Following up the global success of a breakthrough track that’s had 22 million YouTube views might come with its own pressures, but Adrian Held and Tobias Rieser, the two laid-back, 25-year-old Austrians who make up Klangkarussell, have had worse jobs.
When the pair met again in 2011 for the first time in over a decade (they’d been friends at school in Salzburg before being split up, apparently for their own good) Adrian was actually already in show business, starring for eight nights an opera at the prestigious Salzburg Festspiele. “I was in Macbeth,” he grins. “I was playing a tree.” Tobias, meanwhile, was studying Sound and Audio Engineering after stints training in Mechatronics (electrical engineering), working in a post office (“terrible, too much work and very strange people”) and his personal favourite, driving a bread delivery van.
In person, Klangkarussell are as chilled out as their massive hit ‘Sonnentanz’ (the vocal version of the track, ‘Sun Don’t Shine’ feat. Will Heard, is currently top ten in six countries, and number three in the UK). Tobias, the taller of the pair, is a genial presence in baseball cap and three day beard, with a big booming laugh and hobbies that include fishing and brewing his own – no doubt extremely potent – beer. Adrian, slim and always ready with an ironic aside, is the more restless one (relatively speaking). “He’s definitely the more organised,” muses Tobias, “but, then again, he can’t ski or play basketball.”
Back when their friendship first blossomed, age 12, the duo’s shared outlook perhaps lacked a little bit of focus. “We were the worst ever students” admits Tobias. Perhaps it’s just that back in those days, Tobias, despite being the son of music teacher who plays the Zieharmonika (an Austrian version of the accordion) was more into playing football than music.
Adrian, however, was already immersed. Some of his earliest memories involve guesting on the bongos at jam sessions with local musicians in the studio his dad owns. Indeed, from the age of 7 he worked his way through instruments including the drums and the piano – before starting, at the age of 12, to make his own music on Cubase. By the age of 16 he was making drum ‘n’ bass (the first record he ever bought was Dillinja’s ‘Cybertron’) and playing it at his own parties in Salzburg.
When the pair met again in 2011, hooking up through Facebook for a beer in their hometown (“a cosmic encounter,” jokes Adrian) they had more to talk about than their rebellious youth. Following a flirtation with the music of the LA bass scene (Flying Lotus, Daedalus etc.) Adrian was by now making electronic music and DJing in Vienna. Tobias, who first got into dance music through German artists like Paul and Fritz Kalkbrenner, was on the same page. That night they decided to make a tune. Klangkarussell (Tobias thought of the name, it means ‘Sound Carousel’) was born. The first tune was ‘Netzwerk’, a low slung, atmospheric, electro techno roller.
It was the third tune the pair made together, however, ‘Sonnentanz’, created in a single night in summer of 2011, that made Klangkarussell’s name. Uploaded to their Soundcloud without fanfare, it was only when an anonymous YouTube account holder uploaded it from Klangkarussell’s soundcloud to the site in February 2012 (with the random, if perfect, image of a woman in tai chi pose, silhouetted against a sunset) that it took off. Melodic yet driving, melancholy yet optimistic, hypnotic yet danceable, featuring saxophone stabs, jazzed out vibraphone and woodwind – yet at the same time a piece of utterly contemporary electronica, to date it has 22 million views and over 10,000 comments in every language under the sun. There’s a ten hour looped version, for those (and there are plenty) who just can’t get enough, and the vocal version is currently riding high in charts across Europe.
And yet, as Adrian and Tobias are at pains to point out, “We didn’t put any effort into promoting it” says Adrian. “People made it what it is. They made it popular.” It’s a six-minute testament to the power of a great tune in the digital age.
Soon the pair were being asked to DJ at ever bigger and more high profile events, mixing up their own productions with selected tunes in a show that’s smashed everywhere from Pukkelpop in Belgium to the massive Street Parade in Zurich. Next came a call from Universal, and after wowing the major label with a private gig, they were signed up to create their debut album, due early next year.
Don’t expect the album, though, to be full of pale imitations of ‘Sonnentanz’.”It’s not an album full of saxophone tracks!” says Adrian. Indeed while Sonnentanz was created solely with sample packs, the rest of the album uses only what they’ve recorded themselves (including a heavily processed sample of Tobias’s father’s Zieharmonika). A sneak preview, however, reveals the same winning charm and warm melancholy of their breakthrough track throughout.
It also reveals the depth of the pair’s influences, indirect as they are: the carefully constructed beats that hark back to Adrian’s drum’n’bass background in their flawless execution (though not their tempo); the anthemic qualities of the Kalkbrenners (and even Austrian pop icon Falco), and the restless innovation of dance music’s lateral thinkers like Jamie xx and Flying Lotus.
And after the album? They’ve already turned their hand to remixes for Laura Mvula and Max Manie. They’d like “to DJ where the sun is shining,” says Tobias, “maybe Italy or the USA”. They’d like to collaborate with some of their favourite artists; Jamie xx, FlyLo, Flume, Ratatat… They’d like to eventually build the album into a show with live instruments. Tobias will continue fishing and making beer. They’re both, says Adrian, “putting some effort into taking it all more seriously, but still having a blast along the way” It seems to be working.