Dirk Pogrzeba (Neversleep) says:
What I really love about Berlin is its openness of culture
Sound design has to support a musical idea
An arpeggio is a repeating melodic line which builds up an energetic flow
Now I own everything I need for any kind of sound design
Neversleep is the solo project of Dirk Pogrzeba, a Berlin based musician with a huge modular arsenal to play with. Here is his interview for ‘The Electronic Corner’.
Sir Joe: Your music is influenced by early 80s analog synths bands, by your own admission.
Which bands or artists would you name as your main source of inspiration?
SJ: In your social posts you often mention the Berlin Modular Society, and I know you are going to a meeting with them after this interview, so of course now I’m curious.
What is the main purpose of this entity and how can you become a member?
Neversleep: I’ve been making electronic music since 2002, after a period where I was playing in alternative pop-rock bands.
I started my modular journey in 2019, and from the beginning I’ve been looking for ways to perform live and reach out to like-minded people.
Berlin is the ideal place for an electronic modular musician. First of all, you have this big store, ‘Schneidersladen’, which is one of the major stores in the world, for modules. Then you have the ‘Superbooth’, a yearly trade fair focused on modules, so there’s a lot going on.
But when I started my modular journey, I didn’t know anybody and I thought: “I want to reach out to people, I want to do collaborations”, because I had very good experiences with collaborations.
One day, I found the guys who were running the Berlin Modular Society. It was during corona virus, so they were only doing live streams.
I asked them how I could perform in their live stream and they said: “No problem, you’re on the list for next time”. These guys are super lovely and really open minded, so it was pretty easy and nice to get to know them and learn more about what they do.
The Berlin Modular Society is currently a group of six people who organize live electro modular performances in clubs, and we do it on a monthly basis. Today, we are having our 37th live performance.
How do you get into that group? In my case, I first played a couple of concerts for them, so I entered in their outer circle of playing artists.
Since in my day job I do a lot of agile coaching and project management, one day I asked the guys if I could help them with the management and organization of the circle, they gladly accepted my offer and so, since last October, I’ve been part of the organization committee, so to speak.
I really love to contact other artists, organize events and meet other modular musicians.
We are in Instagram under Berlin Modular Society, and we have a website, Berlinmodularsociety.com
If any modular artist in or out of Berlin is interested to deal with us, we have a submission form, so they just have to drop us an email.
SJ: Cool! Now, we’ve just learned that living in Berlin makes your life easier in terms of of facilities, acquiring gears and stuff like that, but what about inspiration?
Does living in Berlin help you also with that, or not really?
Neversleep: Yes it does, absolutely. Everything is very close and the community is quite small, so everybody knows everybody. In fact, I expect to meet a lot of known people today at the event.
What I really love about Berlin, though, because it feels liberating for my music, is its openness of culture.
Here, it’s really very easy to blend genres, you don’t feel forced to do one specific thing.
In other places, when you get away a bit from the cliche, people look at you and say: “What are you doing? You’re not following the rules”. But in Berlin, people just don’t care, or they are even more interested, when you bring in a special twist.
I’m not so much involved with the electronic communities of other cities, but I heard that probably this openness is a Berlin specific thing.
SJ: I do agree. I lived six years in Munich and, even though I had a wondeful time, I must say Bavarians are quite strict in lots of things.
Anyway, let’s move on. In your composition process, how do you manage to combine good songwriting with sound design? Both elements are very important, as we all know.
Neversleep: I have different approaches.
Sometimes, I’m just taking a walk and all of a sudden a melody line comes to my mind and I record it on my phone. Then, back in the studio, I play the chords and start adding some beats, and so on.
Another approach is that I start experimenting with a module; maybe my intention is to do some beat driven experimental stuff, but then I always finish by setting up a patch, play a bit with it, and when I think it sounds nice, in the next few seconds here comes a melody, a chord progression with a musical idea, because this is what has to come first, in my music.
So, I always look for a melodic idea, a song theme, because that’s what I need for my music.
Sound design of course is very important, but it has to support a musical idea. Sound design on its own is nice, but, from my point of view, it misses something.
So it’s always melody first, then sound design, and then lyrics complete the process.
SJ: For the next question, you have to complete the following sentence: Life without arpeggiators is…
SJ: Let’s talk about shopping!
When you buy a new model module, how does the process start? I mean, do you start with an: “I need this”, and then you look maybe in internet or in a shop for the best deal, or do you just fall in love with a product and then buy it even though maybe you don’t really need it?
SJ: You seem to be more interested in publishing live albums than studio albums, at least looking at what is available on Spotify. Why is that?
Neversleep: Well, it’s not that I don’t produce studio music, actually I would say it’s quite the opposite, since I have a huge backlog of songs to be finished.
The problem is that, when I work in the studio, I tend to be a perfectionist, so I’m always listening back to stuff and thinking: “This is not good enough, I need to change that” and so on.
I know that my last studio release is dated 2017 and that I have released a lot of new music as live versions, and now you know the reason. It’s easier to release a live album, because you cannot do a deep editing of a live performance. All you can do is mix, master and get it out.
With studio work, it’s a bit different and it requires much more work.
However, there’s a bunch of new stuff coming out in autumn. For example, I have just finished the end mix of a new EP, called ‘Doomscolling’. It was originally intended to be a single, but since I had lots of musical ideas, it ended up being ‘Doomscrolling I’, ‘Doomscrolling II’, ‘Doomscrolling III’. All songs are based on the same idea, but in the end they are really different tracks.
I will also release a 10 year anniversary remastered version of my first album, which was released back in 2013 and is not on Spotify, at the moment.
It will be released in October or November, and there’s also a lot of other new songs coming up in the near future, which could mean a new album by the end of autumn.
SJ: How challenging is it to prepare your stage when you go live, considering that you’re not one of those artists who need only a laptop and a mixer? Do you bring your stuff with you, or do you mostly rely on what the venue can provide?
Neversleep: What I do, and I think this relates to nearly all the artists playing at the Berlin Modular Society, is that I bring my own gear: my drum machine, my modular case and other stuff … also a small mixing desk, to do my mix of the live sound.
(Now I invite you to watch the following video, starting at 27:37. Get ready for a live performance of ‘Doomscrolling’).