Interview: Ctrls

For Troels Baunbæk-Knudsen aka Ctrls, techno is a process of clarification as opposed to progression. His productions have found the comforts of home in Kr!z’s Token Records for the best part of half a decade now and his latest escapade on the Belgian imprint, Routing, is an incantation of his minimalist view on dancefloor techno. The Danish native has previously contributed productions to other strains of dance music such as his drum and bass excursions as Pyro and his house output as part of 2400 Operator. We discover what has gone into whittling down Baunbæk-Knudsen’s influences into the clean productions we hear today.

You were raised from an early age on a diet of a drum and bass and hardcore. How prominent were these scenes in Denmark? “Compared to a global scale – not very. Those genres were almost exclusively anchored in the UK when I started. I was getting most of my music and information from the internet and demo/tracker scenes. But we did have a few Copenhagen monthly nights for a while.”

Your music now is a far cry from either of those genres’ sound. Would you say it’s been a case of refining your musical tastes towards techno or do you still have a penchant for those styles of music? “I still have a deep love for a lot of the sounds that were used in drum’n’bass, however not so much the execution. I really, really appreciate producers like Felix K, FIS and others who have taken those sounds into new contexts, but as an overall thing the genre is not for me anymore. If I want fast, breakneck music I’m more likely to put on SØS Gunver Ryberg these days.”

You lived through (and survived) Hawtin’s minimal regime. During that time, the BPMs and intensities dropped massively. People seemed to be more driven by the hypnotic side of things. This was apparent in all strains of techno. Comparing Blueprint or Planet Rhythm’s earlier releases to their latest is a prime example of the obvious disparity. Do you know what happened during that time for this shift? “It’s always been on my mind how things could change that drastically. A lot of people tell me that the fast, tribal styles simply got too formulaic and silly and that “mnml” was a reaction to that. It almost seemed like a collective decision to attempt to mature in some way, I guess. But it was a complete departure from the things I was interested in. It was a rough and very musically flat time, for me. Especially at home in Copenhagen.”

Can you talk a little bit about your duo material as Northern Structures and why you decided to disband? “The process was always interesting and I really like how we packed a ton of texture into each track. I could bring all my technical nerdery from my drum’n’bass productions to bear in a much more expressive way than before. But with that being said my tastes were simply converging on higher tempos, sounds and textures, which Lasse [Buhl] wasn’t into. So we decided to split and focus on what felt organic to each of us.”

Your latest EP seems to have a very nostalgic feel to it. “Rush Hour” for example exhibits the purification of the loop, the stripping back of the elements which all nod to an era of techno where less was more. Do you believe the 90s and the early 2000s were the golden age of techno? “I’ll say that a lot of my favourite records come from that period. But seeing as I wasn’t involved during that time it’s hard to say if most releases at the time were actually amazing, musical and creative etc. or if they just appear that way in retrospect. In the end I just respect the foundation a lot. Coming from more dense production styles it felt like a huge revelation that things could be that simple and still have such a profound impact. As far as golden ages go, I think it varies from style to style. I have a big love for the industrial, harder stuff that came out in early-mid 2000s when techno wasn’t in the mainstream limelight.”

Do you feel that there will be another drastic shift in what people call contemporary techno any time soon? “I get asked this question a lot when I’m out and I’m honestly wondering if that can ever happen again. The way things are now, everything seems to be represented. If you dig deep enough, people are more aware and welcoming of diversity. So it’s hard to imagine that everyone will fix their attention on, or move it away from, just one genre again and I think that’s great. I suppose my perspective could come from being in Central Europe and having all this activity around me, but it doesn’t feel like things are about to shift in a big way anytime soon.”

It’s impossible to not think of Token when thinking of Ctrls, and vice versa. How did your relationship with Kr!z begin? “In the best way possible. I was simply a fan of both the releases and Kr!z’s DJing. So when I felt like my techno production was presentable I just hit him up and started sending him music.”

How much has Token done to shape your sound as we know it today? “It’s a push and pull thing, but it’s definitely very involved in comparison to most other labels I’ve worked with. There’s obviously no debating by now that it’s a dancefloor/club-oriented outfit and at the end of the day that’s where I feel most at home. I’ve done a lot of different styles but the Ctrls output on Token is some of the most satisfying, because it feels like we always do our best to follow all the way through on music and presentation. The standard of the label simply demands that you work very hard and it forces me to think about the most organic way to get to where I want.”

Do you have any projects lined up for the near future that we should know about? “There’s a significant Token release coming later in the year that I’m very excited to be a part of. Other than that I’ve been developing my live set again and working on getting my release frequency up. But in addition to Ctrls I’ve always got a few side projects going, the latest and most developed being Historical Repeater with Solid Blake of the Apeiron Crew. We’ve played a few live sets and did a limited 10” with the Herrensauna crew from Berlin.”

Ctrls’ latest EP, Routing, it out now on Token and available to buy here.

Jena Sivakuma