For Brandt Brauer Frick, the drums, strings and pianos that have long been the bedrock of Western music serve as the common thread between the classical past and their techno present. But while devoted to the rich tones and timbres of orchestral instrumentation, the German trio's rousing tracks are rhythmically focused and rendered with the mechanical precision of four-to-the-floor club tracks. Their singular vision of acoustic dance music springs to life in their engaging live performances and on their debut LP, You Make Me Real.
"We had felt for years that most instances of combining techno and classical music lack an authentic approach," says Paul Frick. "Instead of using only the typical epic orchestra or piano sounds, we love to explore the dirty and percussive sides of those instruments, adapting techniques from composers like John Cage or Helmut Lachenmann: preparing our piano with screws and rubbers, knocking against every single part of an instrument, until we find that one great sound."
In a sense, these three have been preparing their whole lives for a project this ambitious. Daniel Brandt and Jan Brauer first joined forces in school jazz ensembles, a musical relationship that was rekindled when the pair formed the jazz-influenced dance group Scott. Paul Frick was steeped in classical music from a young age, studying composition with Friedrich Goldmann at the Berlin University of the Arts and writing house tunes that sampled orchestral instrumentation. Having mutually admired each other's music, the three met in 2008 and soon realized their shared passion for classical forms was an opportunity to work together. EPs for Tartelet Records and their self-founded imprints Doppelschall and The Gym soon followed, with You Make Me Real for !K7 serving as the culmination of the trio's musical chemistry and theoretical approach.
Given that techno has long been the provenance of synthesizers and drum machines, Brandt Brauer Frick perform their classically influenced productions with the exactitude of automation. The sharply dressed trio looks past the man-machine obsessions of Kraftwerk to the technical sharpness required to play Steve Reich's pulse-patterned compositions. In fact, the group's poly-metric shifts are also echoed in relentless bangers by Detroit techno pioneers Robert Hood and Jeff Mills. By stripping away human imperfections in pursuit of seamless, propulsive music, the trio paradoxically reveal more of their meticulous personalities.
Like their classical and dance music forefathers, Brandt Brauer Frick's music takes on new dimensions when experienced live. Where many of their peers' live sets offer little besides an artist staring intently at a laptop, the trio's performances convey the movement of their music as strongly as the thumping beats do: Frick and Brauer set up complex song structures and play blushing piano chords while Brandt metes out beats on his drum kit. The group recently expanded their live experience to more fully realize their initial aspirations, recruiting highly skilled instrumentalists for a 10-piece ensemble and training them for the rigors of their tracks. Transcending audiences' expectations for what sounds should be heard where, the BBF ensemble is majestic to behold whether they're esconsced in the pristine halls of the Modern Art Museum or the sweaty confines of a club like Berghain.
It helps that the Brandt Brauer Frick material, showcased on You Make Me Real, is just as stunning. The trio cover vast stylistic ground across the album's nine tracks, from the portentous footchase evoked by "Paparazzi" to the jittery, strings-a-clacking rush of "Caffeine." "Heart of Stone" invites bass clarinet virtuoso Milian Vogel to jab judiciously into the rambunctious syncopated percussion, while "R.W. John" applies John Cage's piano preparations from Sonatas and Interludes to tense techno riffs. With its unusual rhythms and haunting tonal interplays, the title track feels like a historical predecessor to dubstep; and "Teufelsleiter" ("devil's ladder") closes the album with an eye-opening flourish of timpani beats, glowering tuba and flashes of pizzicato strings, giving new life to the baroque harmonic model from which it takes its title.
But the album's cornerstone is undoubtedly the rousing "Bop," whose fleet-footed progressions build tension that resolves at the command of gorgeous, sustained chords. The song received eye-catching video treatment from Daniel Brandt and Julian Schleef, who cloned the trio several times over and paired them with ballerina dancers in an arresting statement of intent. Their video has made a few thousand laps around the internet and even landed on Kanye West's personal blog. Brandt Brauer Frick's unique interpretation of the classical palette is invigorating and transcends listeners' usual taste boundaries. Their musical point of view speaks fluently in an increasingly beat-driven culture with the perspective afforded by a deep knowledge of music's foundations, and their execution puts aside egos in favor of a more perfect sound. It's almost as if the music is talking when its title says, with a hint of astonishment, You Make Me Real.