re lucky they stay for another five beers and we’re hanging out with each other and understanding each other as colleagues and not as competitors.”
If you love patch cords and modular, Superbooth will deliver. But it’s not just one kind of modular, not just the popular Eurorack format. “It’s also three different ways of modular,” says Schneider, “the Serge stuff, the big-jack American things – why do the Americans have big jacks? – and now we have the Buchla again. There’s plenty of possibilities.”
And it doesn’t stop with modular, either. Schneider promises “DIY, experiments, video, interesting new concepts in between outboard and modular.“ And of course, you’ll find software, too; part of the essential toolset for even die-hard hardware lovers, combined with the hardware workflow. “Doesn’t everybody do that?” asks Andreas. Well, just not him. “I’m the only one not having a computer, except for my Atari [ST].” And yes, the Atari is still hooked up, working, and in active use.
Okay, so what are some highlights Andreas looks forward to this year?
Well, on the first day, there’s some serious inter-generational Schneider action, as Andreas will help his two-year-old son play a public concert on a kid-friendly instrument called the Dato Duo. The mighty Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records, will play a TRAKTOR DJ set on the boat cruise home that first day. And Andreas says he looks forward to checking out concerts late into the night, both at the FEZ and at an official afterparty at C-Base – the infamous Mitte hackerspace said by its organizers to be in the remnants of a crashed spaceship.
More highlights recommended to us by the Superbooth team:
- SchneidersLaden staff teaching modular beginner workshops
- Soldering workshops by Verbos Electronics
- Lecture concerts, combining artistry and tools, with the likes of Caterina Barbieri, Richard Devine, Zähl and Mark Ernestus
- Discussion of live performance collaboration with Sebastian Mullaert, Mathew Jonson, and Johanna Knuttson
- Marc Caro sharing movies and soundtracks
- And an ensemble of modular synthesizers, open to people discovering new ways of playing sounds together
This year, local political figures and even long-standing supporters from FEZ got invites, including GDR-era sports events backers and today’s chamber of commerce.
At a previous instalment, you might have even run into a surprising Andreas connection. “I forced my dentist to come to the Superbooth,” he says. “He came with his wife – no knowledge about anything – but they were impressed by the passion of the people. He just knows dentist congresses.”
Two years on, the dentist has excitedly told Andreas that he’s invested in music software, and he and his wife finished their first track together.
And maybe that’s the perfect encapsulation of what makes this event so important to Berlin and the world. “The importance for the society is more at the creative end of the line,” says Andreas.
Native Instruments will be at Superbooth from Thursday May 9, to Saturday May 11.
At 12h and 15h everyday we will be pitting users together in a Game of Blocks; come and sign up to win prizes.
At 16h everyday, there is the opportunity to meet some of the makers behind our leading products, along with NKS partners and developers.
Finally, at the end of each day from 17h there will be a live jam session hosted by Native product specialists.
You can check out our events at Superbooth here.
Photo credits: Camille Blake