‘The most important thing is to remain playful’: Talking Tech with Roman Flügel

Roman Flügel needs little introduction. One of the most influential names to come out of Germany’s electronic music scene over the last few decades, his impact has stretched far beyond his humble beginnings in his former home of Frankfurt.

Now Berlin-based, Flügel’s work rate has anything but slowed. Known for his dexterity at crafting a range of styles from ambient and IDM to house, techno and electro, his extensive back catalogue, as both a producer and remixer, has landed on reputed labels like Live At Robert Johnson, ESP Institute, Hypercolour and Phonica.

That’s not to mention his longstanding relationship with Gerd Jansen’s Running Back and his output on the plethora of imprints he runs alongside longtime production partner Jörn Wuttke: Ongaku, Klang Elektronik and Playhouse, which has played host to records from Isolée, Ricardo Villalobos and LoSoul. 

Following his latest Running Back outing EatingDarkness’ & ‘Anima, we were welcomed into his stacked studio and guided through his creative processes.

What’s your musical education?

I’ve started having classical piano lessons by the age of six and started to play drums by the age of 12. I also studied Musicology but never finished university.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music? 

It all started with playing piano then drums in bands by the age of 13.  

My first electronic set up was basically a BOSS KM60 mixer, a KAWAI R 50 drum Maschine and a borrowed CZ 1000 from CASIO. Everything was recorded into a TASCAM 4 track cassette machine. That was around 1987.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

I spent one summer holiday back in 1988 washing cars to buy my first sampler which was an ENSONIQ EPS 16+. A real game changer.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components? 

I’ve connected more or less all my gear to a patchbay that connects instruments and effects to a mixer and finally everything ends up in my APPLE IMAC computer, in which I mainly use LOGIC AUDIO for sequencing and recording.

The mixer is a 24 channel SOUNDCRAFT venue II, the effect section contains mostly classic stuff like EVENTIDE H3000B, ENSONIQ DP4, YAMAHA SPX90 along with some older gems like the IBANEZ Time Machine, which I still use a lot.

The master bus goes through a NIEVE PORTICO Compressor, the PHOENIX Thermionic Culture Compressor and the BAX EQ from DANGEROUS. I’m using two different Monitors. One is the GENELEC 1030A along with a Sub, the other one is a BOWERS & WLIKINS Series 800 Hifi Speaker.

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

It is in the heart of Berlin Kreuzberg. Nothing fancy, just a dark basement in a second backyard.

I don’t share my room but I’ve got the space with the help of Jamie Russel from Hypercolour, who has the studio next to mine.

Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

The room was already used as a studio before I moved in. I kept all the acoustic stuff on the walls since it sounded ok to me. Then I surrounded myself with nice note written by my wife, a photo of David Bowie and one of Joseph Beuys pinned to the wall. That’s it. 

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

It has been a long process putting everything together since I’ve never sold any gear in the past 30 years. But in general I’m using the same kind of “arrangement” and workflow to make myself comfortable. It feels a bit like a spider in the center of it’s net. 

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change? 

By now I rather have the feeling of having too many opportunities. It is very much possible to create fantastic music with just one piece of gear or software if you’re in the right mindset. I’m trying not to add more equipment and rather learn how to squeeze more out of the gear that’s already there.

If money were no object what would you add?

I’d prefer to have a bit more space, fresh air and daylight.

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

Simple answer: the ENSONIQ ASR 10. It’s a powerful sounding sampler equipped with a sequencer and a fantastic FX section.

How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets? 

I’m currently thinking about playing live shows again, something I haven’t done for years. There’s no satisfactory solution yet but the set up should be handy and small.

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

Nothing special really. I like to start early. I don’t do nightshifts. So a strong coffee and a bicycle ride will do it for me.

What’s 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?

It’s the most important thing for me to remain playful. That’s when I have the feeling I can connect to my subconscious mind which seems to be very important for what I’m doing.

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

There’s usually something left that sounds unfinished to me. I’ve tried to give myself answers to why enjoy other people’s music and perfection is definitely not the most important indicator. I’ve also learned that I can’t really hide from myself. Making music is a strong force that is both connected to the very self and creating community at the same time.

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

Just keep on walking. It usually helps. It is probably very healthy for everyone to start creating – whatever the outcome maybe.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

I enjoy spending time in nature. Cheap stuff, like taking a walk.

What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new release, and why?

The YAMHA DX 200 is a fantastic and very flexible piece of gear. I’m a fan of FM Synthesis and this little machine does the job from bass lines to textures.

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

I really hope that the pandemic is coming to an end to bring us all together again. Not only partly but worldwide. Besides this, I’ve really enjoyed working on my next 12“ with the guys from Running Back.

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