For most DJs, playing in Berghain will never be more than a pipe-dream — but for Alex.Do, it was a reality by age 22. And while he may have missed a trick in securing his domain (go to www.alex.do and you’ll end up on a Russian website for luxury villas in the Dominican Republic), the DJ/producer seems to have Berlin wrapped around his little finger. Adopted as the youngest member of the Dystopian family that includes Recondite and Rødhåd just two years into his career, it’s fair to say it didn’t take Alex.Do long to find his feet. With a sound that’s both assertive and understated, the Berlin native is already a dark horse of the techno scene.
Between producing his own music and a string of high-profile DJ slots, Alex.Do has also found time to score “Symphony of Now”, a new feature-length documentary about the city’s after hours scene. The experimental film, made possible by Audi Zeitgeist Projects, is a love letter to Berlin nightlife, with personal reflections and night-time tales told by the people who know it best. Inspired by the 1920s silent film “Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis”, director Johannes Schaff captures the vitality of Berlin’s unparalleled and internationally notorious party scene. The soundtrack for “Symphony of Now” was envisioned by Frank Wiedemann, who co-produced every track with different industry heavyweights, including Modeselektor and Alex.Do himself. The result is a visually and aurally compelling panorama of Berlin’s immersive nightlife, which has afforded the city its reputation as techno capital of the world.
In advance of the film’s secret location premiere on 14th, 15th and 16th February, we caught up with Alex.Do to talk all things techno.
You obviously live in Berlin, but you also grew up here, right?
Yeah! I was born in Berlin in 1990. The wall had already come down then, so I can’t really say I was born in the East or West, but I was born in the Eastern part of the city and I’ve lived here my whole life.
How did you first become interested in music – has it always been a part of your life?
My Dad is a real music enthusiast — he was collecting lots of stuff like Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, but my parents were also listening to a lot of ‘80s stuff like Depeche Mode. Because of them, I was in touch with music quite early. Then when I was about 16 or so I tried to go out a bit in Berlin, you know, to discover some clubs. It wasn’t that easy because you had to be 18 of course, but I faked my ID and sometimes it worked (laughs).
Most kids don’t grow up in the capital of nightlife — it must’ve been crazy to have your first clubbing experience in Berlin.
Yeah, definitely. Well at a point, I was living more on the outskirts of Berlin and we had a huge discotheque thing — you know, like a main room and a hip-hop room and stuff. So that was where I was going out first, and even there, you could feel that special energy — you know, that feeling of letting go. However, I found myself thinking “This is nice, but there has to be something more”. And then I started to discover some of the other clubs…
And was that when you started becoming interested in DJing? How long was it before you began to realise this could actually be a viable career option for you?
The career thing came to my mind quite late. To begin with, I think I was amazed by the impressive and energetic moments a DJ could create, interacting with people in some way. And I thought maybe this is something I wanted to do — or maybe just something I wanted to understand. I started to learn it by myself, and then every now and then I would play somewhere, but I never had in my mind that I could make a living out of it.
You just did a remix for Mind Against, you released an EP on Plangent last year, and you’ve just done the soundtrack for “Symphony of Now”. You seem to be more focussed on DJing at the moment — is that right?
Well I actually have 3 EPs on the way right now — they’ll probably be released throughout this year, I think. So those are forthcoming. Luckily I don’t feel the pressure to rush things or push releases. For now, I’m just enjoying being on tour.
And where are you touring?
The world! (laughs). No, I’m joking, but tomorrow I’m leaving for South America, two weeks ago I was playing at Berghain and I have nice things coming up. I’m looking forward to the summer season and seeing what festivals are happening. That’s a really lovely time to play.
What’s the best club you’ve played at?
Or top 3!
Top three is easier — it’s not easy to say what the best is! Because I played there recently, I’d say Berghain. I just realised again how special it is to play there, because you can do exactly what you want, you don’t have to serve people. Of course the crowd is expecting good music, but you don’t have to play “popular” stuff — you can also go deep or more abstract, and people will still follow you. That freedom is definitely something wonderful. Another venue which was really magical for me was Trouw in Amsterdam — it’s closed now, but I played there a couple of times. One time I was closing the big room, and that was really emotional actually. It was a really good show, I still think about it a lot. In Berlin, about:blank is also like a second home for me. I have a lot of friends who work there, and the club is really special to me. Playing there is always like playing for friends, and that’s always a good feeling.
How did you get involved with “Symphony of Now”?
It came through Frank Wiedemann, he’s a friend of mine. All of us have known each other for a while — Innervisions and Dystopian have been connected for quite a long time now. I was always cool with the guys, and every now and then I hung out with Frank and we showed each other music. We always had it in mind to make music together, but never found the time. Then he came to me at a festival after my set and told me about this project and asked me to be involved. He said he was doing a film soundtrack and immediately I said yes, I didn’t even care what it was. I was really honoured that he wanted me to join, and really excited to work on a film soundtrack. I said “Of course, let’s do it.”
It sounds like a really cool project.
Yeah, I’m really curious about how the public will react to it, you know, and what will come out of it.
The film goes behind the scenes of Berlin’s techno subculture, uncovering the “hidden gems” of its underground scene. What are your favourite lesser-known spots in the city?
I know this question well (laughs), but actually I don’t have any “hidden spots” really, or anywhere that I go that only I know about. I’m not actually that interested in going out that often, because if I have free time, I don’t want to spend it in a club as well. For record shopping, the shop I’ve been going to for about 10 years is called HHV, which is short for Hip-Hop Vinyls. It started as a hip-hop orientated shop, but it’s become really big now. They have a huge selection of music; they truly have everything. It’s definitely my favourite record store in the city. But my hidden gem? Maybe that’s my roof actually.
Have you seen the film yet from start to finish?
Not yet actually! (laughs)
The premiere is on the 14th — and you’re live scoring alongside it. Is that with everyone featured on the soundtrack?
Yeah — so it’s me, Frank, Modeselektor, Thomas Fehlmann, Gudrun Gut, Samon Kawamura and Hans-Joachim Roedelius doing the live score. They’re showing the film over three days, but the 14th is the only day with the live score.
That’s amazing — have you ever done anything like this before?
No, never. I played at the Konzerthaus once; I did the opening show for RY X as an ambient DJ. Of course that’s not like scoring a film, but it’s something completely different to what I’ve ever done before. You have 1,500 people sitting there, watching you, and you’re up there on the stage with your turntables. I was wearing a suit, you know!
That must have been bizarre.
It was really bizarre! And I’ll never forget — you know the entrance where the artists come on stage in those concert houses? I was standing in front, and then the red light goes on and I think “OK I have to go out now.” (laughs) Then I came out and there’s people sitting everywhere and total silence, you know. (laughs) That was really interesting.
So maybe it’ll be a bit similar to that then…
Yeah, maybe! I mean, I’ve never performed music live, I’ve always DJ’d, so that’s another thing I’m getting a bit excited slash nervous about.
“Symphony of Now” premieres in a secret location in Berlin on the 14th, 15th and 16th February. Stay tuned for more information on how you could be in with a chance of winning tickets.