It's almost ironic that since the release of his landmark debut album, 2008's Shedding the Past, German producer Rene Pawlowitz (a.k.a. Shed) has been viewed a savior of modern techno. His music is wildly unpredictable and doesn't quite mesh with the genre's obsession with rigid structure and functionalism. Held up as one of the cornerstones of the world-famous Berlin scene, Pawlowitz clashes sharply with the city's obsession with dark, steely techno and bright tech-house grooves.
Shed's musical vision is unaffected by the poisonous purism or close-mindedness that so often lurks in local scenes, especially one as long-established as Berlin's unparalleled techno community. Instead, his music is colored by a distinct and ravenous hunger for the new and unexplored. Reflecting that hunger, Pawlowitz is uncommonly prolific: On top of nearly 20 releases as Shed, Pawlowitz has also made dancefloor-destroying singles as WAX and Equalized, and has explored a dubbier side as STP and Panamax Project.
Pawlowitz has been releasing music since 2003, first on Delsin and his own Soloaction label, the latter of which would eventually yield another label, Subsolo, where Shed's pan-genre tendencies and excursions outside of techno are front and center. But for his 2008 debut LP, Pawlowitz signed to Ostgut Ton, aligning himself with the resident DJs of Berlin's legendary Berghain club, who have used the label as their personal playground—and molded it into one of the finest institutions in modern techno, an imprint at the forefront of the more experimental side of Berlin. Still, Pawlowitz's earliest productions for Soloaction and Delsin sound like something that could only come from Shed, paying homage to classic techno but infused with lifelike percussion and unpredictable breakbeat patterns.
His unique mishmash of styles is influenced by all manner of childhood experiences. First, the radio, and then when he got older, his grandfather. "He was kind of a facility manager in a big location for diverse events," Pawlowitz informs. "And so I got into music technically during my holidays in Frankfurt as a child. Playing on stages, sitting behind big mixers, watching musicians..."
"44a (Hardwax Forever!)"
Berlin record shop Hard Wax—founded by dub-techno don Moritz von Oswald and currently serving as day-job employer for Marcel Dettmann, among others—proved enormously influential in his move towards techno. "I've been buying my records there since 1992. Hard Wax is responsible for my taste in music. My records are sorted in the same way as the assortment in the Hard Wax store!" he exclaims.
In Pawlowitz's case, history isn't foremost in his mind. His debut LP, Shedding the Past, um, sheds a bit of light onto the idea. "I was always thinking about the past," he explains. "And in the meantime, I forgot the today. And to release myself and my music from this kind of depression, I created this; Shed sheds the past." That first album was a sprawling but cohesive record that effectively swallowed up past techno tropes and spit them out in a glossy, but thoughtful, travelogue through the style's history.
For all its variety and experimen-tation, it sounded of one mind. His new, second Shed LP, The Traveller, is a deconstruction of the unified sound of his first album, taking it apart and laying out the constituent ingredients in plain view for all to see. The Traveller takes on a much more fragmented feel than the gluey progression of Shedding the Past, though it's the kind of wonderful fragmentation where every single track impresses in a different way. An album's album, each of The Traveller's tracks is a brief and vibrant vignette, from the epic, near-dubstep crawl of "The Bot" to the sexy slam-and-swell of "44A (Hardwax Forever!)" to the gauzy shoegaze wash of the title track to the sputtering jungle closer, "Leave Things."
There's a fragile cohesion found in these shattered remains: If Shedding the Past was a journey, then The Traveller is an outright circumnavigation of electronic music, with blips of land masses floating by, each with its own unique character. Pawlowitz himself seems to believe it. "This time it was [about] creating a long-player," he intones. "All the tracks were made for the album. It grew from track to track. I think it's more contiguous than the first. All but one of the tracks were made in two months."
That kind of quick genesis shines through in the album's breakneck pace, less than 50 minutes spanning 14 diverse tracks. The album format is important to Pawlowitz, an affinity that certainly not all dance music producers share or even understand. "An album must be diverse—a techno album as well. Eight straight tracks with an arty-farty intro and outro make no sense to me," he says. He's not concerned with how well his albums work on the dancefloor, recognizing that an album is something meant to be listened to personally. "For listening at home, it's not necessary to have a seven-minute track," he says matter-of-factly. "My tracks end before you get bored!"
It's clear that Pawlowitz is no standard techno producer, and he's perhaps known best for his extensive use of the breakbeat, which dangles and thrashes in a majority of his productions. "There is more space, more groove," he says. "[The breakbeat] gives me freedom and more possibilities with where the track can end up. When you start with a straight drum, you're captured in that. Everybody can build a straight drum—that's not interesting to me."
But it's not just his use of the breakbeat that sets him apart from his German peers; it's also his open love for UK bass music. The UK's hardcore continuum seems to course through The Traveller, from hardcore to jungle to dubstep, as the tempos dip and rise and time signatures are melted and deformed. Pawlowitz rattles off a list of his favorite producers of the moment—names like Pursuit Grooves, Instra:mental, dBridge, Zomby—and all but one are from the UK. Of course, he resists that style of categorization. "It's not standardized," he declares. "Just cool music."
Amidst all this talk of breaking boundaries and avoiding what he refers to as "standardization," there's one thing that Shed unequivocally loves: true techno music, which he calls "Full of energy and vigor/Not yet touched, used, or exploited," in a memorable spoken-word passage on Shedding the Past. To him, it's perhaps more of an ideology than an identifiable sound. So would he consider his music "techno"? "Yes," he answers, emphatically. "It's electronic—hard beats, deep bass. Always good to have it on a big PA and to dance to. Almost always."
The Traveller is out now on Ostgut Ton.