Artist of the Month: Boris Brejcha
Artist of the Month: Boris BrejchaApril 10, 2023
When I connect with Boris Brejcha over Zoom from his home in the German town of Gelnhausen, the producer is between two worlds. It’s the last week of March and the end of Brejcha’s annual winter vacation, which he largely spends making music alone in his pared-down basement studio. In just a few days, he’ll leave the quiet to go back on the road, with dates booked every weekend until December. Brejcha has also mapped out the year in releases for his label, Fcking Serious, with the Level One EP next up on April 21st. “To have a vacation is super-nice for three months, as it’s enough time to be creative,” Brejcha says in careful, considered English, before adding that he’s now happy to get back on tour.
Brejcha’s creative winters have made him one of electronic music’s most prolific, and idolised, artists. When at home, he follows a “super strict” routine: office admin on Mondays, then up to nine hours each day in the studio until the weekend. Brejcha has come out of this year’s vacation with a lot of new music, from “relaxing” mood pieces to the full-throttle, trance-inflected melodic house and techno he coins ‘high-tech minimal’. Ginger, the producer’s frequent vocal collaborator and girlfriend, also joined him on two new tracks. All this productivity feeds into Brejcha’s DJ sets, which are composed entirely of his own music.
Brejcha’s April schedule alone illustrates the explosive success he’s achieved on his own terms, without major label backing or big-name collaborations. First up was techno marathon Time Warp in Mannheim, across the river from Brejcha’s hometown of Ludwigshafen. Next, he’ll fly to Mexico City to begin a bus tour through North America, which includes two milestone debuts: back-to-back weekends at Coachella and a headline show at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It’s a run of shows befitting Brejcha’s current star power as a producer and performer.
Brejcha’s distinctive Venetian-inspired joker mask, which he adopted 15 years ago as a nod to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, has become his emblem, printed on t-shirts, integrated into tour visuals and worn on faces in the crowd. Unlike other masked artists, Brejcha’s mask was never about staying anonymous. (By now, his 1.5 million followers on Instagram know the real guy.) Brejcha removes the mask mid-show, allowing him to play with dual personas. “Every artist I know with a mask, they use it from beginning to end,” he says. “One time, I decided to pull it off; I don’t know, maybe it was too hot. Since then, I have done it every time in the middle of my set, and the people love it, because they see the real person. You have like two shows in one – one with the mask, which is a bit of mystique, and then one that’s just Boris Brejcha.”
Brejcha’s journey into music began with a traumatic event in 1988, when he was six years old. Together with his parents and seven-year-old sister, Brejcha attended the Flugtag ’88 airshow at USAF Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, an hour’s drive from their home. During the aerial display, three aircraft collided and crashed to the ground, killing three pilots and 67 spectators. Brejcha was one of hundreds injured, suffering burns that left scars on his head and body. “We were too small to see something, so we went to the front row,” Brejcha recalls. “Then they crashed, and I was running. After three or four months in hospital, I came back home and it was a tough time, because it was the beginning of school. It was hard to find friends, so most of the time, I was on my own.”
At 12 years-old, a friend blew his mind with a CD from the Dutch hardcore brand Thunderdome. “At the time I only knew trance, so I was completely fascinated by how to do these sounds by myself,” he says. Luckily, his friend also had a PC with basic production software, so they got to work. “Then after some years, I made friends who were into minimal music, and I tried to produce a bit of that, combining techno with trance,” Brejcha adds. Brejcha credits trance with sparking his love of melody – the consistent throughline of his output. This blurring of genres has made his music difficult to neatly categorise, straddling techno, trance and progressive house without belonging to any one camp. (Hence the need for ‘high-tech minimal’.)
The Ramstein disaster happened years before he started producing, but it seeped into his music. “I would say it affected me a lot,” says Brejcha, looking back. “People tell me that my melodies helped them through a hard time, and this always reminds me of my own past. Maybe because of this accident, I have a special mood in my music, and maybe this is the key.” He pauses, then adds, “Artists always make the best music when they’re sad.”
While Brejcha caught the production bug in his teens, his break was a way off. In 2006, he released two glitchy, minimal EPs on Berlin label Autist, while working a “super easy” part-time job at phone company Telekom. “We had the chance to test the first iPhone ever in 2007,” he recalls with a laugh. “I had no money to buy one, but it was mind-blowing that you could use your phone with your finger.” Soon after that work perk, Brejcha got something much more mind-blowing: an invitation to play the week-long Universo Paralello festival in Brazil. “And then I quit my job,” he quips.
The Universo Paralello booking was the start of a beautiful relationship with South America. “I was already 26, so I started really late,” Brejcha says. “It was my first time flying, and flying international, so I was super scared, but in the end, it was all nice.” In a grainy video from the party on Brejcha’s YouTube channel, you can just see the outline of his new Carnival-inspired joker mask making its debut. “Some people think the mask is because of my accident, but no, it never was,” he confirms.
Following two quirky, minimal-leaning albums on revered German label Harthouse, titled Die Maschinen Kontrollieren Uns and Die Maschinen Sind Gestrandet, the ever-industrious Brejcha continued to hone his sound on release after release. He points to 2014’s “Purple Noise” from the Feuerfalter Part 02 album as the track that broke through to a wider audience, leading him to establish Fcking Serious in 2015 with label mates Ann Clue, Deniz Bul and Moritz Hofbauer. With each subsequent year, his profile grew in line with his polished, melody-rich releases, which evolved to suit the bigger rooms he found himself in.
In 2017, Brejcha was tapped by Cercle, the DJ streaming channel famous for its jaw-dropping locations, to play against the backdrop of Château de Fontainebleau outside Paris. The next year, Brejcha’s set from the Atmosphere stage at Belgium’s sprawling Tomorrowland festival blew up on YouTube (90 million views and counting), announcing the next elevation of his career. Another Cercle extravaganza followed in 2019, this time inside the Grand Palais in Paris, before the pandemic hit pause, sending Brejcha contentedly back to the studio.
Throughout all that time, Brejcha’s approach to music-making has remained remarkably consistent. Instead of lining his studio with racks of hardware, he still produces entirely in-the-box with the help of a MIDI keyboard. “New synthesiser technology is coming out now, but it’s not mind-blowing in a way that I can say it goes to the next level,” he says. While some producers are cagey about revealing their tricks, Brejcha happily shares his preferred software and plugins online. (Many fans are still holding out hope for a full masterclass.)
When Telekom EB.TV visited his studio in 2020, Brejcha revealed his approach to quantising using the 64th note grid – a studio nerd tidbit that nevertheless illuminates something essential about his music’s appeal. “Quantising to a 16th note grid ends up sounding awfully mechanical,” he told the channel. “Sure, it’s techno music, but [it’s] so nailed down, and I don’t like that at all. I don’t think I’ve released a single song that doesn’t have that kind of groove or shuffle. I love that, and think it’s what puts the flow into dancing.”
Brejcha lets his mood, rather than any set agenda, dictate what comes out in the studio. He points to one of his signature tracks, “Gravity,” as an example. “I was home alone in the evening and didn’t know what to do with myself,” he recalls. “It was raining, and instead of playing PlayStation, I went to the studio, and just opened the piano sound. The melody came out of the mood, the situation and the weather. This is always how I do it.” Vigilant quality control is also key. “If I don’t like a track anymore after one to two days, I delete it,” he says. “It keeps the mind clear.”
If a production doesn’t fit his DJ sets, Boris Brejcha files it for possible inclusion in his annual Christmas mix. By working year-round, he’s never short on options. “When I started to be a DJ, I already had so many tracks I’d produced, so I just played my own music,” he says. “Ever since then, I’ve done it all the time. Nowadays, people are coming to a show because of me, so why should I play tracks from another artist?” Brejcha is also wary of listening to other electronic music that might subliminally influence him, preferring rock, pop and film scores in his downtime.
When we speak, Brejcha is contemplating his upcoming 6AM playtime at Time Warp in Mannheim – he rarely does such late shifts. “It could be a good time for the ravers,” he ponders, “but I think is it too late for the kind of music I play?” Despite being a local, Brejcha only made his Time Warp debut in 2018. “Germany was one of the last countries I got popular,” he says. “I think because Germany is more like Berlin: super techno music, with less melodies. And I come from combining trance with techno – maybe that’s why.”
Brejcha’s upcoming North American bus tour with his labelmates (or ‘topkumpels’ in Fcking Serious parlance) replicates a concept he took around Europe, only this time with much greater distances. “From one city to another, is like 22 hours driving,” he laughs disbelievingly. “But it’ll be nice to be with friends.” Brejcha is working with visual artists to bring something special to Coachella, but he’s most excited to play the majestic Red Rocks Amphitheatre with Clue, Bul and Hofbauer, noting that “it could be a location for Cercle.” Coming full circle, the year culminates with some of his biggest shows to date in South America.
Following the release of his new Level One EP, Boris Brejcha will drop one of his sought-after set favourites, “Space X,” alongside a music video he filmed in the otherworldly landscape of Iceland. “It’s so cool, and so fucking cold there,” Brejcha marvels. “It was just minus two or three degrees, but because of the wind, it feels like minus twenty. Every day, we’d drive five or six hours from one spot to another, and there was nobody around. It was so beautiful.”
Brejcha’s connection with his fans goes deeper than most DJ/producers. At the end of shows, he jumps down to share a genuine moment with the front row and hand out rubber ducks — a signature item of Boris Brejcha fandom. He also makes a point to reply to every DM he receives on Instagram, of which there are many. “For me, it’s necessary to answer if a fan writes to me, even if I send a smile or a thumbs up,” he says. “You give your fans something of your personality, and they also give you something of their personality.”
From humble beginnings, the Boris Brejcha brand now spans sold-out concerts to a robust fashion line and NFT drops. So what is it about his music in particular that connects with so many people? “That’s a good question,” he says, mulling it over. “What I have learned from a lot of people writing on Instagram, is that my music has helped them through a hard time. Maybe if they were sick or if they lost someone, a melody of mine can give them a better time. But I don’t know – I just make the music how I feel.”
Boris Brejcha’s Level One EP is out on April 21st via Fcking Serious. Buy it on Beatport.
Jack Tregoning is an editor and journalist from Sydney, Australia, who has worked for over a decade in music media, while also writing about movies, TV, and culture. Find him on Twitter.