They love the ’80s

Booka Shade bring the synths
By DAVID DAY  |  July 30, 2007

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“We are musicians, we are not DJs,” says Arno Kammermeier, one half of the electronic music duo Booka Shade. Working with Walter Merzinger, Kammermeier has become one of the biggest names on the DJ/dance scene worldwide. But, speaking by phone from his Berlin office on the eve of a tour that will bring Booka Shade to Mansion this Friday, he dispels one of the biggest misconceptions about what he and Merzinger create on stage: “We play as a band. I play electronic drums, and Walter plays keyboards, and there is a lot happening on stage. And that’s what people like, especially in America.”

Booka Shade specialize in a bombastic brand of electro-house that’s made them a big draw in both clubs and stadiums from Budapest to Tokyo. On the strength of the hit singles “Mandarine Girl” and “Body Language,” the duo released the full-length Movements (Get Physical Music) in May of 2006. It was such a crossover success that Urban Outfitters requested a copy for each store. The album brings together elements from trance, house, and electro, but most of all it is a tribute to the synthesizer, which colors all of Booka Shade’s music.

Kammermeier recalls his first love for the synthesizer from when he was growing up in the drum-machine-powered ’80s — the era of keyboard guitars, big hair, and synth-pad drummers. “I like modern stuff, but the socialization of music for me was in the ’80s. So you definitely hear a lot of the ’80s in our music.”

For electronic-music heads, those were the halcyon days of pop. “In those days,” he continues, “I don’t want to be too much of a romantic, but it really looked live. There was a time when we didn’t even have a music store where you could buy synthesizers. I remember driving 200 kilometers just to watch these things that cost 10,000 Deutschmarks!”

The seeds of Booka Shade’s performance at Mansion were sown earlier this year at the annual Winter Music Conference in Miami. Jay Prouty of Taste Boston promotions was there to see Kammermeier and Merzinger, and they made a big impression. “It was undoubtedly one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen,” Prouty reports. “I was instantly hooked.”

At home in Germany, Booka Shade have found themselves confronted with a club scene that’s geared for DJs more than for live bands. As Kammermeier explains, “It’s far better for us internationally.” Kammermeier and Merzinger also work together running Get Physical, which just celebrated its fifth year of independent existence. The label was born out of the duo’s distaste for what they were hearing from major labels. “We wanted to do something healthy,” Kammermeier points out. “Plus, having somebody tell you to do something is complete nonsense: why should I do that?”

Along with recording and performing together and running the label, Kammermeier and Merzinger have brought the Booka Shade æsthetic into the realm of remixing. Their fetish for the ’80s is apparent in remixes they’ve done for Depeche Mode, as well as in their retoolings of Yello’s “Oh Yeah,” and, most recently, Laurie Anderson’s 1981 hit “O Superman.”

“Back then, there were glossy advertisements for electronic drum machines,” Kammermeier recollects. “I tore out some of the pages and had them up on my walls. I even put synthesizers up on the wall.”
 
BOOKA SHADE | Mansion, 1 Boylston Place, Boston | August 3 | 617.351.7000

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