Booka Shade - real live act

Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier make music for quite a while, and for a few good years they have been producing tunes under the alias of Booka Shade. When they started to work together, back in the '90, Arno and Walter were a synth pop act signed to a major label. They released two albums and did a number of tours, but at the same time they were being seduced by the emerging trance and techno sounds they had heard in Frankfurt clubs like The Omen.

On January 27, Booka Shade played in one of the famous clubs in Bucharest, called Studio Martin. We managed to have a chat with the guys the day after the show, at the hotel where they stayed for the night. As they were in a little rush to catch the plane, we couldn't talk very long, but enough to find out what Booka Shade means, what a Booka Shade live act involves and some other things as well. The guys were enthusiastic about Romania and positively impressed about the fact that Romanian people speak English very well, as they had a show a night before in Barcelona (in the famous club Loft) and nobody was speaking English. The two Booka Shade were very friendly and even if they had a crazy party until 5 Am, they didn't look tired at all.

First we want to do what we can do with our four hands and our voices.
Booka Shade – the beginnings

Arno and Walter hail from Germany, but they don't consider themselves at all a German act, or an English act, or anything. Starting making music as partners from the early '90s could be one of the first reasons to believe that their musical background is much more than electronic music. But what does exactly the term "Booka Shade" mean? "It doesn't mean anything. I just read an article in a magazine and there were two words; or two bands. One was called something with 'booka', and there was a title with something with 'shade'. And we just combined the two words. So it doesn't mean anything", explains Walter. But you just can't combine two totally different words and create a name which will become quite a legend, right? So the guys chose this name because it's open to significations and relates different races, starting with Germans, Asians and even English people. "It just sounded good for us and it has a little Asian feel, because of the "booka", and we liked that because so you couldn't say where it comes from. You can't say Booka Shade is a German act, or English act, or Asian act, so it's very open. And this is what attracted us", Walter continues. They also found this name when they first released on the record label Touche. "Yes, it sounds good. We founded it when we did our first record at a Dutch label called Touche and that was in 1995. We were in electronic music for quite a while, we had our first trance hit classic in '93, it was called "Una musica senza ritmo". And we also did productions for Sven Vath's label , this is where it began", affirms Arno. But Booka Shade didn't constantly release under this name, because they had different projects, explains Arno. "The name exists already for quite a while; it wasn't before we set up the label and we did the productions for M.A.N.D.Y. and for DJ T that we wanted to think of a band name, a production name. And then, that's why we chose Booka Shade again", Arno concludes. They also started a nice friendship with M.A.N.D.Y. But Booka Shade was looking for something different. "We were looking for a new direction, because we were frustrated with the stage the electronic music was at the end of the '90s. Because everything was really commercial and was just always the same recipe, and we didn't fancy that anymore. And especially Philip from M.A.N.D.Y. played a lot of records of both of them".

Creativity and inspiration

Having two artist albums released, lots of remixes and EPs, the two musicians mostly find their creativity and inspiration in sadness. But this is not a general truth; if Arno sees sadness as a source for his creativity, Walter opinions differently. "In our music it's a lot of melancholy, but it's not that I have to be sad to do great music. For me it's not that I'm really sad, you know... At the moment, especially, I'm quite happy because I have a family now, I have a son born and he's ten weeks old. And it's fantastic for me. But I don't have the feeling that I have to be in a certain mood. Especially when I'm too sad, I'm a little blocked. For me, the best is to be in a stable mood, that's when I'm most creative". Asked if they consider their music an exponent of emotions or just a state of mind, Arno believes that emotion is essential. "What we want to bring across is emotion. That's what hits us most. And if there are certain melodies that hit us, that's what we want to do. It can't be a specific certain sound only in the production, but it has to be something that is special and that brings across this emotion". So, Booka Shade music can be described as being melodic and emotional? "Yes, our music is also relatively melodic. There are lots of harmonies and melodies in there. If you compare it to a lot of tracks, you know, like minimal tracks or something, our music isn't minimal at all. So yes, emotion". Walter also believes that being the "kids of the '80s" might be one of the reasons their music involves special big feelings.

Talking about inspiration, Booka Shade created the second artist album (Movements) mostly taking in consideration the public's feedback from their tours. "We were producing at that time, M.A.N.D.Y. and DJ T came back and they said 'you have to see what happens when we play your tracks, how the people react on your music'. So we said the only way to see that, because we are not DJs is to do live act and to play live again, so that's the reason why we started with Booka Shade. And we did this first album (Memento which was very minimalistic and very introverted, and we said 'ok, let's do this live, we're playing live', admits Walter. But as they were not really happy with the result, they had to think about something else. "We saw that we have to rearrange every song again, because it was not really working with these very minimal tracks. And during that period, we did the 'Movements' album. Always when we came back from touring, we went to the studio and we had impressions. So that's why the Movements album is much more,..let's say positive and uplifting and danceable than the first one".

Did the guys anticipate the success of 'Movements'? Not at all, like every artist, you can't anticipate the success of your work.

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Booka Shade - real live act

February 5, 2007 at 11:59 AM CET


Beat Factor

But having such a huge success with the second album, the artists may have had some expectations. Arno thinks that the greatest tracks from this second album are the ones which they expected the less. "When we talk about whether we expect or something, many of the track we have released and which were quite successful were even accidents. It just happens like that. Like Body Language, for example; it happened in a couple of minutes. And this bass line which wasn't a bass line at all in the beginning, it was more melody than it was brought down to the bass section". Speaking about Body Language, what's the story of that track? "That was a coincidence, because the M.A.N.D.Y. guys who did the compilation for the label, the Body Language compilation, thought that would be nice if we had an extra track, an exclusive track for that. And we didn't even think about, in the beginning, to release it on 12". And then came this huge success", Arno confesses. And this didn't happen just with this track. "Also the track "In White Rooms", which is one of the big tunes of the album and from last year in general, we wrote this at the very very end of the production for the album. And we actually thought whether we should put it on the album at all."

Booka Shade – real live act

Those of you who saw at least once Booka Shade playing, you could see for yourself what's the difference between a DJ set and a live act. What does exactly a Booka Shade live act involve? "There are keyboards, drums, he (Walter) sings vocal lines, he mixes on stage, and yes, that is lot happening. And I think that is what the people really like about the show; that they see what they hear. Because when they hear the music, they see "aa, yes, this is the guy playing percussion or drums. And this brings a lot of energy across to the people, and then the energy comes back, like yesterday evening, it was just amazing how the energy went up and up". Walter also thinks that the positive feedback from the crowd also comes because they play every time a special version of the tracks. "I don't know how many times we did, because we are not like an actor starting from scratch when we play live. So, in our live set we are practicing, so it's more like a band. We play together, we improvise together and then we put together a set list. So we play a set list. But every time when we come back, we do new versions". How a Booka Shade live act would look with exotic dancers? Off course, the reaction was obvious, but Arno considered that "Swedish dancers" should be the proper girls; or maybe "mandarin girls". But Walter is more serious; "it's also the same with featured artists. First we want to do what we can do with our four hands and our voices."

They brought almost 115 kilos of equipment in Romania. With such a large amount of gear, it's sometimes very risky; the equipment can be damaged, lost, or even...burned. And this is what happened last September, when they played live in Kiev. "Yes, there was an incident there, a fire. A wall of plastic got burned, and at the beginning, the people thought this is part of the show. But, when the fire got bigger, they realized that is was not actually a show what was happening there."


We also asked Booka Shade what's the most common thing people ask them about their music. "Well, I think they ask us how we manage to look so good, with so many gigs". More as a joke, Arno concludes that they are mostly asked about what does Booka Shade mean and why did they chose this name. As they were in a hurry to catch the plane, we stopped here. The "Movements" tour continues, Booka Shade are ready to conquer some other territories with their unique electronic act.

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