Booka Shade on the difference between DJs and producers

Arno Kammermeier and Walter Merziger are the two Germans behind Booka Shade (which plays Beta on June 21). The group, in its latest iteration (it played briefly in the '90s as well), has developed a sort of cult following in the American EDM market. Its sound is different from much of the mainstream artists currently in the scene, but that hasn't stopped Booka Shade from finding success in the dance world.

In 2012, Booka Shade released "Honeyslave" on party DJ Steve Aoki's DIMMAK record label. "We did do something with Steve Aoki...people wondered how we did it, but the fact was he is a longtime fan and wanted to work with us," says Kammermeir. "But we can never do the sound like he does. We do the Booka Shade sound."

When we spoke with him, he was busy preparing for Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, fine-tuning the visual production, as well as the live music side of the show, for what he refers to as the "American EDM scene."

"We are tuning the production and arrangement for this purpose so everything fits for the EDM scene in America," he says. "Because I believe, at the moment, everything has to be spot on."

The duo spends plenty of time adapting to its audience, whether its European festivals or stateside for club runs. "Take Coachella last year when we headlined: There, you could bring out the musical stuff and play longer -- the groovy stuff," says Kammermeier.

Booka Shade's music lies in the purgatorial down-tempo land of EDM, so the duo must adapt for the high-energy EDC crowd. "With EDC, I guess you have to bring your songs in the best possible way for this crowd. That's good for us to do, as we are a live band with certain arrangements. So we can bring energy in and out to let the people come and get into the music."

Booka Shade's latest release, Eve, doesn't stray far from the sound that the group's fan-base has come expect. The three years Kammermeier and Merziger spent on it, though, allowed them to jump into many genres and pick out specific styles to incorporate into their music. "Leema" is more industrial, whereas "Crossing Borders" has the vocals of Fritz Kalkbrenner layered over a simple melody. The crisp production, which has always been the most important factor attributing to the success of the two musicians, remains. "We want to expand the Booka Shade sound universe, which is sometimes difficult since we don't have a singer that might keep the sound together. If you take any band, a guy like Sting, he can create new music in every album, but it would be very recognizable because of his voice," Kammermeier says. "We don't have that. We have to stay very creative about how we expand the universe and make it recognizable. We like to believe that people will always know it's a Booka Shade song because the atmosphere and sounds. There is a lot of love for detail in the music. There is still something you can uncover."

The difference between the live show and the DJ set they are premiering in certain clubs across the country (including at Beta this weekend) is about the production. Kammermeier makes it clear that he and Merziger are not DJs, but music producers first. The idea for doing DJ sets came only four years ago, following a hectic tour. "When we try to do these weird DJ sets going somewhere, we never succeed." So they found a way to make those sets as vibrant as their full-band shows.

For the DJ sets, Kammermeier and Merziger pre-produce their sets in a studio setting, but it's not the rote monotony of some other pre-recorded DJ sets. It's different each time, and whereas "pressing play" is the supposed status quo for big name acts, Booka Shade uses to the turntables as a platform to play with their own catalog of music. "In those sets, we do what we do best which is work with music. We play along with the tracks and use them as a basis to add something else. I guess that's what we're best at. We are not those DJs that take you on an eight hour journey throughout the night. I never understand how people do that, if it's done the right way," says Kammermeier.

"The art of DJing is something we had a lot of respect for, and many of our friends are DJs, but it's...a different way of expressing your music."

• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - The fifty best rap lyrics of all time - The ten biggest concert buzzkills - Five more concert buzzkills - From Phish to Floyd, the ten best light shows

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Britt Chester is a writer and video producer living in Denver, Colorado. He's covered breaking news, music, arts and cannabis for Westword since 2010. His work has appeared in GQ Magazine, Village Voice, YES! Weekly, Inman News and the Winston-Salem Journal. He likes running, cycling, and interviewing people.
Contact: Britt Chester