Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling AKA Session Victim have an unparalleled energy and passion that translates into their renowned live performances and vinyl-only DJ sets. They bring a sense of fun and unrivalled energy to their shows, which instantly connects with any crowd in front of them and their charming disregard for musical boundaries ensures that you never know quite what to expect or where they’re heading next. When not feeding their addiction to pinball machines, the duo are constantly creating, keeping things fresh by forming labels such as Retreat run by Hauke and Quarion, Pen & Paper run by the duo themselves and Hauke’s new baby Save The Books.
Last year’s Needledrop LP for Night Time Stories saw them step away from the dance floor and head into deep, downtempo mode to great effect, and now the guys see a welcome return back to Delusions Of Grandeur for the release of Two Crowns which sees them edging back towards clubbier sounds, albeit with their trademark live instrumentation and highly musical approach.
The EP gives us three original tracks which move smoothly from the low- slung funky wobble of the title track with it’s stabbing analogue synths and house not house live drum groove, through to the lush, expansive sounds of Village Youth. Once again, Session Victim have created a collection of tracks which give us a sense of nostalgia for early 90’s Fila Brazilia/Solid Doctor records on the influential Porky label. A world where trippy spoken word samples, cut up breakbeats, deep pads and sine wave basslines live in perfect harmony and a sense of optimism flows through every note. Let’s face it, we can all do with some of that right now!
Session Victim In Conversation With Mickey Duke
How you doing, gents?
M: Given the circumstances we are pretty good. We are at the music studio’s in Berlin, where we spend most of our time right now.
H: Yeh, this is really our refuge here, we have been hiding here and making music since we weren’t allowed to go out and play any shows anymore.
Yeh, it’s been a tough 12 Months for a lot of people and for those in the music industry included. How has it been for you guys?
M: We are not there yet, I just heard the Berlin club commission say that they don’t expect things to get back to the way they were until the end of 2022, or something like that. There’s a lot of numbers being thrown around, which basically means that nobody knows.
H: Not this summer though, you know how it is, people are getting kind of restless at this point so…
Yeh, you will have to move over here and come and party with us!
M: Oh! Totally!
H: *laugh* We actually have a residency at the Jazz Café in the summer, which has been delayed and delayed and that’s probably the first thing that’s gonna happen for us show wise for use. That’s supposed to be the end of July.
M: Yes, end of July, early August.
H: Question is whether we can enter the country, huh?
Yes, of course. Well I really hope that you can. That’s a bit of a curveball for you guys to be playing a residency at the Jazz café. Are you Djing?
M: Since we do Dj and play live, it’s not just a Dj residency, it’s more that we get 4 Friday’s in July to curate, so we play and also invite people to play along with us.
H: The Jazz Café is probably not the obvious choice for us but we have played there live before and it worked really well, as we are actually a mini band and it’s not just two guys on a laptop on stage. We were really surprised how well it worked. We wanted to test it out before we committed to a residency and so the shows we curate will be a mixture of live and Dj and I think that works best at this place.
It’s always a really good crowd at the Jazz Café and they have worked hard on diversifying what they do over recent years, so I think you will do really well there
M: It definitely has more of a concert vibe than other clubs we have played. We even had stage diving there I think! To house music, I had never had that before so that was a first
H: It’s crazy, you know we saw some old videos and the likes of Jamiroquai have played there and so many other incredible names and to think we are doing the same is insane!
M: When we came there and looked at the Monthly programme I was like “Dude, wow! Can we just stay longer and check out that concert as well?!”
Yeh, it’s got a such a rich heritage the Jazz Café, it’s struggled at times and it’s had it’s troubles but I think they have done really well to diversify, as I said earlier. They have benefited for that for sure. I look forward to seeing you guys down there
M: Ah, yes! Please come down, when it is actually happening we will let you know for sure.
Definitely. I just want to dig back a little while. For those who may be unaware of you guys could you give us a little bit of info on your background?
M: Sure, we are two guys from a small town in North Germany, which is where we grew up; Lüneburg is the name. After we left school Hauke moved to Berlin and I moved to Hamburg but we kept in touch. I think we made our first beats together in 2007 and then never stopped.
H: After the first record came out we stayed hungry and have been hungry ever since. When you’re making music, part of the beauty is that when you have learned a certain thing then you want to move on and discover the next thing. You are always looking for that next thing.
M: Yes, that’s true.
You have remained pretty prolific since your first release back in 2008. Have you managed to make a career out of production and Djing, or do you do have other projects you’re involved in during your downtime?
M: Not anymore, we both had jobs but we gave them up. I think Hauke was 7 years ago and I did nearly 6 years ago.
H: It’s crazy to think about this as I don’t think we ever had the intention to become professional musicians. It really happened very gradually and it got to the point where we nearly burned out because we were doing what we did until Corona hit but with jobs on top. I remember going to work with records to leave to the airport and return on Monday morning with the same records and going straight to work! One day I woke up on my keyboard at work and that was when I realised that I have to quit my job.
M: Yeh, me too. I really tried to cling onto it for as long as I could and a bit longer than Hauke but it just got to the stage where there was no time for anything It felt. Like Hauke said, you would take your record back to the office and from the office to the club and so on, something had to give. That’s when we decided to give music a shot. Like Hauke said though, it’s nothing we had planned, or that we ever tried to steer. We just wanted to make beats and wanted to play out and Dj for people, which we had been doing since were 18 or 19.
H: I think the scary thing about giving up your jobs for full time music is that…I know so many people that did that and it didn’t really work out well. They became frustrated because they couldn’t make music and then started making really bad music because they were really now driven by financial gain, trying to make a beat that sells and this kind of stuff. I was really afraid that once we give up our jobs the feeling in the studio would change and we would start doing stuff that we wouldn’t have done before. Now looking back I feel confident in saying that on the music making side, nothing really changed. We are still just two guys jamming in the studio, playing synthesisers, playing records and picking samples and having fun.
M: That has been and still is the core of all the work we do here.
Your productions are a step away from straight up house and take in a number of different styles. What music influences you guys and the ideas you have in the studio?
M: We love house music, we love dance music and disco and when we go out, we go out to dance. We are not the type of people to go to a bar and just have a drink. We go to somewhere where there’s music and we get on the dancefloor and it’s always been like that. So, besides house and disco we like all kinds of music. We love rap and soul music and I come from a heavy metal, punk, more hardcore background. Drum and bass has played a big role during both of our youth and for both of us it was really how we got into dance music, electronically produced dance music, so there has been a lot of stuff.
H: One other major influence for us is those one dollar records where you can’t pre-listen to them at the record store because they are too cheap. So you buy a bunch of them and take them to the studio and try and find a drum break, strings or other good sounds. More and more we find these records and think “Wow! This is a dope record, I’m going to take this home!” So, we were then influenced by all this throw away, second hand music.
M: One dollar bin is a big influence on us for sure.
*Laugh* It makes a change from a £300 Discogs record that sits in your wants list forever because you can’t afford to buy it!
M: I love Discogs to look things up but honestly, I have probably only bought a record off there like two times. If I’m looking for a record I go to the store and see if they can get it for me and if not I keep on looking until it finally ends up in my hands, or not.
H: Discogs is good and I have bought a few records off there but we live in this culture of the immediate availability of everything; music, videos, or whatever and I don’t necessarily think that this is a good thing. The joy of finding that record in the store that you have been looking for ages for…you flick it over and there it is! You can’t beat this feeling and you can’t ever have this feeling when scrolling through Discogs, there’s just nothing like it.
Yes, agreed and fair play to you for staying true to that. I’ve seen you Dj a few times and I know that you guys only play vinyl when you’re out, even when on a boat party in the Adriatic, which was quite a challenge from what I remember! What was the thought process behind being vinyl only DJ’s?
M: We started playing vinyl and there never seemed any reason to stop that and go in another direction. I still have so much to learn on a turntable. To be honest, when I see people Dj with CDJ’s – or whatever they are called these days seeing as they don’t have CD’s in them anymore – you could do a lot more with them than what you do. You could be much faster. You could build a playlist and drop 20-second skits in for example, you can do more and be faster than you can using a turntable but I never see people taking advantage of the possibilities that this medium offers. If anything people have become more lazy and they don’t make the effort. The computer is doing half the work for them.
H: I agree. The quality of a Dj is not determined by which format they play. I’ve seen great CD Dj’s and I’ve seen Dj’s that just play one song after another and they have still killed it, so there is no rules on how to do it or of which format to use but what I see with technology, is general is that it makes people lazy. A lazy Dj in the booth just looks boring! They have nothing to do, so they have to smoke, fist pump or other stupid stuff instead of focusing and getting the music right. I remember seeing DJ Shadow way back when he started using CD players and he was doing all this stuff you couldn’t do with a record player and I was like “Ok, this is the future!” Now, the Dj is in the club and playing his CDs or MP3s and is doing nothing with the possibilities he could have!
M: That’s not the future DJ Shadow promised us! We have to hold people accountable! There’s another point to this, I couldn’t handle the amount of files that people have. Let’s say that in a particular Month I buy maybe 4 or even 8 records, there’s only a certain amount that my brain can process when listening to new stuff. Now if I copy another 1GB every Month how would I ever listen to that music actively? I can let it play in the background and not really take it in but to Dj well I need to know my records. I need to know how a song works and what part fits where, you know…it’s too much, it’s just too much accessibility and I don’t know…for me it wouldn’t have the same value in my head and heart.
Fair points, absolutely. Coming to your production work, aside from a handful of releases to your own labels and a couple others, the majority have been released to Jimpster’s brilliant Delusions Of Grandeur imprint. How did you guys form that relationship and what makes the label so attractive to you as producers
H: When it comes to Jimpster, it’s such a strange coincidence that we became friends with him and released three albums with him, really he’s a major part of our music history, you know, when Matthias and I met in ’97 there were not really many records that we could agree on, like we didn’t really have similar music tastes but there was one record on tune, what was that record?
M: Mixmaster Morris, The Irresistible Force – Nepalese Bliss (Jimpster Remix)
H: We both had that record, a record we could agree on. So fast forward to 2008/9 and we had our first record out and this guy Jimpster writes us on MySpace and says “Hey, guys I really dig your music, I played your record at Sonar at night in Barcelona. Keep in touch if you do something new”
M: Which was crazy for us to hear. Honestly, I hadn’t heard the name Jimpster since I bought that Irresistible Force record. I was like “Hey man, this guy Jimpster wrote us, is this the same Jimpster?” It was and we couldn’t believe it at that point.
H: So we kept on doing music and one day he messaged us and said that he was in Berlin and he asked if we could meet up for a drink before his show and he said” Yeh, I might have a new label that is right for you, we have three or four records out already” Obviously he was doing Freerange but I don’t think our music was right for that.
M: Yeh and we already had those records on Delusions Of Grandeur not knowing it was Jimpsters label and we were playing them all the time.
H: That was the perfect fit, so we recorded an album for him and he had to talk us into that, as we didn’t think we were ready for it…
M: Well, let me correct you there because we were actually playing a gig with him and we played before him and then got drunk and saw him after and said “Urrgh! We wanna do an album!” The next day he held us to that!
H: Ok, so we got confident there for a little while, when we were really drunk! Yeh, he became a friend but he’s also a mentor. He is one of those guys who can give you really good feedback, so we involve him from the early stages sending him rough drafts and sketches. The feedback we get back from him is so important to us I think he is responsible for making the albums 20-30% better. He really has one of the best ears in the business.
He still pushes the boundaries as a Dj and a producer and yeh, one of the best in the business. Shout out to Jimpster for all that he does
M: Big shout out to Jimpster for sure!
Moving away from Delusions Of Grandeur for a minute, this morning I’ve been listening again to ‘Needledrop’ that lovely downtempo record you did for Night Time Stories last year. You collaborated with Beth Hirsch on that, who of course collaborated with Air on their seminal album, Moon Safari. The record is a real throwback to the 90’s and reminiscent of the likes of Air, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Zero 7 etc. Was that meant as a nod to the sound of that era and was that something that has inspired your way of production?
M: Well, during the production of that record we did think that we would like to nod to that era, as that’s where we are coming from. We didn’t really have a sound in mind when we started it. The original idea was that we wanted to record it onto one piece of vinyl and not two or three, as we only wanted the listener to turn the record over once. That was where the idea for Needledrop came from.
H: We had this folder where we kept all the sketches and ideas and it was always called ‘Mini-album’ because we considered it a really short one-piece vinyl album. We thought to ourselves that we really want to stay away from the dancefloor. We love catering for the dancefloor but it felt really liberating not to have a focus on this at all
So, bringing us up to date now you have another dope release for Delusions Of Grandeur, and it’s a cracking 3 tracker called Two Crowns Ep. Tell us about that
H: So, this is really the first music we wrote during lockdown. We moved into a friends studio and started making music with lots of new music that was present in the studio and these were the first three songs that we finished.
M: Yeh, It’s kind of weird that when lockdown started the first thing we did was make a dance record. We moved away from that making Needledrop, so we were into it by this point and we wanted to go faster.
H: With Needledrop we made a point not to make a dance track but to be honest we never really ever thought about making dance tracks, it really just happened. I think for Two Crowns the energy piled up and we just wanted to make a dance tune.
M: Given the circumstances with clubs not open, you could say that it wasn’t the best time to delve into that sound but like Hauke said it just happened naturally. We made it, we liked it and we said “Ok, let’s make something out of it”
I read a review of the new EP and someone said that it was reminiscent of Fila Brazillia, again it’s got an influence from that era it would seem
H: I think our tastes are rooted in the 90s, you know, we grew up in the golden era of hip-hop, where sampling was all over the place, we learned a lot from records that used a lot of samples in songs and Fila Brazillia, amongst others in that period really influenced us. It’s just a natural thing, I think the longer we are making music then the feeling is what we use. If it’s right for us we do it. We never go to the studio and try and produce a particular sound. The reason we are called Session Victim is because when we go to the studio and find a sound, then we work it and follow it up as best we can, so we let the music do us.
Are you taking this forward as part of an album, or is it strictly an EP release?
M: This is an EP release. When we write an album we may use a single release on there if it feels right but no, when we write an album we write completely new songs for us. This is an EP and it stands as an EP.
H: We will write a new album but there are no plans for that as of yet because we don’t really believe in writing an album any close than 2 years apart. What we do generally with all releases is not to make plans and commit ourselves to make a record. We produce music and then we listen back and if we think that it would make a good record for an album then maybe we look at that. Signing for a record and then having to fulfil it really is the wrong way for us.
M: I remember a few years ago we had two songs and we wanted to make an EP and we were like “Oh, these are perfect for a B-side, now we need an A-side” We went into the studio again and again trying to make an A-side and we just made horrible music we didn’t like. As soon as we realised that we decided to let things just happen naturally and not to try and plan it. So, we ended up making an A side that was even more of a B-side than the actual B-side for the record. That period taught us to not plan anything and try to fulfil something that’s not to our own standard.
Ok, great stuff. So, the record is out now
H: Yes, the Two Crowns EP came out on March the 26th. Of course we are really happy if you want to but it online and stream it but we feel that your local record store could really do with the most support. It’s important that they make it through the lockdown.
Agreed. Support the artists, support the labels, support the record stores folks, always. So, we know about the Jazz Café residency in the summer, any other dates planned?
M: There’s a few things in the making but I don’t know how confirmed things are.
H: I think when there’s a possibility to come to the UK we will. I think they will be our first shows. There’s a few festivals possibly on the horizon but I don’t think it’s sensible to talk about these as it might all fall through again.
M: Honestly, we can’t wait to get back to the UK. The UK over the years has been a special place. To be honest I think that overall a lot of my favourite parties that we came and played, or even just danced at were in the UK, so we definitely have a string connection.
H: The nightlife in the UK is really quite special, even the way that the audience is raised is really quite different to Berlin, or the rest of Germany, so it really caters a bit more for our tastes. I feel that in the UK people are used to different styles being played at a party and they don’t stick to one genre all night and that works for us.
M: Yeh, that’s what we are all about.
Well, gentleman I just want to say a big thank you for giving me some of your time to chat to me about your life in music
H: Thanks for having us, it was a pleasure.
M: Yeh, keep us posted if you want to come to the shows.
H: Yeh, we need to get drunk!
*Laugh* Ok, gents I’ll hold you to that. Thanks again
You can hear the full interview here + an exclusive live studio jam session – https://www.mixcloud.com/1btn/words-music-with-session-victim-23032021/
Session victim – Two Crowns EP out now on all formats.
Support the artist, support the label, buy your music! – https://sessionvictim.bandcamp.com/album/two-crowns-ep