Ali Berger is one of a new generation of producer / DJ’s from the birthplace of Techno, Detroit. An emerging name, amongst others such as Peter Croce, Blair French and Todd Modes. Releasing music on labels including Sweat Equity, Brooklyn`s Firm Tracks, Moscow`s Isaiah Tapes, the local clave.house, and now FatCat`s FCR. Creating House that builds on the musical heritage of Chicago and his adopted hometown. His Keys To The Door E.P. references the sound of Trax, Relief / Cajual, Trax, Prescription / Balance, and Bam Bam`s Westbrook.
Where are you from?
I grew up in a couple of different suburbs near Princeton, in central New Jersey. Until I was nine or so we lived on a quiet street in a house set way back from the road, basically in the woods. Then we moved to a subdivision built around a golf course where all the houses were based on the same few designs and there were lots of weird rules about the color of your mailbox, what you could have in your backyard, when you had to bring your trash can back in from the street after garbage pickup… it was pretty weird but there were other kids in the neighborhood which was cool. I don’t tell anyone that I’m “from” Boston but I spent six years there before I moved to Detroit, from 2009-2015, and that had a big influence on me as well.
Where are you based?
I live in Hamtramck, Michigan, which is a small city – only two square miles – surrounded by Detroit on all sides. It’s pretty unique in the Detroit metro area – lots of families live there, all the houses are really close together, and there’s grocery stores and bars within walking distance. In most areas of the city you have to drive to do anything, but in Hamtramck a lot of the essentials are close by.
Can you tell me anything about your locale? Where you like to hang out during the day? Coffee shops, record stores, etc? Can you tell me where you like to hang out at night? Where do you go to listen to music? To dance? Can you recommend any local artists, bands, DJs, musicians, that I should check out?
Honestly I spend a lot of time at home or at friends’ studios making tracks and DJing. My favourite spot to dance is probably MotorCity Wine. The sound system there is punchy and it’s one of the few good bets in the city as far as the crowd goes. What I mean by that is 1) there’s usually enough people there to fill the space and make it feel like a party and 2) most people go there to dance and be present and have fun – not to get fucked up and shuffle around in a daze. There are also some great used record stores around – Hello Records and People’s Records have really good curation and their stock turns over quickly, so you can go in there every week and hear new stuff. Detroit Threads is down the street from my house and my favourite place to buy new stuff from Detroit labels. Local folks to check out? Two of my favourite DJs in town are Nicole Misha and Geoffrey LaRue. Nicole works with the Sound Signature crew. Her mixing is eclectic but totally in control, and she plays a perfect blend of rare and familiar classics. Geoffrey LaRue does a great mostly Disco party called Suck It! and is a wild selector. On the production side I gotta shout out my very good friends Julian Kendall, 2Lanes and Rawaat. Each of these guys has a really deep connection to what they’re into and they don’t compromise that for anything.
The FCR press release states that you had your House “epiphany” at a Dope Jams party in New York.
It was building for a little while before that but it was really Dope Jams that showed me a deeply emotional and powerful side of the House music tradition and taught me to look for a certain kind of physical and emotional release from dancing with other people. Before that party I`d read accounts of the Music Box, the Warehouse, the Loft, the Music Institute and the Paradise Garage, places where it seemed like every track was mindblowing, and the full experience was working to enhance the party. From the sound to the lights to the personalities of the guests and the people in charge. All of these things seemed like myths until I went to Dope Jams and experienced them. It changed my relationship to music and gave me something to strive for. I’m not saying it’s what everyone is looking for in a party or that there’s no other party paying attention to all those things. But Dope Jams parties are incredibly special. Each one is a labor of love and a hot, beautiful, euphoric mess.
Before you moved to Michigan, were you aware of Detroit`s vast electronic music heritage?
Even when I was making really different stuff from what I do now I was always interested in the history of dance music. I knew about Cybotron and early Detroit Techno, and that it was the birthplace of Techno in general. I moved here a couple years after I became aware of Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel and MGUN. I knew there were still people here continuing the tradition and I wanted to learn more. That wasn’t the only reason I moved here – leaving the frantic pace, cramped living space and high rent of the east coast were also big factors – but it was a big one.
What sort of music were you in to before attending the Dope Jams party?
At that point I was transitioning out of “Glitch Hop” into more throwback-sounding Acid, Electro and Ghettotech. That’s all I’m gonna say on the subject!
How did you come to be at the Dope Jams party?
I was living in Brooklyn that summer a couple miles from the shop. I had asked Eliot Lipp for record store tips and he told me Dope Jams was great. I went a few times, heard about the party when I was shopping there once and went to check it out.
Where there any particular tracks that stood out?
I barely remember anything that was played that night except that I think there were a lot of longer instrumental Disco records. I remember grooves going on and on and on. I also remember the Henrik Schwarz remix of Omar’s Feeling You got played twice.
Who was DJing?
Funmi Ononaiye played all night. I don’t know much about him except what there is on this page. He came out to the dancefloor and thanked everyone personally at the end of the night.
How long after this did you start DJing and making music?
I had already been DJing and making music in most of my spare time since 2008, and was majoring in music at Tufts University in Boston. After those parties I started trying to make records that would make sense being played there, something which took until about 2016, although I don’t think my music has been played at a Dope Jams party yet. One day…
What was it about House that captured your creative imagination?
Some of the first music I was really into was Parliament / Funkadelic, The Brothers Johnson, Larry Graham. Thick Funk tracks, focused on basslines and repeating grooves. The House music I really like combines that foundation with ethereal, freaky sounds -Rhodes pianos, huge organs, piercing vocals, sampled pads. The stuff I’m into always seems to trace back to childhood. When I was eleven I was all about the Aesop Rock album Labor Days, the beats on there all have that tripped-out floating quality that resonates with me in House and Techno.
Did you have any musical experience? Had you been in any bands for example?
I was in a couple of bands in high school, playing bass and writing some of the songs. These were basically jam bands, which was kind of the bridge between my early love of Funk and my interest in production. I got into that scene when a few bands were just starting to incorporate more computers and electronic instruments.
What equipment do you currently have?
Lots… MPC1000, MPC2000, Akai S1100, Kurzweil K2000, Waldorf Blofeld, TR-707, Korg Minilogue, Mackie CR1604, Midas Venice F24, Roland D-110, Alpha Juno 1, Yamaha DX21, Oberheim Matrix 6R, Tama Techstar TS305, Yamaha RX5, Tascam 4-track, a really really small Eurorack modular, a pair of Boss DR-5s, some FX and a patchbay. I use the computer a lot too, I have a Scarlett interface and I really love a lot of the Brainworx plugins for mixdown / mastering work.
Can you tell me anything about clave.house?
clave.house is a Detroit-based label, I’m actually hesitant to say much more because I’m not totally sure of the entire team behind it. My friend Michael aka segv was my contact but I know there are a few more people involved. They have some really great records under their belt and a consistent release schedule lined up for this year. It was awesome working with them. I think it was the quickest turnaround I’ve ever experienced from the time we decided on the tracklist to the record actually coming out. They were using Fit for distribution but since Fit closed the only way – for now – to get the records is to buy direct on their Bandcamp. Hit em up!
How did you hook up wth Fat Cat? Were you aware of Fat Cat`s Techno heritage?
Fat Cat got in touch with me through Firm Tracks, the label that released my first solo 12″. Alex Knight (from Fat Cat) hit them up saying he found the record in Hard Wax and wanted me to do a remix for the label. That remix hasn’t come out yet, but we stayed in touch and talked about a number of projects before settling on the Keys The Door E.P.s. I’m really excited to be working with them. It’s been great so far. I actually wasn’t familiar with the label at first, but of course I did my research and was pretty floored that they liked my work!
Could you give me three tracks, or producers, that you are currently into?
1. Delian League. He’s from Montreal and just released his first 12″ on London’s Room II Records. That release is totally amazing. One of my favorites from 2018, and I can’t wait to see what he has up next.
2. Raw Brainyak. This guy lives in Manchester and pumps out album after album of freaked out underproduced 808 tracks and livesets. It’s impossible to keep up but always worth taking a listen, I love when you can get into someone’s head like that.
3. Kiki Kudo. She been DJing in New York for years but just started making music recently. She put out a really fun, varied and wild record on Incienso last year.
Can you tell me what you have planned for 2019?
Oh yeah. I’m gonna be vague about some of this but here we go. This month Keys The Door E.P.1 comes out on FCR. I also might have been involved in a certain white label 12″ of R&B edits coming out this month on a certain Ann Arbor label. In the spring I have a double A-side 12″ called Raise/Anxiety coming out on Southern Belle, which is my friend Wheez-ie’s label based in LA. I also have a 21-track album – yes, it’s like 2 hours long – in the works for my digital label Trackland Acid Dealerships of Skillman, New Jersey, which will be out by the end of February. There’s another E.P. in the works with a bigger label but it’s not finalized yet so I don’t wanna say too much. And I think FCR will release Keys The Door E.P.2 later this year. After all of that gets done I’m looking forward to working on a really deep melancholy early ’90s Deep House tribute / throwback concept album and trying to find someone to release it. And of course throughout the year I’ll be DJing and playing live in Detroit, and around the US, and hoping to make it to Europe in the Fall /Winter for some gigs. I’m also still in the process of teaching myself to repair audio gear and looking forward to working more on that. Yikes!
Ali Berger`s first Keys To The Door E.P. is out on February 22nd via FatCat`s FCR imprint.