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Marcel Dettmann interview: From East Berlin to The Matrix

Marcel lets us in on the details of the biggest project he’s taken on this far – as well as what has led him up to this point; from bad grades in music in school, to being a Berghain resident since the OstGut-times. And finally – being asked by Lana Wachowski herself to create the soundtracks to the new Matrix film.

By: Amanda Sandström Beijer

Photos: Alina Rudya

Marcel Dettmann for Playful Magazine, The Matrix movie.

As someone who’s known as a talented producer - the visual aspect may not be instantly acknowledged. But to Marcel they go hand in hand, and it’s all about the concept as a whole.

”It even starts with the name, and then it needs to be appealing by its looks - no matter if it’s a magazine, a piece of art or a cover of an LP. Besides my personal taste there’s something that I’m really passionate about; that it’s serving some bigger purpose. Not the business aspect of it.”

His family comes from Potsdam and he himself grew up 45 minutes outside of the city but used to travel to East Berlin on the weekends until he settled in the city as an 18-year-old boy.

”The wall came down when I was around 12-13, and suddenly the freedom was felt in a completely new way in this city.”

”However, as I grew up in the countryside, I was already used to that freedom somehow."

As a boy Marcel was a social kid who enjoyed skating and hanging around with other like-minded and curious kids.

”I’ve always been social and was really into sports as a kid. I was actually even a German master in Judo at one point”, he laughs.

”Then the transition to music was through the friends I had who were older than me, and who went to clubs in Berlin after the wall fell. They came back to us telling stories from clubs they had visited and brought with them music that we all listened to. They were the ones who introduced me to industrial- and synth pop; let’s say pre techno and electronic dance music. As we didn’t have any money, this was our door to that world.”

Marcel was a big fan of Depeche Mode, even before he spoke English and understood what they were singing about. It was obvious to him that music could teleport strong emotions just by itself.

”I was a young boy who fell in love and had all the common teenage issues, and this was the perfect soundtrack. It was clear to me that they understood and sang about how I felt. Then when I learnt English, I could finally get the lyrics and I realized that it was exactly what I had felt before. I understood what they sang. It’s really interesting.”

”Later I got into indie bands and industrial German music, and slowly it shifted into techno as I had this experience in 92 when I was 14 years old and visited Trésor for the first time. It was such a difference from the EMD parties I had been to before where everyone was standing alone in an experience that was obviously independent. Techno was something completely different: The mood was just like at a punk concert. People talked to each other, shared cigarettes, and had a good time together. It was a community. From that moment on I really got into it and fell in love with the music."

Marcel Dettmann, cover playful magazine, the matrix movie

In school he was not great in music classes, although his teacher could tell that he had a passion for it, and maybe she even planted the first seed that later on made him a DJ.

”She told me that I should play the music I collected and was so passionate about, to my friends. I couldn’t sing or play guitar, but I had a big passion for the music I listened to.”

”And around that time, I started my own punk club in my hometown inside the ’culture house’, but it was only ongoing from 6 to 10 pm, as we were kids.”

Marcel started playing records and met with Norman Nodge who became his friend. They started creating bigger parties in Eastern Germany and he got a job at the record shop HardWax.

”My favourite club here in Berlin ’E-Werk', closed. Then there was a gap between the closing of that one and the opening of OstGut in 98 on New Year’s Eve. So basically in 1999, two months later, I started playing there as a regular. They had somehow gotten my mixed tape and called me. So, from that time and on–”

OstGut had to close down in 2002 when the Mercedes-Benz Arena was built. In 2004 they found a new location, an abandoned power plant, that from then on is better known as Berghain.

He didn’t stop playing there monthly until it was clear that the pandemic was here. And so he traded long hours of touring for studio time, which made him start creating music again, and soon the new album (name of new album if there is one already?) will be released.

”I found the way back”, he says.

”I created a lot of music that is almost finished. I’m 100 percent DJ. I love to create and to play gigs, but I don’t like to travel. It’s been interesting to see what can happen to you without a busy schedule.”

It’s clear when meeting Marcel, that he’s very grounded in the moment and focuses on the present. It’s therefor not surprising when he tells us that he’s never been planning his achievements and dreams, but that he’s rather following a sense of how he wants to live his life.

To me it’s not about setting big goals and achieving them, but seeing the way that leads forward

”To me it’s not about setting big goals and achieving them, but more to see how it leads forward. It’s always nice to think about things you want to achieve – but in the end it’s better to think about the way that’s leading you to a point where you feel comfortable with what you’re doing, and with your life–”

”Just follow your intentions with everything you do. That’s what I’m doing all the time, but you have to be confident enough to keep your focusas there are so many voices that can distract you. People gladly tell you their opinion about how things could be done better or more efficiently. But I’m not doing a job for anyone else. I’m creating something that comes from within me, and it can’t really be rushed by someone else’s take on efficiency or whatever. It needs to come from love, and love should also be the main goal. Love for something. If you don’t have that deep passion, then don’t do it.”

”It’s okay that some people don’t like what you do, as long as you like it yourself. Do what you love and do it with 100 percent commitment, and then everything will fall into place.”

Marcell Dettmann, the matrix movie

Marcel has always somehow had the belief that you can’t make anyone create something through pressure. It probably comes from himself, as he always has hated people telling him what he should and shouldn’t do.

”I don’t give shit for rules. I was always complaining about that even as a young boy in school; when someone tried telling me what to do. It’s not the right way to learn about life. The same goes for over-protectiveness, we must let each other live and embrace life and learn by living, not try to force and control people.”

”Maybe it has something to do with my own inner child, but when people try to control me I get very angry; like fuck you. And as I’m a father of two kids now, I do a lot of things wrong in the same way that my parents did.But giving them the chance to experience things is super important for me – even if I must close my eyes at times. They have to experiment. Otherwise, they’ll be like a musician who can only play from notes but if you take the notes away they don’t know what to do.”