Something’s afoot in Hamburg. While the past years, decades even, were dominated primarily by the Frankfurt and Berlin schools of techno, constantly setting the tone and pace for progression of a rather hard-edged style of dance music, the Hanseatic City is increasingly coming into its own. The newest and literally one of the youngest representatives of this blossoming yet adamant Hamburg-bred club music goes by the name of ETNIK. Born in 1992, he is already being coined the wunderkind of new German techno. What’s more, it took him just one gig in Hamburg’s Baalsaal to get himself a record deal. “It was quite overwhelming,” ETNIK recounts. “My initial plan was to not venture into DJ’ing before having established myself with a few tracks of my own to show. Though at the time I was familiar with the Baalsaal’s manager and he invited me to DJ one night. It was actually my first official DJ set. That night an A&R Manager from Warner happened to be among the guests. He saw me, heard me and thought to himself: ‘Whatever else it is this guy does, we need him!’ A mere two weeks later I was seated at a table with the folks from Warner and we discovered that we have the same vision and idea of who I am and where I want to go with my music.” And so he signed on with bitclap!, Warner Music’s Dance label.
A rapid rise to fame? Overnight stardom? Far from it. Despite his young age ETNIK’s signature sound has been a long time in the making. “When I was seven, I remember hearing Sven Väth’s ‘Dein Schweiss’ for the first time and being stricken. From that moment on I knew that I wanted to do something just like that.” For years he worked on developing his highly charismatic sound. “I want each of my tracks to boast a strong identity, while remaining distinctly different from one another. The danger in looking to form a signature sound is that, at the end of the day, many of your productions will pretty much end up sounding the same. I try to avoid this at all costs.” So it came that ETNIK spent most of his days as a young teenager sitting in his room, refining sounds, beats and dynamics. “My friends and classmates were all listening to hip hop and r’n’b. This made me and my inclination towards everything electronic a perpetual outsider,” he remembers. “At the same time I am a big fan of percussion. And so from time to time I catch myself including hip hop-based drum patterns in my techno.” All that at an age, when others are busy flipping through the latest Harry Potter novel.
But the thing most refreshing about ETNIK is not his youth. It’s his merciless and surprisingly confident sound, backed by a sense of style that is spot-on. ETNIK, which is his real name by the way, grew up in Hamburg as the son of Albanian immigrants, who supported his musical ventures from day one. His aim, from the outset, was to pair techno with rare elegance. Instead of overloading his music with sounds, ETNIK prefers to omit all that is superfluous and to focus only on the essentials. His music cuts to the chase and shows poise, where most others succumb to irritating effects: Shaken, not stirred! “I’m an absolute perfectionist, constantly seeking the ultimate,” he explains. “It doesn’t take me long to complete 80% of a track. The final 20% however may take me months. I may even choose to place an already finished track back in the archive because I suddenly dislike the way the hi-hat sounds.” As a result it took ETNIK an entire two years of working on his first tracks before he was ready to upload them to SoundCloud. His efforts have paid off. The tracks and remixes uploaded to his SoundCloud channel currently boast close to 1 million plays and counting.
It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that ETNIK shows an equally steady hand when it comes to his appearance: It just fits. “I really value the big picture. Everything needs to be in the right place to form a unity, bearing a clearly defined character within.” His music is inspired by contemporary artists such as Boys Noize, Tiga, D.I.M and Kraftwerk as well as by old-time greats the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach. So encountering a few bars of a violin solo somewhere in his sounds wouldn’t be that big a coincidence. Or possibly more vocals in the near future: “I really enjoy vocals. They are excellent to play around with. I’ve already set my sights on a couple of possible future collaborations and it’s looking good.”
ETNIK surprises with concentrated beats, thrilling by omission rather than stoic stomping, choosing broken rhythms over straightforward four-to-the-floor beat patterns. All of the latter enhanced by a healthy dose of “crackle” and homemade Sawtooth synth sounds, bestowing upon his relentless tracks a certain analog fragility and thus a soul. But above all, ETNIK’s trademark wicked drops, catch you off guard and knock you off your feet. Leading us to his philosophy: “In your face, but always in style!”
In his music, he values quality over quantity. And this attitude has led to his success. People just loved his sound, one of them being SCNTST from Boys Noize Records. Meanwhile SCNTST and ETNIK are friends and have released music together on the in-house record label ‘Boysnoize Records’. “That is all part of the larger plan,” ETNIK explains, “not to settle with one label, one direction, one business deal. I like how contacts and opportunities grow naturally and I want to put all these chances to use.”
ETNIK’s increasing popularity as a producer is mirrored in his undeniable talent as a DJ, where he equally values extensive build-ups and clearly nuanced scripts. Just playing one track after the other is not his thing. Instead “it may come down to me playing a 90-minute-set with 30 or 40 different tracks, mixed and delivered to the people. And, what’s most important, with no loss in tension.” With all that said, ETNIK simply considers himself an entertainer with a coherent master plan. In case you were wondering: The inverse И in his logo is actually part of a visualized Sawtooth wave, as used in his tracks.
ETNIK has thus already clearly positioned himself in the techno scene with his own signature. A young man, highly recognizable in sound and appearance, he produces a style of techno quoting the genre’s history and bringing it up to date so skillfully that many of the quotes used become apparent only after repeated listening. The five tracks featuring on ETNIK’s EP “Neon Daze”, released last year in November via bitclap! / Warner Music, lay further emphasis on his range and caliber as a producer. “Neon Daze”, the title track, is a massive stomper with elaborate beats, an agonizingly intense bassline with skillfully sprinkled vocal samples. “Nixon”, as yet, is possibly one of the meanest marching versions of Future-Tech-Funk around. “Vault” is a brilliantly unfriendly tune to be played in the spanking early morning hours, right as the temperature in the club is about to hit the ceiling. “La Nuit” masterfully plays with distorted melodies and disturbing background noises, while “Boaws” concludes the EP, taking it back to the intricate Electro sounds of the 90’s with spheric keys and zero gravity. Five tracks, five drafts and one clear purpose: Right on the mark, full speed ahead, but always in style.
His unique abilities have also been recognized by many a colleague of his genre. In 2012 he was invited on a big tour of Australia, while also supporting deadmau5 on his tour of Germany, playing in front of a thousand plus people each night. Yet, the following experience proved to be even more momentous: “One day, friends told me that Skrillex had posted a remix of mine on his Facebook fanpage. He then followed me on Twitter and let me know that he liked my productions, which led to us communicating regularly up until today.” As a result, ETNIK’s releases are now also being distributed in the US via the Skrillex-owned label OWSLA. It is hard to imagine a greater honor or accolade for a young techno producer with his clear vision and equally strong ambitions.
After spending most of this past year touring and performing innumerable highly acclaimed gigs across the globe, ETNIK is now ready to impress with his latest feat. October 17th will see the release of his new “Unclassified” EP via OWSLA, proving that he is in fact unclassifiable. The release’s title track “Unclassified” features Mykki Blanco’s razor sharp rhymes over an incredibly dense, hip hop-inspired beat; a dark club anthem at the helm of future rap. The new EP also includes the mysteriously simmering “Take A Shot”, infused with a driving tech-funk beat, the extremely minimalistic “N7”, decked out in a pumping, classic ‘90s beat, set to wreak havoc on the dance floor, as well as the crisp, funky techno track “Nighthawk”. ETNIK has once again produced an EP that absolutely stands out from the current electronic crowd. Or in the words of the man himself, his music is “In your face, but always in style!” More to come…