Patrice Bäumel on Connection

“I see myself not so much as an artist, but as a connector who brings people together. Music is simply a tool, a language to create a connection between people. And I’m not too precious about “this is my art and it’s holy.” It’s not. It’s functional. What is holy is the human connection. That’s why I’m doing it. If I thought there was a music that I could make that could achieve that connection more effectively than the stuff I’m doing now, then I would change that. Because that connection is my main goal.”

This quote has stuck with me ever since I spoke with Pat after his Afterlife set in Tulum. The more I think about it, the more I realize how succinctly it captures the human element of music. It’s about connection.

You should question connection, especially in the face of our changing social and music landscapes. We live in a time where it might feel like we’re more connected than ever—which we are, technologically—but the intersection of technology and communication has turned instant gratification into fake validation. It’s harder for us to have patience than it once was. Sometimes the access to information can be so overwhelming—we want to know what everyone else is doing while we want everyone else to know what we’re doing—that we lose touch with what’s real.

Looking back at my time in Berlin so far, the times I’ve seen people the most present, and the times I’ve been most present, are around music. It’s something I’ve noticed in Berlin more than anywhere else in the world. We spend so much of our day focusing on our phones. And it can so easily bleed into the live music setting. You pull out your phone to capture something. Then you check your social media. Then you check your texts. Before you know it, you’re living vicariously through a screen.

In Berlin, the focus is on the vibe. When the focus is taken away from the DJs or the stage—and therefore your phone—it gives you more freedom to focus on the music and people around you. Mechanically, it helps that clubs physically cover the cameras on your phone, but it’s more about the culture of being present. A culture of connection through music.

It’s artists like Patrice Bäumel that foster this kind of connection.

Pat has a perceptiveness that’s as visible in his character as it is in his music. He sees what’s real. He evokes this sense of self-exploration in his music that makes you question yourself while you wonder where the synths will take you. There’s mystery to his music. The mystery is what helps you find other people, and, hopefully, yourself.

I had the pleasure of connecting with Pat in Tulum after an incredible set at Afterlife. We had an extensive discussion, starting with the technical and diving deeply into the philosophical. We spoke about the dangers of spreading oneself too thin, Pat’s gear, his inspirations, past, future, and something beyond time or space. For now, we’ll call it ayahuasca.

What is the hardest problem you’ve faced in the studio in the last month?

The hardest problem for me was, simply, I’ve had a lot of remix jobs—at least one every week—and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for you to reinvent yourself every time. So the biggest problem for me was to make sure that not everything sounds the same. I’m not one hundred percent happy with everything I’ve made, I must admit. I have a limited amount of creative energy, and when you use too much you spread yourself too thin. I’m really looking forward to a stretch of not being in the studio at all for two or three months. Just focusing on building my DJ sets. And then it comes back.

How long have you been producing music?

I started producing—just teaching myself—in 2003. My first record was in 2005. Everything self-taught. I’ve learned from other people. But for me, spending thirty minutes with a pro is worth more than going to school for half a year. You cut straight to the chase. Only essentials.

It was all trial and error. I started on Ableton. I hate reading manuals. I must say I’m not super technical; my way of working is to create chaos. Create randomness. Just play around like a child, switch off the brain, and just make things happen. And as soon as there’s this beautiful accident happening, then I’ll capture that. I use that as a starting point and then I tame it into a shape and build it from there. So the core idea is never something that comes out of my head, but something that’s just being gifted to me. And that way it’s easier for me to produce outside of the box.

What analog gear are you using to produce?

I have a couple synths. My main go-to synth is the Dave Smith Poly Evolver. I also have a Sub 37, which I don’t use enough. I’m always using a hybrid of analog and digital. Usually I just record a couple minutes of synth jamming into the computer and then I just take it from there. My most important weapon is the sampler. That’s the random machine; you put something in there and you never know what comes out.

And just a classic synth, square wave, sine wave, sawtooth, whatever wave. The classic way of synthesis is just a very limited way of creating sound. Whereas with a sampler, I put in everything from footage downloaded off the internet to bits of recorded film to stretched out audio to entire songs in the sampler… then scroll through until I find something that sounds great.

Who were your biggest inspirations when you started making music?

DJ-wise, definitely Laurent Garnier. In terms of production, there was never one person I wanted to be like. There were guys that fascinated me with their technique, like Akufen and his microsampling. That was really hot at the time. But I quickly realized that I don’t have it in me to mimic someone else’s style. I have a certain way of making music, and I cannot do something else. My inspiration was never other producers, but things that come from a completely different context. Like modern art, nature, you know, stuff like that.

Who are your biggest inspirations now?

Cliff Martinez. I don’t listen to a lot of music when I’m producing, though. It’s either I produce, or silence. I’m always awestruck by other people’s work, because it’s something I could never make. For guys like Mathew Jonson, the music is comprehensive and I can understand what he’s doing, so there’s not a lot of mystery. It’s just well made, minimalistic techno. And I have a lot of his records. I like Minilogue better, in that genre. Minilogue is definitely one of the examples where I think, “wow, that’s some next level shit.” I like Isolee a lot. I like Sasha’s production a lot. It’s technically pretty advanced shit. Some of the Max Cooper productions are technically really complicated. I also like stuff like Floating Points. His Elaenia album was amazing. Sonically, it’s a completely different world. I like productions that do a lot with very little. Stripped to the core and just super effective. Carl Craig is good at that. And I always love Juan Atkins. There’s a certain magic in his productions. Kenny Larkin.

But also guys that just have a really good command of groove. Like Radioslave. Recondite, too. I like that he’s more than just a musician. I like reading his interviews. He’s a contemplative person. And Dixon. I see him more as a selector. A selector of sounds. Someone who I think is sonically really incredible playing live is Flying Lotus. Nicolas Jaar, for sure. He’s also a great selector. A selector of sounds, and he can also make something of his own out of it.

Do you have any music theory background?

None. Zero. I’ve always listened to music. My dad is a music journalist. We always had music running in the house. Mostly free jazz. Also loads of indie music, like Sonic Youth. Frank Zappa.

Tell us about your background when you first started getting into music.

I came to Amsterdam because I was getting bored with Dresden, where I came from. Amsterdam was just a happy place, full of opportunity. Full of young, crazy people. Full of color. Everybody’s different. Where I’m from everybody’s kind of the same. It’s frowned upon to try and be different.

English is my second or third language. I can express myself nearly as well in English as I can in German, but there’s always that last percent where it takes a long time to get to that point. Ultimately, you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just speak it.

What was the most nose-to-the-grindstone period of your career?

I’ve had such a period in the last six months. I quit my job a long time ago. But really working hard and effectively and having a good output, it took some cleaning up. In August, I went to Peru for an ayahuasca retreat for eight days. It just really got rid of a lot of addictions and bad habits. Bad thought patterns. Old baggage and old traumas. That really cleared me out. Since then I’ve been in a really happy place. Focusing way less on partying and way more on working and making music. I stopped drinking alcohol.

Was that your first psychedelic experience?

No, I’ve done acid and mushrooms. I’ve done DMT before. It’s intimidatingly heavy. I think psychedelics are the way to go. Smoking DMT, when you have the breakthrough, it is the heavier experience. But it’s so overwhelming that you take less away. Whereas with ayahuasca you really work through it. The quality of the ayahuasca that they make in Peru is going to be better.

The retreat was in the jungle. There were twenty people there on a large piece of land. Everyone had their own huts. I was there with my wife. Everyone had some privacy, but you could get together for dinner. The mood was calm and friendly. And supportive. There were ceremonies going on four or five times a week, but you just checked in whenever you felt like it. There were always about five to eight people there.

You sit down, you chill out for a little bit. They have a beautiful ceremonial space in the middle of the jungle with open windows, so you hear everything. You’re surrounded by the sound of monkeys and crickets and birds.

For the ceremony, they have two local shamans and two western shamans who have learned the craft of ayahuasca for decades. They can relate to our world a lot better; they can make that connection between Peru and the western world. Those guys were world class. We worked with other plant medicines too, like tobacco. We went on a tobacco diet where we took a brew of tobacco and wild garlic. For a couple of days you just drink that twice a day. It cleanses you, it releases blockages. It gets your chakra straight again. It works, but it kicks your ass. It’s not psychedelic, it just kicks your ass. There’s some heavy purging going on. I see it as a once-a-year kind of maintenance. It was at times pretty hard work. Tobacco tastes horrible. And ayahuasca didn’t taste that great, either. But you get used to it. When it comes up it tastes worse.

People are purging around you for sure. Some go to the toilet and shit their guts out. People are screaming, crying, laughing. Everything. You’re just in this space and you let everyone work on their own shit. You leave them be. If they’re in really deep waters, one of the shamans will come and support them a little bit. But generally, you need to give people a chance to work through their issues.

What inspired you to go on this ayahuasca retreat?

It just called to me. I knew I needed to do something; I was really close to burning out. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep very well. I ate badly. I took way too many drugs. I had problems getting up in the morning.

It’s been a total turnaround. I feel so much happier. I wanted to just be alone. Be away from people. Work was getting to me. It’s one of the hard parts of this work. You meet a lot of people superficially. 95% of the people I meet I forget after a week. Then they come back to me, “hey remember me from last week? I booked you for a party.” I don’t remember, I’m sorry. My database is full.

I don’t feel as strict about compromising. I see myself not so much as an artist, but as a connector who brings people together. Music is simply a tool, a language to create a connection between people. And I’m not too precious about “this is my art and it’s holy.” It’s not. It’s functional. What is holy is the human connection. That’s why I’m doing it. If I thought there was a music that I could make that could achieve that connection more effectively than the stuff I’m doing now, then I would change that. Because that connection is my main goal.

In the end, nearly all the music, even the good stuff, is consumed in a fast food kind of way. It comes and goes and then there’s something new.

What’s your take on the atmosphere of the show tonight?

It felt like there was so much potential. I was just let down by the power cuts. The power went out three times. It felt like starting and stopping. And it was really evenly spread across the set, so every thirty minutes it stopped. And I had to start again. But still, I felt good. It was a good energy. You can’t help but think, “ah, if everything had worked flawlessly it would have been incredible.”

What’s been one of your favorite sets you’ve played in the last six months?

I had a really great set this summer at Sisyphos in Berlin. That was incredible. Three hours of just pure euphoria. In the morning, Sunday morning, the sun came up. Just a morning daylight party. Earlier in the year I played at Desert Hearts. That was also really good.

Are there any other artists you collaborate with closely, or consider contemporaries?

I like to work alone. That’s just how I am. I get the best ideas when I’m on my own. I recently collaborated with Audiofly on a track. That was fun, and we had some really good results as well. That’s really the exception to the rule; most of the time when I collaborate with someone else I was not happy with the results. I prefer to fly solo.

DJ-wise, I play together with my best friend, Nuno Dos Santos. We used to have a residency together for many years. He’s about the only guy I would play back to back with nowadays. There needs to be a certain understanding and trust. I’m not a fan of novelty back to back sets. It’s like Superman vs. Spiderman. Alien vs. Predator.

If you could play one last show, where would you play?

I definitely would play one in Amsterdam. In a good place, to my own crew. There are so many places I love playing, but I feel that my bucket list has gotten way smaller. I feel really satisfied already with what I’ve achieved. I’d like to take it to a bigger level. I’m not shy with playing big floors. You just reach more people, and it’s still a ton of fun. Career-wise I’m in a very happy place.

Where do you hope to see yourself in a year?

I just want to get better, both as a DJ and producer. To have a higher hit rate. Instead of one out of five tracks being really killer, I want one out of two tracks to be that good. I just want to feel like I have more knowledge and more control over my gear. For the rest, I always hope to find fresh inspiration. Always find fresh sounds. The worst thing that could happen to me would to become a legacy act. That I’m tied to a certain period from many years ago, and I’m booked to these revival parties or something like that. I would be very unhappy and stop making music. I always want to be at the forefront of music development. It’s really important to learn from the young guys, as well. And listen, and try to understand different generations. How do eighteen-year-olds function and consume music? The world is changing. You have to adapt to it. If you fight it, you’re toast.

Whenever you encounter something beautiful, the first instinct is to capture it. Because it didn’t happen if you don’t capture it. You only validate it by snapping it. Then you live that moment through your phone. That moment becomes a trophy.

But I’m too much of a phone addict to airplane-mode-it most of the time. I’m not pretending that I have that fully under control. I do use Facebook, both personally and for my artist page. I like to talk. I like to share. I need to really force myself to use things like Instagram because I’m not interested in three-word brain farts and nice pictures. How do you start a discussion when all you have is a coffee table book? That’s what Instagram feels like to me.

What was your first job?

I did a lot of things. I started working at a call center as just a normal agent. There I taught myself to program. Then I became a programmer. Then I became a multimedia designer. Then I started freelancing as a multimedia designer, then I slowly weaned off the freelancing and built up the music. I was building everything, databases, websites. Educational DVD-ROMs. So back in the day I was a software engineer. The process of writing code and making music is extremely similar. You make it up in your head, and then you create something out of nothing. Cooking, as well, is very similar. A lot of DJs have backgrounds as chefs. And a lot of them have backgrounds as programmers or graphic designers. To make shit is something that’s fun for these people. Seldom do you see account managers become a DJ.

What do you think of the DJing-producing dichotomy?

It’s hard. When I’m really in producing mode, I kind of neglect my DJ sets a little bit. I need to be dedicated to one thing. I don’t like jumping back and forth between two worlds. I need to find a way to make that work together better. I want to produce a little less—a little more in blocks of time—so I can say, “the next two months I’m producing.” Then the month after that I’m not producing. To give yourself a little space. Right now, I’m constantly producing. Sometimes more, sometime less. I feel like there’s a lot of potential in making music and turning DJ sets into almost semi productions. By assembling the tracks on the fly. I feel like, especially as a DJ, I haven’t reached the end of the line by any stretch of the imagination; there’s so much more I want to do and try out and get better at.

Photography by Ramona Deckers. Many thanks to Pat and the Alt team for making this discussion possible.

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