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DJ Mag Podcast 88: Session Victim

The "two man house band" Session Victim deliver a succinct mix of smooth, jazz infused house, atmospheric balearic groove and soulful hip hop – We catch up with one of house music's busiest duos as they launch their new imprint, expand their live band and play parties all over the globe...

Session Victim have just left a party in L.A. It was shut down by the police, but it was “wonderful” while it lasted, they say, and spirits are high. This alone feels testament to the duo of Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling’s musical identity; one that is rooted in the underground, and one that emanates a glowing, stoic optimism.

Since breaking through in 2008 with ‘No Friends (No Power)’ the inimitable live act and deep-digging vinyl DJs have consistently balanced sophisticated jazz, soul and hip-hop sentiment and style with current Detroit-inspired house, disco and downbeat electronica, blending uplifting energy with an inward looking mood. They’ve since gone on to put out some instantly recognisable dancefloor standouts in the form of ‘Good Intetions’, ‘Never Forget’ and ‘The Haunted House’ to name but a few.  Despite an ever-rising profile, however, the pair remain loyal to the DIY roots that inspired their ethos when they started writing music and running parties together in their hometown of Lüneburg in 2007, purely because no one else was running them.

Dividing their time between playing live, producing and DJing the duo have released three albums on the excellent London-based label Delusions of Granduer. Not only that, but the duo have launched their own vinyl only imprint Pen & Paper – Freer has run the Retreat label with Quarion since 2009 – with a release of their own. What was the blueprint that inspired the duo to launch the label though?

“Matthias and I were rather productive the last 12 months so we decided to release some of it ourselves and be in complete control of the whole process, you know,” explains Freer. “The label will focus on our own output, including side projects and solo stuff. We’re not really interested in digital at all; what’s important for us is to have a great sounding piece of wax.” 

The label’s first release, ‘Puzzle’, finds Session Victim operating on the deeper, heavier end of their palette, with hefty bass groove and rattling percussion making for an intense, peak time weapon. Remixes on the EP come from Iron Curtis and ambient techno producer, Vril. The latter collab might feel unusual, given the vast divergence of style between the artists, but it works seamlessly and was something Session Victim were keen to lock in even before the record was confirmed. 

“It doesn’t feel like a big leap at all for us,” says Freer, “Both Iron Curtis and Vril have been in our close musical environment for a long time. When we came up with ‘Puzzle’ and thought about who to ask for remixes, they were the first two we thought of. The record itself wasn’t even planned at that time, we just asked them if they’d like to play with it a bit - and they did.”

 “We don't want an album to be just a collection of DJ tools spread out over several records”

Session Victim’s albums have always brought forth a sense of narrative, or a consistent thematic idea spurred by the carefully selected vocal samples or instrumental nods. It speaks to the patience and craft that defines their outlook as a duo who wouldn’t dream of phoning in EP after EP of “DJ tools”.

“Sometimes there are certain things we consciously like to get into and emphasize conceptually,” says Freer. “And sometimes it's just not like that at all and every day in the studio feels like a new blind date with our sequencer. Both of us like to stay constantly productive though. We make sure to take our time to put the right music in the right place and the unnecessary stuff far away.”

“We want our albums to make sense and be fun when you listen through the whole thing - in your kitchen, your car, wherever,” he adds. “We don't want an album to be just a collection of DJ tools spread out over several records.”

Digging for the right samples is, as you might expect, crucial to Session Victim’s production method. As such, finding the right record store is like discovering a treasure chest of material.

“Here in San Francisco, we go to Amoeba,” says Reiling. “Which is a great store with the downside that you cannot listen to records at all. So it is always a big gamble, therefore we stick to the $2 section. This time we ended up with probably too many saxophone records, but managed to find some good drums and a few other sounds.”

Freer, who lives in Berlin currently, considers himself pretty spoiled with the selection of stores he can mine for sampling gold. But has the so called “vinyl revival” changed the atmosphere in stores?

“Not that much has changed here,” he says. “There was a time when we arrived in cities around Europe, and the locals told us that the last shop just closed. Now it feels like quite the opposite, new  mall shops are opening and the young warm-up DJs play all the records that took me 15 years to find and appreciate. Is that a good thing? Definitely yes!”

Session Victim are currently expanding their live set-up which has seen them using live bass and drum machines over the years. Introducing live keyboards into the mix now courtesy of Carsten Erobique Meyer, they will be debuting in London’s Jazz Café as a trio at the end of April. Might they ever try expanding into playing with a full orchestra?

 “Hmm, I don't know about that yet,” says Reiling “But it's always a comforting thought that there’s so much uncharted territory out there waiting to be explored...”

As for the future, Session Victim show no signs of slowing with three more records set to land on Pen & Paper this year, a new 12” coming on Delusions of Grandeur, remixes locked in for KiNK and Folamour and solo material from each of them all in the works.

The “two man house band” will also be playing in Brooklyn’s mighty Elsewhere venue this Saturday 14th April as part of the inimitable Razor-N-Tape label’s fifth birthday party alongside Mood II Swing, Ron Like Hell and Jacques Renault. Tickets for what will be an unforgettable party can be picked up here.

Somehow, they have managed to send over a frankly divine mix our way too. A succinct selection of smooth, soulful records, it’s the sort of podcast you’ll have on repeat all day. What should we be doing while listening to it?

“We just put the mix on, drink our first coffee of the day and contemplate whether we should go buy more records...”

Want more? Check out our recent podcast with Disco Halal label boss Moscoman and the latest in our Fresh Kicks mix series from Reprezent radio's footwork aficionado, Sherelle.

Eoin Murray is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. You can follow him on Twitter @eoin_murraye

Live photo credit: Trung Dung Nguyen