While Coldplay and U2 may provide big moments at next weekend’s Glastonbury festival, its spirit is better represented by lesser-known outfits such as Brandt Brauer Frick. The German trio, who perform with a small orchestral ensemble on one of the leftfield stages next Saturday, perfectly encapsulate Glastonbury’s annual meeting of art and off-the-wall entertainment.
They demonstrated as much at a show in West London last month. Replete with extra brass, strings and a harpist, Brandt Brauer Frick’s combination of techno throb, carefully crafted jazz-classical instrumentation and the smart-suited sternness of Kraftwerk, had their audience gripped.
“Steve Reich is seen as a godfather in the German techno scene,” says Paul Frick, 31, when I speak to him later, “so using classical instruments to make this kind of music is not something unique to us.”
What is unique to Brandt Brauer Frick, however, is applying classical interpretive techniques to a techno template. Frick studied in Berlin with the late composer and Stockhausen associate Friedrich Goldmann. His band-mates Daniel Brandt, 26, and Jan Brauer, 25, grew up in Wiesbaden and were releasing jazz-flavoured dance singles together when Frick made contact. The trio began in 2008 but started making waves with a video for their tune Bop, which featured multiple Brandts, Brauers and Fricks performing on what appeared to be a prime time German television show.
“We just made it look like it had a lot of money put into it,” laughs Brandt, who actually made the video as part of a university film-making course.
The video hinted at their future. Creating sampled orchestration on their laptops was a starting point but they wanted to bring ideas borrowed from John Cage, Reich et al to a truly live environment. Notably they’re keen on prepared pianos and ad hoc percussion such as slapped trombone mouthpieces or tapped violin bodies. It has been a lot of work making the leap into this truly live arena.
“With the three-piece we don’t prepare at all, we just arrive and play [on laptops],” explains Frick, “With the ten-piece it’s the exact opposite – we rehearse a lot and the arrangements are 50-80 pages, all written out…”
Alongside modern classical they readily acknowledge the influence of original Detroit techno, especially its jazziest exponent, Theo Parrish, but they have no interest in creating a full orchestral experience as the techno DJ Jeff Mills did a few years ago.
“It’s all about reduction,” says Frick, “Experiments with full orchestras are not our style. It sounds too thick, whereas using less musicians lets you sound crisp.”
Their debut album You Make Me Real is a flavourful integration of classical instrumentation with laptop sonic power, but they’re recording their next album – due in September – with the full live ensemble, and featuring the British singer Emika. They’re a band as comfortable at culturally sophisticated events, such as a reverentially silent seated audience in Oslo’s Museum of Modern Art, broadcast on the country’s classical radio station, as they are in scuzzy rave dens.
“A club in Berlin was one of the worst,” recalls Frick, “We played at 5.00am and the dressing room was unbelievably tiny. On the stairs to the stage there was a guy passed out, who we couldn’t wake. We had to push him out of the way.”
It’s doubtful John Cage had to undergo such ordeals but Brandt Brauer Frick enjoy straddling these worlds, deconstructing and reinventing electronic dance music, as ready for Cadogan Hall as for Glastonbury.
By Thomas H Green, Telegraph