Mixtape #103: Robot Koch
Robot Koch brings the driving beats of Berlin to sunny L.A., adding his own cinematic touch., Los Angeles
Mixtapes > Mixtape #103: Robot Koch

German producer Robert Koch, better known by his musical moniker Robot Koch, melds warm orchestral arrangements with raw techno textures to construct his own cinematic sound.

For more than 15 years, Robert has been honing his style. He started in Berlin with his band Jahcoozi and built an intimate connection with the techno capital. Now working as Robot Koch, Robert has a released raft of records out on respected labels such as MonkeyTown and Bpitch Control. But after outgrowing the Berlin experience, he moved to Los Angeles and found a fresh creative drive. It shines through on his latest album, Hypermoment, which has made his sound increasingly popular with local producers of film and television.

For this FvF mix Robert takes us on a filmic journey through a selection of his favorite artists combined with a healthy dose of his own exclusive tracks. We caught up with Robert at the Villa Aurora, an artist institute just outside Malibu, to find out more about the changing scene in L.A., learning from the past, and the connection between sight and sound.

Tracklist

  • Pau Casals – Song Of The Birds

  • Robot Koch feat. Julien Marchal – Eclipse

  • Rival Consoles – 3 Chords

  • Robot Koch – Eclipse (dnte remix)

  • Robot Koch – Eclipse (Shelf Nunny remix)

  • Rival Consoles – Recovery

  • Kiasmos – Looped

  • Robot Koch – Freeplay

  • Kidnap Kid – Birds That Fly

  • Alejandro Bento – Sweet Rain (Robot Koch remix)

  • Dapayk & Padberg – Sink This Ship (Robot Koch remix)

  • Robot Koch feat. Malte Beckenbach – Kalimba

  • Robot Koch feat. May – September

  • Braille – Better Than Nothing (feat. Angela Bess)

  • Robots Don’t Sleep – So Bad (Synkro remix)

  • Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds – Four

Hi Robert. Where are we today?

We’re inside the Villa Aurora, in L.A. It’s a renowned cultural institution and the home of Lion Feuchtwanger, a German author who fled the Nazis in the ’30s. He wrote some of his famous books here. The German government funds a scholarship so that artists can have a residence, write their books, work on art, music. It’s full of inspiring people.

And why are you here?

I threw a small invite-only event here recently in cooperation with Raumfeld  to present my new album, Hypermoment. We had a string ensemble, live vocals, visuals — it was lovely.

Robot Koch – Hypermoment (2015)

Tell us how you go to this point.

Well, I was living in Berlin, but after 13 years there, I’d hit the ceiling creatively and spiritually. I had a relationship breakup and just life happening, a few unpleasant things. In short, that made me feel that I needed a change. I didn’t feel connected with the city anymore. It didn’t interest or inspire me as it once did. Nothing was tying me down in Berlin, so I moved to America. I didn’t know anyone at first, but something told me that I had to be here. I came to L.A. wanting to find out why I’d felt that calling. I found out pretty quickly: there’s a great energy here and so many opportunities. Things feel easier and less stagnant than Berlin. It doesn’t feel like a struggle; it feels fluid. Home is where your heart is, and for me, that’s here right now.

That’s great to hear. What projects have you worked on since you arrived?

I was lucky that some of my original music had been picked up by television and film prior to my move. I had placements on The Blacklist, on NBC, and How to Get Away with Murder, on ABC. So some big shows on national television introduced me to a large American crowd. I could see on Spotify when people liked a certain song, and I built connections with the TV and film world that way. From there, I’ve been collaborating with a lot of local artists.

That’s clear on Hypermoment, with its list of featured artists.

I’m a big collaborator and team player. One and one is three, you know? If you’re part of a bigger team and vision, you can cater your creative services. Co-writing with people is something I really enjoy, and for my latest record I created pieces with people I’d met while traveling. I find artists that I like (or they find me) and we make things together — it’s simple. Not everything sees the light of day though. I write five times the amount of music that I actually put on a record. The hardest part is thinking, ‘What type of record do I really want to make?’

So you discard a lot of tracks. How do you feel about work from your past?

I’ve thought about that a lot lately. When you move to a new place, you think back on the place that you left. ‘What did I do? What did I create?’ I listened to my past records and I could totally see what I was going for creatively — it’s still obvious. I enjoy those songs but I’m a much more of a seasoned producer now. The way I mixed and programmed beats back then was crafty, but the Robot of today would give the Robot of the past a hug and say, ‘Come on man. You can do better.’

Robot Koch's Past Albums Highlights

Robot Koch – Death Star Droid (2009)

Robot Koch – Songs for Trees and Cyborgs (2010)

Robot Koch – The Other Side (2011)

Does that show on Hypermoment?

I’m not saying my new record is immaculate, but the progress I’ve made is really clear, that’s what I’m proud of. My songs were more cluttered before, too messy. “Auf den Punkt bringen,” as we’d say in German — get to the point! You need to find the essence of a song, and what it needs to express that. I mean, if it needs a string orchestra sure, make it lush, but think of what’s necessary to convey your message. Nowadays, I say less is more.

Many of your tracks do use orchestral arrangements. Why is that?

I like cinematic music. I don’t mean Hans Zimmer and The Lion King, more like chamber orchestras and small instrumentation: one violin, one cello. When I write, I alway have images in my head, like I’m scoring a film. Before I got into music, I wanted to study film. Very few people know that. I remember being seventeen with two VHS recorders and an analog video mixer. I created VHS art — or so I thought. Then I applied to universities but got turned down for formal reasons because I didn’t label the stuff correctly. Not very German of me!

The Red Bull Academy accepted me instead. That brought me to Berlin. I studied business but kept making music on the side. That eventually blew up and grew into a profession. If I do end up scoring a films, it would have come full circle. With the craft that I have now, having produced several records, I’m at the meeting point between film and sound. I’ve been told my music works really well with images, so I’m excited to see what happens.

What kind of film would you score if you did?

My music is kind of moody, so it wouldn’t suit a comedy! I’d say something more like Game Of Thrones or a remake of Blade Runner. Yeah, that would be cool: sci-fi, Batman movies, et cetera. I’m writing scores as we speak, the movie just hasn’t come yet.

Who inspires you in the film-scoring scene?

Ex Machina was a movie I really enjoyed. Geoff Barrow of Portishead worked with a film composer to produce the soundtrack. Or Trent Reznor’s score for The Social Network. These people give me faith that good music can be used in television and film and that people will find it. There are multiple examples of that. Look at M83 or Junkie XL, they’ve become big names in the industry. Most of them are LA based because that’s where the movie industry is. It’s a city that still creates artists and brings in interesting people.

Like yourself.

It’s surprisingly how many people relocate to LA, which is a bit of a bummer actually because it drives up prices. Coming from Berlin, a crazy place for creative immigration, I can see the same patterns emerging. I’m lucky. I didn’t come here with something under my belt, so to speak. I had already won an award for my music, many film and TV placements etc. I know a lot of people moving only with hope. I had an Uber driver who was breaking into acting, and he said that for three years it’s just standing in line at auditions. There’s a lot of competition.

Tell us about the mix.

There are some exclusives in there… Monkey Town, the label owned by Modeselektor, released the stems of my album via Beatport. Some producers came back with remixes and  I used some of them in this mix. There are also some upcoming/unreleased remixes I made on there, like the Dapayk & Padberg remix. I’ll play some of these tunes in my set at SXSW in Austin as well, so this will be an exclusive taster…I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks, Robert, for putting together such a unique mix and for sharing so much exclusive music. Learn more about Robot Koch.

Feeling the beat? Listen to more of our FvF Mixtapes.

Interview: Matt Earp
Text: Jack Mahoney