A common contemporary complaint within the house and techno world is that music is becoming become homogenized, with similar producers and DJs championing the same sounds, styles and aesthetic. As ever with generalizations, there is usually a kernel of truth here and plenty of exceptions too; Hamburg based techno producer Remute [Denis Karimani] is one of the exceptions.
Denis has been releasing music since the early 2000s and in 2008 released Zuendli on his own Remute label which became a huge record on the minimal techno scene. The Remute back catalog is a large body of work, ranging from dance floor 4/4 tech through to many different flavors of edgy techno & experimental electronica, industrial percussion & 8-bit noise glitch.
In 2010 he made a 24-hour long ambient album and has released REMUTE24, a series of digital music releases remixing and sampling news headlines running for over six years, week by week, non-stop. He’s made successful J Pop, video game soundtracks and released his music on limited run 7″ vinyl and 3.5″ floppy disk.
His latest project, Technoptimistic is an album released on Sega Genesis game cartridge, a 30 year old gaming format, where the sound isn’t actually a recording, but rather the music is generated in realtime by internal audio chips each time it’s played. The album is made up of 16 short tracks of game-esque electronica and techno, lurching between dark and light moods and characterized by the clean, clear, springy sonic palette of the Sega Genesis.
Clearly, Denis isn’t your average techno artist and we thought that he might be an interesting producer to talk to. He certainly had a lot to say.
Thanks for talking to us today. For those of our readers who don’t know you, please can you tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Denis Karimani. Since 2002 I have released music as “Remute” on various labels and later on exclusively via my own label. I like to release music on uncommon formats like floppy disks or game cartridges. I like to turn the process of music-making and music consumption into an adventure. Entertainment is essential and… sacred.
What do you mean by “essential and sacred”?
Entertainment is a basic human need. It can distract from troublesome daily routine and provide precious moments of joyful escapism. It cannot heal the world, but it can heal your inner world for sure. Anyone involved in the creative labor that is entertainment should be aware that well-made entertainment has the power to enlighten the consumer’s mind on all levels. Even if it is “just” a catchy sound or interesting story – it all can have a sustainable and positive effect. And therefore the creative process should be pursued in a very responsible way, because poorly executed entertainment can turn everything to the opposite and generate negativity on all levels. Entertainment can be heaven or hell – the creator literally has the power in his hands. I care for my fans, I care for the consumer that deserves entertainment heaven and that’s why entertainment is sacred for me.
So tell us a bit about how you started out.
I’ve grown up with game consoles and home computers which constantly produced quirky noises. I’ve enjoyed these noises, especially since the mid-’90s when computer and console devices were capable of constructing more and more complex musical patterns and sounds. I always liked music that doesn’t sound “natural” but artificial, fully electronic instead. It was mainly the music of 16bit era games that flipped the switch and made me want to be able to produce such music one day too.
The computer (or later some additional hardware gear) was always my favorite partner regarding music production. me and the machine prefer to work alone without any other human interferences.
So since my earliest teenage days, I’ve been experimenting with various obscure software and gear and spent countless hours, days, weeks, months on working out my way of making music. I’ve never had any lessons, tutorials or teachers. Never even read a manual of any hardware or software. From the beginning, it was very very important for me to learn everything from scratch, understand every single process and sound and have a symbiotic communication with the computer. The computer (or later some additional hardware gear) was always my favorite partner regarding music production – me and the machine prefer to work alone without any other “human interferences.”
I’ve put out my first record, “Hypnoconsole” in 2002 at the age of 18 and before that I’d spent literally years in a dark bedroom coming up with my “vision.” Of course there had been intense clubbing experiences, but I didn’t become a musician to get DJ or live gigs quickly. I became a musician because I was a computer freak full of ideas and for me, techno music is the “folk music” of the computer freak.
The first years were really tough, but I didn’t give up. It actually took me several years, probably until the release of my first album in 2006, until I could live from my art. I’ve noticed that a lot of today’s aspiring DJs and producers expect to turn their endeavor into a business within the first months or even weeks. But it is exactly this toxic way of trying hard, pushing too hard and excessively marketing stuff that makes it fail. After all: you cannot force the people out there to like your stuff, no matter if you hire an army of “experts” or spend millions on promotion or branding. In the end the people buying your stuff decide and it’s a tough, respectable and honest decision. True quality always takes time and time will tell. I am happy that I always kept myself out of the short-lived hype game and never ever thought about manufacturing a hollow marketing bubble. Instead I just produce something that I like and in the end also people like. It’s “easy” as that. Step-by-step, release after release and very slowly I became quite successful.
And why do you work in music rather than anything else?
After school and university I had the chance to become a lawyer and sue people’s brains out, but I told myself: “Nah, Remute first.” Since 2008 I’ve released my music exclusively via my own Remute label and being a one-man-show I am willing to take the risk to make no compromises at all. There was never a business plan, never a master plan, never some managers pushing things to the max. There are just dreams. And some dreams come true…
I don’t really “work” in music. I consider myself an artist. I am just doing my art and I am thoroughly happy and grateful to make a living from it. It is something I have to do, because my subconsciousness, a mysterious force or call it what you want, makes me do it. Well, I would even continue making music if it wouldn’t sell at all. Like Bach and Van Gogh died poor… Uhm, ok, Van Gogh shot himself – bad example. But what I’d like to point out is that if you’re really an artist, if you made your choice, your eternal decision, then you just don’t care for any trivial stuff like business, money or management. You just do it and if you’re lucky it works, if not… ok, now we’re coming back to Van Gogh…
The Technoptimistic cartridge is basically just a set of instructions that makes the sound-chip play in realtime every time you switch it on. The Sega Genesis is a very potent FM-synth and Technoptimistic is its sheet music.
I am lucky enough. The people out there seem to like my stuff for many years now and that’s why I am first and foremost very very grateful.
So you’ve got a big back catalog, covering a broad range of electronic music styles. Would you say there’s any one thing that defines your sound?
Looking back on hundreds of releases over the past years there’s indeed a broad range, yes. But I think there’s one thing that defines my sound: a desire for the next sonic adventure turning your world upside down. If there’s no “Wow, I didn’t expect this!” moment in it, then it’s not Remute!
You’ve produced music in a few different genres over the years, what’s been your favorite musical project you’ve been involved in?
Well, of course my favorite musical project is my new album “Technoptimistic” which is the first techno album on a Sega game cartridge. Producing this album was an all new and refreshing experience for me. But looking back I think that the “REMUTE24” project is maybe my favorite chapter: That was a series of tracks which were produced week by week sampling the latest news headlines. I launched this in 2011 and it ran for about 300 weeks.
Do you have any particular career highlights?
I always feel that my latest project is my career highlight. I am always aiming for the next highlight. But let’s say: the decision to go fully independent in 2008 with my own label was probably my personal highlight because I realized that if I want my vision to spread I have to do it on my own. And it was the absolutely right decision. Never listen to self-proclaimed “gatekeepers” or other forces diluting your vision. Just do it on your own and disrupt!
“Zuendli” was huge for you, what do you feel about it now looking back?
“Zuendli” was the perfect starter for my own Remute label back in 2008. It went on to become one of the most successful tunes of the minimal techno era and opened many doors for me. It totally amazes me that people are still buying, playing and enjoying it.
Can you tell us about making it?
That’s a really fun story, because actually I really remember all of the single steps that led to “Zuendli.” This song was literally made live! I had a live gig in Naples, Italy in 2007. It was a very huge gig and I was very excited and nervous – I am still quite nervous before every gig. But the nervousness before this particular gig made me do something weird: Somehow I managed to wrongly adjust every single parameter on my sampler and that made some samples play back and forward in an uncontrollable, looped way. For a short moment I panicked because my live set seemed totally out of control. So suddenly there was a high pitched snare drum sample rattling back and forth creating this weird but cool sounding groove. People freaked out, people danced, people were happy. Overwhelmed by the positive feedback of thousands of people going nuts to this sound, I added a beat that I programmed on the fly at that moment and then “Zuendli” was born! And wow, it was born with a bang!
That’s why I love playing live. There can be moments of boundless creativity and joy. “Zuendli” was a real gift born out of a short moment – and luckily it was recorded.
Aside from the broad range of music you make, I guess what stands out about Remute the artist is your use of formats, so tell us about this: why did you release your music on floppy disk and 7″ for example?
I am always seeking for the next sound adventure. In 2017 I was fed up by “maximality” on all levels. I’ve heard stories of 200 Gigabytes sound libraries, $50,000 modulars to generate a clap sound, 700 channels for a song. Just wasteful madness all over. It blew my mind how much can people get distracted from their own imaginativeness. So I had a thought: a small room is easier to decorate than a large hall you get lost in. Why get lost in possibilities? It should be about the idea – the idea only! And the idea has to be compact, handy and well defined. If an idea is good, it should fit onto as little as 1.44 megabytes – the size of a floppy disk. So I started to compress my ideas into very small file-sizes and put them out on floppy disks – that’s how my 2017 album “Limited” was made. It saved me from becoming a victim of maximality. And it put the floppy disk back on the map as a valid format for techno music. Ideas win.
And releasing music on a game cartridge?
In a way my cartridge album “Technoptimistic” is a continuation of the “Limited” concept: a cartridge also offers very little data storage space. As a musician, you have to work your way around limitations and by doing this you get to know the essence of an idea. But contrary to “Limited” which actually consists of a lot of pre-recorded samples compressed onto floppy disk, the “Technoptimistic” cartridge is basically just a set of instructions that makes the sound-chip of the game console play in realtime every time you switch the console on. The Sega Genesis is a very potent FM-synth and “Technoptimistic” is its sheet music. This album finally turned me 100% from a musician into a music programmer.
Is there anything we’ve not asked that you’d like to tell us?
Get hyped for Remute live in 2020! After over fifteen years of gig experience, I think some new, magic moments will happen here. I can’t tell a lot about it right now, but keep in mind that technology is our loyal friend.