Berlin House DJ Wankelmut Gets Famous

Anthony Obst

My name is Anthony. I am a born and raised Berliner, a 22-year old son of an expatriate. I am the product of hip hop-turned-hipster socialization and a bachelor's degree in American Studies.

At first glance, the story of Berlin tech-house DJ/producer Wankelmut’s song “One Day” appears to be a rather typical one in our age of digital wildfires. A young, unknown musician uploads a song to his SoundCloud, with the bracketed additive “unmastered/unsigned” serving at once as an apology as well as a hype-catalyst. Within a few days, “One Day” was wreaking havoc across the blogosphere, racking up tens of thousands of plays in no time, aided undoubtedly by the fact that a newly emerged “mystery man” was behind this project. The track samples Asaf Avidan and the Mojos’ “Reckoning Song”, a guitar-based acoustic song which is turned into an epic piece of transcendental club music, blurring the lines between ecstasy and melancholia, with not much more than a 4/4 kick-drum and an astounding sense for timing.

Wankelmut’s story knows few parallels in the world of Berlin house and techno. “One Day’s” victory march has exceeded all limitations. Its fame is in no way limited to the die-hard Techno-junks’ Soundcloud accounts. Everyone seems to have heard the song, after having gone viral on Facebook and closing out sets of damn near every popular Berlin DJ. The rapidity of its spreading has taken everyone by surprise – most of all the source himself.

The man behind the pseudonym Wankelmut (“Vuncle-moot”) is Jacob, a 24-year old student of philosophy and political science. “It was weird when I heard the term ‘hype’ used in conjunction with my name recently. It never occurred to me that this would ever happen”, says Jacob, genuinely baffled. “It really just seems to be a zeitgeist thing. Apparently everyone is really into this organic type of sound at the moment.” While that might be part of the story, Jacob has now, roughly three months after “One Day” surfaced on the interwebs, been introduced to a whole new world of a musician’s obligations. It is one dominated by tiresome bureaucracy, by label-negotiations, booking inquiries and sample clearances. As far as an official release goes, only time and the sampling police will tell what will become of “One Day”.

Jacob stresses that he just wants to get all that stuff out of the way, in order to have the time to work on new material that lives up to the now-enormous expectations. If there is one thing for certain in this tumultuous scenario, it is that his fans are desperately waiting for him to do just that…

You recently deleted “One Day“ from your Soundcloud… Were there any particular reasons for that in terms of an upcoming release?

There are particular reasons for it but I don’t know how far I’m allowed to go into that… Generally speaking it is just that Sony holds the original rights to the song and they don’t want it to be online, as long as all the legal issues are not cleared up. So for now I took it down, just to be safe.But there is hope on the horizon?

Well, it’s not that simple. Apparently you can’t just make a deal with Sony because there are a whole bunch of lawyers involved and everything is really complicated. I think that’s a bit over the top because it’s really just about seven and a half minutes. But they seem to see enough money in it for them as to make that effort. I mean, sure, the track really consists of Asaf Avidan to a great extent. The beat that I laced it with is also quite simple. I’m just now getting into the whole beat-structuring and sound-design stuff. So I guess it’s pretty legitimate. It just seems a bit weird to me. There is so much sampling being done in electronic music and I just can’t imagine it being so complicated every single time.

What changes have you had to deal with since “One Day” dropped?

For one I’m apparently considered as being “hyped” now, which I personally have a bit of a problem with. I don’t like the word and I don’t like the lifestyle that it is associated with either. The good thing is that I do get plenty of booking inquiries, which is all I could ask for. Then again there is also a certain pressure on me now. Everyone is wondering where I’m gonna go from “One Day” and so now I need to create something unique that can top that.

How did you experience the process surrounding your “hype”? I mean it all went pretty fast – all of a sudden the song has over 300,000 plays…

To be honest, I didn’t really pick up on much of that. I had no internet for a month or so because I was in the process of moving and had lots of other stuff I had to deal with and so it basically just took on a life of its own. I was sort of turned into a bystander and felt like it wasn’t happening with me but rather with Wankelmut. I can’t even say much about it except that I don’t think I’ve witnessed anything like this before happening in techno. I don’t really know how to deal with it but my friends are definitely all very supportive. It’s a good thing that most of them are not part of the “scene” or whatever, so they don’t even care much about all that.

Since you are bringing it up, what is your view of the Berlin party scene?

Well I think it’s a bit of a shame that it’s not easy to be part of it if you aren’t into chemical drugs. I mean for me it’s like if my set time is from 6-10, I will sleep beforehand – and then go home again afterwards because while I might have a few beers and won’t be completely sober, I’m still far from the level of everyone around me. I mean, to each his own, but my friends for example always bail out pretty quickly when I’m done playing because it’s really not that easy to deal with when you aren’t really part of it.

How did your recent In Golden Tears remix come about?

The label boss of Humming Records reached out to me via email and we arranged a meeting. He turned out to be a pretty cool guy and so the remix was actually somewhat of a friendship type of thing. Of course it’s also promo for them, just as it is for me and also a good way to practice. I’m really just at the beginning and so I’ll gladly take whatever floats my way. He also gave me some good advice on what I should keep in mind when dealing with labels and contracts so that was helpful too. I don’t have any expertise on that, I’m just starting to get a hang of it now.

Have you had other remix offers so far as well?

Yeah, one or two more but usually people just ask me if they can remix “One Day” – which is impossible as long as I still don’t own the rights. I receive so many mails each week asking me where to buy or download the song but all I can reply is that it’s not possible yet. My hands are tied.

Does that frustrate you sometimes?

Yeah, kind of. After about a month it was clear that the song should actually be released, simply for the attention it received. It’s not even a money thing for me. If I could, I would make the song available as a free download. I don’t have a problem with that. I want people to have the music they want to listen to. Now the whole licensing and clearing the rights business is taking longer than expected and so I do wish for some clarity at some point.

How did you make the transition from just being a DJ to also producing your own music?

I always kind of procrastinated the whole getting into Ableton thing. But then last year I had some time on my hands between studies and so I basically made myself sit down for like twelve hours to get acquainted with the program. And that is really not that long ago. I’ve only made like five songs so far, so the success is really in no relation to the output I have to show for myself – simple and plain.

Do you have any musical role models?

When it comes to DJing, I would have to say Acid Pauli. He’s a genius when it comes to mixing. But as a producer I don’t really know. I just want it to sound somewhat organic. My dad used to always listen to '60s and '70s rock music and so I feel like that is where my musical roots are. I don’t really like the idea of always having a typical hi-hat/snare house-beat. I want something organic in there as well. Something that I’m a bit worried about now is also that people are going to attach me to a very specific kind of music, just because of one track. I have so many different musical interests that I don’t just want to stay in the same spot from here on out. I have no idea what the future holds and whether I might start playing and producing other music at some point, but I definitely don’t want to be pinned down to anything.

What does your booking outlook for the summer look like?

For now it is mostly just club gigs until June and then maybe some festivals, but nothing is set in stone yet as far as that is concerned. I would really love to be booked for the Fusion Festival. In fact, when I started DJing about five years ago, that was sort of the big dream that I wanted to achieve some day, playing at Fusion. They haven’t reached out to me yet but we’ll see, maybe it will work out.

Do you have international plans as well?

I’ll take what I can get. I currently have two inquiries from France and a gig in Vienna coming up. I have no idea how long this “hype” is gonna last, so right now I’m content with spinning my records wherever I can and hope that people will like it. I guess I’ll be staying in Europe mostly though – unless I do get an inquiry from the States, which would be awesome.

Photos by Lisa Marie Koch.

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