Australian-born Deepchild AKA Rick Bull is one of his countrys most successful techno exports, and hes no stranger to the album format either, releasing his debut Hymns From Babylon on the seminal old-school stable Clan Alalogue back in 2000. By the time of his fourth album Lifetime in 2007, he was already regularly taking his music to Europe and the rest of the world, before 2008s Departure signaled a semi-permanent departure to Berlin.
A regular presence at clubbing vanguards in the city like Berghain, Watergate and Tresor were the tip of the iceberg for Bull, as he later scored himself a coveted 3-year Exceptional Ability visa that allowed him to tour and perform extensively across the United States and Canada. Eventually returning to resettle in Berlin, Bull found himself less than enthused with the notion of bunkering down to record another album; which makes the story behind his latest Neuklln Burning album all the more fascinating.
The recording process for Neuklln Burning took place during the depths of the notoriously bitter Berlin winter, of which the city is currently emerging from its darkest in over 60 years; and Bull had spontaneously chosen as the time to wean himself off his anti-depressant medication, for the first time in nearly a decade. Extreme insomnia and personal distress resulted, with Bull painting the finished product as, an exercise in catharsis; an experiment in transforming a sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty into something ultimately hopeful, visceral, perhaps even seductive.
Some of the emotions behind Neuklln Burning are incredibly raw: the Neuklln' in the title is a reference to the bustling district of Berlin, where Bull was situated while recording the album, and still calls his home. The Burning on the other hand refers to a Buddhist quote about being consumed by your own personal fires. The end result is certainly powerful enough; its one of the most sonically dense, emotive and cohesive electronic albums from the past 12 months.
As Bull himself says, This album is the most singularly unified piece of recording Ive done to date.
The Initial impressions from Neuklln Burning are that its an inviting listen, though after a few spins you realise theres something more to it, that its a lot more dense. Its definitely worth investing the time to draw out the albums substance.
Its an odd thing for me, because I didnt really want to write another album anytime soon. Id done five previous to this, and its a pretty laborious experience. And then also, I was wondering whether the format is even valid any more. I just have a really good relationship with Noah Pred from Thoughtless Music. Hes just a good friend and a sweetheart, and hes been so supportive of all the music that Ive done. He was like Rick, I think you should do an album. I was like oh really? He kept pushing for it, so I thought, Ill give it a go, but I dont know how its going to work. It might be shit
So from the outset, you didnt have a story that you wanted to tell straight away?
No, not at all. And then, its really weird because in the middle of winter, I did something that I dont think Ill ever try to do again, which was to decide by myself that now is a good time to rapidly come off my anti-depressant medication. First of all, winter is not a very good time to do this, especially in Germany [laughs].
Had you talked to the doctor about it as well?
Ah, nope [laughs]. Well, Id spoken to the doctor a couple of years ago, and he was like [in German accent], Why are you still on this high dose of this medication? You need to come off! and I was like Oh no really? Should I?
And this was for how many years?
About eight. And Im one to sometimes get moralistic about the necessity to not be reliant on anyone else, and that kind of backfired for me [laughs].
Do you think you couldve been a bit more considered about it?
Again, it was kind of stupid, but I thought to myself, I have one month left of prescriptions, so therefore Ill get off all in one month. Then I went off and renewed my script, so after that, every week I was halving my dose. I was OK for about three weeks, but then I plunged into utter panic, terror and disarray, a crazy meltdown suicidal panic attack, cold sweats In the midst of which, I was trying to write music. I was so exhausted, I couldnt really do anything.
A sort of stabilising thing was just to try to have at least one or two hours a day where I was actually trying to work; by which stage I wasnt even consciously focusing on any idea of an album, I was just trying to write whatever. Then it became clear that as a body of work, the tracks that I produced would be reflective of this tone. I knew I wanted to write an album that was more techno, but the series of events dictated how it would turn out in the end.
Neuklln Burning, the name is obviously drawn from the fact that I love where I live. The burning part is a reference to a Buddhist quote. I guess the paraphrased version is that everything is burning, the eyes are burning, the nose is burning its the notion of being overwhelmed by your senses, the things that cause suffering, or by your own judgment of what these senses are telling you. Its a funny kind of dovetail with what was going on with me; I was totally overwrought, everything was burning [laughs].
When trying to draw out the personal emotions from the album, it can feels like theyre present, though perhaps you cant quite access them. Its like its done on purpose, perhaps intentionally, kept a little obscure so you cant quite knuckle down what it is?
Maybe its a series of unanswered questions, and maybe they dont even need to be answered.
The distorted RnB vocals make a return, but in an even more mashed up kind of way.
I guess, just practically speaking, you can hear the references to a lot of the stuff I listen to. Theres lots of really ball-tearing techno, or a slightly dubby kind of techno, though Ive always been fascinated by an aesthetic thats also a little bit awkward, or slightly unquantified.
The album is definitely not straight club 4/4 banging, and I guess its kind of warm and melodic Just a little bit outside the frame of what functional club music is, perhaps.
A lot of those tracks I have played out at Berghain. And it maybe is an album that is a bit more suited to a space like that, which is a little bit more
Yeah, and kind of intentionally uneasy. Despite the clichs about the club, it actually has been something persistently wonderful about being there, and hearing people go What? He just played what? The last few times I played there has been live sets on the main floor, as opposed to Panorama Bar. Both were great.
The Panorama Bar is obviously a little more suited for the deeper house and techno stuff, while Berghains mainroom usually brings more of an industrial sound.
Yeah totally. Playing there and then being asked back, was definitely a confidence boost, Wow youve taken the risk a couple of times and youre doing it again. Thats really interesting. So people are hearing music in a way here that is different other more mainstream clubs. Its remarkable. I remember about 10 years ago, struggling to get a DJ bar gig in Sydney, and then all of a sudden getting booked to play live at clubs like this, and its like, Really? You want live again? In this space?
Whats the stronger theme on the album, is it your own personal stuff, or is it the actual location of Neuklln? I thought that still seemed to feed into it somewhat.
Its definitely a bit of a love song to Neuklln, and what it represents to me in terms of being a safe space, in a time when I was personally all over the place. There are references to that throughout the album, and there are recordings from people and places around the hood.
However, theres a lot from the US too. I guess in the opening track theres a couple of soundbytes from my friends in Detroit, from when I filmed a little doco there. Berlin has turned out to be a real haven for a lot of people and a lot of artists, and for me, I would also love to see that happen in some parts of the US as well. Its a shame for me to visit and just say, Man this city could be amazing! but people are just leaving and leaving and leaving. These are the questions that Im confronted with when Im in the US. I never imagined that I would be playing there so much, and Ive made so many wonderful friends, but theyre constantly being bitten in the arse by this system theyre subjected to. When they cant even have their basic health needs met because theyre low-income earners. And these arent ghetto dwellers or anything, these are normal middle Americans! But if they break their arm, theyre kind of stuffed.
I think theres a sense of an urban landscape in the albums textures; while these are often used in electronic music to project isolation and alienation, here theres a little more warmth. But then the album closes on a really harsh note, and its like youve taken the listener and dumped them in the streets of the Berlin winter. Was this intentional?
I dont know. I mean, I had written a lot of ambient soundscapes; and there is a sense I guess in the album that its not necessarily a place of arrival. It kind of starts in a place of transience, and then ends in one. And thats kind of Berlin; everything is always just changing and transient. In terms of the personal journey as well, with the meds and everything else, thats still an ongoing question. There are moments of reaching for hope and elation throughout the album, but these days Im less inclined to be definitive and dogmatic about my proposed solutions to these questions.
So it can be more open ended? It doesnt have to bring an answer, or say youve reached the end of your journey?