Pan-Pot on pushing boundaries and how prepared DJ sets are boring and unflexible
Fans of experimental techno know that Pan-Pot is not a reference to something that comes out of a kitchen; rather, it's a German techno duo that's named for a panoramic potentiometer -- a switch that splits audio signals into left and right channels -- and has been taking the production and dance-floor realms by storm during the past few years. Tassilo Ippenberger and Thomas Benedix met at Berlin's prestigious SAE Institute, where they discovered they were both interested in electronica and began creating tunes together.
Now the two produce music that spans the spectrum of techno's capabilities, dropping in elements from other genres (and sometimes creating entire tracks in other electronic subgenres). In person, the two switch off at the decks, using a combination of pre-recorded and live sounds to spin the floor into a frenzy with their unmistakable murky, twisted signature sound. In advance of Pan-Pot's first-ever appearance in Denver this weekend, we caught up with the pair to talk about their origins and the intricacies involved in making music as a twosome.
Westword: Can you give me a little bit of background on how you two started playing music together?
Tassilo Ippenberger: We met here in Berlin about ten years ago, when we both started going to school at SAE, the school of audio engineering. It's a kind of private institute, and most of the people listen to more hip-hop, rock, more alternative stuff. We were the only ones in our course into the same kind of music -- techno, house, general electronic music. So we already had this same taste in common, so this was when we started producing together and exchanging about music.
Thomas Benedix: We listened to the same stuff, went to the studio, and it worked out from the first time.
TI: It connected us so strong and made the whole school thing a lot of fun together. It was just having fun together.
How did you come up with the name Pan-Pot? Were there any others you seriously considered?
TI: We had another name option before, but it was completely stupid and related to the whole minimal thing. Pan-Pot is an audio-technical term, panoramic potentiometer -- a knob in the mixer where you can control the stereo panorama. We found the name brainstorming and searching for names; we both really liked it from the second we found it. I think it fits perfectly for a duo, for two people. Three letters each word, easy.
What are your live sets like?
TI: We play back-to-back; we each play one track. Generally it's always one track each, and we also add live elements to our DJ sets because we are using an F1 controller and instruments, which gives us the ability to create something different than just a regular track-by-track DJ set. And when I'm playing a track, I'm adding my loops and sounds on it, and the other way around -- or, when I'm playing a track, Thomas is adding stuff on his iPad. It's a constant collaboration.
What are some of the challenges that format presents -- for example, do you discuss your sets at all in advance?
TI: We never prepare a DJ set. You always have tracks in your playlist, and you know they're going to work with this track in this moment, but in general, we get so much music and buy so much music every week, it's like constantly changing. So if you start preparing something, it gets really boring and unflexible. And our music range is really wide -- we play beach parties, rooftop parties, big techno festivals, so you can't really plan for that.
TB: You can't prepare a DJ set. What happens in the end with a party -- it's like, a techno party in Berlin, you might play proper techno stuff, but in the end it's always different.
What are the advantages to playing together in a traditionally solo genre?
TI: We have definitely more fun. We have fun with the people in the crowd. This is what we hear from other duos -- when you're playing together, it is always this positive challenge you have, this kind of ... Well, the moments you create as a duo is way different than a single person. We have this team instinct going on between each other. We used to play split bookings, also, but it's definitely more fun together, and it's a better party.
TB: Traveling and everything, too.
TI Yes. Traveling alone is not fun.
You've become known for exploring the boundaries of techno; what are some of the genres and artists that inspire you to play with sound?
TI We listen to a wide range of music, of electronic music, and this goes from deep house to proper techno. We catch a little bit of everything. I think this is how our...that's the reason why our sets may sound different from other techno artists; we always try to include different sounds, different genres and different elements from our live elements. To make it a little bit more exciting for ourselves, also. I still like to listen to Richie Hawtin, Chris Liebing -- I'm really into listening to everybody who's out there in the market, as a matter of fact; we play a lot out there and listen to other DJs.
Are there any future plans you want to share?
TB: Last year, we started a DVD and we also brought out a track, like an EP, with three different tracks and a remix. Now we have a tour, an America tour. After that...
TI: We have a track that's going to be released in February, then we have another remix coming out. We are working a lot on new tracks right now -- a lot of tracks for the last three years, but we didn't really release them. We wanted to do an album each of the last three years, and we didn't really come to the point to finish it. This year we have big plans again, actually. But for now, we just have to go on tour, a lot of meetings and things to talk about with the people we're working together with. So we don't tell too much right now. But we're definitely working on stuff!
How about five years down the road -- where do you want to be?
TI: We worked the last five years, we already worked really hard to get to the point where we are now. We worked for the fact that we are in this situation, that we can play the kind of music we really want to play so that we are not just fixed on one certain kind of music. And I hope to improve this even more in the next five years, and production-wise, we want to open up a little more and do whatever we're going to do so that even if people don't like it, they can respect it.
We just released this four-track EP, White Fiction, on the 24th of December. There was one dubstep track on it, and some people were like, "What the fuck are you doing, guys?" But a lot of other people were like, "That's cool, these guys are just not doing one thing." For us, this is, as I said...I don't expect them to like it, but at least respect it. And that's what I hope will be even better and more improved for the next five years. We want to be there and want to try our very best to be successful and keep doing what we're doing.