The 20-year-old talks Daft Punk, barbershops and electronic beats
Dance music is supposed to make you rush, to hurl yourself into the night, leaving your head and becoming your body. No other genre is so reliant on our figures, movement and the way we signal ourselves. So why is it that so many DJs look so boring? On the websites of the biggest gatekeepers of dance culture, places like RA, Red Bull and Boiler Room, there is a near uniform style for the way DJs present themselves: always a black and white photo, normally of a nerdy white guy in a black T-shirt looking down at his feet.
Within this hetroboreative manscape, 20-year-old German producer Mechatok’s aesthetic considerations feel radical. He has a hyper-contemporary taste for avant-garde sportswear, and a sharp sense of grooming somewhere between art-school and empresario, meaning his press shots, rather than anonymous identikit DJ snaps, look like modern-art sculptures cast in neoprene.
“Most producers and dance music artists orient themselves around existing structures. So you call yourself a techno DJ or a drum and bass DJ and you’re just trying to exist in this existing pool of things,” he says, speaking in his living room in Berlin, about how he tries to differentiate himself. “Someone who’s not familiar with your scene might look at a line-up of a club night and just see twenty names that all somehow communicate the same thing. It's full of people that are acting like sheep a lot, they go to Berghain or whatever club but dress that way, dance that way. So it's almost pretty easy for me to stand out, to make something different.”
Something different is exactly what Mechatok has done, his music lies somewhere on a spectrum between bubblegum pop and expansive German techno. In some ways he is similar to artists in the PC Music collective, who have also reworked some of the key understandings of Ashlee Simpson era populism into something subversive and underground. But while their work feels more art school, a knowing deconstruction of the charts, Mechatok’s direction is more film noir, like he’s kidnapping sounds he found on the playas of Ibiza’s San Antonio and releasing them in a Blade Runner doomscape of his own creation. This sound is reflected in his visuals, particularly the video for recent single Flee, which looks like the remnants of the last summer holiday ever taken before the end of the world, party yachts and beach bars left abandoned on the scorched earth.
Mechatok was born Timur Tokdemir, the child of Turkish and Tunisian parents. As a child growing up in Munich, he trained in classical music and for a time considered being a classical guitarist, but he found the whole world too competitive and fusty. In his teens, he’d been getting into Daft Punk, Justice and Jimi Hendrix and that world seemed more alluring. By the time he was 15, he’d started going clubbing too, although he says that club nights were few are far between.
“I was trying fake IDs but it would be quite limited because Munich isn't quite known for its club culture, so it was only every three or four months there would be something that would interest me a little bit. But those nights… I’m still not old or anything, but I swear I've lost that energy of going somewhere and just getting into it immediately, with no drugs or anything.”
Eventually he decided to move to Berlin, where he became a part of the pan-European Staycore collective, a gang of impossibly cool dance music types known for their outsider tastes and Latin-edits. But he says he’s somewhat outgrown the pack mentality, and it’s in the last couple of years, where he’s struck out more on his own, that he’s really found his sound, and with it a striking audio-visual identity that escapes the nerdism of DJ/ producer culture.
“It’s not that I don’t nerd out,” he protests when I put it to him that he’s more interesting than those DJs who just list off their equipment and a series of BPMs in interviews. “I do research weird gear or whatever. But I just think there's not much value in communicating that to the outside. You could have some great painter but they’re not going to give an interview about the exact colour used on this painting, yet in electronic music people act like there's a huge novelty that you can have electronic devices generating sound, so we have to keep talking about it. And it just seems funny to me because I grew up being on a phone, so it’s not striking to me that a little box can make a beat.”
He says that he takes some of his cues from how to present electronic music from his childhood musical heroes, Daft Punk. “They managed to make it look kind of sexy without being too explicit about gender. It wasn't about technology in a nerdy way, they were robots!”
So what about Metachok’s version of the robot helmet – his trademark look? Well, it’s in part inspired by his short time working at a design agency in Munich, putting together mood boards for clients, a process he says that allowed him to see the way a patchwork of visual images can create an identity. It’s also influenced by his friend Nasir Mazhar, the London-based streetwear designer, who recently created a series of masks for his music video, All My Time. But equally important, he says, are his trips to the barber.
“I can go up to fucking two times a week. After two days it looks a bit annoying and not as fresh anymore. My barber is just down the street and there's this really nice dude who gives me tea there everytime I go, and it's only like eight bucks. So, as much as it is sort of this narcissistic thing of always thinking about your hair, it's almost a meditative thing at the same time. I have this appointment once a week, where I drink tea, and don’t worry about anything.’”
He says that he’s tried to vary his choice of groomer in the past, but it’s only led to trouble. “I've just had too many bad experiences with it, it's a very specific thing of where the transition happens from the side of your head to the top, like where you start having more dense black and where you go more transparent. Most of the people get it wrong. They put it too high or too low, it just looks goofy. This one dude really figured it out, because I asked him to do this line with the razor, which marks exactly where I want it and ever since I asked him to do this line he got it. Now, when he does it, it’s like he has this imaginary line in front of his eyes every time he makes it.”
From his fade to his ambitious musical signature, Mechatok is a perfectionist. It’s like he has this imaginary line in front of him of where he wants to go, and every time he puts something new into the world, he follows it exactly right.
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