Arno Völker and Simon Birkenfeld both have ample expertise in electronic music. Beginning their journey with drum and bass, the two racked up countless memories and experiences in that community before continuing their respective paths – PR and marketing for Simon, and for Arno he would go on to curate his Einzelkind alias while operating esteemed tech house labels La Pena and Pressure Traxx. Individually, their talents are impressive – which is why the result of their collaborative work is a must-listen for any fan of quality electronic music.
Collectively, Arno and Simon make up Hot City Orchestra, and they’ve just released a proper EP on Infuse – the sub label of famed clubbing brand FUSE. Arno and Simon recently took some time with us to discuss the transition from drum and bass to more groove oriented rhythms, and provided great insight and comedic relief throughout the discussion. Read the full interview below, and make sure to stay connected with Hot City Orchestra in 2016.
“The Observatory EP” can be picked up through Juno Records with a digital release forthcoming in the near future
Greetings guys, thanks for taking the time with us. I’d like to start with some brief history!
So you both met in the late 80’s, and originally began making drum and bass? What were your respective musical backgrounds?
Simon: We actually met in the nineties, even though it feels like we know each other already that long. Maybe our press picture got you on the wrong track? Our photographer used a retro filter on that one…
Before I started listening to, DJing, and producing drum’n’bass, I was a lot into hip hop. When I got my first turntables, I had a plan to start djing with rap-music. A few weeks later, I visited my first jungle / DnB-party and got immediately hooked with it and bought my first DnB-records.
Arno: For me everything started with a tape that my mum used to pump in the car. It was called “Breakdance” and contained stuff like Herbie Hancok – “Rock it”. This was my first contact with electronic music and it influenced everything i did ever since. I always was into bass. So I was into some Miami Bass stuff, some old 90s hip hop and then Jungle and Drum ’n Bass.
How long were you both involved in the drum and bass scene before moving on to new endeavors?
Simon: Something like 10 to 14 years.
Who were some artists and clubs that influenced you in the formative years?
Simon: We both had our own event-series in Frankfurt and were lucky to invite our favorite DJs back then. Storm, Bailey, Flight, D-Bridge, Digital and Photek, and the whole Metalheadz-style was a huge inspiration.
Arno: Dope Dragon, V records, Photek, Jonny L, Metalheadz, Ed Rush + Optical
Clubs: MS Conection, Fabric, Blue Note , Bar Rumba, Robert Johnson, Space Place, Phantom Büro
Simon, I understand you went with the marketing/PR route for a while, and Arno you kept at it musically as Einzelkind and running La Pena and Pressure Trax. Can you each tell me about how you made these decisions, and share some insight about your respective paths over the years?
Simon: I produced an album together with one of my favorite producers back then and after pre-contracts with a major and renegotiations and a lot of trouble, it never got released. So I decided to move forward and start with something new to make a living. Marketing and PR is for me something where I can be creative as well. This is really important for me. Also, I’m involved in a lot of projects and clients / brands around music.
Arno: As for all the things I do they just come together naturally. I wasn´t planing anything. I was just bored with Drum ‘n Bass in general. Both the music and the parties, so I went to my studio and switched the tempo to 125 bpm and started messing around. I gave the three tunes from this session to a few labels and they got signed straight away. I was super happy and never really looked back.
Musically, what similarities do you guys find between drum and bass and techno/tech-house? The sound of Fuse seems to employ similar bassline styles found in DnB.
Arno: To me there is no difference. It´s music in the first place. And there is just music that I like and music that I don´t like. The guys from Fuse have the same background that we have. Enzo used to spin DnB in the past so maybe it was meant to be this way.
How would you compare the drum and bass scene to the more groove oriented scenes of house/techno/etc?
Simon: It feels like you are trying to compare a flying potato to a pink angora rabbit.
Arno: When I stopped going out to Drum n Bass parties there was a big difference. You had three MCs killing the vibe with their obnoxious talk and everything was about the next big drop when around five the party was over.
When I used to go out to more house and techno parties around that time there was a totally different energy. Slowly building till the sun came up and even longer. Smarter in a way. Keep the energy longer and longer and everybody still smiling at 11 am. I kinda like(d) it . Even though I feel there is a change within the house scene as there are many big time DJs that play the most boring functional music just to get the biggest reaction using cheap FX and everything. With the excuse they have to play like this because they have to work a big crowd or people expect them to play like this. When people expect you to play boring generic music then maybe you should step your game up or think again why you started DJing. Anyway there is enough great music and DJs out there so no worries…
Do you think there should be club nights with both DnB and techno on the lineup?
Simon: We used to promote a few of these concepts back in the day. But it never really worked out in terms of bringing both of those scenes together. It ended up that we always had two separate parties on one event. Maybe the crowd nowadays is more open minded, maybe not! hahaha
Simon: Our first release was on Arno’s label La Peña. First we got the music and then we needed to come up with a name pretty fast. We both liked the “oldschool” sound of that name and also the reference to funk music. Having an Orchestra with us every time we go in the studio is also nice.
The EP has a really nice contrast. Futuro is a deep groovy roller whereas The Observatory takes on a slightly mellower vibe with those pads playing a major role – What was the process like working together on this EP?
Simon: Although the tracks are quite different, the creative process in the studio is pretty similar. We just meet and let it flow. We never decide in advance what mood the track should have.
Arno: But in this case. Our process was a bit different than usual. For the track “The Observatory”, I recorded the vocals at the Ho Chi Minh airport after playing at the great club called The Observatory. For “Futuro”, Simon recorded some vocals in Berlin with Yulya, who makes her first appearance on a House record ever. So we’ve build the tracks around these vocals.
It’s sounding great at home, and we can only imagine what it sounds like in the club on proper sound. How has the feedback been for this EP among fellow DJ’s as well as the response from the dance floors?
Arno: The feedback has been amazing so far. We only gave the tune to a few friends like Ricardo [Villalobos], Dorian Paic, and Markus Fix and they all had some wicked reactions. I went to Amnesia earlier this year and both Dorian and Ricardo played the track and the whole terrace went nuts. This is the best part about making music down in your dark little basement and then go to a packed club like Amnesia and two of your favorite DJs playing your tunes. In moments like this I know why I left school when I was seven to produce electronic music.
Simon: Arno is way better at twerking than me. I’m better in classical ballet. But I think your question was related to music production. Here we have a strict division of work. I play only the white keys and Arno the black ones.
Which do you prefer – Long studio marathons or short dedicated sessions?
Arno: I could stay in the studio 24/7 so I am fine with long sessions, but i think the best tunes don´t take long to produce. If it´s not rolling within the first hour you might as well start something new. I still like to come back to these projects and take the few interesting bits and make something else out of it.
Simon: As Arno lives in Frankfurt and I live in Berlin, we usually have long marathons when we meet.
Can you tell us what you always need with you when working in the studio?
Simon: We just need each other! Hahahaha. To be honest, I think that you don’t need much but your own creativity. Good gear could / should be helpful, but doesn’t necessarily make a good track.
Arno: Just the obvious. A few pills, some midgets and we´re good to go.
Simon: Naked skiing in St.Moritz as every year.
Arno: Winter season is so depressing for me because last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day, you gave it away… So I hope spring is coming soon.
What plans do you guys have for New Years?
Simon: Still skiing in St. Moritz.
Arno: No plan is the best plan.