EXCURSIONS 005: DJ KAOS
Words: Bad Lieutenant
Over the past twenty years, Berlin has rightfully earned the reputation as an international hub for nightlife. Artists, musicians and djs come from every corner of the globe in search of the dream: a major city composed of creatives, steeped in history and progressive values; a liberal municipality that encourages all forms of artistic expression and all shades of hedonism; a cost of living that allows artists to survive doing what they love ... without restriction. Today, Berlin's club scene is most associated with the sound of pulsing techno that rose from the rubble of post-communist, industrial East Berlin after the Wall collapsed.
DJ Kaos, however, is West Berlin. Born and raised. Through and through. And he is anything but a techno DJ.
In the late days of the Cold War, Kaos was a teenager. A semi-professional skater, Kaos was at the forefront of youth hip-hop culture in his home city. He was in the first wave of Berlin’s graffiti artists who championed Stussy, serving as a liaison for the NYC brand in Europe during its formative years. Kaos rode BMX bikes and snowboarded. Perhaps most notably, he was part of the cadre of youth who worked with Keith Haring to tag the Berlin Wall in a renowned photoshoot in 1986.
Then, a fews years later, the wall came down, and with it, East Berlin moved in. East and West were reunited. Berlin morphed and mutated. Techno rose. With all these changes, Kaos stuck to his gut. By the mid 1990s, though, Kaos needed a change. He relocated to London where he would learn studio skills under the tutelage of legendary English producer Cameren McVey of Massive Attack fame. His musical sensibilities shifted in the process. By the time he arrived back in Berlin, his productions drew from krautrock, disco and myriad other influences. In the late 1990s, Kaos established himself as a well-known producer and dj traveling to locations around the world. After years in dance music he started a record label, Jolly Jams, in 2010, representing his range of influences and international network of friends like Alex Olson, Eric Duncan and Tiago.
10 years since the start of his label, and with over 30 years of experience in dance music, Kaos refuses to slow down. Jolly Jams continues to push out quality edits and original tracks, moving at the speed of light. Kaos keeps being Kaos. His personality is one giant exclamation mark. His life is ALL CAPS. He continues to live with reckless abandon, even with the world grinding to a screeching halt. Just check his instagram, a repository for all things KOOL on PLANET KAOS. When we contacted him for this project, Mr. Kaos was “Audi 55”, taking off for his annual winter snowboarding retreat to the Swiss Alps. Not bad for a dude who was rocking out with Keith Haring in the ‘80s.
On November 8th, Jolly Jams is dropping a compilation of new and unreleased material from the past 10 years of the label. As usual, the music slaps. The comp is a must have for Djs and collectors. Knowing Kaos is busy with this release, we were stoked when he agreed to be part of our Excursions series. We were even more surprised when he hit us off with an extended 4 hour mix. It goes without saying that the ride is worth taking. Check out our interview with him before getting lifted and plugging in. You might learn something!
BAD LT. INTERVIEW WITH KAOS
WHAATUP KAOS! You staying kool in Covid? How is life in Berlin?
Life is good. I am super productive... 8 releases since March on Jolly Jams and a new remix incoming! Covid is a huge mess, but you know the media is blasting it out 24/ 7...Let‘s talk music, right!!
Being a lifetime Berliner, how has the city changed?
Yeah, that‘s right. I am Berlin, born and raised. My hometown. My family is here. My daughter is here and we love being home together. It’s a fun city, very diverse! You can be in town in the city center and be part of the hectic rush, cars, people, traffic etc, or easily head into the country. It’s beautiful and green and clean. There is a lot of water around Berlin.
I cycle everyday. I need to balance out! I am having a bit of beef on the reg though. SO many people coming here and pretending to be Berliners. I see a lot of DJS putting Berlin next to their name, but they’re not from here at all. It’s a marketing tool for the want-to-B‘S. PRETENDING I call it. Whatever!!
I saw the wall come down, I saw people being confused about the East side in the beginning. In the late 80’s there wasn’t anything going on in the East. It looked horrible when we went there to check it out, then slowly subculture started rising, clubs opened up, Techno started booming, no closing hours … it was totally wild and open! The DJs at that time came from Detroit and Chicago mainly. There was a very small scene of German DJs. I was young and scared of the German Techno DJs, I thought they had absolutely NO STYLE and the look was weird. I was wearing Stüssy, Adidas, Nike’s, I wanted to be fresh. So I didn’t want to hang with those guys at all.
Later I got into Basic Channel, Moritz Von Oswald, and they seemed to be normal. I started DJ-ing I think in 92, 93 at a club called WMF, every Saturday night! They gave me a budget to invite DJS I liked, so I invited Carl Craig, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Massive Attack, Mark Broom. It was a very open minded selection of DJs, anything goes, slow beats, House and Techno. Dixon played some of his first gigs at my WMF residency!
What’s next for you in terms of dj’ing and production?
The DJ’ing is on hold, like for everybody else. There are some bars having DJS, but I don’t see myself there, it’s not my thing... I need a crowd, a dance floor. So I’ve been in the studio a lot working on my music, and the label is rising at the moment … actually, it’s been going offfffff! A lot of good feedback, I am really happy about that, it’s been 10 years now of Jolly Jams. All recent releases have been charted so they’re doing very well on the websites. Juno in England is a huge supporter of Jolly Jams, and there is big feature incoming this November. Working with you guys is really fun too!
Thanks dude! Tell us more about the new compilation. What are the highlights and how did you go about picking the artists and tracks?
The 10 year compilation will be released November 6, 2020. It actually features a lot of the newer Jams, and a couple of older Jams, I think the tracklist is up on Juno already, check it out! A highlight for sure is having Alex Olson on Jolly Jams… as you know, he is a great skater, and he is also very talented running his clothing labels, Bianca Chandon, etc. He is a very calm guy, too. Alex got a new Jolly incoming this December, 4 Jams! Really fucking epic! Tavish is also highly recommended... we just released his Ep, it’s a killer dance record!
I’ve been doing my Kaos releases too, “Tapping the source“ just came out, and I’ve remixed an older version I did 15 years ago with Erlend Oye and Daniel Wang. I didn’t change much of the original mix, just added new beats and synth sequence to it, and a re-arrangement! It’s incredible how timeless some of the old tracks are. Ahh! Also check out my cover Version of Dolly Parton‘s “Jolene“ on my latest EP. It’s called “Only Dead Man Are Free“ ! It’s out everywhere and people love it.
Are there any other labels or artists you’re feeling right now?
I am actually listening a lot to Tommy Guerrero’s Albums...they are so good ! I love his music. Very skilled.
You talk a lot about the importance of producing for dj’s. What is a production highlight for you from your storied career?
It’s hard to say to be honest. I always thought that a lot of music that came out 10 to 15 years ago was too early for the scene, like the disco and house tunes I made had so little feedback at the time and now the re- releases are going through the roof! I’ve done a remix for Neneh Cherry and another remix for Holger Czukay, lets cross fingers these tracks see the light! They turned out really good!
Tell us a little bit about the Keith Haring graff shoot in the 80s... How’d that come to be?
I met Keith in 1985 in Berlin. The wall was still up and he planned this huge piece next to the Check Point Charlie boarder to the East. I was young and very much a Hip Hop Graffiti skater boy! We actually got together at a night club called the Dschungel. I was only 15 Years Old, but the door bouncer liked me and always let me inside. Keith and I started talking that night and he asked me if I could show him the hidden paint spots like Graffiti Hall of Fame or any places where the wall wasn’t painted yet. I showed him all of it!
He was a very nice guy. He sent me packages later on from New York with t-shirts and other stuff, and he painted on a pair of my slate Vans! There is also a double page in my old black book! Great memories from these days !
A lot of our supporters are skate and street wear folks. How has this side of culture influenced your music?
Way back the scene was so little, you know, we had to fly to New York to find the sneakers or goose jackets, denim jeans, Kangols, etc. It wasn’t easy to find. No internet. No stuff online. You really had to go and find it! Then in the late 80’s Stüssy came around and I started rocking out the gear and I became part of the Stüssy Tribe! Before Supreme, James was running UNION store in New York, then he opened a bigger Stüssy store on Prince in NYC and then later he started supreme on Lafayette! And this is how it all became a huge hype Market industry. Hiroshi Fujiwara in Japan and all that. They are still the number 1's in the game ... definitely the top players! I’m happy I was there when it all started. All of this influenced my whole style and music output! Jolly Jams comes from all that!
What’s your message to your fans during these tough times?
STAY CALM. BE PRODUCTIVE. DON'T LISTEN TO THE MEDIA. WE’LL MARCH THROUGH THIS TOGETHER. IT‘S ALL TEMPORARY!
Kaos's new EP is super dope. Make sure to stay tuned for the Jolly Jams compilation dropping on November 6th, 2020. In the meantime, go check out Jolly Jams and buy some of Kaos's records!!!