German producer and electronic musician Paul Kalkbrenner has achieved a level of success uncommon for an artist associated with the techno underground. Since the late 1990s, he's continually refined his style of warm, melodic tracks rooted in minimal techno and early trance. Following well-received albums such as 2004's Self, he made a major breakthrough in 2008, when he starred in and composed the soundtrack for the film Berlin Calling, which included the era-defining single "Sky and Sand," sung by his brother, Fritz Kalkbrenner. Without modifying his sound for the mainstream, he topped European album charts with subsequent efforts Guten Tag (2012) and 7 (2015). Paul Kalkbrenner was born in Leipzig in East Germany in 1977, and began studying the trumpet when he was eight. In 1989, as the Berlin Wall came down and East and West Germany were reunified, the East eagerly embraced new freedoms, and the electronic music scene was an unexpected beneficiary as people set out to express themselves and embrace the high-spirited nature of the music. Kalkbrenner had already begun performing at youth clubs in Leipzig by this time, and he immersed himself in East Berlin's booming club scene. In 1994, he began DJ'ing at a number of clubs, and worked as an editor and technician for German television networks to finance his recording and production efforts. As his mixing skills increased, he began spinning his own recordings rather than relying on other people's music, and in 1999 he signed a contract with BPitch Control, a respected techno label founded by Ellen Allien. His debut EP, Friedrichshain, was released that same year under the name Paul dB+, and after a handful of well-received singles, Kalkbrenner's first full-length album, Superimpose, was released in 2001 under his proper name. While continuing to release singles, he found his calling in the longer format and issued a string of successful LPs including 2002's Zeit and 2004's more narrative Self. After establishing himself as a top recording artist and live DJ, Kalkbrenner expanded into the world of filmmaking, working with director Hannes Stohr on the film Berlin Calling, in which Kalkbrenner played the leading role, composed the score, and helped Stohr craft the story. Both his performance in the film and his 2008 soundtrack were well-received; the album went platinum and yielded the hit single "Sky and Sand," which spent a record 121 weeks on the German singles chart. His next two LPs, Icke Wieder (2011) and Guten Tag (2012), were issued through Kalkbrenner's own eponymous label, and both charted in the Top Five in Germany and Switzerland. He collaborated with Fritz Kalkbrenner and Florian Appl for the soundtrack to another movie directed by Stohr, Global Player, which was released in 2013. In 2015, after 15 years releasing music on independent labels, Kalkbrenner made the move to a major, signing a long-term deal with Sony Music International/Columbia. His seventh LP, and first for Columbia, simply titled 7, was released in August 2015, and reached the pole position in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. 7 was preceded by music videos for the album's three singles, dubbed the "Florian Trilogy." The third single, "Feed Your Head," was based around a vocal sample from Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." In 2016, Kalkbrenner compiled three "Back to the Future" mixes, tracing the roots of the Berlin techno scene through dozens of seminal tracks originally released between 1986 and 1993. The highly acclaimed mixes preceded a 2017 small-venue European tour, which sold out within a week. Back-to-basics, trance-leaning solo full-length Parts of Life was released in 2018, again hitting the Top 10 in Germany and Switzerland. "No Goodbye," co-written and sung by Chiara Hunter, appeared in 2019, along with a rave-influenced remix by Paul Woolford (Special Request).
© Mark Deming & Paul Simpson /TiVo
© Mark Deming & Paul Simpson /TiVo
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Electronic - Released May 18, 2018 | Columbia - B1 Recordings
Nostalgia and minimalism, these are Paul Kalkbrenner’s cornerstones for this album that follows his 2015 release, 7, his first album for a major label (Sony). Up to that point, the German star had tried to stay in full control of his own destiny with his label Paul Kalkbrenner Music, created after the astounding success of Sky and Sand, the soundtrack of the film Berlin Calling that starred the DJ. With that said, the Bavarian artist likes to be in control of his business and doesn’t seem to have become tied into the system. He proved it in 2016 by releasing Back to the Future as a free download, a trilogy of mix-tapes in which he dug deep into memories of dance tracks from the late 80s and early 90s.With Parts Of Life, Kalkbrenner draws on influences from the same period, a time in which everything was yet to be invented, when the simplest things seemed magical because of how new their sound was. The fifteen tracks of the album clearly edge towards the early 90s, with for instance Part 5 that flirts with euro-dance, Part 13 and its house/trance beat, or the happy house of Part 3. The German DJ relies on his trademarks here and there, like the languid male choir/hypnotic melody combo in Part 12, the dreamlike electro-pop reminiscent of Sky and Sand in Part 14, or the single Part 6, which is bound to play on radio waves all summer long. And while we would have loved to hear more variations in tracks that are often much too calibrated, we have to admit Paul Kalkbrenner has retained his terrific effectiveness. © Smaël Bouaici/Qobuz