Interview: Answer Code Request

The Berghain resident reveals how he is still adjusting to his unforeseen success.
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Patrick Gräser’s story has been well documented: Growing up in the small German town of Fürstenwalde, he moved to Berlin in 2001 to pursue a career in electronic music after being inspired by his elder brother. Despite many years dabbling in production and DJing around the city, it was only when he discovered the ambient sound that he had long sought to produce and released 2011’s Subway Into EP under the anonymous Answer Code Request moniker, that music really became his profession.

It has proven to be a rapid rise for Gräser, the EP providing a launching pad for his growth as an artist and kick-starting a journey that has seen him become both a Berghain resident and one of the finest DJ-producers in the world today. Though his story may be known, it was only by sitting down with Gräser in his beautiful Berlin apartment to discuss this sonic vision, to reflect on the consequences of his artistic growth and hear his plans for the future, that the nature of his story became truly apparent.

The discussion begins on the sound that Gräser has made his own. Carving a sonic identity in a heavily populated market is no easy feat in the modern day, but through a deep-rooted desire to produce something different and a steady process of experimentation, Gräser has achieved just that. While founded upon the contemporary industrial Berlin punch, his catalog of dark and gloomy productions is laced with the broken-beat and dubstep tones showcased in his earliest musical works, fundamentally techno but so easily identifiable with the Answer Code Request alias.

Photo: Sven Marquardt

Photo: Sven Marquardt

Experimenting with a number of house-orientated releases in 2008 under his own name, Gräser became increasingly unsatisfied with his output. “I was not happy to work with that sound. I always wanted to produce something different—something that wasn’t already out there because I am bored with these basic four-to-the-floor patterns.” It was this craving that pushed him to work tirelessly in the studio, determined to develop the unique sound that he could so vaguely envisage in his mind. “I have always had this blurry vision of the sound I wanted to produce but I just couldn’t find a way to produce it,” explains Gräser. “There was no real clarity but somehow I just knew that it existed. Over time, I explored this vision in the studio and it became more and more defined in my own head,” he continues.

“I really struggle to produce dancefloor music,” explains Gräser. “I have tried many times, but I can only produce these more ambient tracks.” he adds. “I have always switched my sound, and "Escape Myself" was the first time I successfully combined all these influences. I immediately felt better because I was being true to myself.”

Inspired by his breakthrough, Gräser further explored the sound he had so patiently pursued, following "Escape Myself" with a number of new tracks in quick succession—three of which found their way into Subway Into, the debut release under his Answer Code Request alias. “We really didn’t expect it to be such a success,” recalls Gräser, in reference to the fact that it sold out within just weeks of it hitting the shelves of Berlin record store Hard Wax on September 16, 2011. “There was a great reaction to the whole EP, but "Escape Myself" was the track that was the most well received.”

A fundamental aspect of the EP’s success was its enigmatic nature. Not only was Answer Code Request the moniker of choice for the then unidentified producer behind it, it was also the name of the imprint, a sub-label to Marcel Dettman’s MDR that had been founded specially for this the EP. “It felt like something special, and we wanted people to focus on the music instead of who produced it,” explains Gräser. “I think also that we were not sure whether people would like it because it sounded very different. It just made sense to keep it a secret project at first.”

The acclaimed EP was more successful than either Dettmann or Gräser could ever have anticipated. An instant buzz surrounded its release, with speculation rife as to just whom was behind the mysterious and genre-blending 12-inch. “I remember being in Panorama Bar when Marcel was playing "Escape Myself,"” recalls Gräser. “People were asking me what the name of the track was and I couldn’t tell them that it was my track because it was still a mystery. I had to tell them it was just one of Marcel’s friend’s tracks!”

The defining moment came just six months later when Chris Liebing revealed Gräser to be the much sought-after architect following a CLR podcast. “I had so many messages on Facebook,” explains Gräser. Following a pair of 12-inches on the MDR imprint, it was then decided that the Answer Code Request project was to become permanent. "That is when people started to really recognize the music,” explains Gräser. “I decided to continue producing under Answer Code Request because I wanted a completely new start. The birth of the project was a new platform for me. It was a sign that I was ready.”

The impact of the Answer Code Request project on Gräser’s career is remarkable—but there is a humility to Gräser’s character, a trait that can so easily vanish given such rapid and far-reaching success. “My life changed so quickly, and I have to remind myself not to think about myself too highly,” says Gräser, candidly. “Before Answer Code Request I wasn’t even sure that I could make a career out of music, and I was looking to go into a normal job,” he explains. “I thought many times about quitting music altogether—but somewhere deep inside I had this overwhelming urge to keep on going, even though my brain was telling me to stop.”

"I thought many times about quitting music altogether—but somewhere deep inside I had this overwhelming urge to keep on going even though my brain was telling me to stop."

As Gräser is keen to acknowledge, focusing so much effort on such an unique sound was a “big risk” because there was no assurance that it would be accepted. “I would then have had to start again, but I think that would probably have been too late for me,” he says. And a key figure in the success of the project has been Marcel Dettmann, the acclaimed German techno stalwart who grew up in the same town and has known Gräser even since they met in the local skate park as children. Encouraged by his friend’s success, Gräser pursued his musical endeavors under Dettmann’s mentorship, liaising closely and sending him demos until Dettmann agreed to form a sublabel on which he would release the Subway Into EP.

“I feel lucky because Marcel gave me the platform on which to be successful,” explains Gräser. “He had always told me that we would work together, but I was never sure that it would actually happen—it always felt like my time was running out,” he continues. “But when he agreed to release the EP, it was the first moment when my music felt like it was coming together. Before this I never felt as if I had found my direction.” Dettmann continues to be a key figure in Gräser’s success, although the relationship has become more balanced. “Marcel is very talented because he can recognize good music even if it is slightly experimental,” says Gräser. “For me, that is invaluable.”

Considered to be one of the world’s leading DJ,s and celebrated for the quality of his releases on leading labels including Ostgut Ton and Marcel Dettmann Records, these are wonderful moments for Gräser. But with such widespread success comes both pressure and expectation, an ever growing burden to which Gräser still finds himself continually adapting. “I definitely feel the expectation nowadays,” he reveals. “My debut album showed me that I belong here, but I still feel pressure with each release because I’m not always sure that it is of the same standard of the work that has come before.”

Another important aspect of Gräser’s adaptation to his recent accomplishments is the development of his sound and management of his image. As well received as their output is, artists today will always be expected to continually push their boundaries in pursuit of new soundscapes. The danger, one of which Gräser is acutely aware, is that through excessive innovation he may either lose the sound for which he has been so widely acclaimed, or alienate his original fan base by pursuing more commercially viable ventures.

“It’s very easy to make mistakes at this level, and so I have to be careful with each decision that I make,” explains Gräser. “I don’t like the hype that can surround musicians today, and I don’t want to become too commercial. But while my motivation has never been money, there is always a temptation to change my style, because I do not know for how long I can make money from music,” he adds. “It’s not always easy to avoid this external pressure so I always try to look back to how I started and focus on making that sound again. With the help of the people at Ostgut Ton, I hope to make the right decisions.”

On the subject of productions, there has been a noticeable hole in Gräser’s discography since the release of 2014’s Code, his stunning debut album on Ostgut Ton. While the focus and commitment required to produce a full-length LP will normally afford artists an extended hiatus from the studio, Gräser reveals that the reasons behind such abstinence are more widespread than just artistic exhaustion.

“Producing is definitely harder for me now,” he explains. “I always used to produce at night because I enjoyed the calmness, but I cannot do that now with the schedule that I have,” he continues. “I also draw great inspiration from the sadness in my own head, and I was a little depressive when I was making the first EPs—but I have struggled to find this emotion recently,” he adds. “I think now that I have refound the feeling. I now feel refreshed and I think I may now be ready to produce once again.”

Despite the success of his productions, Gräser’s real love lies outside of the studio through an endeavor that he first started in as a 13-year-old growing up in Fürstenwalde—and it is this that drives him forward today. “I consider myself to be a DJ—and that has been the case from the very beginning,” recalls Gräser. “It has been there from the very start,” he adds before revealing how he once fell out with his carpentry teacher because he could focus on nothing but music. “He told me to stop carpentry and focus on becoming a DJ,” he says. “That’s when I knew DJing was my thing.”

Questioned upon his plans for the future, Gräser is coy, reluctant to disclose any plans besides a loose intention to release a second studio album. Pausing to taking a sip of his coffee and reflect, he hesitantly reveals plans to both explore further avenues with his DJ sets and develop his live act, a musical offering he started in 2013 on Marcel Dettmann’s recommendation.

“Developing the live set is a priority for me, because playing your own music live is something very special,” explains Gräser. “As a child, my vision was always playing my own music in a live set on a big stage—and this is what I want to grow,” he adds. “But as a DJ, I want to explore more ambient stuff. I want to play techno clubs and also be able to play experimental festivals—this artistic freedom is something that is especially important to me.”

"As a child, my vision was always playing my own music in a live set on a big stage—and this is what I want to grow."

There can be no doubt that Gräser is a leading artist of his generation. While the growth of electronic music has delivered a beautiful abundance of quality music artists, there are only a rare few that can lay claim to be as accomplished as Gräser in both DJing and production. “There are so many who want to do this and I am thankful that I can do it, but at the same time I keep on thinking how long it can go on for,” he says. standing up.

Based on his output to date, it would seem that his artistic legacy has only just begun.