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26 July 2021

Artists featured in this article

James Barrett has spent the last few years making a splash in the venerable techno scene of Berlin. Now in COVID ravaged 202X, he’s returned to his homeland and is wasting no time in bringing his brand of dark pounding techno to the ravers of Aotearoa. I caught up with James ahead of his Friday Dunedin party.

How long have you been back in New Zealand?

We got back at the end of May, is when we physically arrived here, but we didn’t get out of quarantine I think until two weeks later, so June is when we actually had our freedom again.

You were in Germany through the COVID times, how was that?

Yeah more or less. So in summer last year, kind of like right now, they opened it up a bit again for open air parties where it was outside and everyone had to wear a mask and everyone had to practice social distancing, and I played one or two of them but they were always kind of quite weird and reserved, and not really what you expect from a club event. But I mean the good thing about them was there was virtually no transmission at those events, so it kind of showed that was a good model for what we could do while this was still ongoing.

It was mostly just being inside for 15 months, especially in the colder months, which was pretty brutal. Sometimes I’d realize I hadn’t been outside in two or three days, and time becomes something else, so yeah no it was quite awful having to be inside and not being able to see anyone else for that long. Definitely not a good time.

Did you find it made you more productive?

I was really productive actually, that tends to be my reaction to bad situations a lot of the time is I get very productive. But yeah I mean especially the first three months kind of felt like a weird holiday from what was a very hectic schedule for me at the time, because fortunately the German government actually gave us, I think for three months, quite a bit of money at the start. Which meant I was okay for three months on that. So I was like oh great, I’m just going to sort of sit at home and work on music really hard out for a few months and this is all going to be overy by September anyway. But yeah… That did not happen.

So definitely as time went on it got a little bit harder to be quite as productive, but still I was constantly making music you know, I made an awful lot of music for my Keepsakes project, I started a couple of new different projects as well. So yeah, I definitely kept very busy.

Have you released most of that or is there still more on the way?

It’s still mostly got to come out, one of the tracks came out on a compilation with Perc Trax record label last year, and then one came out on a compilation on my own record label at the start of this year. And then I’ve got an EP coming out on South London Analog Material about to come in I believe in the next couple of months. And then I’ve got quite a few different appearances on compilations, just sort of like one off four track compilations, sort of 12 inch vinyl. So yeah, it’s mostly due to come out still. And then I’ve also got another project that I’m starting pretty soon which I signed to a nice UK label, they’ve taken a track for a compilation, so it’s all due to come out but it’s sort of taking a long time because record production and distribution has been slowed down by the pandemic too. So everything’s kind of taking an extra couple of months to get sorted right now.

Obviously the club scene in Berlin is legendary, what do you think it is about Berlin which fosters that scene?

A lot of it’s sort of historical circumstance, right place at the right time, and sort of the right historical events to make that happen I mean because on one level it’s about the fact that it’s still a city where there’s kind of like a lot of abandoned space which, some young ravers moving in and turning it into a club, so there’s this really amazing industrial environment. So one part of it is that past, and especially that soviet past as well. But a lot of it is kind of political as well, which is tied in with the history as well. Berliners have a very keen sense of what freedom means to them and there is that feeling throughout the whole city and it is kind of reflected in a lot of what you get in the clubs as well, you know once you’re in there, I mean it’s not quite a free for all but it is near enough. And yeah, I think it’s that double thing where you’ve got the history of everything, which created the geography, but also that political and ideological mindset as well, which really kind of creates that atmosphere.

And of course now, it has such a long history of being deeply involved with really high quality club music, so there’s a big music history behind it as well, which all kind of adds to the impressive energy, which kind of creates what is the scene there.

Coming back from Berlin to the Aotearoa club scenes, how do they compare?

It’s a good question, and yeah it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. You can’t deny what Berlin is and it essentially has the best clubs on the planet really you know, these giant sort of industrial places of worship for sort of hedonism and dance music and partying. You can’t deny that, but there’s also a lot to be said in terms of being a participant within it, on both an artistic and professional level, and I think there’s a lot to be said for being somewhere with a lot of potential that has a growing scene like Aotearoa, where you can really leave your mark on what’s going on and really help to change things. And there’s definitely a difference in terms of satisfaction between that and merely slotting into something that’s already very established like Berlin where you do sort of feel more like a mere participant rather than someone that can really help change things. So that’s one big thing I noticed.

Yeah, I think in New Zealand as well, a lot of this music is still so niche that it can often have even more of an underground feel. Berlin is a very big scene where techno is a very big deal and that sort of means big business, and there is a commercial aspect to it, even though the music is sort of internationally quite niche and even some of it can be quite confrontational at times, but definitely that commercial layer to it there which hasn’t quite permeated over here yet, and maybe never will because it’s such a niche thing and it’s such a small country. So yeah, here almost you kind of feel less commercial, and here when everything comes together perfectly and the party’s amazing, the crowds, you know, super diverse, and all the musics really great, there’s a sort of level of satisfaction here you maybe don’t get in a place where it’s already very established if that makes sense.

How have the shows been so far?

So far I’ve had a couple of gigs in Christchurch, those have been really great, I’ve always had a good time playing down here. I think because it’s such a drum and bass town, which in of itself is kind of sonically can be quite aggressive, and it also has a sort of sonic similarity to a lot of what I do already. I definitely think audiences have always been quite up to what I’ve got to offer here. So yeah the only shows I’ve done so far have been a couple here in Christchurch and one in Wellington Saturday, and that party in Wellington was kind of really special I have to say, the crew that put it on, Practice, they’re a really lovely crew, they really kind of curated every aspect of that party to a perfect extent, it was a very very diverse crowd, and they just put together a really really incredible event that was special within New Zealand. And they also have a very explicit kind of safer spaces and dancefloor etiquette policy, which I think just helps make the atmosphere that much more respectful within the room, which is something that you often find lacking at raves internationally, that when people get a bit too wasted they kind of forget that they are sharing the space with other people. This party, yeah it really wasn’t like that, and I think explicitly stating that they expect people to have a certain etiquette at their party really helps tackle that side of it.

But yeah no, the parties that I’ve played so far have been really good really, I’m so happy to finally be at it again.

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Obscure and unofficial media from gigs in Dunedin, New Zealand since 2014.
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