I am OK. – Backstage with Oliver Koletzki

La Loupe talked to Berlin-based DJ and producer Oliver Koletzki

No matter if it’s at Thaibreak in Bangkok, at Melt! Festival in front of thousands of dancers or in the exclusive atmosphere of Vernissage in Zürs, after 28 years as a musician, Oliver Koletzki is one of the most popular DJs in the world; and he made his passion his profession in passing. He plays his electronic beats more than 150 times a year – so Oliver Koletzki definitely does not have a lot of free time. Even more impressive that he’s taken the time to chat with La Loupe – about his first attempts at DJing, his latest album and his love for Austrian food. 

L.L. / Your current album is called ‘I Am OK’ and it shows your 13-year-old self on the cover. Does the title stand for your initials or did you mean to express something else?

O.K. / Both. It’s a play on words I came up with while I was having a glass of wine one night. So, ‘OK’ means Oliver Koletzki on the one hand and on the other hand ‘I Am OK’ also refers to the cover. When I was 13 years old my life was anything but ok, because I was a very introverted boy with little self-confidence. Thankfully that has changed over the years. Now, at a somewhat advanced age, I can finally say: ‘I am OK’. 

L.L. / Did the self-confidence come with the music and the success or simply because you started working on yourself?

O.K. / I used to be even skinnier, I had braces and really bad acne. So, of course I was an outsider. My youth wasn’t exactly fun. I always took refuge in the music. When I was 13 I started making music for myself. And that did a lot for me – when I was starting to have success, when I was able to perform in front of people and when I started noticing that they really liked it and they enjoyed dancing to it, it improved a lot, of course. 

L.L. / When was it that you figured out you wanted to be a DJ? That you had the talent for it and would be able to live off of it?

O.K. / When I was 12, 13 years old I knew I wanted to be a musician but, as I said, I really didn’t have the self-confidence. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to make a living off of it. Between 13 and 28 I always told myself: ‘Ok, you’re a musician, it’s fun, but you’ll never be able to make a living with it.’ But that was ok for me. I never applied anywhere. Sven Väth came to me on his own. I never really believed I’d be good enough to make it. That sort of came to me.

L.L. / DJ Sven Väth discovered you in 2005. What’s your connection to this extraordinary artist?

O.K. / We meet at bigger festivals and we talk backstage but he still is the much bigger number. He only travels around the world, basically lives on the plane. That’s something I don’t want. I can’t even say he was a big role model. When he discovered me I thought he was quite good but I never said I wanted to be like Sven Väth. Role models generally aren’t really my thing.

Oliver Koletzki
Oliver Koletzki

L.L. / How would you describe the Oliver-Koletzki-style in terms of music and what’s typical?

O.K. / Typical? Honestly, I have to say I regularly change the style of my music because I’d get too bored otherwise. I started making music very early on so if I’d made the same kind of music for the past 30 years, that wouldn’t be my thing. Aside from that I perform live a lot so I need to make sure it stays interesting and exciting for me. My last album is 3 years old now, a lot has changed since then. I’ve left pop music behind a little, my music is a bit harder now, more techno-like, fewer melodies, fewer vocals. But despite these changes there still is a common theme and there are characteristics in my productions where you can recognise my style. 

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L.L. / In 2005 you founded your label ‘Stil vor Talent’, one of the most successful German labels for electronic music. What’s your recipe to success?

O.K. / We specialised in promoting young artists. The label is turning ten this year. Originally I only meant to publish my own music because I was afraid other labels would tell me how to change my tracks. At that point I’d been making music for 20 years already and I did not feel like having someone tell me how to make music.

I never thought my label would survive. The idea was born out of a whiskey and coke mood. Now we have five full-time employees and so many artists who were able to make their hobby into a job. That’s simply great and it feels really good. It’s fun to promote new talents. 

L.L. / What does an artist need to get a record deal with you?

O.K. / Well, as the name (Stil vor Talent = style over talent) suggests, they should have their own style. That’s something that’s extremely important, we live in a time where young people only follow the charts. Many copy the style of hits they hear and that’s why our music is often boring, it’s a copy of a copy. I look for people who take risks, who do things differently, develop their own style and take their time. We get about 20 to 25 applications per day, two of my staff do nothing but listen to demos all day. Every Friday I get the best of the week that I listen to personally. So a nice application is the best way to get in.

L.L. / What do you enjoy more – producing or DJing?

O.K. / Oh, I really can’t say – I love both. I started producing first and DJing later, but that’s the perfect mixture. On the weekend I withdraw to the studio and write music. After three, four days that’s enough and I go out and I perform. After three or four days that’s enough again. So, it really is in the mix. 

L.L. / In the music business a lot of things have changed in the past years, there are platforms like Spotify and music is sold via iTunes or Amazon – and you are at the top of the charts everywhere. Do you miss the good old times when you were still a secret tip in the underground scene?

O.K. / Yes, definitely. I used to be a nobody that no-one knew. I was also the kind of young man who was late on his rent and had quite a bit of debt. At the beginning, I tried to become more established and make money and when someone wanted to take a picture of me I was over the moon. Today, with all the smartphone cameras it can actually be a bit annoying. Of course, I am well-known now but I do sometimes ask myself if that’s a good thing. When I see people like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, I really pity them. That’s not the kind of life I’d want to lead – being so famous that I wouldn’t be able to leave the house without everybody recognising me. I am ok with fame that I have now. I earn my money but I definitely do not strive to become more famous and travel all over the world. I’m happy with the way it is. 

L.L. / Would you say that music has diminished in value in the past years? Many tracks are for free or come via subscriptions. People used to buy records at a certain price. What do you think of this development?

O.K. / Well the whole illegal thing is still really annoying. And it needs to be stopped. As far as Spotify was concerned I was very sceptical at the beginning, I thought they were the bad guys. After a while I did figure out that they’re increasingly one of the good guys though. First, because the kids go directly to Spotify instead of downloading illegally. Spotify has managed to curb illegal downloads a great deal. On the other hand, we’re battling with decreasing CD and vinyl sales but Spotify is growing so rapidly that they even manage to absorb this. Today we make most of our money with Spotify.

Oliver Koletzki
Oliver Koletzki

L.L. / What is your take on the general development of the DJ ‘trade’ today? From a professional with a feel for rhythm and music to ‘hobby computer DJ’ and that guy that ‘pushes a few buttons’?

O.K. / Automixes are a no-go. I don’t know how people can live with themselves, really. A DJ doesn’t have to play vinyls the whole time, I’m not an oldschool-fanatic, but I think one should be honest and say: ‘When I’m out there I’ll at least do what I do live.’, pick the songs in the moment, adapt the speeds. And of the honest DJs in my scene most still do it that way. Ok, at some après ski party or in a large club by the motorway the DJs may not do it that way, but the DJs that I know do set that kind of standard for themselves. In that case, it doesn’t matter if you’re working with CDs or Mp3s. What counts is that the DJ does his job properly.

L.L. / What’s your take on today’s club and DJ scene? What do you like and where do you see room for improvement?

O.K. / In Berlin it’s all quite healthy (laughs). We have a lot of good clubs and our reputation as techno-capital is well-deserved. What worries me a little bit is the EDM (electronic dance music) monster that’s arriving from the US. It’s very hard music that only aims for the show, with fireworks and all hands in the air.

In Germany we have more festivals than we used to have. And meanwhile Sunday is a day when festivals take place, you can go out in Berlin on Sunday’s, that used to be unthinkable. I think the club scene in Germany is very healthy.

L.L. / Why is Berlin the perfect place to work as a DJ?

O.K. / Simply because of all the clubs. Berlin has developed so well that many musicians have moved to Berlin. Which means if I go out in private I meet a well-known DJ at every corner, I can talk to them, meet up at the studio and work together. It’s a great advantage for less well-known DJs when they’re at a gig and they can say: ‘I’m from Berlin’. That alone is like a ‘made in Germany’, a brand. I love Berlin.

L.L. / You’ve worked at ‘Vernissage’ and ‘Ullr’ in Zürs. What do you like about small locations? What’s the difference between club gigs and a large stage?

O.K. / I really like playing in small clubs, I would definitely not say bigger is better. Both situations have their appeal. I enjoy playing in front of a large audience at open air gigs – outside, where the air is nice, it’s summer and everybody’s happy. In a small club the atmosphere is much more personal, of course, you’re much closer to the people and they can watch you more closely, too. And, of course the mood can swing more easily too, if you mess up. I’ve been doing this half my life so I can deal with these conditions.

Zürs is a very special case. Sure, there will be fans there, but in other clubs in Germany I know that people come just because of me and I know that they’ll be partying like crazy. And then there are locations like here where people go simply because they’re here regularly or because they want to get drunk with their friends, or because they think: ‘Huh, I’ve heard that Koletzki guy before, let’s go there tonight’. Here you really have to look at the crowd and think: ‘What do the people want?’. I may have to play different things than I usually would. Which is why I may have picked out the one or the other track beforehand to make things a bit more melodious and not knock people off their socks. But, I love a good challenge, it makes things more exciting. 

L.L. / What do you find fascinating about Zürs? What are your impressions?

O.K. / I love the mountains, that’s why I like coming here. The crazy thing is that I don’t ski or snowboard. People have asked me what I’m doing here if I don’t ski. But I don’t miss it at all. I’m here with my girlfriend, she skied every day. But you can go tobogganing, too, or for snow-shoe hikes or do a romantic sleigh ride. And you can eat extremely well everywhere.

L.L. / Is there a favourite dish?

O.K. / Oh yes. My girlfriend loves the beluga lentil salad. She’s been pestering me for two months that she wants to come here to eat the salad. I love Austrian cuisine, even in Berlin I often go out to eat at the ‘Austrian’, I love cheese spätzle and all the meat dishes. I very much enjoy the culinary side here! 

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L.L. / Have you learned some Austrian yet?

O.K. / No, I’m terrible at these things. Quite the contrary, I was driven here by car and I had to ask what they’d said after every third sentence. When it comes to dialects I’m a bit of an idiot. When I play in Switzerland I also have to keep asking people to repeat what they said and tell them: ‘Sorry, I’m from Berlin. Please try to speak standard German otherwise I won’t understand what you’re saying.’ So no, no Austrian, sorry.

L.L. / You have 150 gigs per year. How do you manage to reconcile job and private life? Is your girlfriend with you most of the time?

O.K. / No, although that would be great! My girlfriend is a DJane herself and that’s amazing because she understands and can relate to my life. Most of the time I fly somewhere on Thursday and then I get back Sunday night. Or I have a three-week tour in South Africa and directly after that a two-week tour of North America. Which means I’ll be gone for five weeks. If that’s the case, you really need to be dating someone who understands. And I do it with good time management. What’s most important is that I’ve found great staff for the label. So there I only have to make decisions. They do the rest of the work. Otherwise it wouldn’t be possible. Well and when I produce during the week I stop at 6 pm. Then I go home, cook with my girlfriend, watch a horror movie and try to keep a certain regularity. In this crazy life rituals become incredibly important.

Oliver Koletzki
Oliver Koletzki

L.L. / What was your personal career highlight so far?

O.K. / Two years ago I spent two hours playing all of my songs with the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra – I was on stage and played on the grand piano. We did this twice and both times the venue, Jahrhunderthalle, in Frankfurt was sold out. That was an amazing success and for me personally, as a musician, it had been my dream to play with an orchestra. In retrospect I’d say that really was the greatest thing.

L.L. / Can we look forward to something new? Any new plans?

O.K. / Yes, of course, I love writing albums. ‘I Am OK’ was my fifth album and now I’m working on the sixth which will hopefully be published in 2017. Aside from that I play one gig after the other, last year I played more than 150 shows. And this coming year I have no free Friday, Saturday or Sunday – the entire year is booked already. You see I love being on stage. Aside from that I’ve got tons to do for ‘Stil vor Talent’. I’m always all over the place and I do everything. It’s fun and I’m going to keep doing it this way. 

L.L. / What are your plans and goals for the coming years?

O.K. / I’m quite happy with the way things are, actually. I want to keep making albums, writing music. As far as the gigs are concerned I’m in the process of cutting back a little. 150 gigs per year are quite a lot and I’m trying to travel more. I want to see a bit of the world and I try to combine this with my work. But in principle things can stay the way they are.

Wordrap

I feel at home when... my girlfriend is with me, when there’s good food and a comfy bed for me to sleep in.

CD or vinyl? Both.

This slogan best describes me: Impatient party animal that would love to spend the entire day at the studio.

I am…OK.

I am not…boring.

If I hadn’t become a DJ I would have become….music teacher in an elementary school.

These three characteristics are important to me in a person: Loyalty, punctuality, humour. 

Oliver Koletzki

Oliver Koletzki is a producer and DJ from Berlin and he runs the label Stil vor Talent. His career as DJ began in his native Braunschweig when he was 18, he produced his first tracks on his first Atari ST Computer. In 2000 the electro-artist moved to Berlin where he was discovered by the internationally renowned DJ Sven Väth. ‘Mückenschwarm’ became ‘track of the year 2005’ and Oliver Koletzki was the hottest newcomer. Hundreds of gigs all over the world and four EPs later his latest album ‘I Am OK’ came out in 2014. With his label ‘Stil vor Talent’ he supports young up-and-coming artists.