Following on from her DJ set at 303 in November, Getintothis’ Ste Knight shoots the breeze with techno queen Rebekah.
As far as techno DJs go, Rebekah is up there with some of the finest that the fair city of Birmingham has birthed. Despite being a relative newcomer to the techno scene, she stands alongside Surgeon and Female as a highly regarded DJ and producer.
Relocating to Berlin has seemingly given Rebekah a new lease of life creatively. She has put out some excellent records including her Confined Heart EP, which was released on Slam’s Soma Records.
Rebekah has become a name synonymous with modern techno. She has been accepted with open arms by peers and techno fans alike, and with good reason. She has showcased her own style of techno with influences from the UK and European scenes being largely apparent. She is regularly invited to play big parties including Berghain, Tresor, Cocorico, Concrete, Awakenings, Tomorrowland, and Jaded.
She has also signed to Chris Liebing’s CLR imprint, with a handful of EP’s released, and also curated the first Mind Sets Compilation. The future is deservedly bright for the little lady of techno..
Back in November, Rebekah played an absolute blinder of a set down at 303 in The Garage. Mixing ferocious techno track into ferocious techno track, her performance was brutally relentless in musical terms. Playing a mixture of hard, driving Birmingham techno and some more melodic Berlin tracks, Rebekah demonstrated perfectly exactly how a techno DJ should rock a party.
She is due to make a swift Liverpool return when she plays the Mixmag party on March 11, supporting Rødhåd in the headline spot.
In the meantime, we caught up with her to discuss her style of techno, her production and DJ set-ups and the importance of females in techno. In a week were US “DJ” Justin James listed his outrageous requirements for female DJs, it is important to see the reality for females in the DJ/production realm. Read more below.
Getintothis: You’ve been dubbed the CLR techno queen, and deservedly so – your mixes are totally off the scale. What made you want to take your first steps into the world of techno?
Rebekah: “It’s a real cliché, but it was one of the first kind of dance music experiences that I had when I was younger, and I was absolutely blown away and that was back in my home city, Birmingham.”
“I think I was listening to Dave Clarke, Billy Nasty, and I would go to Q Club, to Atomic Jam, at the back end of the nineties when techno had these pinpointed venues – I think Voodoo was up in Liverpool – and then you had Lost in London.
“They were all amazing clubs, and they weren’t small venues – they were holding a good few thousand people. So I kind of missed out on rave, I listened to jungle – but only on tapes – I was a bit too young for jungle, although I liked it. So my first kind of experience was techno and I was just like “Oh my god, what is this?!”
“I collected the music when I was younger, became quite aware of the scene, and then I fell into the Berlin, housier side of things and kind of went down the house path. I think what woke me up out of that comatose house scene was when minimal came through. Hearing this techno again made me realise I really am passionate about this music.”
“Through minimal it opened up this whole world of techno again, and it developed from there really, and it has been probably the last six years, or perhaps even longer – maybe between eight and ten years – that saw me moving back towards that kind of thing and I ended up were I had started out, and I don’t think I going to leave again!”
“I think it was always there in my soul, and I think that once you experience that kind of techno nothing else is going to come close. I worked in the hard house scene in Birmingham, I worked for a venue there, and it just wasn’t the same. Hard house just wasn’t there. It didn’t have the same feel as techno.”
Getintothis: For those who don’t know (which any techno fan worth their salt should), you’re a talented producer as well as a DJ, which was made evident recently by the success of your Confined Heart EP and your remix of Hans Bouffmyhre’s Down The Drain. Who or what would you cite as your main influences, production-wise?”
Rebekah: “I think when I was coming out of minimal and back into full-blown techno I was referencing really early Dave Clarke stuff. I think nowadays I tend to work more with how I’m feeling. Confined Heart was more about my feelings. I sat on that track for quite a long time. It started out as a break beat, then a few months later I took the breakbeat out and put the 4×4 back in. So it depends on me really.”
“If I have a great weekend I’ll take that positive energy and use it in the studio – if I have a visual memory or a picture I’ll think “well how would that sound?” What would the sound of, for example, bluebells moving in the wind be like? You know, would it be some percussion? I’m quite visual, so that can be more of an inspiration or an influence in a way.”
“I know that I can sometimes repeat myself a little within tracks, there might be two or three tracks with the same vibe, and then at some point I have to challenge myself to move forward and move on from that.”
“As far as techno, at the moment, I’m listening to the likes of Manni Dee and Killawatt, you know that really kind of broken techno, which is a little bit industrial. Those kind of vibes that are coming from a dubstep angle. They’ve got this great way of manipulating the groove, they’ve given the music a lot of space, which is how I like to work. I like to throw everything in a big pot and pick out the best bits.”
Getintothis: “You’re from Birmingham, would you agree that your sets follow the whole Birmingham Techno sound quite closely? They’re certainly very driving and the techno you play is quite hard.”
Rebekah: “Yeah, I’ve always been an aggressive mixer. Even when I was playing house I was always banging bass or beats in there. Don’t get me wrong, I really love Regis’ productions and Surgeon’s productions, but I think they are funkier – they’re banging and industrial but they’ve got this funk behind them.
“That was what made techno really exciting back in the nineties. I think I just pick records that are influenced by that period. But rather than just be a Birmingham thing it’s just more about my energy. I’m quite chilled, but then for two or three hours I can just push this massive energy – that is waiting to get out – into my sets.
“I still have the Dave Clarke influence. It just feels that it gets to a certain point on the night where the music starts to feel a little bit nasty, a bit aggressive music-wise, and that’s what I really like about techno, you can take to all of these different places. I think it is both something innate in me, and also that nineties influence that I have.”
Getintothis: “Your productions are a little different. A bit “mellower” if that is the right word to use in techno terms. Can you describe your production process to us, studio-wise?”
Rebekah: “Yeah sure. There’s a couple of different ways I approach it. I always work with Logic as my DAW. I was using a lot of software – my earlier stuff was software based. So then I would just work around the kick, bring in other percussion, and then just try to find the sounds that fitted in around that. Recently I have got some little bits of analogue kit now – so I’ve got a sequencer.”
“Funnily enough the new Logic has got a virtual sequencer in there which you can hear not just in my productions but in other people’s too. I use this really for melody. I could make a kick track, but I don’t play keys so I needed another tool to help with that melody, I wanted to bring in another dimension to my music, so I was just playing around with that. You can use it with the hardware or it works with the software and it is just really simple, and that is where you get that traditional, bleepy techno sound.”
“Another way I produce is I like to play around with time signatures and tempo. So I could start off with 116bpm, 3/4 or 7/8 time. Just get out of the 4×4 box, you know? Then the percussion loops and the other sounds are all working in a completely different way – they’re kind of overlapping and falling in and out of sequence. Again then you start off with, say, a breakbeat, and you take that out and replace it with a 4×4 and it just plays with the groove in a really interesting way.”
“I used a lot of really big pads on the likes of my Confined Heart EP. I layered them to reflect how I was feeling. I was in a bit of a dark place when I made those tracks, so it can really depend on my mood. If you want to change things, then you need a lot of tools in the box for that. It’s not rocket science; it is just simple differences that make things interesting.”
Getintothis: “Well what about the flute? We did do our research and we did find out that you were a grade 3 flautist.”
Rebekah: (Laughs) “Yes that was a very long time ago. I could play Greensleeves really well. Like, I really love Ozric Tentacles. The band is really tight, and then this flute comes in and it really just blows me away. I have respect for the flute, I just don’t think it has got much of a place in techno.”
“My music teacher at the time kept saying, “Come on, you really should be doing your music theory, you should do music GCSE”, but at that time I just really wanted to do drama, or anything but music. At the time it wasn’t really the top of my list of priorities.”
Getintothis: “Yes, because you went on to do a college course a bit later on didn’t you?”
Rebekah: “Yes, that was kind of recent. It was around 2008-2009, I went back to college. I had just hit a wall. I stopped playing house, I left my agency, and I was in this transitionary period where I wasn’t sure where I was. I had had enough of just playing vocals, playing bullshit music.”
“You know, what happens is when you play house music, the crowd dictates what they want to hear. They want to hear those big tracks, the anthems, because it’s that kind of music. I was just struggling because I didn’t want to play vocals, so I was playing groovier house, I took the vocals out. It was just shit, I lost the will to live almost!”
“So I had to kind of start again. I spent about a year trying to arrange a track, but you need training. You need to know about EQ, you need to know about compression. It gave me loads of confidence as well. I’m not a massively confident person, so it just helped give me that foundation. I could have gone on, and I eventually will go on to do a degree, but at the moment it is all a bit hectic, and making music is enough for me right now.”
Getintothis: “So we’ve talked a bit about your production set-up, can you tell us about your live set-up, about what you use for your DJ sets?”
Rebekah: “At the minute, I have four channels open through Traktor, with two controls, and then I have the F1, which is mapped to the effects. So it is just a simple set-up, and like I said before, to get the energy into the mix I’ll have four decks on the go. Three for the tracks and then the fourth might just be a high hat or something.”
“I have been practicing with the TR8, and I did road-test it at a gig in Poland for Mayday, and it worked fine to start with, but then the vibrations were making things cut out.”
Getintothis: “Is that the Roland module, the TR8?”
Rebekah: “Yes, the Aira. So I’ve been playing with that because obviously the fourth deck or the fourth channel is usually percussion, so I was thinking I could have more control of it. So I’m just in the stages of getting comfortable with it. So I was thinking that in the next couple of months that will be the drum machine, the F1, two X1s and Traktor. That’s a shitload of gear to carry around!”
“I was going to start a fully live set-up, but then either you choose to become a totally live act, or you add live elements into your DJing. I still feel like I’m learning with Traktor. There’s still lots to discover and more things to get out of it really.”
Getintothis: “Jeff Mills used to use a 909 with his DJ sets didn’t he?”
Rebekah: “Yes, and he still does. He’s been doing it for a long time. That is the traditional way – 3 decks and a drum machine. A lot of the time it is about controlling the percussion more than anything. Techno works well with that set-up. You can beat grid your percussion in Traktor, and you can dissect a track and add, say, some claps in. I mean, how simple are claps? But they can make a techno track.”
Getintothis: “Those are the elements that make people go insane though aren’t they? People love it when you’ve got a low, driving track, and then you bring in some hypnotic claps.”
Rebekah: “Yeah, it is also how you dance! And it brings me back to the point I made earlier about techno being funky. Underground Resistance – really funky. Surgeon – funky. Jeff Mills – funky. You can dance to it in a few different ways. You can be like ‘bangbangbang’ to it, or you can get groovy with it! It is like body music.”
Getintothis: “So we spoke about Surgeon and Regis, who are British Murder Boys, and the whole Birmingham scene. Are we ever likely to see British Murder Girls, like Rebekah and another female artist?”
Rebekah: (Laughs) “No not at the moment. I find it really hard to work in the studio with other people – like I found it hard when I was working with engineers to express what I wanted. There’s a couple of people around who I could work with, not necessarily female. I don’t know – it is something to think about for the future, but right now I’m in the mind-set of enjoying working solo. I think when it comes to jamming then it may have a place somewhere down the line.”
Getintothis: “The work Surgeon did with Lady Starlight was written off by a lot of fans as being a sell-out. His performance with her was amazing.”
Rebekah: “Yeah, he did get quite a lot of stick for that, and it was totally unfair! If you listen to the music you are like ‘fuck, he took this to Lady Gaga’s fans!’ and I just think it is really cool, it was really banging. Starlight knows her shit too. I think it is a great project.”
Getintothis: “So as a female DJ, you can see there is an increase in popularity in female DJs over the past few years. Do you see that as a positive thing, or is that, to you, unimportant?”
Rebekah: “Well it is important. I think we need to have more female artists on the scene. More female DJs, vocalists, producers, live acts, everything. When you are in a minority, a lot of people will tell you that you are going to be noticed quickly.”
“A lot of people believe that female artists will be pushed forward quicker. We have to deal with the mentality that your best female artist is as good as your average male artist, trust me I have heard this being spouted on many occasions. As more females come through, and more and more are successful, it starts evening everything out. People then can’t say ‘she’s only there because she’s a girl’. That doesn’t wash any more. There are lots of females, so it is really important that females do get that chance.”
“There’s lots of brilliant female artists now. You’ve got Anetha from Paris who has just put out an amazing record. Paula Temple, she’s a phenomenon in the studio. I’ve personally watched Stephanie Sykes develop as an artist and she’s now signed to Full Panda and is super talented.”
“I think it is going to be harder to get on the bigger labels as they work with their own artists, and the bar is set so high with more and more producers, male and female creating music. So my advice is to do your own thing, and if you get noticed, you get noticed. You get signed, you get signed. Just believe in yourself and your own music and you can put it out yourself so easily, male or female.”
Getintothis: “Finally, what has Rebekah got lined up for the future? What have we got to look forward to for 2016?”
Rebekah: “I’ve got lots of gigs lined up, and amongst that I’m moving my studio. I’m also working towards my new album which will hopefully be ready by the end of March. Implementation of the drum machine in my DJ setup. I’ve also set up a night in Birmingham, with the intention of bringing the experience of European clubbing there. So lots to keep me busy in the next few months”
All photos by Getintothis’ Todd Webb