How Âme’s 'Rej' inspired a new approach to house and techno
Crossing over to practically every genre, DJ and dancefloor in 2005, ‘Rej’ is an evergreen classic. Ahead of the 100th release on Innervisions, Âme discuss how the tune kickstarted the imprint and brought about a sea change in house and techno
Few tracks capture the exciting crux and flux of mid-2000s house and techno quite as succinctly as Âme’s ‘Rej’. A palpitating journeyman beacon flashing urgently in an ocean of minimal techno and electro-house, ‘Rej’ had that rare essence that’s always sought but seldom achieved. It sounded like nothing else going on at the time, yet every single DJ hammered it.
It didn’t matter where you went. During the winter of 2005 and the entirety of 2006, the theatrical arpeggios, dramatic dynamics and harmony changes of ‘Rej’ were pretty much guaranteed to play a role in the soundtrack of your night. From Richie Hawtin to Sasha to even commercial DJs like Judge Jules, there was no DJ who didn’t have ‘Rej’ in their collection at that moment in dancefloor time. It’s since gone on to be covered by a marching band, it’s had a jazz cover by Christian Prommer, Jeff Mills still plays it to this day, and François K even planned to make a drum & bass edit of it.
“It was also number three in the main Spanish charts. One above Iron Maiden,” grins Kristian Beyer, the perkier member of the duo. Moustachioed and dapper-dressed, he leans towards the camera and wiggles his eyebrows as he and his slightly more serious brother in Âme, Frank Wiedemann, chat to DJ Mag on Zoom. The pair sit in their studio, racks of hardware gear behind them, bouncing off each other very naturally, helping each other through yet another interview. “We are so full of energy! Totally recharged!” laughs Kristian, opening his eyes sarcastically wide.
It’s September 2021, exactly 16 years after ‘Rej’ was released, and it’s all systems go for the duo. They have their first big post-lockdown tour just days ahead of them, and their label has just reached a milestone that’s attracted a lot of press: Innervisions, the influential label they run with fellow house headliner Dixon, has reached its 100th release. To mark the moment, the label has launched a new artistic and aesthetic direction. Eschewing singles for albums, exploring NFTs and dropping their signature artwork for more conceptual pieces, it’s less of a new chapter for the Berlin brand and more of a whole new book.
Frank and Kristian took care of the 100th release — ‘The Witness’ EP. Their first dispatch since 2018’s home listening-inclined album ‘Dream House’, it shows a different mood and energy from the duo who are now in their 18th year of releasing music together. The artwork is plain white, wiping the canvas clean for Innervisions’ next 100 releases, and the vibe ranges from upbeat techno to lo-fi shoegazing. It’s unmistakably Âme, in that it’s unlike any release they’ve done before.
“When we approached the 100th release we said it would be nice to close the circle and it would be a release by ourselves,” says Kristian. “I think we tried to make a record that stands for the time now, just as we did 16 years ago with ‘Rej’.”
“We don’t want to repeat ourselves,” says Frank. “We are always searching to please or surprise or excite ourselves. I don’t think we have a set sound. As soon as we’ve done something, we don’t do that again. We never did another ‘Rej’, for example...”
They didn’t need to. The second release on the then-burgeoning Innervisions, ‘Rej’ was the essential driver that gave Âme and Dixon’s brand the funds to go fully independent and totally invest in their sound, gradually developing the multi- faceted organisation that now employs 25 people and encompasses its own booking agency, distribution company, publishing company and studios. At the time, however, the label was a subsidiary of Sonar Kollektiv, Jazzanova’s hyper-eclectic leftfield label on which Kristian and Frank had released their first few singles and debut eponymous album between 2003-4.
“The releases were almost too all over the shop,” Frank recalls. “One time it was a hip-hop record, then a jazz record, then a techno record. It was anything. You didn’t know what you’d get. At the time, Stefan [Dixon] said he wanted to start a house label, so we approached Sonar Kollektiv with the idea of Innervisions.”
The label officially launched in July 2005 with Tokyo Black Star’s ‘Psyche Dance’ as the 001. ‘Rej’ landed two months later. But it almost didn’t land at all. “Jazzanova were good friends of ours, but they never understood the record,” admits Kristian. “We gave them the master tapes and they said, ‘No, this is too minimal, too electronic’. That was the point we decided for ourselves that, in the future, we would make Innervisions independent.”
While it would take until release 006 for Innervisions to go truly independent, the amicable split began here, and the release of ‘Rej’ went ahead with the stripped-back deep house groove ‘Basic Track’ on the B. Across the two sides, the duo’s love for US house and Detroit techno was abundantly clear. The production was far from your standard electronic creation, too. While in-the-box set-ups were becoming more commonplace by the mid-2000s, Frank and Kristian were still very much traditional with their tools. In fact, their set-up was so analogue, the desk had no total recall, and Frank would have to write down the settings if he had to change them for another project. Even the engineer they worked with was old school.
“I think the massive effect of Andreas Schorpp has to be highlighted,” says Frank. “He had a massive impact on it. If you listen to the demos before he worked on it, they’re so different. He made that track.”
“He came from a rock background, and we were the first electronic act he worked with,” adds Kristian. “It was a special combination of those two worlds. Today, a lot of records sound like this, but back then he was the first to put that super wide, spread out sound onto a record like this.”
Here’s where we start to understand why ‘Rej’ had the resonance it did. It didn’t just stand out amid the dominant genres being spun at the time, it genuinely sounded like nothing else at the time. It had a rich, analogue warmth to it and a breadth and full flavour that had been lost or forgotten about as the rise of in-the-box producing was really kicking in with the digital revolution. Either way, ‘Rej’ was picked up by the very top of the house / techno tree the second the promos went out.
“Our first request was an urgent email from François K who was at Yellow Club in Japan, and he said he really needed it,” Kristian remembers. “He’d heard it in Shelter the week before when Timmy Regisford played it three times in one night! I’m not sure how we sent it to him, it was early days with the internet, but we did. This was the first time we heard that people were playing it.”
Before ‘Rej’ was officially released, it had already piqued interest from DJs far and wide. By winter 2005, it was already a club anthem, striking a chord across the board, singing to every house/ techno sub-genre or style at the time. Its fantastical and dramatic nature made it an easy fit into any progressive house set, which was still a huge sound at festivals and in Ibiza at the time with the Lawlers, Lopezs and Cattaneos of the world. It was also a no-brainer to mix in with the sounds of fellow German label Get Physical, where the likes of M.A.N.D.Y and Booka Shade were making huge hits with similar musical motifs and dramatic nuances at the time.
Venturing further afield, ‘Rej’ was also a popular tune in the UK amid big electro-house tracks from D Ramirez, and the beatless version could even be heard in broken beat sets by DJs like Bugz In The Attic or jazzier house DJs like Atjazz. It even made sense mixed in with the slightly wonkier, bass-laced sound of new rising labels like Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird, Jesse Rose's Front Room and Switch’s Dubsided. The verdict was unanimous: ‘Rej’ was a rare universal tune. But the sets where you’d hear it the most were almost always minimal, a genre the pair felt they’d been lumped into inaccurately at the time.
“The whole minimal label on that music was very misleading anyway,” says Kristian, who was quite forthright about minimal in interviews at the time. “Real minimal to me is Daniel Bell or very early Kompakt. Most stuff called minimal at the time is what people call tech-house now. What does that even mean?”
“People expected us to play very minimal music, and there were a lot of awkward moments,” Frank recalls. “One show, after about 20 minutes, the promoter came over and said, ‘There’s an English DJ who wants to play too, maybe you let him play now?’”
While this association would stick with them for a while, it soon passed, very much like the minimal boom/fad itself. Defected signing the record in the UK certainly helped change perception. Not quite the musical monolith it is now, Simon Dunmore’s label still had exceptional hit-seeking missiles at the time, and ‘Rej’ was released amid big tracks like an early Dennis Ferrer bomb ‘Church Lady’ and Mr. V’s ‘Da Bump’. This release (and the remixes Defected commissioned — which were never much to Kristian or Frank’s liking) ensured year-long ubiquity for ‘Rej’, and for every awkward moment at a minimal party, the duo also found themselves playing to cavernous arenas like 15,000 at Lowlands Festival and 10,000-strong hangars for Sonar By Night. “The shows did get remarkably bigger on the whole. Overwhelmingly so at points,” Frank recalls.
Naturally when a track and an act blow up on this level, a few inevitable things occur. First came the remix requests, as labels across the board requested ‘Rej’-alikes. “We worked very, very slow at the time,” says Frank. “When you work with hardware, and it’s all going through the mixing desk, we would work on one track at a time."
Kristian goes on to explain how many of the labels didn’t quite understand the remixes Âme gave them in return. “They’d be like, ‘Ah no, we don’t like this’. But other DJs started playing them and they were like, ‘Okay, we get it now’.” One particular remix of note, which the label did appreciate straight away, was their remix of Rodamaal’s ‘Insomnia’, which became one of the next unifying house/techno anthems as 2006 progressed, proving Âme were far from one-hit wonders.
But while Frank and Kristian were moving on from the sound they’d captured on ‘Rej’ (also see ‘Where We At’ with Dixon, Henrik Schwarz and Derrick Carter that year for another example of their dexterity and groovemanship), there was no avoiding the second inevitability in the wake of a game-changing anthem: the copycat cuts, as more and more tracks included big arpeggios, wider sonic spectrums in the mixdown and that palpitating heart beat bass/kick that’s the spine of ‘Rej’. Âme, however, weren’t bothered in the slightest.
“There were many, I’m sure, but the one I always remember was ‘Body Resonance’ by the Pastaboys. It was a like-for-like copy, but it wasn’t bad. I actually played it a few times!” laughs Kristian, who admits he’s not played ‘Rej’ in his DJ sets for at least 15 years. “And anyway — we are the copycats also! ‘Rej’ is basically a combination of Isolée’s ‘Beau Mot Plage’ and Moodymann’s ‘Dem Young Sconies’.”
Listen to both of those tracks and hear ‘Rej’ dissected before your very ears, reminding us that almost everything is a remix; especially within a studio culture founded largely on sampling. “What’s the line between copycat and inspiration anyway?” asks Frank. “Some is more obvious, some is less obvious. It’s all art, it’s how this works. And besides, ‘Rej’ was such a big stepping stone in our careers and generated so much for us, we didn’t question any of the replicas. If we were sleeping in chambers and not having success at all, then sure, we’d be angry, but we have wonderful lives actually and that’s down to ‘Rej’.”
And here’s where we hit the real game-changing legacy of ‘Rej’. Hype from a hit can only go so far. Copycats last a year or two at least. But it’s how Âme and Dixon utilised the exposure, attention and royalties to bring Innervisions to independent life and create one of the most successful, consistent and dominant brands to have emerged in house and techno from that era.
A flagship sailing unhurriedly away from an ocean of minimal and electro-house, famously championing quality over quantity by only putting out six releases a year, it’s why the label has only reached 100 releases and still stands for innovation and artistic evolution. “Momentum is easy to create, but to keep it at this level and always building is not easy,” says Kristian, dropping his cheekiness and being serious for a second. “The key has been to always work with a lot of people from younger generations, who keep inspiring us. We can never be the old grumpy guys who are wanting to bring back the past.”
Succinctly capturing the exciting crux and flux of early 2020s house and techno, Kristian gives one more eyebrow wiggle to the camera and we sign off.