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Cio D’Or – Brave

Ahead of her new album on Semantica, Cio D’or discusses her time as resident at Munich venue Ultraschall, the state of European clubbing, produciton methods and more.

There’s no doubt Cio Dorbandt has left her mark on techno music’s recent history as Cio D’or; she’s part of a group often affiliated with Prologue who are renowned for their excursions into hypnotic, trance derived minimalism. Label mates, and pillars of this cult, like Mike Parker, Donato Dozzy, Dino Sabatini and Giorgio Gigli, have long been crafting the sound and have since reached critical success as producers and DJs alike. Their unmistakeable aesthetics have cooperatively helped spawn one of the most interesting phases in techno and inspired a new generation of labels and producers; here’s looking at you Northern Electronics and Hypnus.

Many Cio D’or fans wait with baited breath for her forthcoming album All in All on Semantica. Dorbandt’s style of production, some may say, is unmistakeable. Complex and layered pieces which hypnotise you in to a trance state with her other worldly, high tech sounds. But beyond the obvious studio wizardry is, not so much a sense of soul, but emotion.

I speak to Dorbandt on a weekday evening as she’s enjoying some downtime. As she summarises to me, Dorbandt is maintaining a busy schedule. “First Concrete (Paris) and then directly on to the plane to Berghain, and yeah… like this,” she says, adding, “many people and no sleep. Then, from Cologne on the plane to Lisbon.” One can only imagine the lifestyle of a touring DJ can be an endurance test and at the end of a busy weekend of performances in grand cities like Paris and Berlin, getting to come home to a lovely, provincial dwelling like hers in North Rhine-Westphalia, would be a blessing for sure. But I wondered, has she always lived there?

“No,” she states sternly. “And I’m not from Munich, either,” she says with a laugh. “I was born in Hannover, when I was small I was riding the biggest horses, so I grew up in the countryside before working on music, then I was in Berlin in the ‘80s,” Dorbandt explains. “I did my dancing lessons there and then I went to Munich for a while. I wanted to go Paris afterwards, but then there were some situations in my life which kept me in Munich,” she says. “I came to Cologne and now I’m here.”

“I think that if I go back to Berlin, it wouldn’t be such a good idea. I know too many nice people there,” she tells me, alluding to distraction. “I have too many musician friends and I would go out every night because everyone would invite me places and get me to play here and there and it’s not good for producing music,” Dorbandt adds, and this is why she lives in a smaller city like Cologne. “Most of the time I’m spend my time in nature, or at the airport or the train station, or at home working,” she says, again punctuated by laughter.

Attempts to quiz Dorbandt on the local electronic music scene in Cologne are met with a rather nonchalant disregard, which is fair enough, but thankfully she’s willing to discuss something else I was interested in hearing more about. The legendary Ultraschall in Munich and her time there as a resident during the late ‘90s “I liked it a lot because you always had the same programming but there was always a room where there was a lot of experimental music,” she says.

“When they opened the door on Saturdays the people went in at 11pm and were dancing to the most abstract, craziest techno because they were very open minded,” Dorbandt continues. “Your ears need to get used to some sounds to understand it all. If you’ve never heard it then you think ‘I can’t dance here, it’s shit, I’m gonna go.’ It’s what you have to do with young people though; you have to train their ears,” she feels. “To get more into a special sound and then you have great crowd.”

Dorbandt goes on to explain her stint at Ultraschall was during the Bavarian institution’s final two years. It closed in 2002. Although being asked by the owners to play quite frequently, she made it abundantly clear that her appearances be no less than two months apart so that she could study her records and plan some specially planned sets for her devoted following, as she is more than happy to divulge. “I’ve always got a dramatic concept in my mind and to bring a little journey to the people.”

Dorbandt points out that she couldn’t be a resident like other people, playing every week in the same venue. “I wouldn’t be satisfied with myself,” she says. “This was really intense and I think that it was just the best idea. I wish could see more of this again. Friday’s were house music and on the other side was techno and on Saturdays there was this one room, it was very strange; they had very experimental things like ambient and even some classical.” She goes on to recount the eccentric nature of Ultraschall’s organisers, depicting them as adventurous people who really tried to push the threshold of conventional clubbing in the late-‘90s to give people a different experience. “I wanted to give the people a journey. The idea of this venue was the best” she states “The organisers were very open minded people who tried to progress music.”

More stories are told of the legendary residents that played host to the venue particularly at the height of the electroclash craze, which Dorbandt personally didn’t feel the hype. “At Ultraschall Monika Kruse was there. Richard Bartz was particularly big at the time. Acid Maria was there too: she had her own night and she used to invite me for them” She continues. “At this time the ‘80s were coming back, with people like DJ Hell and Miss Kittin doing their thing. But I’d had the ‘80s in Berlin, years before, and I wasn’t interested in jumping on that horse. I didn’t give a shit if I was trendy or not. I thought I just want to do what I feel!”

Dorbandt goes on to describe the infamous Flokarti room that played host to her sets. “Flokarti room had green carpet, it was quite strange and they had very experimental things; ambient and even some classical. Then there were, of course, the interesting people…” Dorbandt continues, “It opened ears for all kind of techno. This is a dream: to have more venues with an experimental room or an ambient room, for chilling and then they can go back to the techno room with more open ears.”

She is quite optimistic about the current state of techno night-clubbing in Europe, explaining that “they’ve got good clubs like Concrete in Paris and of course Berghain, they’re always trying new things.” She expresses a fondness for the up-and-coming Institiut fur Zukunft in Leipzig too. But above all, it’s her view that a club is only as good as its sound system. “They’re so important you know; to understand the music, because if you make interesting music and you have a shitty sound system no one can hear it.”

Her move to Berlin in the late ‘80s was in pursuit of her first ambition as a dancer. “Modern dance like jazz, ballet, African and Flamenco,” she explains. “I loved tap dancing too, but we didn’t have it. It was three years of very hard training. Dorbandt remembers a time when an established company tried to sign her up, but, she says, “I was always running away.” A brief spell in choreography brought her back into the industry but it began to dawn on her that she didn’t want to dance, but instead, make people dance.

She tells me how music always was a part of her life and from a very young age. Her first love has always been classical music, particularly the works of Bartok or Stravinsky. But as a musician she started on the congas in a jazz band before graduating to guitar and the kalimba. But she found herself becoming bored with using the one instrument and wanted to be involved in the entire process of the composition and development of a concept.

It all seemed to make sense after witnessing one of Laurent Garnier’s legendary DJ sets in the late-‘90s that changed her life forever, as she explains. “He was with a saxophonist and he played techno with jazz and ambient and I was really like ‘wow, this is so clean, it’s a journey but it has different feelings’. I really loved it.”

“From this moment on it was clear that I would do ‘this’, music,” Dorbandt remembers thinking. “I was always surrounded with musicians, and the dancing before that. I needed to do it. I wasn’t brave enough in the beginning but then I started and I just couldn’t stop.” She continues, “but then the day came when I had clarity and thought I’m gonna do it.” Dorbandt admits that it may have been a bit late for her to try and embark on such a career, maybe compared to other artists, but stressed the age old saying of it being ‘never too late’ or as she told me more eloquently: “life is never ending.”

Not long after she started buying records and DJing, her first forays into production soon followed, encouraged by locals such as Cologne locals like Prologue’s Tom Bonaty, whom she regularly met with in the city’s various records shops. She started out using an Akai MPC2000 – sampling for the most part – and admits to never having completely finished a track while using it. Then came a breakthrough when a musician friend told her: “you’re doing it all wrong! You start with a computer program like Reason and then take it from there.” The benefits quite possibly gained from learning this particular DAW include understanding signal flow and patching in a virtual environment, shaping her studio knowledge moving forward.

“But I was a bit sceptical because I was in love with analogue equipment,” Dorbandt exclaims, “and all the boys were laughing at me, because of what I was using, they had all the gear and could afford it with their big studios.”

It was this period that Dorbandt confesses she took time off from the scene to focus entirely on producing music. Redefining her art and laying the foundations for her elaborate and entrancing style of grooves. She claims that when playing the results to fellow producers on the Munich scene they sang her praise even, ironically asking things such as, “Cio, this is amazing; you must have a lot of analogue gear in your studio,” she recounts with amusement.

Her new album for Semantica, All in All, sees Dorbandt consolidate all her studio knowledge and unmistakeable sound design skills over the last ten years with more recent explorations in piano compositions to stunning effect. She tells me that software still makes up the most part of her studio compositions, that even the pianos in her music are digital emulations. “I was working with an orchestra, so I needed software to be up to standard.” Dorbandt adds, “but I could bring it to these people (session musicians) who could play my compositions for me.”

Field recordings make up a large part of her sound, and her travels thus far have provided much inspiration. “You can record everywhere, you just have to listen,” she says. “One time in Okinawa I heard a peanut rolling on a plate and I recorded it. In Turkey I heard a lot of flags in the wind and that was exactly the sound I needed,” Dorbandt remembers. But the best example was at Detroit’s Movement Festival in 2011 as she explains “I recorded the lift in the elevator at the hotel I was staying during the festival, the voice saying “going up going down” and I recorded it. That same day I saw Monolake playing live and he used the exact same sample.”

A few weeks prior to this conversation I had seen Dorbandt play to a slightly confused Berghain crowd who were no doubt expecting the usual ‘straight ahead’ techno of residents like Ben Klock or Ryan Elliot. “It was pretty brave” she says of her abstract set. Dorbandt had several different sets planned for this special gig and after a few rehearsals settled something leftfield, and entitled it, “Berghain: Brave”.

She tells me why she took the challenge of playing this style for the first hour. “I like broken beats, they’re sexy and special for dancing. Very experimental in another way, but I could imagine people dancing like crazy to this. And I know they don’t expect something like this in Berghain.” She feels it’s her duty to educate crowds, while taking them and herself on a journey outside of the comfort zone so usually associated with techno set. As she states so honestly in her own words: “I have imagination and that’s why I’m always working on my sets.” Dorbandt adds, “I played 70 tracks that night.”

By her own admission, many of the tracks she played were by her favourite producer and close friend Mike Parker. “There are many good records but they’re not direct enough for me to play. I prefer Mike Parker and Sleeparchive, especially the old stuff; this is my shit,” she says. “In my Boiler Room set I played a lot of Mike Parker, but also a lot of my own music, some Planetary Assault Systems too.” She claims these veterans, particularly Parker, are still at the top of their game and provide material that’s equally in harmony with her own musical aesthetic.

It was Dozzy who introduced her to Parker’s music, which lead her to write him letter ordering the entire Geophone back catalogue. “I put him in first place,” Dorbandt says proudly. “Donato was pushing him, I was pushing him and I’m happy everyone recognises him now, it’s his time. I love what he does and that’s why there’s a track for Mike on the album (“XXVI for Mike”), but it’s not as great as what he does,” she muses. One could only guess she’s returning the favour after the “Cio’s Underwater“ track from his Pulse Trader EP in 2012 on Geophone.

As well as all being connected professionally, these three artists have a very close connection to Japan; take a listen to the J mix Cio D’or recorded with Dozzy as a tribute after the Fukishima disaster a few years ago (an event which also inspired the making of her Magnetfluss EP). “We are always connected, we’re a little community but very private, good friends,” Dorbant says of Parker and Dozzy. This year she will play Rural festival in Nigata which is one of the highlights of her upcoming tour while also playing Circus Osaka and Bar G in Okinawa in July.

Things are looking up again for Cio D’or; she claims to have suffered a burn out from excessive touring in the last few years and needed time to reflect on things since. But I can tell from our conversation her new album has definitely provided some great inspiration and made her more invigorated than ever to return to the studio.

“I always did music, but it’s the same of any situation; different feelings and different moments.” While she obviously admires Mike Parker and Sleeparchive as mentioned before, as well as up and coming producers such as said producers Ntogn, Jana Sleep and Milena Kriegs, her musical style has definitely diversified. “I have my ambient style, my Asian style, and there’s my piano side.” She further explains “I adore pianists. I was thinking of working with different ones, as they too all have their own style. There are many things you can do, but as Dasha Rush says, all you need is ears.”

Interview by Nic Tuohey 

Cio D’or on Juno