From his early days of DJing in Eastern Germany up until his ongoing Berghain residency, via releasing on Ostgut Ton and launching his own IMF label, through his solo production work to his recent collaboration with Efdemin as DIN, Techno was always a matter of the heart and a definitive and concentrated passion for Marcel Fengler.
But in Fengler’s world, opposites attract – which is why Ambient, Electronica and UK-influenced rhythms are equal parts of his sets: characteristically offensive and dynamic, hard and consistent, but also surprising and emotional.
You use the phrase “passion before purpose”. When did you discover your passion for music and then turn it into your purpose?
Music has always played an important role in my family. My grandfather used to perform at big events to which he sometimes took me along as a kid; my dad used to play the drums in a band in his youth. As a result, I developed an early passion for music and started playing music off tape decks at school parties and such.
This passion has stayed with me since – when I started DJing hip-hop at birthday parties in the early 90s, when I got to experience the rise of the House and Techno scene after the Reunification, and of course when I had my debut at Berghain in 2004 after years of DJing, where I found my de facto home in music and have had a residency since. This passion has always been something that permeated my entire being and has been a driving force in keeping me curious about new things my entire life.
How has your work evolved since you first started in the electronic scene?
When I first started going out partying in Berlin in the early 90s a majority of the scene was focused on Trance and Hardcore or Gabber. Back then even handwritten flyers were a rarity. There was something that lured me in about this era, that made me want to discover and experience more of it. Mixtapes started circulating, and I started buying my first records. In the mid-90s I started running my own parties at which I played myself. Acid Techno and the sound of Birmingham in particular struck my fancy at the time.
Later, when I started my residency at Berghain in 2004, I initially played a lot of opening slots – something I very much enjoy doing there to this day, and which taught me a lot. Working my way from Ambient tracks to peak-time Techno over the course of an opening afforded me a lot of liberties. It’s around that time that I started producing my own music. After a few releases on Berghain’s own Ostgut Ton imprint, I finally started my own label Index Marcel Fengler (IMF) in 2011.
Initially conceived as an outlet for my rougher releases it eventually evolved into a platform for showcasing young new talent. My own productions on Ostgut Ton on the other hand have since developed in a more subtle and melodic direction. This ended up affecting other projects of mine as well, such as the soundtrack for the Ballet production “Masse” which I produced together with Efdemin in 2013, or my debut album “Fokus” which was released on Ostgut Ton the same year.
What is it about your music that draws crowds out?
I guess this is more of a question for the crowds themselves! Personally, I prefer playing extended undulating sets, which go through a variety of stages where I can reel the crowd back in if necessary. I also love surprising myself – for instance by mixing together tracks that I’ve had for ages, but had never had the chance to play in succession.
I think it’s extremely important for the crowd and also for me to feel the passion I have for the music I play. It’s those moments in particular – where the energy between crowd and DJ flows back and forth – that can be magic and ecstatic. I find drab linear sets woefully uninteresting and I find myself bored by them after a while.
Which genre of electronic music do you most identify with and how do you see it changing over the next few years?
Generally speaking I consider myself a very emotional person – as long as music feels authentic to me and brings about an emotional reaction, I think it has done it’s job. I myself buy quite an eclectic mix of music – when I end up playing a House set for instance, I truly enjoy playing all those tracks I never had a chance to play at Techno events where the crowd often expects that Berghain sound. Of course I primarily play Techno and feel most at home with that sound in the end, even though that has evolved considerably over the course of the past 25 years.
After its heyday in the 90s, when Techno was still a very distinctly defined genre surrounded by House, Hardcore, Trance, Breakbeat and so on, it recently had a large revival and gained tremendously in popularity. The downside of that is that popularity and success brings along hype which can quickly deteriorate into uniform sounding productions and rehashing of sounds as well as the blurring of lines between genres.
I don’t mean to say that working at the edge of a genre and pushing boundaries is bad – quite the contrary – this is how new things come about. I just hope that the current diversity is preserved and commercial pressures don’t end up making Techno a black-and-white matter – the colors in between are what make it so interesting to me.
What excites you about performing at Woogie Weekend and what can we expect from your set?
I had the opportunity to play in California a couple of times over the past few years and particularly the events in LA and San Francisco were extremely fun each time. I had heard of the “Lightning in a Bottle” Festival last year, in particular about the exceptional vibe of the Woogie Stage, so I’m very excited to be able to be a part of it – it’s definitely a highlight for me this year. I’m positive it’ll end up being a fantastic time and can’t wait to dive into a musical journey with the crowd – and of course, just have fun!