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Twenty Questions with Hendrick Grothe aka Blac Kolor

Black is not a color. Black is the mixture of all the colors. The range of the spectrum is set. The emphasis of the tone is uncertain. The control about the effects is entirely in the hand of one. The fight about their predominance is a battle in a different cosmos. The inner conflict happens on the ground of an opencast pit. Metal drills into rocks mechanically and bears its own rhythm. What is digged has no color. The energy is black. This describes the original essence of Blac Kolor the Industrial / Techno / IDM / Electro project by Hendrick Grothe from Leipzig.

Blac Kolor’s  Debut Album „Wide Noise“ was released 28 February 2014 on the Basic Unit Productions label. The album was Written & Produced by Hendrick Grothe , Mixed by Hendrick Grothe & Daniel Myer, and Mastered by LeafAudio. The album and booklet has original photographs by Frank Machalowski,  plus Artwork & Layout by Hendrick Grothe.

Here follows an exclusive, in-depth interview with Hendrick Grothe aka Blac Kolor. 

1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?

Blac Kolor: I started DJing in the early 90s under the moniker Santini, spinning EBM, Techno, Electro and a lot of Industrial, hosting an own Club night with my former crew on a monthly base. It all went really well for a few years. But in the late 90s I got a bit bored by all the dark stuff, moved to Leipzig and switched to Breaks and Drum’n’Bass. I had some fun years spinning all kinds of electronic music and neglected the dark genres for years. On top, I always felt the immediate urge to be a better DJ and realized I had to compose my own tracks to get a deeper understanding of music. In 2009 I started mocking around with some gear and software and put all the early and crappy results on Soundcloud with no publishing goal at all – just for fun, just for me. At the end of the day all my music had this very dark and gloomy touch, I couldn’t really change it – it was basically in my musical DNA. In 2012 then, the guys from Basic Unit Productions offered me the chance to release my sounds on a label, so I though “ok, do it properly then and get back to your dark roots” – Blac Kolor was born. 

2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?

Blac Kolor: In 1985, 12 years old and in the middle of east German music wasteland, I got a cassette from some western visitors with Depeche Mode on it and I became a big fan – and still am. When the wall came down my first ever bought record then was Front 242 “Headhunter” on Vinyl. I was proud like nothing and didn’t even own a turntable at the time. Later I got really into the industrial field listening to a lot of Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy and Metallo and the Fixer.

3. Which artists are you currently listening to? And is there anybody you’d like to collaborate with?

Blac Kolor: At the moment I consume mostly British producers – don’t know what they do, but they do it differently. Tessela, Akkord, Special Request, Perc and Clouds – just to name a few. My favorite Label at the moment is Houndstooth – by far. But there is one guy I really would like to collaborate with – Mondkopf from France – cool dude, full stop.

4. Describe the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased. And which is the one piece of hardware or software you’re still looking to add to your collection now?

Blac Kolor: My first external gear was a MircoKorg – still use it from time to time – but I’m basically the digital boy – driven by VSTs. I plan to use a bit more analog gear in the future – the DSI Tetra will be next probably, we’ll see.

5. Tell us something about your current hardware/software and instrument setup?

Blac Kolor: As said, mostly VST-driven. Using a lot NI stuff, Camel Audio Alchemy and Sylenth1 by Lennar. But my favourite piece of software is still the “Surge” by Vember Audio. It’s all convoyed externally by a Bass Station II, a Korg Kaoss Pad and a Pioneer RMX 1000.

6. Studio work and music creation, or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?

Blac Kolor: I couldn’t really say what’s better. For me it’s two worlds. When I produce music I have to entertain only myself, diving into a creative process, depending on the mood I’m in, at that very moment. On stage (and I can just judge it from a DJ prospective since I haven’t played live yet with BK) it’s all about the audience, you have to entertain the people, not yourself – no matter what mood you are in. So it’s a completely different approach and a completely different kind of fun. Both worlds are very important to me, but with different goals. So, I have no preference.

7. Which sounds do you prefer working with between Analog and Digital and why?

Blac Kolor: As said before, I’m a digital boy basically. Think, the digital world will dominate my output also in the future, but with a strong interest in combining more analog gear by the same token. I really like the warm and true analog sounds, but I’m a control freak. Working digitally just gives me more control over the whole creation process – or at least the impression I would have control, I don’t know. But at the end of the day I’m probably just faster in creating output digitally. And it’s all about timing for me, since I have a lot of other things to do in my life apart from making music.

8. On which one of your songs do you feel you delivered your personal best performance so far, from a technical point of view and why?

Blac Kolor: That’s hard to answer. Technically seen it’s hopefully always the last track I produced, which is of course yet unpublished, since I want to get better through every single creation process. Within the range of published tracks, “Noise Nektar” is probably the best so far, since a few allegedly non-matching musical parts melt together perfectly in the end, creating a very special sound and rhythm. It was a big experiment, which turned out well in my humble opinion. From an emotional point of view it’s definitely “Wide Element” because it captured a very special moment for me, when I was doing that very track – no details though ;-).

9. Which ingredient (or trademark sound) do you think is most essential in making your music sound the way it does?

Blac Kolor: I always try to look over the brim, when it comes to musical ingredients. A lot of genres influence my productions and I love to combine sound structures, that you probably should not be combined from a theoretical music approach. I like to experiment a lot and create something new and special – something unheard – even if others say it’s a mistake. When I produce a track and I realize it might sound like something another artist did before, I immediately delete it and start something new. So staying unpredictable is the main reason my music sounds the ways it sounds. Apart from that I use a lot of vox sampling, snippets I steal from the media that surrounds me – my personal field recording if you want. Some people say that’s my trademark, but I don’t see it this way. I just use vox-phrases from movies et cetera to tweak their contextual meaning into my own interpretation in order to give my tracks the statement or content I want to transport. I want to tell a little story with every single track – shouting out a certain opinion or mood. But Techno isn’t the best storyteller, right? So using the spoken word as a kind of instrument is basically an essential part of my creation process and rather necessary for me. But I wouldn’t call it a trademark at the end of the day.

10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion or pride and why?

Blac Kolor: Joy – for sure. Almost everything in my life is driven by joy – even my job. As said before, I want to entertain myself with making music and to get entertained is always joy.

11. Which aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most and which aspect discourages you most?

Blac Kolor: I consider myself as a creative person. So every creative aspect of being an artist excites me. To spit something out of the mind is my fulfillment. I’m not that interested in the whole engineering part of making music, being a control freak by the same token. For me it’s more about expressing myself than sitting over the last LFO curve. The discouraging part is definitely the fact that only a few people are willing to pay for underground music, or music in general. This “it’s-all-free-mentality” basically leads to fewer and fewer good creative output.

12. Tell us something about your songwriting process. What usually comes first the lyrics or the music? And which instruments or music software do you primarily use for composing?

Blac Kolor: The idea comes first. I don’t have lyrics in my tracks. Sometimes I start with a sampled vox-snippet, ‘cause I have a special topic in mind, that I want to express via that sample. Sometimes I just start with the beat, mocking around to see where it leads me from there. Not every track has got a deeper meaning or a message, a lot of tunes I just spit out for the sake of fun. The creative process is hard to describe, but it’s mostly collecting layers of sounds that fit the mood I’m in and then whipping out the unnecessary parts to arrange the rest. As said before in most of the cases VST-driven plus a bit external recordings of basslines (mainly from Bass Station II) and from time to time some field recordings via microphone.

13. How involved are you in any of the the recording, producing, mastering and marketing processes of your music in general. Do you outsource any of these processes?

Blac Kolor: I do all the stuff by myself until it comes to mastering which I have to outsource, because it’s a science by itself. And I have support from Daniel Myer (Architect, Haujobb) regarding the mix down of my arrangements. Daniel is an extraordinary music engineer, I learn a lot from him and he’s got a proper studio setup, which is essential to give the tracks the last and needed polish. I’m a professional graphic designer, so I do all the artwork by myself. In fact, for me, the graphical part is on eye level to the music I do. So I spent hours and hours on correct typography the best visual results. For me, good music demands and deserves a proper visual identity. I don’t want to produce music only for my ears.

Marketing? Well, that’s the hard part and probably rather neglected at Blac Kolor. A proper marketing plan is next on my list and I won’t be able to do it by myself, that’s for sure.   

14. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?

Blac Kolor: The best advice: “Just do your shit and don’t think too much about technology”. And another one I should follow, but it’s still hard to do is: “Don’t put too many ideas in one track, concentrate, and cut the redundant parts and layers.”

15. At this point, as an independent artist, which is the one factor you desire most, and feel will undeniably benefit the your future (for example increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure, bigger live gigs etc…)?

Blac Kolor: It’s definitely the urge to play my sounds live on stage combined with a proper video content and of course a better marketing at all. Time will tell.

16. Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your career, and indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?

Blac Kolor: I make a living out of the internet, websites and social media, so I’m a big fan and by the same token it’s pretty odd to believe you could ignore these media channels nowadays. It’s not a question of the medium, yes or no. It’s always a question of good or bad content. Every indie artist should thank god for the possibilities to reach people via the digital channel and to interact with the audience one-to-one, that’s great and fundamental. And it’s great too, that every single person out there is able today to make their own shit and distribute it. One of the best tracks I know would have never reached my ears without these possibilities. So yes, for me it’s rather fundamental.

17. Is the music you produced on “Wide Noise” exactly where you want your sound to be? Or in retrospect, would you change anything on, or about the album in anyway?

Blac Kolor: It’s always the same thing. Once I get a tune back from mastering, I want to change it just because of the learning curve in the meantime. And I hope these situations will last, because anything else would mean stagnation for me. I hear my published tracks always in coherence with the time they were produced. And for these moments of time the tracks worked perfect for me and were the best I could deliver at this stage. So yes, I’m rather happy and fine with “Wide Noise” and will always be.

18. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as an indie artist, in your quest to achieve your goals and wider-spread success?

Blac Kolor: If there is something like a barrier then it’s just me, myself and I. If I become predictable as an artist, not being creative anymore – I’m done. If I don’t have success, I don’t blame an industry or a music stealing audience – I would blame myself.

19. What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?

Blac Kolor: To produce music that I don’t like.

20. You are a long time DJ and promoter also working as a web designer. So here is the million dollar question that gets everybody’s blood boiling. In your opinion, do you consider yourself a ‘musician’, a ‘soundscape designer’ or an ‘aural engineer’?

Blac Kolor: I consider myself a creative person and a storyteller. Well, just one question of twenty with no proper answer. Shit, I just missed one million dollar but it’s still a good rate in total, I suppose. 😉 And hey, thanks for the interest in Blac Kolor and props for your work as a magazine. Plus a big sorry for my crappy english, should exercise some more. Cheers Hendrick aka Blac Kolor .

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