The realm of live electronic music has become a lot more prominent in the last few years, with many producers honing their music and technical skills into off-the-cuff, analogue live performances.

Two producers who have embraced this tactile mode of performance are Sebastian Wasner and Tominik Draun, better known as Austrian Apparel. Armed with an array of synths, drum machines and effects units, AA+ blend deep and techno elements by layering various patterns, riffs and melodies, to create an awe-inspiring live electronic music experience.

With the ability to transform their own songs into unique remixes for each party, no two sets of theirs are the same. And now, during their third visit to South Africa, they have brought their unique live set to Wolfkop Weekender, Hot On Top and Blueroom, with a gig at Club 89 tonight and the much-anticipated Lighthouse Festival next weekend.

Pulse caught up with Tominik and Sebastian to find out more about their innovative live act.

How did you guys start making music together?

We’re actually not DJs at all, we really suck at beatmatching. But we’ve been producing for a long time. We both started with hip-hop production at an art school. It was weird because there was a very small amount of people in our class but we’d never met. Sebastien then put out a mass email to everyone, saying he wants to start working on sound-to-film, and at the time I was helping a friend out with sound for a movie. So I said he could come along and help me. We then started working on the sound design for the movie, but we ended up just playing tracks to each other and eventually decided that to do something together. Because we couldn’t DJ, we just used our synths and started making music the way we knew best.

It might sound ignorant, but our music fulfills me so much that it’s hard for me to go out and listen to other tracks. That’s why our live production method works so well, because we have control over everything. And whilst playing you can change things around and extend certain parts according to what is working with the crowd.

What was the first step towards creating your live set?

We had a laptop, a Novation launchpad for the drums, a Virus TI and a MicroKorg—which we used for vocoding at our first gig, while still finding our sound. We used to just play on a laptop with all our data on it, but I felt like it created a barrier with the crowd when playing a live set from a laptop, you just see this illuminated face staring into the screen. With our analogue set up, the audience can see that there’s a lot of stuff happening, so have both visual and musical action at the same time. The audience feeds off that. They see these guys have a great time and they want to have a great time too.

What is the pressure like when playing live?

There’s loads of pressure of course, because it’s more like a band approach. If any musician in a band plays a note wrong, it’s the same kind of pressure. There aren’t many prepared elements, and we change the rhythms of the drum parts we use, the rest is being played on the spot. I’m always kind of nervous, no matter where I’m playing. Luckily Sebastien’s very cool and calm, and brings me down to earth a bit. We had a bit of a hiccup on the first track we played at Wolfkop and I told him “man, I think I plugged (the device) in the wrong way!”, which never happens. But once we sorted it he told me “breath in, breathe out. It’s going to be fine”—and it was amazing.

Do you find that you have a balance between the two of you that makes this work?

I think we’re very different, which makes it a good balance. I’m usually the one who stays on and parties a lot, but Sebastien will remind me to take care of the equipment, which is especially important as it’s the tools of our trade.

Sebastien usually takes care of the drums, as he’s our main drum machine. So we always communicate when there’s going to be the next drop, or if the kick’s going to be taken out or if we’re going to use the filter. So there’s quite a bit of communication going on between us. He’s also the one who looks at the audience abit more than I do. I usually get caught up playing most of the time and I’ll only see the front row, but he’ll be looking deeper into the crowd. It’s a good thing that we’re two people, because we can share these responsibilities.

Do you have a system at all when playing live?

We only have a limited number of tracks for each set, so we have to check to see what the audience wants. If they’re more into harder stuff, then we’ll play harder. And if we see that people are closing their eyes, then we’ll play a bit deeper—but in a range of what is possible.

What are your thoughts on the crowds in SA?

The SA audience are really something else, they’re more responsive compared to back home. The clubs we play in Vienna are usually very dark and there’s this feeling that people kind of dance for themselves, which is also good. But here it’s more of a group experience, on the dancefloor at least. The dynamic on the dancefloor is very different.

It could be because this kind of music is growing so much here, so it’s fresher. In places like Austria or Germany, four-to-the-floor techno has been such a long tradition already. For this reason, I think people in SA appreciate it more.

It’s also really over-saturated in Europe. You have headliners every weekend since there’s a much bigger international circuit there. But this has also helped us though, because our sets are never the same, it’s always a different experience. So we’re able to stand out with our unique sound.

Will you be collaborating with anyone in SA while you’re here?

Last time we were here we worked with Ebenhaezer to work with his techno alias, but this time around we’re talking with Thor Rixon and Floyd Lavine to collaborate. Thor incorporates a lot of musicians in his live sets, which is really cool. We’re also here to learn about other production methods, os it would be interesting to see how he goes about his live sets. We’re looking forward to meeting him, he looks like a really fun guy.

What plans do you have for this year?

We’re starting our own label back home called AA+ records with a label management agency back home. It’s really important for us to be able to put out songs as fast as possible and not have to wait for record labels to fit it in their schedules. We don’t want to release a song a year later and have to come back to it to play it in our live shows. It just makes it so much harder to promote, because we won’t be feeling it like we did a year ago. So the first few releases would just be our own stuff. We’re planning a label launch party at the Croatia lighthouse festival at the end of May.

Austrian Apparel play Lighthouse Festival South Africa on February 24th. Tickets available here.

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Image by klubkunst