Deep End: Holding Down the Berlin Dubstep Scene, Scuba Finally Comes Up For Air.
- Words: Patric Fallon
- Photo: Megan Cullen
Londoner Paul Rose (a.k.a. Hotflush label boss Scuba) moved to Berlin a mere two years ago, but in that short time, he's made the killer full-length, Triangulation, and kick-started the city's best dubstep night, Sub:stance, at the venerated Berghain club. Fellow ex-pat Scott Monteith (a.k.a. the dubwise Deadbeat) sat down with him for a pint and got the lowdown.
Deadbeat: So how long have you lived here in Berlin?
Scuba: I moved over in September 2007, it was. So, yeah, two and a half years now. It's actually really flown by, as well. Haven't really done much apart from sit in my room and write tunes.
Totally. You've been hyper-productive.
Yeah, well, reasonably. I think hyper-productive is going a bit far. I mean, studio-wise, it's been going pretty well. It's all at the expense of everything else. I've totally failed to learn German, and all that kinda stuff. I don't know the city at all, apart from a few clubs. I know the way from my flat to Berghain and back.
I think it was February of 2007 that I came.
So were you in Canada before?
I was in Montreal for 12 years. I was born just outside of Toronto, but yeah, I lived there for most of my life.
I've got family just outside of Toronto, actually. In Barrie. You might have heard of it?
There's like a huge park for concerts there. I remember going to Lollapalooza and seeing Ministry and Trent Reznor and those guys back in the day.
So how come you moved in the first place?
I came over in February of 2007 under the auspices of coming to tour for like a month. But I just split up with my wife, and I came over here, and after being here for a month I was like, "Okay, forget it." And I went home for Mutek, packed everything, and moved.
Yeah, it's one of those places. It's kind of just a bit easy to be here. I haven't even thought about moving back. I mean, I grew up in London, which is a completely different world to here.
In what way?
Well, they're both big cities obviously, but Berlin doesn't feel like a big city at all.
No, not at all. It's such an easy place to be totally involved and party your head off and go nuts every night of the week if you want to, but I find it a really easy city, as well, to just go completely dark and not see anyone for days on end and just work. Actually, and I've talked to other friends [about this], there seems to be this window around three or four months where a massive depression sets in. It's really like, "Holy shit, I'm totally alone. It's dark all the time..."
[Laughs] I think the first winter people tend to find pretty painful.
Exactly. I think the winters here are much more difficult. I mean, in Montreal it goes down to minus-40, way colder than here, but I find the winters here much worse. There's no fucking sun, it's just dark all the time.
It's true, and this last one was really bad. I thought it was over, but today it's fucking shit again.
It's cold again! Thursday everyone was out and about, the patios were all full...
That's the thing! It's like the first excuse to get out there. Everyone was like, "Let's eat outside! Let's go out in a t-shirt!" But it's only 15 degrees, guys.
So you been doing Sub:Stance for a year now?
It's going to be two years in July. Second birthday is July.
Nice. How did that come about? Did you just kinda cold-call those guys and be like, "Hey, we wanna do a night"?
It was me and the guy who runs Surefire Agency [Paul "Spymania" Fowler], who's my agent, and we'd been knocking around the idea of doing a night. He lives over here as well. He moved around the same time. In fact, he moved cuz he got a job starting up what was going to be the !K7 booking agency, and that didn't go too well. To the extent that I went to go play some gigs in Australia, and I got to my stopover in LA or something like that and had an e-mail that said, "Paul doesn't work here anymore. I'll be taking your thing." But we were mates anyways, and he started up his own thing, which is Surefire. Anyway, we were knocking around the idea of doing a sort of dubstep type of thing. Obviously, if you want to do a night in the city, the number one choice is Berghain.
But, equally, how do you get in there? Especially then. I think we were the first outside promoters to do anything there. Basically what happened was, Paul, completely by chance, met Andre, do you know him? He randomly was introduced to him, and said, "I'm thinking of doing a night. Can we set up a meeting?" We went in for this meeting, and the first thing they said to us was, "Well, do you want to do a Friday night?" So obviously conversations had been had. I knew Torsten [Pröfrock] and Pete [Kuschnereit] and all these people at Hard Wax. So I guess there must've been some kind of thing going on.
Scuba - "Before"
The seeds were planted elsewhere.
Yeah, cuz we couldn't believe it. We thought maybe [we'd get] a Thursday or a Sunday or something. Yeah, cuz the first night we did was the first time the big room has ever been opened on a Friday. So it was all a bit of a stab in the dark for us, and also for them, I think. Cuz obviously it's a bit of a curve ball putting on dubstep...
But they're great parties.
It's amazing, really, how well they've gone.
I'll never forget dancing with Sam Shackleton to Loefah playing like Congo Natty at fucking nine o'clock in the morning at Berghain. Like, "Holy shit, this is totally insane!"
That must've been the last...
The one-year anniversary. That was a good time.
It's weird, cuz you know, like I said, it was a risk. But also like, after the first one... The first one was great, like massive queues and stuff. It was just the case of like, can this be a regular thing now? Or is it just gonna be a one-off? And the fact that it's continued to be so good, it's like, yeah—it's mad, really.
I think the cool thing, too, is, with that night and with the Wax Treatment night that we were at yesterday, there's been over the last year or two, there's been so much ink wasted with people trying to map some sort of dubstep/techno crossover blah blah blah... It's just bullshit. At some point it becomes such a frustrating thing.
It's such a cliché now.
Yeah like whatever "flavor of the month" sub-sub-sub-genre-meme whatever...
Totally, yeah. Well, what about you, though? What have you done primarily since you've been here?
Well, there was the Roots and Wire album on Wagon Repair a year and a half ago. Almost two years ago now. It's great working with the Wagon Repair guys, they're like good buddies of mine, but it also opened up this whole other world of going and playing techno clubs. Which really sorta changes your sound when you're up there. You gotta keep people dancing for an hour. You can't crawl too far into your own navel.
Deadbeat - "Roots and Wire"
Have you gotten more into techno things since you've been here?
I would say so.
And do you think it's partly because you've been here?
Absolutely. For sure. I mean, Montreal is a wonderful city. It's nice. There's the Mutek festival every year, but at the end of the day there's no club scene. There's no strong, established club scene. You know? The beat clubs are the same 10 after-hours DJs that have been playing at the same after-hours clubs forever.
I've never been to Montreal, but I have heard good things.
As I say, it's a great city, but it's not like you can be working on a track and take it down to somebody to play that night. Club owners don't give a shit about soundsystems, generally. They're money pits for people that go there and drink and do blow. So obviously, with the opportunity of so many more places to go out here, being out more and being more engaged kind of re-awakened my interest in techno.
It's quite hard to avoid it. I totally lost touch with techno completely, cuz I was into it when I was young. When I was like 15 or 16 and first started going out to clubs, I was really into like mid-'90s UK stuff. Then I got into jungle and completely forgot about techno until like maybe three years ago—I suddenly got into it again. It was really moving here that put it back into context. In London there's clubs that play it, but, like you said, there's no scene, no bunch of guys who are making it and playing out all time. No one I could talk to, and kind of like...
Engage with. There's not a community to engage with.
Exactly. That was the good thing about dubstep in the early days in London. There was maybe like 20 or 30 people who all did it. But it got to the stage where, like, I've had enough of this now. I need to leave.
It's the same thing with like all of us Canadian techno guys, like Mat Jonson and Mike Shannon and everybody. It's cool that everybody's sort of gone on, and we're able to live from this now, and "Isn't that exciting?" but at the end of the day, it's still just a bunch of, like, beer-drinking Canadian hosers enjoying a laugh.
It actually reinforces it, because when you see these people you haven't seen for ages, it's like, "Oh, yeah, remember when we were all nothings?"
Totally. Yeah. I mean, generally speaking—obviously there are exceptions to the rule—I find that one of the things with this city, it tends to be a pretty ego-less environment. You don't get the like super-club, superstar DJ, champagne-swilling bullshit so much.
Yeah, I think that's right. And I think actually Berghain has probably got quite a lot to do with that. That's kind of their whole thing.
For sure. It's fully their M.O.
And I think all the other clubs take their lead from that. With the soundsystems as well, it's definitely got better since I've been here. Again, it's clubs taking the lead from Berghain, cuz they obviously pay a lot of attention to that side of it. It's really important, obviously.
There's nothing more frustrating to me, and nothing more mind-blowing to me, than going and playing in so many places, anywhere in the world...
Especially the kind of music we do. It's like a lot of it is all about having that clarity...
Yeah, clarity and low-end pressure and all of that stuff. It's astounding to me to arrive to play in places that have, like, public address, two little speakers and a guitar amp for the bass. It's like, what do you expect here? Of course it sounds like shit.
So is it mainly in Europe you're playing out at the moment?
Yeah, for the most part.
I think you played out in the States with 2562 though, I think?
In Canada, recently we played for the Olympics, actually [laughs].
Oh, is that what it was?
It was me, Martyn, and Dave [Huismans, a.k.a. 2562], and it was really quite funny.
Yeah, that must've been. Was it some kind of like...
They had that Cultural Olympiad connected to the Olympics. There's this space, I can't remember which of the universities, but they got this space called Code Live that's this sort of big black-box room with good sound and lights and whatever. Kind of a wack party. I mean, whatever, we had a good time, but it was playing for like 45 minutes.
So was it just you three?
I can't remember who else was playing that night. There were a couple other people as well.
Did it shut down at like, two, or something?
Yeah, exactly. It was really quite ridiculous.
That's the other thing about Berlin. Your sense of time, in terms of clubs, is totally warped. You don't assume everything is gonna go 'til, like, nine in the morning.
Yeah, completely. The whole thing is just shifted, where prime time is like when you're playing at six in the morning.
Yeah, and you play anywhere else when you're on at six and there's no one there.
Completely. So you just did a DJ mix and an album?
Basically, I've been really, really far too busy pretty much the last six months. I did the mix in September. As soon as I finished the mix, we decided that the album was going to come out in March. I'd done about like 30 percent of it, so I had to finish all of that before Christmas. It was sorta ridiculous. Between the middle of September and like the 20th of December I had, like, one day off, worked solidly for pretty much three months. Since then it's just been interviews, and, "Why did you move to Berlin?" like 50 times [laughs]. It's been good, the way people have reacted to the stuff that's come out. You can't really ask for much more, can you, when you work your ass off and people like it?
Scuba's Triangulation is out now on Hotflush.
Deadbeat's Radio Rothko is out now on The Agriculture.
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