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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.”

Not settling to rules, may also apply to homes. Every fifth year, since he was 18, Marcel has moved into a new place. Nowadays he lives together with his family. At one point they let the architecture firm Studio Karhard, who also designed Berghain and Panorama Bar, design their home.

”I get bored pretty quickly. And to me the abode has never really been about the home, as in the walls and the roof. It’s what it feels like to come home and what you come home to. Home is a difficult word to me because I never really had a home in my early years - like with a garden and a dog and all of that. I grew up in classic public housing. For me it’s more important to come back to my beloved ones.”

Although when it comes to cities, it’s different. In some ways it’s actually about the city per se.

It’s not about Berlin, it’s about East Berlin. I feel connected to this place on a deep level. It’s the vibe, I feel at home. Sometimes very rough, sometimes very dirty - but it’s home.

”I would’ve chosen to live in Berlin even if I wouldn’t have had a family here. Although it’s not about Berlin, it’s about East Berlin. I feel connected to this place on a deep level. I’ve been here my whole life, as my grandparents lived in Prenzlauer Berg. But it’s the vibe here. I feel at home. Sometimes very rough, sometimes very dirty - but it’s home.”

-—————————————————PART 2——————————————————-

Marcel’s music production took a new turn last year as he was asked by film director, producer, screenwriter and composer Tom Tykwer and filmmaker Lana Wachowski to create the music for the new Matrix film.

”Tom, who’s a friend of mine introduced me, way before the pandemic at Berghain, to The Matrix filmmaker Lana Wachowski and then during the pandemic we talked a lot as they were shooting the film outside of Berlin, in Babelsberg. We started discussing the soundtrack, and she asked me if I wanted to be part of it."

”It was a really nice experience to see how they worked when creating the film, and as it was during the pandemic so it was very hard to travel, and with the control of masks and all the tests. It was super stressful for the production as they couldn’t risk missing any production days.”

”At some point they asked me if I wanted to be part of the sound process, and I was of course very excited to look into how that worked.”

Marcell Dettmann, cover playful magazine, the matrix movie

Marcel got together with the team at the studio to get inspiration, and talked about the difference between normalmusic, and a film soundtrack.

”I’ve never before, created music that should fit to a film, with the scenes, tempo and storyline. It was a really interesting process, and I also made a remix for the score.”

During this process he became close friends with Tom and Lana, and the movie is coming out by the end of December 21.

”The Matrix has been a huge inspiration for me. I really love Sci-fi, and I’ve watched all of the films so many times. I recently watched all three films in a row. They are just incredible and have given so much to so many people.”

The films were out between 1999 and 2003, so it’s eight years now since theywere released.

”Looking behind the curtains of what they have created was super cool.”

Marcel was also asked by Wachowski to play a small role in the film but after all, creating the soundtrack was the most exciting part for obvious reasons.

”This has been my main goal during the pandemic. Meeting with amazing and talented people and creating something incredible together. It’s been giving me so much energy. This is something that kept me floating in a time when we lost everything. So, in some way, The Matrix saved my life I would say.”

”But, of course it had its challenges. Normally I’m thinking and working in numbers, meaning creating sounds by minimal time frames. I’m usually making a loop, arranging it and that’s it. But filmmaking and the sound created as soundtracks are created by notes. One is composing in a totally different way - you don’t have a groove, it’s just sounds.”

When Marcel took on the challenge at first, he created something that was close to what he is normally producing. Although as he showed it for the producer, he understood that it wasn’t

the way to go.

I told them ’I think this fits perfect’, and they replied ’it’s a cool club track, but it doesn’t fit for the scene, sorry.’

”I told them ’I think this fits perfectly’, and they replied ’it’s a cool club track, but it doesn’t fit for the scene, sorry.’ and I understood that it’s not about having a 4/4 kick drum, but about creating a special moment. So, I learnt step by step how I could deal with this new way of creating noise, and I really loved that. Everything needs to be on point.”

”I learnt to push myself to the backseat and observe on a completely new level. Not forcing the work but creating a frame for something. The frame for something really beautiful. It took some time to understand, but I studied it very closely before I understood how it could be created and how I needed to think.”

We all know what music does to films and Marcel’s sound is to be found throughout the whole new movie.

”Without music the feeling is not there, although the pictures are great. But when adding the perfect sound to a beautiful picture - the whole experience wins you over.”

When asking him if it’s something he’d consider doing again, the answer is clear:

”Of course, I love it. To take some steps back, observing what is and enhance the whole mood. Thinking about the picture, instead of creating something out of the blue - it’s such a nice feeling.

6 quick ones

Mallorca or New York

”It depends on which mood I’m in, so probably both. Quick holidays in the sun or getting new inspiration.”

Oysters or Schnitzel

”I was vegetarian the last two years during the pandemic. But since I started touring again, I’m super into beef, so Schnitzel.”

Museum or Theme Park

”I love rollercoasters. Of course, also museum, but I love the feeling I get at a theme park.”

Airplane or Train

”Train all the way. I hate airplanes.”

German Kneipe or Rooftop bar

”Kneipe! I don’t like having cocktails in fancy places. I prefer a beer and a cigarette in a smokybar.”

Red or blue pill

”Blue, I love blue.” (We double check the meaning on www.; In The Matrix the blue pill brings you to the dream, and the red pill to reality) ”Although if my life was all just a dream right now, I wouldn’t want to wake up from it.”

Credits: Location: Nhow Hotel Berlin.

Photography assistant: Miriam Kolbe

Makeup & hair: Zeina Idris

Clothes: Séfr


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