When listening to K, the new album from German live trio COMFORTABLE, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that their music is being played on analog instruments. Taking inspiration from the techno masters of Detroit, the band has crafted a sound that’s indistinguishable from machine made techno, fueled by a shared obsession for precision. Part of a handful of similar acts producing techno on live instruments, COMFORTABLE are revolutionizing the way we think about ‘techno’ as a genre, challenging the notion of ‘electronic’ music and producing some seriously cool material while they’re at it. We caught up with the band to find out more about their creative process, and what it’s like playing techno clubs totally live.
Congrats on your debut album, ‘K’. Listening to the album, it’s crazy to think you’re doing this all live. What led you to making techno and who are your major influences?
Thank you so much! We were visiting lots of techno parties back in the day and we wanted to recreate this sound we loved so much. We’re all trained musicians but apart from a guitar, a bass, a few stomp boxes, and a drum set we didn’t have a lot of equipment. Also even if we’d had a drum computer or a sampler we wouldn’t have known how to use it. So we decided to go for it using our own instruments. When we first started we were inspired a lot by Efdemin, Robert Hood and Jeff Mills.
How do you approach writing, or rather sequencing, your music?
Usually we’re writing new tracks in our studio. We record all our jams and improvisations. This way we can listen to all the improvised riffs and ideas afterwards and decide which ones we like and we want to elaborate on.
Playing venues like Berghain’s Kantine, and knowing how brutal techno purists can be, how have techno heads embraced the idea of ’live techno?’
Most of the time people smile when they realize that an actual band is playing the music they like to dance to. We think it’s important to experience KOMFORTRAUSCHEN live, because we believe in “show, don’t tell.” One of the DJs we admire most is Claude Young Jr., and when he started liking some of our posts on Instagram and even reposted some of our stuff we felt really honored.
Would you consider your music “electronic?”
Simple answer: it wouldn’t work without electricity and electronics, because even though we play drums, guitar and bass we need effects pedals, MIDI and amplification. That’s why it’s ‘electronic’ by definition!
Do you make use of any electronic elements at all?
Yes. For example we trigger samples with the drum set. Also we’re using sequencers to make some of the guitar and bass parts rhythmically more even. There is an Electron Octatrack on stage. We use it for the click track, and all the time based effects are synced to its MIDI clock.
What was the process of recording this album like?
Some of the tracks are older and we’ve played them live a lot. This way we could test them and see how the crowd reacts. It was easy to record them because we knew exactly what we wanted and just needed to hit the record button. But “Reload,” for example, only exists because of the pandemic. We had lots of time to find out how to play that acid riff on guitar and how to make it sound like an acid riff. We never tested it live before we recorded it because there were no parties allowed back then.
That’s a synth on ‘Reload,’ right? That has to be a synth!
No, it’s a guitar! But it’s heavily processed by an effects pedal by Source Audio called “C4 Synth”. The pedal takes the guitar signal and turns it into a synth sound. We then add distortion and delays to make it sound even more techno.
Did you record everything together in one take, or did you record things separately then mix?
Each track usually starts with a layout which is recorded live in one take. Then we replace parts, add stuff, or remove parts if we don’t like them. We recorded the album in late 2020 and early 2021. Back then there was a lockdown in Berlin and at some point we even recorded some of the tracks remotely after we’d recorded the first layout.
How did you approach using your instruments when you started making live techno? What kinds of experiments did you do to get the sound of a guitar as close to a MOOG?
We experimented a lot! When we first started, we used lots of analog stomp boxes and the guitar rig was huge. When we played our first few shows we knew we had to change this! Now we use digital effect pedals because they have presets and can be controlled via MIDI. At some point in the chain of our rigs, there have to be analogue pedals just to make the sound more interesting. Analog overdrives or filters definitely sound more lively than digital ones.
On tracks like ‘Da Hurt,’ are you performing that vocal loop totally live?
That’s a sample and we’re triggering it with a Roland sample pad. This way we can play around with it live. We can play rhythmic variations and apply effects. We even recorded the album version as a live jam in the same fashion. But for some parts it’s helpful to just use a loop. We use loops if we want to add layers that can’t be sampled and have to be played live.
What does a live show look like for you? Do you play songs seamlessly like a techno set, or break in between?
Techno! It sounds totally techno but looks way more interesting than most DJs. There are no breaks between the tracks, but most of the time transitions.
The timing has to be so perfect. Do you ever falter, and if so how do you recover?
We always play with a click track and all the time based effects and sequences are synced to a MIDI clock. But of course, if we rush or drag sometimes you will hear it. If something is not tight we move on, shit happens. But the only way to get rid of this problem is to practice and spend time rehearsing our live set and playing shows.
A lot of people think that the beauty of live performance is in the moments where things go a bit off. Is it the opposite for you guys?
Sometimes in the club there is so much energy and everyone is completely bananas. Then it’s hard to stay focused on stage and hit every note perfectly while jumping around and dancing. These moments are really funny, but again the more we work on our live set the better we have everything under control.
Where does this obsession with precision come from?
Rhythmic precision is one of the characteristics of techno. Human beings can never be as precise as computers of course. For us it’s more about going all the way, trying to get as far as possible with what we got while keeping a slight human touch.
Have you ever heard any of your tracks mixed into a techno set? That must be a really satisfying experience, hearing it with computer music and knowing that you did that with actual instruments.
Yes, some DJs sent videos of them playing tracks of us and it’s really rewarding. Our tracks being compatible with what you call “computer music” was and still is a major goal for us.
What are your thoughts on other groups doing similar things, like Elektro Guzzi?
We really love Elektro Guzzi because they were there long before we started with what we do. They kind of set the ground! But there are also other groups doing similar things such as Brandt Brauer Frick who are also a big inspiration for us.
Would you ever collaborate with another live techno group?
That’s a great Idea! Right now we’re focussing on our live show and nothing else, but it’s always great to collaborate with other artists. We recently produced some tracks with another techno producer that will most likely be released at the end of the year.
Who should we be listening to right now?
We highly recommend the album “K” by Komfortrauschen, haha. Alternatively: We love what La Fraicheur is doing, also the latest releases by Mark Broom on Rekids is really awesome. Absolute go to records for us are Missing Channel’s “Onslaught” and “Nothing Stops Detroit” by Robert Hood
Does man make machine, or does machine make man?
Man made machine. But then the machines changed everything!
Watch the music video for Reload from the upcoming album K below. K is out May 27 via Springstoff. Pre-order on vinyl here.
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