“Hallo” a distinctly German accent breaks the silence. Moments earlier, I was preparing my workspace for an interview with the highly successful and very talented German DJ-Producer, Alle Farben. I was scrolling through his Spotify page, the statistics speaking volumes about the man I was to interview: almost 2.5 million monthly listeners, and streams totalling over 100 million listens. All I had was a phone number and a free recording app opened on my laptop. I press record and dial the number. He very quickly picks up the call with “hallo” and we begin.
Frans Zimmer, known by his stage name, Alle Farben (meaning All Colours), is, at the time of the phone call, on his way up to Sacramento, as his American tour nears its conclusion in San Francisco tonight. Originally from Kreuzberg, a vivid and exciting suburb of Berlin, Alle Farben has found success beyond just Germany with his appealing mix of feel-good melodies and the classic energy of German dance music. I don’t know if he can immediately tell that I am English, but we begin our conversation in a typically English fashion – talking about the weather. “We just came from New York and it was freezing,” he begins, “they had this winter storm one day after we left.”
Alle Farben tells me that he is off to Austria next, which makes me wonder what the difference is from the point of the DJ between American and European crowds. “I would say, in the States, there are so many European crowds,” he chuckles a little and resumes, “for me, the audience is quite similar. For instance [if] there are at least some Germans, then it’s funny because they are feeling like something from home, and so they’re getting crazy.” He played in San Francisco last autumn. Continuing talking about the crowds, he says “it was different in New York, or different in Washington.”
We begin to talk a little about differences in nightlife too. A lot of clubs in the US tend to close around 3 a.m., which is completely at odds with the European way of clubbing. “I can play 2 till 4’” he says, “[and at] 4 o’clock it is still full.”
A couple days before the interview, I reviewed Alle Farben’s Facebook page, to see what had been happening in his life recently. I noticed that about 4 months ago, he live streamed a set he performed in a Berlin tram for Fritz Radio. I ask him about that and he says, “when the people jumped … the tram had to stop, so the tram had to stop ALL the time.” I have very limited DJing experience – entirely composed of messing about on my friends equipment in London, but for me it seems that DJing in such an unstable environment as a moving tram would be difficult. Alle Farben tells me that he prepared for it and secured all the equipment as best he could; he adds, “it wasn’t just some stranger kicking you,” with another chuckle. “I like to play in the special venues, special locations,” he tells me. I ask about his sets and he responds, “I play ‘She Moves’ in a different version … people want to dance, jump – getting outraged!”
Alle Farben, apart from playing in “special locations” likes to involve other musicians in his sets. “When you have musicians on stage, it’s always, like, a bit more,” he tells me, and he has been known to incorporate singers, trumpet players, and violin players: “if they play a wrong note it doesn’t matter.” I get the sense that for Alle Farben, energy is more important than anything else when performing. And this would be expected, growing up in the vibrant Kreuzberg, in the years after the Berlin Wall fell down – energy has been with Alle Farben since childhood. We talk a little about Kreuzberg and he explains to me how his career began. Many artists and musicians live and work in Kreuzberg and “I took lessons from people, and that was important for me,” he says. I ask him a little more about his influences and I bring up that I had heard that he was really into The Cure and Depeche Mode growing up. “I was introduced to music by my brother and he showed me The Cure and Depeche Mode,” he begins, “the blue note that came from the dark 80s was [a thing] for me in the beginning.”
Carrying on the conversation in vain of influences and inspiration, I ask Alle Farben about his many collaborations on his most recent album Music Is My Best Friend (2016). “Michael Schulte for instance … wrote with me,” he says, “[if the vocalist] writes the song … he mostly knows how to sing it and bring the feel in it.” He has a very important philosophy for collaborating: “you sit all the time in the studio, and you’re always on the road so it’s nice to have people doing the same job and doing it with you … I think I will not work with someone [who] I can’t sit in the same room with.” He also tells me to expect more collaboration with YOUNOTUS, the Berlin-based DJ-duo who won a competition to remix ‘She Moves.’ I ask Alle Farben if there are any artists that he would like to collaborate with in the future, to which he responds, “it’s always nice to get in touch with new people and go with the flow,” following up with, “it’s more about ‘okay it’s very nice to work with him, let’s do it.’”
I have always liked German dance music (particularly Tech House and Techno), and there is something quite amazing about its endurance and unwavering success. I talk with Alle Farben about this, mentioning his own success and that of other artists from Germany such as Robin Schulz and Zedd. “German dance music has deep roots … Germany was one of the first countries that had a big techno scene,” he begins to tell me, before continuing to talk about the importance of Berlin specifically – how the Berliners would stay out longer and longer, developing a techno scene that attracted and still attracts artists from all around the world. “The roots are very important … the people kept coming for years … making art,” he says, and that “stream” of people “has not broken.”
I conclude the discussion with a typical question that I was a little worried to ask – I can imagine he gets it all the time. I tell him that I am driving down to LA next week and that I want to make a playlist, what would he have on it? “I would listen to Nora En Pure, that’s nice. It sits perfect in my set as well,” he responds, without hesitation. He tells me to hang on for a moment because “I can have a look on my Spotify … I have stuff offline.” He begins to rattle off a couple of names, courteously spelling them out for me: Parra For Cuva, Rüfüs, Daniel Dubb, “and actually there’s a new song from Jamiroquai,” he says with another little laugh.
“I’m going to finish the album,” he says, telling me about some of the plans he has when he has finished touring. A “single will come out on the 11th of April and I think the compilation is one week later, or something,” clearly excited to share his creations, “the album coming in autumn and I tried something new … for me I’m curious about this.” I ask him if it will continue in the direction of the second album, with slightly more up-tempo songs. “It’s more like from the first album, like slower stuff,” he tells me. With one final laugh and a lot of excitement in his voice, he interjects with the name of the single “it’s ‘Little Hollywood!’”
Written by George Green