“It needs to happen naturally”: Talking Tech with Session Victim

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Over the last (almost) ten years, Matthias Reiling and Hauke Freer have forged sounds so wonderfully groovy, that it’s near impossible not to gyrate to their musical feats. Saturated in meticulously sought samples and with astute nods to disco and soul, their endeavours demonstrate a passionate and knowledgeable approach to crafting music live. They welcomed us into their creative realm to find out about their patient hunt for samples, how their setup has evolved and why they are better together than apart. They’ve also kindly taken some photos to give us an exclusive look inside their studio.

Re-treats Vol. 1 is out now on RETREAT, with remixes from Nebraska, Session Victim and Quarion. Catch Session Victim at Found Festival this Summer. 

Matthias, your bass (and head banging!) is a signature component of Session Victim’s live shows. Do you both play instruments or have much of a musical background?

Matthias: No musical background at all. My father had Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath, and that was the only decent record in our house until I bought MJ’s Bad on tape when I was 7 or 8.
Hauke: I had a few years piano lessons when I was a child.

What was your first ever setup, when you started making music individually?

H: We could not afford hardware for a long time, so we started making music on the Amiga, then a PC using Acid, Logic, Reason and later Ableton.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

M: My ESP 400 Precision bass, that was in 1996 for 120 Deutschmark – the best deal I ever made!

H: Korg Ms 2000 – a cheap virtual analog synthesizer.

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Could you tell us a bit about your current studio together? Where is it located, do you share with anyone else and have you made any special nonmusical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

H: Our studio is in Hamburg above the fairly new club called PAL. We have our own space, which used to be an office, so it’s not acoustically treated. It really needs a pinball machine, but we are working on that.

Thanks for taking some photos of your studio setup. Could you talk us through what’s there?

M: So, there’s our computer, running its sound through two old RMEs. They are great if they don’t fall out of there PCI slots. Samplerwise, we use our two beloved Akai S 612s and an ASR X – no MPC, sorry! Then there are two Monosynths, a MOOG Prodigy (which we like to trigger a lot with that awesome new little SQ1 sequencer at the moment) and the Bass Station 2, which sounds way better than it looks. The on-board arpeggiator is ace too.

Those guys are in great company with our three Polysynths, the Korg Trident, an Oberheim Matrix 6R and our newest addition, the Prophet 6. Next there are our two Moogerfoogers, the low pass filter and the delay. We keep them on our desk right next to the mouse, they are always on and they are fun fun fun!

What else? Drumcomputers! We use the 707 a lot in our live set, but prefer the 626 in the studio. Then there’s the Roland R8, it’s very fun to pitch the drum sounds, while having it play a sequence. Add the turntables, our Adam A7 with the Sub8, the SPT1 microphone plus the little mind print preamp, the aforementioned bass guitar and that’s it.

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It’s almost been a decade since you started making music together. Would you say your approach has changed much during that time?

M: I wouldn’t necessarily say that the approach has changed in general, but of course we have been trying and still try out new methods whenever something comes to mind that feels promising or just fun. You have to find little ways to evolve, even if this evolving only happens in your own mind, otherwise we would have already reached a point where it’s like you do the same song again and again. That might work for some, but it certainly does not for us.

What impact have those changes made in your approach and sound?

M: Well, keeping the aforementioned in mind, it helps us maintain the excitement and magic that always made us want to write music and spend all this time jamming and tweaking again and again. That is the one thing we treasure the most. Sound wise, you have to tell us!

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio? Change or add equipment?

M: No, me not. It always takes me a long time to find a piece of gear to buy, and then I feel I have the responsibility to make this thing worth the money and the time, before the next instrument is justified.

If money were no object what would you add?

M: I don’t really know, maybe a VCS3. No wait, I played this one Fender Jazz at a show in Munich, the owner rebuilt it himself a long time ago and it was the best bass I ever had it my hands. He told me, if he would ever sell it, I could not afford it. So yeah, that thing!

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You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

H: The Korg trident, the strings are so good. Kind of unspectacular on its own but blend in perfectly in the mix.

How does your studio setup differ to your live one?

H: Cheap controllers, a relatively cheap Mackie mixer, the very cheap volca beats and the

still affordable 707 for live, and everything with a bit more value stays in the studio. We break quite a bit stuff on stage, you know!

When you started out, did you set out with an initiative to make your live sets something different from anybody else’s?

M: We did not know how anyone else did their live set. We knew that we could do it with Ableton, so we basically just made something up. I doubt that someone who gets his hands on our computer could play it. The one thing we focused on was that we both wanted enough to do the whole time and don’t have to pretend we’re doing something. One delay send channel and one highpass filter is definitely not enough for two people.

Has it always felt very natural playing live together? Is there a lot of rehearsing that goes into the live sets, or are you at a stage where it’s spontaneous and you simply anticipate what the other will do?

H: We have these moments with each other where it just clicks and improvisation overtakes the music in a way that blows our mind. But, to achieve that, rehearsing is elementary. The audience also plays a big part in this.

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Is there a live set you’ve seen that’s really blown you away, or that has even inspired you to experiment with your own setup or methods?

M: There were quite a few great concerts I’ve been able to witness, but speaking of an electronic live act, the Simian Mobile Disco show in Hamburg around 2007 impressed me heaps and left a very vivid memory.

H: Our mate Quarion has a great live set, particularly when he brings his 101. Besides that I always liked to see Genius of Time’s shows. Even though I was always a bit jealous of all the gear they own.

Turning to production, what is your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

H: We rather see where the session takes us, listening to records and sampling bits. Whatever we find on them sets the tone. Forcing yourself to write a dance tune is not a good idea, it needs to happen naturally.

We hear you’re fans of a good Scotch to wind down during sessions, do you have any rituals to get you in the right mindset before you record?

M: Going to the record store, buying a few cheapos (or not so cheapos sometimes, to be fair!). Depending on our state of mind, we either start sampling new little bits right away or just listen to the records and dance a bit. The scotch can sometimes be the perfect little treat late at night.

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After you’ve nailed down a sample, what is your next step? How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

H: We try to use samples in an original way. Sampling should not be an excuse for lack of ideas. It’s more often not the one sample but rather a big pile of little sounds.

We’ve read that you never work on Session Victim material separately, do you think this would have an impact on the end product? What are the biggest benefits to your work always being a combined effort?

H: we need to be both in the room to get creative. Often one of us is going through samples while the other programs a beat or synth. We need to experience the moment together when you suddenly realise that we are onto something. The biggest benefit is that we can be better than on our own. Still, it’s good for us to have a few solo things, too. Like Matthias albums on Giegling or my record on XK for a change.

Can we expect any more releases soon? What’s on the horizon this year?

H: We contributed a track called ‘Came to be Alive’ to the 50th release of Delusions of Grandeur. On Retreat we are releasing remixes for the first time. Re-treats Vol.1 includes a remix of ‘Good Intentions’ by Nebraska and further remixes by Quarion and us.

Re-treats Vol. 1 is out now on RETREAT, with remixes from Nebraska, Session Victim and Quarion.

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