“There he is – Len Faki! It's time to go to the stage!” exclaims one of the harried stage managers around me. It's a beautiful summer's evening in Turin, and I've been sat backstage the city's Kappa Futurfestival nervously watching my phone for a signal that Faki's touring crew is en route. We head over to where the commotion's just come from and am greeted by the group: one affable tour manager, a lovely photographer, and the man of the hour — calm as can be given the time of their arrival.
Faki greets me warmly and immediately remarks on his surroundings in a soft and deliberate voice: “This is really something nice to see here in Italy,” he says, while motioning towards the massive industrial mainstage. “Usually you see clubs here, but this kind of all-day outdoor house and techno festival is a newer thing. It's going to be fun so let's head over to the stage and start.” Just like that we're whisked up a ramp as four glasses of champagne are handed out to Len's crew and myself. We cheers and, not a moment later, it is time for Faki to run on-stage and begin playing. DJ Mag checks the watch — if this is only the first five minutes with these guys, then the next twenty four hours are going to be insane.
For the uninitiated, Len Faki is one of Berlin techno's stalwarts. He's been a Berghain residents since its opening in 2004, which is testament to his incredible skills as a DJ, and has also flexed his production muscles for many years. After managing and eventually dismantling Monoid and Feis, Faki moved on to start his still-running record label Figure in 2003, followed by Podium in 2006 and Figure SPC in 2009.
A variety of artists have released on these from household names like Slam and of course Faki himself to previously unknown producers whose careers were massively jumpstarted after their records came out. Fast forward to the present where I've been assigned to follow the busy man of many hats on tour for a little over a day; starting out in Turin, jumping over to the south of Italy for a later show, and ending up back in Germany for an afternoon performance the next day before sleep is an option. How hard can it be!? Read on...
Deafening techno marches forth from the speakers at Kappe Futurfestival and ricochets off of the industrial metal structure surrounding the stage. Thousands of young Italians are losing their minds in front me as Faki takes no prisoners over a two hour set of pure, visceral fire. MATRiXMANN's epic and percussive 'Protocol' from the wonderful 'Fifth Wall' elicits a wall of screams whilst Tessela's latest on R&S adds a shot of bass.
The sky turns from blue to a dramatic golden orange as the energy builds and tracks like Recondite's 'Cleric' has the majority of the crowd singing along to its twinkling melody. In a blink of an eye, the triumphant DJ bathes his final track in a wash of atmospheric decay, thanking the crowd profusely as we walk off. We're quickly ushered into a car and driven to the hotel, where we spend a quick meal chatting about music, parties, and mostly World Cup football before grabbing our bags and throwing them back in the car.
We arrive at a closed Turin airport around midnight, where only a small separate part of the building is still open and waiting for us for our chartered flight on a jet to the south of the country. Faki is due to go on somewhere between 3-3.30am, and it sounds like we will be traveling to the next club right up until then!
We settle in for this correspondent's first ever private jet experience whilst my touring companions joke that they're happy to see that their pilot and co-pilot are also fellow Germans. DJ Mag asks Faki if he also played the night before. He tells us he spent the night at home: “Berlin is Berlin with many great and new clubs, but honestly I spend my off-nights in working and/or relaxing or seeing friends.
Although sometimes on a Sunday, if a friend is playing and I still have energy, I'll stop at Berghain the way back to mine from the airport,” he laughs. He tells me about his previous weekend's travels which entailed playing four shows in three countries and included a label night in the mix. The following weekend is set to be just as crazy and culminates in an extended Sunday night set at Berghain. “It's my living room so I'm most comfortable when I'm playing there,” he explains. “However there might be a World Cup Final with Germany during then so I'm not sure what is going to happen!?”
We land at Brindisi airport and the air is thick and soupy with heat and humidity in comparison to Turin. The promoters at Clorophilla, the club we're off to next, herd us into cars and get us on the road for the hour-long drive. We're racing to get Faki there in time for his set, but him and his crew are confident that we'll make it. As we hug the roads at hair-raising speeds, I ask Faki about his musical beginnings.
“I always dreamed of being a drummer in a heavy metal band,” he smirks whilst methodically rolling a stash of cigarettes to have on-hand for his set. “I've always been groove-orientated because of this, and I have to play tracks that are a bit funky.” He pauses to chat with the driver for a bit, and we notice that, throughout the trip, he always takes the time to talk to any and all drivers/crew members/festival staff he meets with genuine interest. It's a small action that speaks volumes, and DJ Mag doubts that many DJs on this top-tier level operate with this amount of humbleness and humility.
Miles off the motorway, after a series of winding roads seemingly to nowhere, the imposing house that Clorophilla is set in is upon us. We are brought straight onto the stage, where Faki's equipment is set up, and he launches straight into his set. The setting and later hour make for a deeper experience that explores more intricate techno as well as touching upon ravier classics like a personal edit of Jam & Spoon's remix of the legendary 'The Age Of Love'. I'm perched right next to Faki this time and am able to see just how impressive his performance is with three CDJs (that are almost always all in use) plus triggering effects and hitting of percussion in real-time through a Yamaha RMX unit. Plenty of musical moments that we would have thought were just the record being played back are actually a deftly mixed combination of a few elements with live percussion added on top. “I just love combining existing tracks to make surprising breakdowns and moments,” he explains later.
With the morning sun well on its way crawling up the horizon, we pile back into the car shortly after Faki gets on the mic and thanks the crowd for coming out. We sit in silence during the two hour drive to Bari, and we're told that we have a paltry forty five minutes in our rooms when we arrive before heading to the flight. Too scared to sleep for fear of not waking up, DJ Mag lies in my bed and wonder how the hell these guys do this every weekend. We manoeuvre the disorganised chaos of security and slump into our seats with our first possibility at actual sleep upon us. I'm fairly certain no one was still awake by take-off.
We land in Stuttgart, which is incidentally where Faki grew up, and meet yet another driver for the two hour journey to Mainz near the festival. Weirdly, the couple hours of sleep we've all managed to have did the job and we get back to chatting as he starts rolling his cigarettes in anticipation. Faki tells us about the festival we're en route to, Love Family Park, and how this is only the second year that they're doing a techno stage at it. “My set should be a combination of the last two DJ sets,” he muses. “It can't go as deep as the later one, but will get a bit more melodic than the first one since there's a lot of tech-house and trance also present at this festival. I still never really know until I'm up there and playing though!”
We drop our bags at the hotel for later and pass by a series of wheat fields and windmills until we're driven straight to the back of our tent. Running on fumes, though still weirdly energised from the nap, we pile onto the stage moment before Faki goes on and clink our champagne glasses together one last time. True to his word, the set is truly a combination of the last two, with plenty of relentless bangers from his own personal catalogue and labels, but with a touch of melody here and there. Although Faki draws from many of the same tracks he played yesterday, they are mixed in completely different ways to the point where they all sound new again. A banner down the front reads “With drugs you'll never be as high as with Len” and the soldier marches on smiling and dancing even more than usual.
Instead of jumping straight back into a van, we all feel energetic from Faki's exuberant final set and end up watching Sven Väth at another stage before heading back to the hotel. We have a lovely last dinner on the banks of Rhine and depart for our rooms. Dazed with exhaustion, DJ Mag lands in bed still wondering how Faki does it — we feel absolutely wrung out and haven't even played! Something he said earlier to me comes to mind before we finally fall sleep: “Of course I'm going to continue doing this as long as I can. Ok, maybe I've had to take up sport and look after myself more, but I will carry on because I am blessed to have this life. I love music. When I was little I slept with my Walkman and it drove my parents crazy, but I couldn't stop them and I still just can't stop. Sure I get tired some days, but I'm never bored or mad at it. This is what I love.”
Photos: Christine Butz
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.