Interview: Terence Fixmer

Terence Fixmer’s path through the changing techno landscape of the past 20 years has been anything but direct. Indeed, the French born producer, musician and Planete Rouge label founder has long been influenced by the periphery of continental European dance music subgenres from electronic body music, new beat and acid, before combining them into his own pioneering hybrid of futuristic, EBM-infected techno with classic releases such as 2001’s Muscle Machine or the collaborative Between The Devil LP with Nitzer Ebb’s Douglas McCarthy as Fixmer/McCarthy.

While the sound in recent years has been rediscovered and recast in diverse contexts by a new generation of producers, Through The Cortex sees Fixmer gravitating toward a different kind of industrial-tinged electronics, led as much (or more) by analogue sequencers, melodies and ultra-saturated sounds of synthesizers than drums and percussion. Across eight tracks at a compact but varied 40 minutes, the LP touches on an aesthetic hinted at in recent Ostgut Ton releases (2016’s Beneath The Skin EP and 2017’s Force EP), revealing a sonic narrative through noisy, screaming synth/vocal riffs with a jagged, guitar-like post-punk sensibility.

Apok talks to Fixmer about how Techno Body Music came to be and how artist’s creation can become one’s own imprisonment. You can experience some of Terence’s next live shows at Berghain with Nitzer Ebb and Marcel Dettmann, as well as his debut at Belgrade’s techno cathedral Drugstore with Remco Beekwilder for Polygon.msc.

What was it that attracted you to EBM?

When I was teenager, techno did not exist yet. As a kid I realized that there was no really music that I liked, except the new wave sound, bands like Depeche Mode, Visage, The Human League. Then I realized that what I really love in this music is linked to the use of the electronic sound. So I put a name on what I love: electronic sound!

When I was living near the Belgium border, there was lots of new music coming out – a new movement, a new sound, with acts like Front 242, Klinik, A Split Second… and those bands sound was called EBM music. So I discovered this EBM sound, something that I was looking for, what I loved. This is the music that I totally dug into. I loved the atmosphere, the energy or the darkness and of course the use of lots of electronic sound.

How did techno come into the picture?

Around ’88/’89 a new sound, a new movement came from Belgium, called NEW Beat. It was a bit more dancefloor-oriented, keeping this vibe from EBM but more modern. It was a new type of club music, a kind of evolution from EBM and I delved into this new sound. Without realizing it, slowly techno appeared – more modern, more dancefloor, less vocals and heavier kick drums… and so my passion for techno started. In the end I was only following the evolution of electronic music. But my culture started with EBM.

Why did you become a live performer instead of a DJ?

Well, in the 90s i bought lots of vinyl. But sadly – in my opinion – on a vinyl all sounds are fixed, and sometimes there were parts that I didn’t like. So after 2 or 3 weeks, you had to buy new records – being a DJ was expensive. I was student, I couldn’t afford it.

Then I thought to myself, I could buy a synthesizer instead of lots of vinyls, and I will do this electronic sound with no end and no limits – which is better, right?! A long term investment in my eyes. So I bought my first synth, a Roland JD-800. I was proud because I could reproduce sounds that I heard in clubs. I did dj really early in the 90s for friends, but nothing serious. But when I started to have concrete offers to play abroad, I just found myself more confident playing a live set, more confident with machines than vinyl.

Are there any advantages to performing a live show?

The Advantage of it all? Well… Nowadays compared to a DJ, not so much. You have to do a soundcheck, you have to carry heavy gear to and from the airport, you get some machine damages. When you play live, many people don’t realize you are doing a live set, and sometimes you have technical issues while you play which even more adds to the stress. And in the end the DJ get’s all the love and attention. But from an artistic point of view, I find it more complete to play live: I represent my sound, my art, my heart. I am an artist, I am doing a concert, it is more of an accomplishment for me.

You are a true analogue gear freak. How long did it take you to build your studio? What is it equipped with?

I started buying gear in the 1990s, there was no digital plugins at that time. So you had to buy real analogue equipment. No other choice if you wanted to do electronic music. Of course it was expensive, you could buy one thing at a time… so, I slowly built my studio from ’91 and started producing. Some point at the end of ’98 when it was the Plugin Era started, I felt it was so revolutionary, the future. I sold lots of equipment – which I later regretted doing and then started to buy back analog gear again. But I always kept some machines: important ones like a complete System 100, Korg MS 20, mini Korg 700S , Arp2600, Arp sequencer. They fit great alongside new items such as a Modal 02, lots of Eurorack modules, OB6, and so on…

How did the rise of TBM affect you?

Difficult to say. I started this sound in ’98, doing it for more than 10 years… So I find it funny that suddenly there is a big attention on it, but sometimes my mind is already elsewhere. I don’t like to feel prisoner of a sound. From the late 90s until 2001 I was very focussed of this techno EBM sound. Nowadays I like to be free in expressing myself, whether it’s a hypnotic track or something different. With this trend of TBM these days, I discover nothing really new. I know how to do techno EBM, I think I am good at it, so it is difficult to impress me. But there are still new producers that find a new take on TBM. But ultimately it is a trend which people can focus on now.

How did your partnership with Douglas McCarthy happen?

When I did my first album Muscle Machine – this album really captured the techno EBM sound in 2001 – it opened many roads and ears. Mute Records found some common ground with Nitzer EBB, and asked me to remix them. I did the remix and asked what their singer will be doing. After Nitzer Ebb split up I got in touch with Douglas McCarthy as I thought his voice would perfectly fit my music. We started to communicate, we met and soon launched the project Fixmer/McCarthy. Our first release was Freefall/Destroy in 2002 I think and we decided to do an album, Between The Devil, and then we started touring, and here we are, with a newly reunited Nitzer Ebb.

In our previous talk for Vice Serbia, you said that at one point it felt like you became a slave to the TBM sound. How did that influence your producing?

When I started producing electronic music and released “Electrostatic”, I thought I was only doing techno. The media needed to categorize my sound, put a name on it, and then the name TBM for Techno Body Music appeared.

For me it was ok, as my influence was coming from EBM. And I loved to put the EBM energy in a techno way. But I was still defining myself as a techno artist. And when I realized that when I was doing pure techno tracks, even the media said it was Techno EBM. I thought to myself: whatever I do will have the TBM stamp on it. I didn’t want that because I love techno and electronic music in general, and I just wanted to express my techno sound. If I want to do a hypnotic, or mental, or even dub-by techno track, I will allow it to myself, especially in the past 8-10 years. I’ve allowed me for more freedom. I don’t want to be a prisoner of a sound. I want to express myself freely – but in every sound that I use: techno, techno EBM, hypontic techn and so on. I try to keep my personality.

You are releasing your sixth album in October, this year on Ostgut Ton. What attracted you to become one of Berghain’s ambassadors of techno?

To me, Berghain and his label Ostgut Ton is a kind of holy grail of techno. It is probably the best club in the world, designed for enjoying the sound, the atmosphere. Dedicated to techno. To party in Berghain is a unique experience and amazing vibes, flooded by the sound, and the label keeps the same mentality. The label gives a freedom for the artists to express themselves which is really important to me, and there is professional team of passionate people. As a passionate artist, I need this kind of environment.

Future Terence Fixmer LIVE shows:

11 Oct | DE | Berlin | Säule [Berghain | Record Release]
13 Oct | FR | Toulouse | Downtown Factory
03 Nov | DE | Magdeburg | Kunstkantine
09 Nov | RS | Belgrade | Drugstore
23 Nov | CH | Zurich | Hive
30 Nov | LT | Vilnius | Kablys
08 Dec | RU | Moscow | Театръ | Synthetic Snow Festival
13 Dec | DE | Berlin | Berghain [w/ Nitzer Ebb, Marcel Dettmann]
14 Dec | CZ | Prague | Ankali
05 Jan | FR | Paris | Concrete
12 Jan | IT | Milan | Dude Club
19 Jan | DE | Munich | Blitz
08 Mar | MX | Mexico City | Ex Fábrica de Harina
16 Mar | UK | London | fabric

Words: Apok 

Featured image credit: Sven Marquardt