Multi-disciplinary artist Dean Grenier is a guy who, in my eyes, has struck a good life balance. In his 10 years of self-employed artistic career and 2.5 years of living in Berlin, he has fine-tuned a lifestyle that allows him to be super productive yet relaxed. Berlin plays a big part in allowing him to live this way, partly due to its low cost of living compared to other European cities offering a high quality of life. But more importantly, there is value placed on leisure here – Berliners understand that recharging your batteries is important in order to be function properly, so downtime is not only respected but encouraged. The fact that everything is closed on Sundays also enables this, as everyone else is laying low and you won’t be able to run your errands or get anything done anyway.
This can be dangerous when going out on Saturday nights, as not only do certain clubs operate non-stop well into Monday morning, but knowing that Sunday will be a write-off anyway makes it easy to get lost on the dancefloor. Sunday daytime clubbing is popular amongst locals, as the dancefloors are less touristy in the off hours and it allows you to keep a regular sleep schedule. In the summer, Berlin’s vast parks are host to DIY picnic barbecues, with groups of friends spending the day laying in the grass, grilling sausages and drinking beer.
We both had raved the weekend before, so this weekend we chose a different route. As you’ll read throughout this article, balance is key.
We meet up around noon at Boulderklub in Kreuzberg. We typically prefer to ride our bikes out to Ostbloc, but as we enter December it is getting pretty cold for that sort of thing. Climbing/Bouldering runs deep in the Turbo family, in fact I ended up working here because my best friend was invited to go climbing with Turbo alumni Iron Galaxy and Thomas Von Party some years ago.
Dean regularly climbs on weekday mornings with a gang of fellow DJ/producers. I’m usually busy manning the Turbo email ship then, so I only make it out on weekends when I manage to swerve the temptations of nightlife in favour of healthier choices. Dean is a more hardened climber than I am; after about two hours my toes are bruised and my fingers torn, so we decide to move on.
In need of some scran and faced with limited options as most restaurants are shut, we walk over to Gel Gör, a staple 24h Turkish joint. I kid you not, this place serves a Techno sandwhich… which I obviously go for.
We discuss how happy we are of our choices this weekend – as you can imagine, we are spoiled with an incredible nightlife culture here with stacked lineups every weekend, but in order to stay sane you need to pick your battles. We both love letting our hair down at a good rave until the wee hours, but agree that spending your Sunday recovering by watching Netflix in bed sucks.
Next stop: Concierge. “It’s the hardwax café” Dean tells me. Tucked in an alleyway around the corner from the influential record shop, there is hardly space for six people to sit inside.
We order flat whites and exchange various Hardwax/Rhythm & Sound anecdotes, like when Mark Ernestus gave Dean a tour of the studios behind the shop where all those records are made, and when I had an awkward handover whilst opening for Moritz Von Oswald…
Dean shows me how the triple-lens camera works in low-light on his shiny new iPhone 11, which suddenly gives me an urge to upgrade, but I remember that I’m content with my iPhone X. Speaking of light, the sun is already on its way out, so we head east along the canal.
Highly-organized fenced-off squats with their own power grid and protective rights sit casually next to kid’s playgrounds. Joggers and dog-walkers pass by as we discuss the insane history of this city, trying to picture how it looked like when walls ran on both sides of this canal only 30 years ago. Dean points out weird diagonals of open space between buildings, reportedly due to how streaks of bombs landed during WWII and levelled certain buildings that were never rebuilt.
We make our way up to Warschauer str. and hop on a train towards Dean’s studio space which he shares with Benjamin Damage out in Marzahn, further east of the city than I’ve ever been.
As we settle into the cozy 5th floor studio, I discreetly start recording our conversation (as years of reefer and frequent flying has pretty much ruined my memory), and get into the nitty gritty of Dean’s musical philosophy as he plays me new tracks he’s recently finished. Every track sounds amazing, each with few elements delicately mixed into a whole, instantly creating a specific and slightly dystopian atmosphere. That’s one of Dean’s greatest strengths, and something I always look for when listening to music – nailing the “vibe” of a track, transposing the listener somewhere, wether its a mood or place or combination of both. I sense the tracks are somewhat inspired by the post-industrial surroundings of the studio we’re in, but they are all firmly rooted in dark, bustling big-room dancefloors where people dance for hours with their heads down, sweating out their problems of the week.
I’m curious to know how an artist like Dean taps into that energy when writing music – the studio we’re sitting in is far from the same vibe as any given dancefloor. Considering we just had a very pleasant day, and Dean is a sound, happy dude – how does he create something that exudes any other emotion?
“I think music can be dark, sad, heavy AND joyful. I think that’s there’s so much happening in techno music that is joyless, and has this lack of energy and spark to it. And THAT’s when it’s really boring. I love dark music for its cathartic properties. There’s times that you hear something dark or touching or heavy emotionally, and instead of it filling you with sadness – it relieves your sadness. Instead of filling you with darkness, it makes you think ‘you know I have a little bit of this darkness in me and now I don’t feel so alone. Somebody else feels this way and now I feel more connected and closer to the people in this club I’m sharing this experience with’.”
“Mind you there’s aesthetic properties to dark music that I just find really exciting, this dark glowing amber, like a sparkle in the darkness – I’m not talking about cynical darkness, I mean there’s this luster and romantic side to the darkness and that’s what I’m attracted to and chasing in the studio. In that there is a joyfulness and energy. You can have this music that’s dark and heavy and really honest, yet it can be joyful, celebratory, revelatory, and energetic. The opposite can happen too where in certain scenarios where DJs are pumping out joyless, heavy, taxing, in-human music.”
We discuss old detroit techno records and how even though these records have simple elements and were made with rudimentary machines, the ideas behind the tracks are very clear and the humanity shines through despite their simplicity. Conversely, EDM or big-room tech-house can feel so empty to us despite being laden with melodies and drops and artifice which so desperately try to manipulate the dancer into feeling some type of way.
“Intention is so important. What is the intention of the person who made it? If the intention is to infuse your humanity and your excitement and your love for creativity in the music, you’re gonna feel that on the other end. If you either don’t have that or if your intention is cynical, you will be left with not feeling much listening to that music. Music is a real conduit, people think that they can kinda fake it, but you can always unconsciously feel wether the music is honest or not”
“That’s the funny thing about techno, people don’t come to the club to feel sad – they’re looking for an escape. So the music has to offer a balance. As an artist I’m interested in these opportunities to be vulnerable and share the way I feel and maybe that will resonate with you. But techno is so functional, the main purpose is to make people dance. If you get just outside of that, you might start to think ‘oh god, if I’m not making people go crazy, am I really doing my job?’ But we’ve all had moments with music where you felt touched, and they might not be hands-in-the-air moments, yet those are the ones you’re going to remember. Moments that come from an honest expression of one’s human experience, which is not easy to find in techno.”
“Don’t get me wrong though, I’m also interested in big crazy wild rave moments full of energy. When I think of this track ‘Hurrikan’ I think okay, this isn’t a very personal experience, but there’s humanity to it just in the way it was made in one take by hand on a single synth, and then there’s this raw power in it, an exercise in letting some energy loose, which I think is as important as an emotional release.”