Kyle Geiger: Sometimes you have to close a door before another one can open
This Sunday, Intellephunk's celebrated Sunday evening techno event Communion returns to Sound Bar in downtown Minneapolis for its opening party. Since 2007, Communion has played host to a vast array of local and international artists alike. For this year's opening party, Indiana-born and Berlin-bred DJ and producer Kyle Geiger will be bringing his unique brand of techno soundscapes to the patio.
Geiger has been quite busy lately, between the creation of his own label, Cubera, and working on his yet to be released debut album. He will be returning to Minneapolis on the heels of his performance at last week's Movement Festival in Detroit. While catching up with friends back in the states, Geiger spoke to Gimme Noise about the very beginnings of his interest in electronic music, and how his career has evolved from DJing at high school dances to writing and releasing his own music and performing on an international stage. Here's Geiger in his own words.
On his introduction to Nine Inch Nails:
Kyle Geiger: At our freshman dance in high school, I heard Nine Inch Nails for the first time. I said, what on earth is this? I had been listening to a lot of Metallica, and I was like, this is the coolest parts of Metallica and the coolest parts of dance music altogether. It just felt right. I became this huge Nine Inch Nails fan. My Mom took me to a concert of theirs. It was definitely eighth grade. She said, "You're not going to Nine Inch Nails. The only way that you can go is if I go with you." She even understood how embarrassing it is for a child to have parents.
At the time we didn't understand that biologically it's impossible to not have parents. Anyway, I just said, meet me at the cash register when you buy the ticket and then go away. So we sat in like, row 3, and she sat in row 18, or something, so she could keep an eye on us, but she was out of our hair. I took like six of my friends in a minivan to a Nine Inch Nails concert when I was in eighth grade.
On finding out about DJing for the first time:
We found out about the possibility of DJing at high school dances, and DJing at weddings. It was strictly an entrepreneurial idea, when we found out how much they got paid to do these events. We were like, gosh, we love music, we love playing music, and all we have to do is get a sound system. I mean, we buy all these CD's anyway, so let's go for it. How do we find DJ equipment? I lived in Indiana, so it wasn't exactly a bustling metropolis. I went looking for catalogues.
There was a magazine called DJ Times, and I bought the magazine strictly to get the numbers out of the back of the catalogue. On the cover was this guy sitting on a mound of records, and his name was Frankie Bones. I said, wow, this guy is actually playing records! What kind of DJ would play records still? I read the article, and it was talking about these raves in Brooklyn, and how they would go in these warehouses and hook up a generator. At the time I was just seeing this really cool story that happened in a foreign country that I had no access to. Indiana and New York are very, very far away when you're a fourteen-year-old kid.
On getting closer to his dream:
There was a three-day rave going on at a ski slope in Indiana. Some friends invited me along, and we drove up there. I had no idea what to expect. That was just...it was game over at that point. I saw a DJ actually DJing, and I said, I really need to figure out how to do this.
Freshman year at Purdue, there was a guy that was living in my dorms, and he was carrying what I thought to be DJ equipment up the stairs when the freshman were moving in. I was just so curious, and it almost came off as desperate, to keep going down this road. I said, are these turntables? I'm really interested in this. Can I come watch you DJ in your dorm room?
He was playing hip hop music, and he asked if I wanted to mess around with his tables. I went to the campus record store and bought a Basement Jaxx album, Remedy, and the big single from that was "Red Alert." It was a double pack record, and that meant that I had two records to mix back and forth. I just miserably failed at mixing those two records back and forth for a long time.
Summer into my sophomore year, I worked a job, saved up money and bought turntables and a mixer, and that's all I did that summer. I can't recall anything else that I did that summer, other than DJ in my bedroom. I remember bringing numerous friends into my bedroom at my Mom's house. I'd say, I'm practicing DJ'ing, and you're welcome to come by, but I'm not really interested in going out. That was the start of it, and it just kind of evolved from there.
On turning DJing into a career:
The reality took about a year to settle in. I realized that this was not sustainable, and I could do it as a hobby, but not as a career. I was mainly DJing. I was dabbling in writing music. I was told that if I really wanted people to book me, then I needed to write music, I couldn't just DJ. I started getting into production, because that was kind of like the Trojan horse to get your foot in the door.
I was still DJing for recreation, and I played this party in Bloomington, Indiana. The party was just awful. It was everything wrong. It was like this manifestation of how bad the rave scene had gotten. The cops busted the party while I was playing, and remember being thankful. That was the first time where I was like, man, the cops did the rave scene a favor by breaking this one up. I was like, I'm done. I'm just going to DJ in my bedroom. I'm done playing for people. I'm just going to start writing music. And this decision was what made me get into the studio. Now, I'm playing gigs that are worth playing.
There are some people who have a career that explodes overnight. Mine has not been like that. Mine has been a slow growth. It never felt like it was time to be a full-time musician. It was actually because of my wife. I always had this idea that if I was going to meet the person to spend the rest of my life with, that my music would probably take a backseat. Interestingly enough, she was the one that said, when are you going to actually take a chance and do this? She was really open to moving to a foreign country, and she knew that I loved Europe, and specifically Berlin.
So, we did it. There was never a time where I felt like this was guaranteed success. I knew in the back of my head that this could go really wrong, and there were some months where there were no indicators that I'd ever DJ another gig in my life. The first year we moved to Germany and January came, I did not have any gigs. I had one gig in February, then none in March. You're sitting there saying wow, my wife really believed in me, but now I'm starting to doubt myself.
Sometimes you have to close a door before another one can open.
I worked on an album recently. I knew it was time to do a full-length. I got in the studio, and completed the album. Then, I just said, it's not time. I haven't scrapped the album, but I've gutted it. As I understand it, the paint crew at the Golden Gate Bridge starts at one side of the bridge, and by the time they get to the other side of the bridge, the corrosive sea salt and the ocean have taken its toll on the paint job where you started it at the beginning. The musical process is like that. You get so emotionally attached to a project. I got to the end of it and I said, these are good tracks, but this isn't really an album. I had to be willing to walk away from it. It didn't feel cohesive. All of the tracks were individually good, but it wasn't cohesive. There are three or four segments of the album. In electronic music, your only point of cohesion is the music.
If you look at bands, they have lyrics and music, so maybe the music isn't super cohesive but the lyrics are a story that's being told. With instrumental music, like techno, it has to be musically cohesive. That's a challenge. For me, for it to be an album, it has to be diverse. The challenge is making an album that's cohesive enough to make sense as an album, diverse enough, yet true to my identity as an artist. Ultimately, when the day is done, I'm making techno music.
I've played First Avenue several times, and I've also played a few festivals outside of Minneapolis. I have played Communion when it was at Solera, and Communion when it was at Crave. For me, how the music is being presented effects the way that you play. There used to be a venue in Minneapolis, which had really cool parties in a dark basement. What you would play there is really different than what you'd play outside on a patio when everyone's enjoying their Sunday evening. The mentality that people who are going to a basement at 1 am on a Saturday saying let's go for it is way different than 8 pm on a Sunday, and that comes out in the music.
The DJ sets the bookends, the parameters. You kind of let the crowd give you the body language as to where on the bookshelf you go. The crowd defines where you take it. The environment also affects things. When Prince was playing the Super bowl halftime show, and it started to pour in the middle of his set...it was like, how much cooler is Purple Rain when its raining? Context matters.
Music moves so fast now that it's easy to become more attracted to music just because it's new, versus being best for the occasion. It's good to always push boundaries, and you do that by introducing new material, but you can't always do that. I'm always playing a combination of old and new music. On the patio I'll play a little less heavy, a little more techno with a nice house accent.
Kyle Geiger performs this Sunday 6/1 at Communion with Centrific,Mike Moilanen & Jevne, Ryan C, and Ian Lehman in the blue room. 3-10 PM, 21+, $10 till 4pm, $15 after 4pm, $20 after 6pm at 400 Sound Bar
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