Rampa: “I Think The Only Real Plan We Have Is To Keep It Slow”

Rampa is a key figure in the Keinemusik label and collective, which just celebrated its 50th release. Though his “keep it slow” philosophy has been a key to their success. Alice Austin learns more.

15 min
RAMPA FULL BLEED V2
Nov 27, 2019
·
By
Alice Austin

Rampa has a helluva lot of friends. These friends seem to have shaped his career more than any other influence. They were by his side when he broke into his pal’s brother’s basement to play on his decks age 12. They were there to swap music after he bought his first mixer age 13. It was with friends that Berlin’s Rampa coordinated his first rave in an abandoned building near Freiburg’s central station, and they remained by his side as his career unfolded. In fact, most projects and opportunities have come about from people he met at college or friends from his local skate shop. And, since Rampa launched his label Keinemusik in 2009 with (quelle surprise) four friends, the collective’s communal chillness has led them, unrushed, on a steady upward trajectory to their 50th release this year.

Today we know Rampa as one of house music’s best-selling artists; an eclectic producer with a tendency towards the unexpected. He’s unafraid of bringing Afro-house, legato vocals, bongos and unpredictable breaks into his tech house creations. But it’s impossible to survey Rampa’s achievements separately from those of Keinemusik. For the past decade, they’ve made an annual habit of topping the house and techno charts, filling dance floors from Singapore to LA, selling out showcases at Barcelona’s Off Week, and hosting familial specials at ADE. And as an artist, he has grown and flourished alongside his collective — a living, breathing testament to the power of collaboration.

Speaking to Rampa from his Berlin apartment, it’s easy to see why he has so many friends — the dude’s amiable as hell. He wears thick rimmed glasses and a Sci-fi Fantasy beanie that’s not quite pulled over his head so it sticks straight up like Spinelli’s from Recess. He likes to be around skateboarders, although he says he no longer skates, and he spends much of his spare time hanging out at Civilist, a skate shop not far from his apartment. The skate lifestyle seems to have shaped much of his personality — he’s laid back, positive and refuses to take himself too seriously.

Today he’s cheerful despite being slightly sick. Rampa has just come back from a tour of the East Coast with his good friend and Keinemusik comrade &ME. And after spending five days partying with other headliners and the dudes from Rockstar Games, he’s feeling slightly under the weather. Nevertheless he chuckles constantly, never missing an opportunity to poke fun at himself and the seriousness of the industry he’s part of. He’s incapable of keeping still, constantly fidgeting with his glasses or beanie, speaking in an Americanised German accent as he recalls his first venture into the world of music.

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Rampa’s story begins in the depths of the Black Forest. He grew up in a small village called Merzhausen in the South West of Germany. “I did a lot of work with the animals,” he says. “It was awesome. I had sheep, chicken, rabbits, [and] pheasant.” But when Rampa hit adolescence, he soon found he needed more than just poultry for entertainment.

“The garden got boring,” he says. “So I started playing drums and then I got into DJing when I was 12 because of my best friend’s big brother. He had a set-up in the basement.” Back then Wi-Fi wasn’t a thing and YouTube had yet to be invented, so Rampa would listen wide-eyed to the stories of this big brother who’d report back from May Day raves and weekend-long parties in Berlin. “He’d tell us about the gas masks and the raves and the techno parties, and we started sneaking into his room and playing his 150 BPM techno. And from there I bought my first vinyl and mixer.”

As Rampa began to form his own record collection, he also got into skating, whiling away summer holidays grinding on ramps in Freiburg and obsessively watching videos from the US. “From there I got into punk rock and hip hop and then I got into turntablism. So I got my Technics and would come home from school and spend about half my time scratching.”

By the time he was 15, Rampa was making his own productions in Fruity Loops on his Microsoft desktop, which only had enough space for three tracks. To quench the urge to get music out into the world, he started to make his own mixtapes, distributing them amongst his friends. It was around the same time that Rampa and his friends started throwing their own parties, hoping to breathe a little life into the dead-zone in which they lived. “We rented small bars and used some off-locations,” he says. “There were a lot of forests with huts, and there were also a lot of abandoned buildings around the train stations. Now it’s all offices, but back in the day there was nothing but graffiti and space.” This DIY spirit would go on to inform much of the Keinemusik story.

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Keinemusik’s journey begins with Rampa sneaking around a studio. “When I came to Berlin in 2003, I started working at Trixx Studios,” he says. “That’s where André (&ME) was doing an internship. We clicked pretty fast and started doing night shifts together. In the evening we were supposed to clean up but we stayed in the studio all night making music. We had everything you could dream of: big consoles, classic synths, classic drum machines, everything. It was like paradise.”

A short time later they met Adam Port, Reznik and Keinemusik visual artist Monja Gentschow through friends. The five new friends realized they shared the same laidback mindset and love for experimental house and collaboration. So in 2009 Keinemusik was formed. “We had no strategy then, and we have no strategy now,” Rampa says. “It all grew very slowly and consistently over the last ten years. And I think the only real plan we have is to keep it slow.”

Rampa says that because they do everything themselves, Keinemusik only has the resources for five releases a year. “It has kept us slow because we had to do everything on our own and we didn’t know how to do it, so it took us time. And I think when you put more time into something it’s better quality and has more value.” He remembers feeling frustrated that other collectives and labels would shoot past them in recognition and popularity, but now he’s grateful for it. “In the long-term, we’ve slowly grown in a healthy way and we still have control over everything.”

In 2010 the crew found a creative home in Stattbad, a re-purposed public swimming pool in the Wedding neighbourhood that housed a thriving creative community. Keinemusik occupied the rooftop penthouse and could take the elevator downstairs to the basement where they hosted their label parties. “Stattbad was so special because the dance floor was the swimming pool and the DJ was at the lowest point so the people were all above you,” Rampa says. And it was in this very swimming pool that his grandmother passed her swimming exam — he has the certificate to prove it. “It was the dream,” Rampa says. “I have really good memories from there. But they turned it into offices in 2016 so we had to leave.”

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Rampa has been producing genre-spanning music for various labels since he first moved to Berlin. His first release on Keinemusik came in 2009 with the Wife EP, and as his reputation as a producer grew, so did his DJ career. By 2010 Rampa and his Keinemusik comrades were venturing beyond Germany to places like Ibiza, Norway and the US. Soon there was Ukraine, Georgia, Rome, and Miami. And from 2014 onwards it went completely berserk — Columbia, Indonesia, and Australia. Rampa barely had a weekend to spare. But in mid-2015, seemingly at the peak of his career, he decided to take a break from playing.

“I don’t enjoy playing 20 shows a month,” Rampa says. “In 2015 I was playing too much, I needed to take a break. So I took a year off. And then I thought, ‘Okay, I don’t enjoy it anymore. How can I continue to enjoy it? And I started playing show by show, let’s see how it goes, and I tried to find a good balance.” Rampa now caps his shows at 42 per year. He ponders why other DJs wear themselves out playing 300 shows a year. “I guess they do it for money and fame, and it’s human nature. Everything is like more, more, more. Faster, faster, faster. DJs go from zero to huge in what, eight months?”

Rampa recalls a sold-out Keinemusik party last month in London. “Afterwards the promoter said,’Next year we’ll go in a bigger venue!’ And I said, ‘Why would we do that? Let’s get a cooler venue and have a nicer decoration!’ And the promoter was like, ‘Okay yeah I see your point.’” Rampa and Keinemusik refuse to get swept up in the bullshit. They’ve been treading their own path since 2009, and Rampa’s productions are a case in point.

Rampa produces on Ableton, but likes to make some good old-fashioned analog noise too. “I have a lot of hardware, a lot of synthesisers and drum computers and effect units. I usually just go to the studio, bang on random things and record. No thinking, no planning, no nothing.” He then lies in his bed or on the sofa and uses this “dirty” material to produce music “with a little more character. I try to break the obvious expectations, like the break will start maybe a half bar earlier than it should. And then it takes like 45 minutes to two hours to produce a track. BUT—” he pauses dramatically — “then my head fucks me up for like three months until it’s released.”

Rampa recalls his “No War” remix for Âme. “I was watching TV and the email came through from Âme so I thought, ‘Okay, in case I forget I’ll just login to my programmes and put the track in the right timings so everything is ready. And then I just started doing it and it was super fast and it sounded cool so I sent it.” He listened to the track in his car the next day and started second-guessing. “I was being so critical because they told me I’d be on a release with Solomun, Dixon, Marcel Dettmann. And I was like ‘Fuck, this is important. It needs to be on point.’ And it fucked me up for like three months. Then I made like six versions, and in the end I used the first one.”

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Keinemusik’s 50th release, Terrace/Garden, by Rampa and &ME, embraces the breadth and scope of their productions. “Garden” is a euphoric and melodic slow techno track, while “Terrace” is all hyperactive Afro house. And, unsurprisingly, the release came about from a collaboration with old friends. “We made the release for Circoloco Ibiza’s 20th anniversary,” he says. “We named the tracks after the floors of the club, and that was the inspiration — to match the different vibes of the floors.”

It was originally released on vinyl with Circoloco, but due to popular demand, the crew decided to release it digitally on Keinemusik. “And it happened to be our 50th release…” Rampa pauses thoughtfully. “We know it should be something that we planned, but we thought, whatever, it comes as it comes. We’ll release it. The world will still keep spinning.”

No narrative could fit Keinemusik’s 50th release better — because the plan is there is no plan. And despite the sellout shows and world tours, deep down Rampa is still sneaking around in basements with his best friends, totally in love with music, refusing to take life too seriously.

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