Cover Story: Patrice Bäumel
Cover Story: Patrice BäumelFebruary 14, 2022
Patrice Bäumel is one of the biggest names in house and techno. In our cover story, the German artist opens up about his experiences with Ayahuasca, the “nightmare” of becoming a legacy DJ, his new HALO concept, much more.
“Somewhere around 2013, I was kind of at a breaking point,” Patrice Bäumel says over Zoom. “I saw all my other DJ friends around me doing much better than I was and was confronted with the question — why not me?”
At that point, Patrice was already a resident at Amsterdam’s celebrated Trouw. He had released his debut long-player and was a regular on established labels like Trapez. He’d even had a huge breakout hit with “Roar.” By anyone’s standards, he was a success. “It’s a very ego-motivated question,” he goes on. “So I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror.”He decided he wasn’t being “the best version” of himself; that he wasn’t really putting in the work and didn’t have “a heart full of love.”
“I was motivated by selfishness,” he considers. “What I provided to society wasn’t something anyone really wanted.” The tens of thousands of people he played to each month would disagree, of course. But for someone who thinks as deeply as Patrice, weekend adoration wasn’t enough to make him truly happy.
His self-examination soon went beyond the dance floor. He realized didn’t have a healthy routine and was “failing to get shit done.” He had too many “minor addictions” to drugs and alcohol and was spending his days “floating around the party scene.” It was a rock-bottom moment. From then on, he started implementing routines, setting daily goals, and working out when he could.
“I realised I needed to do something that was for other people,” he says, rather curiously for someone whose job it is to… entertain other people. “I decided to try and make records that other DJs would love to play and people would actually love to dance to.” It’s another statement that needs unpacking: “Well, before that, I was just making murky, deep and complicated stuff,” he explains, wincing and pointing to the back of his head, inferring an overthinking mind that’s forgotten about the dance floor. “That there was a hit record in there was just pure coincidence.”
After that, Patrice aimed just to have fun in the studio. “To make bangers, big records with lots of explosive emotion,” he says about the change in attitude that totally changed the trajectory of his career. He found it much easier to sign records to bigger labels such as Kompakt, who also signed him to their DJ agency, and, step-by-step, real happiness returned. Bigger bookings came in, bigger clubs, bigger crowds. But before long, Patrice was slowly swallowed up by the scene once more. He started to miss flights and was again taking drugs. Checking himself before things got too bad, he booked onto an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru sometime in 2015.
Ayahuasca — a plant-based psychedelic — is said to help participants connect to their true selves, and is often taken on retreat in the jungle with an indigenous shaman who guides you on your journey.
“It’s a lot of work on dieting, making master plants, eating really healthy, a lot of purging as well. You basically puke your guts out, shit your guts out, and get physically and mentally clean. They say it’s getting all the demon energy out of your body.”
It worked. The next time Patrice looked in the mirror he noticed his eyes had a completely different glow to them. He felt focused. “Emotional knots had left my body. The brain fog had lifted. I felt super open, super creative, and the period after that was probably the most successful and productive of my life.” Discogs back this up: before the retreat, he was releasing one, maximum two records a year. Between 2015 and 2019 he released nine EPs and made an entry into the Global Underground mix series.
Patrice has a zen-like expression throughout our long, meandering conversation. His eyes are soft. His tone is gentle. He speaks with unassuming but engaging wisdom, whether taking about us “living on borrowed money, on borrowed time in a fucked financial system,” or about the futility of existential worries and how time spent in your own head stressing about the future is “a useless habit.” He is stoic about “the token gestures” surrounding the BLM movement. “They make us feel better about ourselves but are a very comfortable way of doing something without forcing yourself to understand the underlying issues and actually bring about change.” He also is dismissive of gender or race-based quotas on festival lineups, which he says “don’t address the root of the problem.”
“I would love to see the world move past this to the point where we don’t care whether a person is straight or gay, black or white, male, female, transgender, whatever. I would love that we just provide a level playing field where everybody gets access to the education needed to become good. And from there, especially in the arts, it should always be a meritocracy. We should give the stage to the best people in their field.”
Even when talking about high tax rates and the “slavery” of effectively working for half of the year for the state, he is quietly incredulous rather than incensed. It’s the same when he touches on Black children growing up in poor families. “They’re taught life is hard, that everyone is against us, that you probably won’t amount to anything. It’s wrong. It puts the Black community into the corner of victims and that makes us weaker, not stronger. We should walk through life with confidence, with dreams and ambitions, and that all starts with education at a young age.”
He might have “toured the world twice” and be very used to life on the road, but Patrice’s preference is still for being at home as often as possible, to be with his wife, but also to control what he eats, from organic ingredients to not cooking with vegetable oil. “I like a simple life. I don’t care about clothes or cars. Material things simply don’t interest me anymore. The stuff that interests me is how can I make better music, make more meaningful human connections and understand the world better? I just want to be surrounded by beauty and peace, good human beings and fulfill my mission to be the best musician that I can and truly give people what they need and deserve.”
Patrice’s only movements during our chat are to swat the occasional fly as he sits outside a beautiful cottage in Mendoza, Argentina. Greenery surrounds him, as does a 29-degree heat. “This is exactly how I want to live,” he says, seemingly utterly content. “But happiness is not permanent. You have to keep working on it. If we’d have spoken a few weeks ago, there would have been a world of difference.”
In the intervening fortnight, he returned to the jungle with his wife for what was a third Ayahuasca retreat, having also returned once in between. It is now his go-to when he feels himself slipping — drinking, smoking. “I can feel it coming on in the club, you know. I struggle to get through a three-hour DJ set. I have back pain, I feel tired and lose concentration.” After resetting with a retreat, though, that drains away and he wants to play for as many hours as possible. “Eye contact is a good signifier of how I feel. If I’m avoiding it, that’s a bad sign, because the dance floor is a mirror. It really shows you all your weaknesses very, very clearly.”
Once upon a time, Patrice’s attitude towards the dance floor was very much that of a teacher. “When you get into this profession, you’re young and hungry; it’s kind of all about you. You’re the artist, you have a message to bring out into the world and you want to show people you know best,” he says, discussing the parties he hosted while resident at Trouw. Back then he was happy to clear the dance floor, and was stubborn in his mission to play far and wide, even if it was to the detriment of the atmosphere in the club.
But now, maybe because of age, maybe because of his improved mindset, “I see this profession simply as a service. Just like a baker baking bread for his neighbourhood.” Plenty of DJs would balk at such a reductive deception of the art. But Patrice knows that really his job is to make people feel good. “To connect them with each other, to get them out of their often very isolated lives.”
Lives don’t come much more isolated than those of mixed-raced East Germans living behind the Berlin Wall. Luckily for Patrice Bäumel, who grew up in Dresden, the world was enlarged by music (or more specifically, record covers). Vinyl was hard to find in late eighties East Germany, but kindly relatives in West Germany would often post it across. What’s more, Patrice’s father was a music journalist with a vast vinyl collection, which Patrice gravitated towards from an early age. Depeche Mode was an early love which, to this day, still has an influence on the music Patrice makes.
“What my music really encapsulates is the very machine-like, mechanical backbone juxtaposed with human warmth on top of it. Even though they aren’t a German band, the Depeche Mode sound — their DNA — I can hear in so many of the East German DJs; even Marcel Dettmann‘s music, which is a little harder.” What he thinks German music does lack, though, is funk. “We’re much more Kraftwerk than James Brown.”
It wasn’t uncommon for young Patrice to be woken up early on weekends by the sounds of his dad’s free jazz. He might not have appreciated it then, but he does now. Such a broad, “sub-conscious musical grounding,” as he puts it, taught him to “translate music into emotion, and emotion into music — the most important skill for any DJ or producer,” Patrice Bäumel says.
“If you don’t have these listening hours, if you don’t have the background and just blow up after one big hit, you will just be a one-trick pony. You will never have that control over the dance floor. You will never have the broad vocabulary that is necessary to deliver a complex and deeper, more satisfying message to the dancers.”
Patrice Bäumel admits he wasn’t as attentive to his school work as he was to music. The subjects he enjoyed, like math, he would engage with. Learning came easy to him, but so did mischief. He would sometimes skip lessons that didn’t interest him, occasionally getting into fights. “I had a discipline problem and an attention deficit,” he says. Back then, he says he was conditioned to just want to make money and become successful. “I thought I’d get a business degree or become a lawyer or whatever. It was just about working out the quickest way to get things, buy things, reach some sort of standing.”
With that in mind and aged just 16, he took the adventurous step of going on a year-long exchange trip to a small town in Utah in the United States. It was a pivotal point in his young life, because “it cut the umbilical cord. I suddenly realised that I could make it on my own. I left home as a boy and came back a man.”
Upon his return, he soon left again. Music was still just a hobby back then. The move to Amsterdam in his late teenage years was motivated by learning an extra language to get into a better business school. “I thought, ‘Dutch, easy to learn, stay there a bit then come back and be a successful businessman.'” What actually happened was that he got fired from his apprenticeship within a week, but not before being turned on to the idea of becoming a DJ by visiting plenty of local bars. “I just didn’t get on with the people hosting me. They gave me room and board, but it was a really amateur home office set up and we didn’t gel. It was good they fired me though because I interrupted the flow of the family and I felt really unwanted there.”
He didn’t want to return home either, but he spoke good English, so got a job in a call centre. It was full of expats doing the same, and was a good way to get to know people. “To become socially integrated and explore Amsterdam life” while developing his DJ skills, he says.
“The job was so easy that I had enough time on my hands and a computer that I could learn other stuff, so I taught myself to program on the job and in the off hours.” Patrice Bäumel soon transitioned to a programming role and moved to an advertising company, then became a multimedia designer before going freelance. “They were good years. The money got better and better, and the recognition got better. A company hires you because they have a problem that their staff cannot solve, so you’re the fireman. You come in, everybody is grateful to see you, you’re outside of the office politics and they treat you with respect.”
The freelance nature of his work made an eventual transition to being a full-time DJ much smoother — though he hadn’t even considered DJing as a job until he attended 2002’s Red Bull Music Academy in São Paulo. German DJ C-Rock was a tutor there, and exposed Patrice Bäumel to music production for the first time. “He gave me a 30 minute tutorial in Reason 2.0 and I thought ‘OK, I can actually do this.'” Patrice released his first-ever record on Trapez three years later. Though it took many more years “until I actually got good at it after spending an insane amount of time in the studio, like 10 hours a day,” Patrice Bäumel says.
These days he’s armed with all the skills needed to craft elegant, emotional house and techno that brims with moving melodies. But he still works in the same way he has since day one: by “creating chaos” and seeing what comes out of it. “It’s just a trick to bypass the brain,” he says. “The brain is a very good computer, but it’s not a good creator, because when you’re trying to create a musical solution with your brain, you’re thinking very much the same way as many other people do. Our brains are all frighteningly similar. So we come to many of the same conclusions and the music that I make from my brain, I felt, was always music by numbers. It sounded like a lot of other people.”
Released on Get Physical in 2008, his breakout tune “Roar” hit differently as soon as it landed. It doesn’t even have a kick drum, but to this day turns dance floors inside out and upside down with its whirring machine meltdowns and raw, dangling claps. “It was a happy accident,” Patrice explains. “One of those moments where I simply invited randomness into my workflow and it gifted me something.”
It will always be one of Patrice’s defining records no matter where he goes. He recognises it as both a blessing and a curse; a yardstick by which he will always be judged. “You have to fight the urge to do another one,” he says, touching on the dichotomy that all artists face: maintaining a signature sound while not just turning out the same track over and over. “That’s very difficult, especially because you get rewarded for repeating yourself, at least initially. But it’s a trap. You can milk it for a while, but at some point, people lose interest and you have nothing.”
The thought of being a sentimental booking brought out to please a crowd hungry for one very specific sound from one very specific time is the first thing to momentarily drain the calm from Patrice Bäumel’s voice. “That would be one of my worst nightmares,” he says. “To be considered a legacy DJ means you are no longer growing. I would hate that. The moment I get booked with a bunch of other old farts at the same type of parties over and over I would stop doing this because it is not why I work.” The antidote, he says, is “rigorous self-examination, being brutally honest with yourself” and to never stop “being curious.”
Patrice Bäumel found himself being just that during covid lockdowns. While the stresses of it did turn him back towards drinking and smoking, the isolation of the situation also got him thinking about how to make closer connections in the club. The result is HALO, a new club night and record label designed to bring straightforward joy to people, but also to nurture feelings of togetherness and community on the dance floor. The first EP drops at the end of February and features two tracks of serene and widescreen cosmic techno. “It is my personal creative container where I can release what I want when I want it,” he says. Although Patrice Bäumel has enjoyed working with the labels he has in the past, he says that now is the time to build his own community.
The parties will be sporadic in various locations around the world, with Patrice playing all night long with his beloved, custom-made ISO420 rotary mixer. “I want people to connect with each other, and with me, in a meaningful way, in the real world,” he says. The DJ booth will be within touching distance of the crowd, and there will be no visuals — it’s all part of an effort to remove obstacles and distractions that stand in the way of connection.
“I don’t want to create a dynamic where it almost feels like a worship service, where people are all facing one way and the DJ sends out the message the other way. No. I just want this to be an organic coming together where the interactions of people amongst each other are just as important as with me. I want to take it away from VIP bottle service culture and back to dancing around the fire.” Patrice Bäumel
Patrice will soon star in an episode of ICONYC TV, an electronic music documentary series on Netflix that champions individual artists and explores their roots. He sees his involvement as a way of showing that, “if you’re disciplined and you persevere, this career path is attainable for everybody and that we provide an important service by bringing people together.” Patrice Bäumel hopes to take this further in the future by passing on his knowledge, providing information and education that will give underprivileged people more access to the industry.
“We all need something to spark the fire,” he says. “Just imagine a life without music and art. There would be nothing worthwhile left.” Patrice Bäumel
Kristan J Caryl has been a freelance music writer for more than a decade, with bylines in RA, DJ Mag, Mixmag, Bandcamp, Attack Mag and RBMA. He’s based just outside Leeds, where he started community station KMAH Radio in 2015. As well as music, he’s overly obsessed with trainers, gardening, boxing, and his two children, who he raises with his wife. Find him on Instagram.