Ask the Experts: Len Faki
One of techno's most in-demand artists answers your questions.
Ask the Experts: Len Faki
One of techno's most in-demand artists answers your questions.
Berlin-based DJ, producer, and label owner Len Faki is one of the most in-demand techno artists of a generation. He is an internationally requested DJ, whose productions and remixes are played by techno’s most prominent names. Being a resident at Berghain since its opening in 2004 keeps him “open-minded” as an artist, he explains, while his sound is constantly evolving without ever losing its energy.
Even before his move to Berlin in 2003, Faki had the experience of managing two techno labels: Monoid and Feis. These early years of fruitful productivity provided the necessary groundwork for the next big steps in his career. Upon his arrival in Berlin, it didn’t take long until he became a resident-DJ in the newly opened Berghain, a monthly experience he “wouldn’t want to miss for anything,” he explains.
In 2003, he founded his own label Figure as a new platform to play out his eclectic and open-minded vision of techno music. At first an outlet for his own productions, Figure developed into a well-recognized label, releasing artists like Jeroen Search, Roman Poncet Lady Starlight or Matrixxman as well as upcoming producers like Setaoc Mass, Cleric, Nocow, and Viers.
In 2007, Faki released the double A-side Rainbow Delta/ Mekong Delta on Ostgut Ton, which became one of the biggest records of the year and an instant techno classic. The success and popularity of “Mekong Delta” brought a wave of attention to Faki, who answered with numerous successful follow-up tracks like “My Black Sheep“ or “Odyssee II,” which turned into massive club hits in 2007 and 2008, as well as “Death By House” for Sven Väth’s Cocoon label.
Faki’s love for the infinite variety of electronic music resulted in founding Figure SPC in 2009. In Spring 2009, another milestone in Len’s career was passed with the release of Berghain 03 on Ostgut Ton, Faki’s first commercial mix-CD. Accompanied by two 12″s with exclusive tracks from fellow producers like Radio Slave and Faki himself, the release further reinforced his status as one of the most innovative and versatile techno DJs in the business. Since then, Faki has found more and more pleasure in editing tracks for his DJ sets to further develop his sound on stage.
More recently, he’s launched new Figure sub-label Figure Jams and his own platform LF RMX, a non-profit label from which earnings are donated to Straßenkinder e.V., a Berlin organization that contributes to the care of homeless children and child poverty. Later this year, in September, Faki‘s Figure label will drop FIGURE 100, a four-vinyl compilation to celebrate its 15th anniversary and 100th release. The compilation will feature 17 tracks from the likes of Pablo Mateo, Truncate, Roman Poncet, Lady Starlight, Juxta Position, Setaoc Mass, Kirilik (aka KiNK), and more. Ahead of the release, he now steps forward to answer your questions.
Len Faki will be performing at this year’s Sonus Festival alongside Charlotte de Witte, Rødhåd, Praslesh, Rhadoo, Sonja Moonear, and many more. This year’s edition runs from August 19 to 23 on Zrce Beach, Croatia, with more information available here.
How much time do you need to make tracks like “BX3”?
Each track is a whole different story. “BX3” was a rather quick one I would say, but I can’t say how much actual time it took me. I don’t think in hours when in the studio. I really don’t know. The basic framework was there in like one to two studio sessions, I’d say, but I spent quite some time with details. I worked with a lot of reverbs at this time, which means that I recorded and sampled them, recorded again and repeated this process several times. That’s why it turned out as such a massive warehouse track, because of the reverbs.
Back then I liked to give tracks some time before I finished them—to let them sit on the hard drive for some weeks without listening to them. If I then went back, my intuition told me what or if something more was needed. Over the years, this procedure has developed. I am more experienced now and know when a track is finished. My production process is much more smooth and faster these days but sometimes I still think it’s a good idea to get some distance from a track and listen with fresh ears later again.
I remember I didn’t listen to “BX3” for several weeks. I knew that something was missing but not what it was. And then, in a completely different context, I came across the sirens and instantly knew that they were the missing element to complete it.
What’s your studio setup like and what are your favorite pieces of gear for the signature Faki sounds? How do you get those huge subs?
Until my new studio is finished, I am working with a purely digital setup. Gear lust is, of course, always there, since so much incredible stuff comes out these days. But I am planning to not take the old hardware in again because I want to focus on new machines with fresh inspirations and workflows when I move into the new room.
I do like to try out a lot of different stuff and experiment with a wide range of plugins. Soundtoys have some great plugs that I tend to use constantly though. Their Echo Boy or FilterFreak are a lot of fun and fit well with the sound I want to achieve. I always have these in some FX chain in my tracks.
EQing and editing of envelopes definitely also plays an important role in my sound design. Getting deep into these details is great fun for me. I do not use any sample as it is; I always like to tweak and layer things.
As an example, that dub track remix was a long process of experimenting with sounds, specifically bass and reverb. I recorded several bass sounds together, EQed them, exported them. Then I recorded the reverb sound from a kick drum which I then filtered, edited, and added to the bass. I EQed that and bounced again and so on, you get the idea.
I am not that much of a synth nerd but love to edit drums.
Are you looking for unknown talents for Figure?
Supporting talent, whether it be unknown or well known, always was and will be essential for Figure and its sub-labels. Looking back, there were some artists who did not have that many releases out before they had EPs on Figure. Take Cleric, Rega, and Setaoc Mass, for examples. But a label like Figure also has its capacities, of course. We’re open to new music and do our best to check as many demos as possible. At this point, thanks to you all for sending your music to us and apologies if yours has not been heard or was not given feedback; the amount of demos we’re receiving makes it impossible to reply to all of them.
Which person has inspired you the most in your music career?
This is a tough one. I can’t choose one person, really, as there have been so many over time and it was not only musicians but also people in my personal life. I think inspiration is a complex spiritual thing that I get mostly from many sources, not so much from one person. When I started to go out, I was instantly affected by the community spirit techno had and, of course, the music itself. I experienced such great emotions through music, like with certain records, or having those moments when time stands still, and everybody is dancing in the same rhythm, in the same vibe. That really inspires me.
Which clubs have fascinated you the most around the world?
I would rather not pick a few names as it is just not representative of the many great clubs that exist and I can’t do justice to them all. Anyway, for me it’s mostly about the atmosphere spaces develop not so much about the space itself. Of course, a decent infrastructure is needed and a high-quality sound and light system, which works well within the space. That’s the basis for every club or event, and in my opinion, most of those I know have it or are working on improvement. What fascinates me is the energy and connection that is created with the crowd while I’m playing no matter in which space. The space itself is not the guarantee for an unforgettable night. It’s the interaction of everyone present.
Do you believe that someone who has not a lot of money, and no contacts, but really loves techno just as much as you do, and your kind of techno, can make it to your level as a DJ?
I feel you. No money or contacts—that was my reality for quite some time, too, back then. And I survived, so a definite: yes, it is possible! I truly believe in it.
You actually answered part of your question already yourself as I am convinced that love, passion, and believing in yourself are the essential parts for this process. Especially in those hard times, where rationality tells you to stop; it is necessary to keep your beliefs and go on and pursue your goals. In the end, it is a lot of hard work and consistency is key, in my opinion.
What are some rules/guidelines that you have for producing music that you swear by?
There is only one guideline that I can pass on and that is to do what you feel and what you want to do, while not caring too much about what is on the charts or what is hyped at the moment. Don’t let yourself be distracted from the music you want to create and try to refine and develop your skills as often as possible. Failure is where actual progress happens and with sticking to your own sound and repeating it to create stuff you’ll learn to transfer your ideas into the sound you imagine.
Do you play the same in clubs (relatively small venues) and festivals (bigger crowds)? If not, what do you do differently?
There is a huge difference between smaller and bigger sized events and I always adapt my selection to the individual conditions. Some tracks profit from smaller surroundings whereas other tracks with much reverb and massive sounds work perfectly on big systems. But there are some intersections between these that are fascinating: playing tunes that would be an obvious choice for a big stage on a small event and vice versa can deliver special moments if done right.
I love to follow spontaneous inspirations during the sets and if it feels right such a track can create magic moments. It is a bit of risk involved and it does not always work, but if it does it surprises yourself and might give that extra push. So, unfortunately, there are no exact guidelines I can give here since it always depends so much on the space and the crowd in this particular moment. Same place and crowd two hours later and the result might already be a different one. It’s all connected. I would suggest experimenting and training your feeling and sensors to make the right decisions for a particular moment.
What is your approach and workflow like when working on remixes for LF RMX?
The idea for starting LF RMX came up when I decided that I would like to share the edits and remixes I made for my sets. I do not get a remix request nor have the stems for them. It is more that I stumble across tracks while digging for music and then spontaneously start to work on them. No pressure or deadline makes it a lot of fun to just go for it and see what happens, I love that. The workflow, therefore, is totally relaxed because there are no expectations. It’s a lot of work with details and the frequencies of the material and new elements that I add. I always try to keep the original vibe and add that little boost with the intention of giving my own touch as well as making ‘90s tracks fit the contemporary sound, for example. I do not try to reinvent the wheel but rather keep it simple and respect the original. I see it as a challenge, and it’s big fun to work without stems—finding out what’s possible. I see this as a way of paying my tribute to the respective artist and track. And as a nice side effect, all proceeds are donated to charity. All artists involved join the idea, which is amazing.
How do you cope with lack of sleep while touring and keep fit over all these years?
Lack of sleep can be a real killer, but it is often unavoidable and you can’t do much against it besides sleeping. So while on tour, one has to accept the sleep deprivation to a certain extent but also try to arrange the travel schedule in the best way to get as much sleep as possible. And you have to learn to be disciplined and sleep wherever possible, even if it is only 30 minutes instead of wasting this time with checking social media or watching series. The days between touring, during the week, are key to getting back in balance. That’s the only chance to really catch up on some sleep, do sports and eat well. In summer I do like to go hiking, mountain biking, and running, for example.
I now see physical and mental fitness as well as a healthy balanced nutrition as indispensable for staying fit with a full tour schedule. I did not care so much about it when I was younger. Back then, I always tried to catch a full hotel breakfast after a gig. Now I have homemade cereal bars, bananas, and other good stuff with me to eat healthily wherever I am, independently from time and menu. To live this kind of life for so many years, you need to find a way to cope well with stress and take good care of yourself. A healthy lifestyle is key to making it but, of course, I’m the last one to miss out on a good party.