During the mid- to late ’80s, Austrians Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister had played predominantly in bands. When they discovered how the studio could elevate their music, the two imaginative creators became heavily obsessed with the possibilities within the electronic realm. Inspired by soul, jazz, hip-hop, and their vast record collections, as well as their generational counterparts from the early trip-hop movement, they slowly worked toward the music that would later help pave the way for a fresh, laid-back music generation. Kruder & Dorfmeister instigated a sound that would reign in many lounge bars around the world.
The release of their G-Stoned EP immediately changed Kruder & Dorfmeister’s lives. After Gilles Peterson played “High Noon” from the EP on his radio show, plus additional support for the Austrian duo from other tastemakers like Kev Beadle, this resulted in major success, a packed touring schedule, and innumerable remix requests, including Madonna and Depeche Mode, not to mention side efforts like Kruder’s Peace Orchestra and Dorfmeister and Rupert Hubert’s Tosca projects. The ongoing success of G-Stoned consumed their lives to the extent that it became difficult for them to finalize their full-album release. Released last year, 1995 proved to be an instant classic that had in a way stood the test of time, before it ever came out.
Evidently, it was worth the wait. Intrigued to discover more about K&D’s life in the early ’90s, prior to their success, Wax Poetics chatted with the duo recently.
Congratulations on the release of your long-awaited debut album!
Dorfmeister: Thank you. We restarted the Kruder & Dorfmeister project, with a tour in 2017. After traveling around the world a couple of times, we were just hanging out in the studio, where we found this old test pressing from the early ’90s, of the album that we were already supposed to put out at the start of our career. That record basically became 1995. Or at least, parts of it.
Was this rediscovery a big surprise for you, or are you sitting on more old DAT tapes that we all should hear about?
Dorfmeister: No. I mean, as you might know, as Kruder & Dorfmeister, we started touring a lot after releasing our first EP, G-Stoned, in 1993. And when we started doing all these remixes. Everybody was asking for an album, because we’d only done one EP. Back then, we already wanted to release an album with those tracks from the early ’90s. Tracks that were done between ’92 and ’94. But it never happened due to the many things we were doing at the time.
This all kind of suddenly happened to us, it was very exciting, working with artists we had in high regard. Like Depeche Mode, Roni Size, or Rockers Hi-Fi. But since we were also touring so much, the album continuously got postponed... We were also asked about it all the time. We didn’t have a contract with a record company, so we weren’t obliged to release it. After postponing it forever, it got forgotten somehow. Which is very unusual, I suppose.
It’s finally released now, after twenty-five years!
Kruder: We listened back to it after all these years and thought it was pretty cool! We just felt that it sounded really right in the moment. Maybe five years earlier, we wouldn't have had that feeling.... We probably wouldn’t have felt like releasing it. Then [COVID-19] came, which made the music even more timely, because it’s just right for home listening.
Dorfmeister: Plus, a lot of artists held back on releasing their albums during the pandemic, because they couldn’t plan tours, you know. Everything slowed down! Even for us, because we were so used to constantly listening to music. Normally, we would get bombarded with promos and all that stuff. You know, since [the pandemic started], I haven’t really listened to any dance music. I just couldn’t. It just was so useless for me, you know, at that time. I found myself listening to older stuff and things like rock music.
Since the coronavirus crisis is not over yet, does it motivate you to continue in the studio, to create more original music?
Dorfmeister: Are we doing that? [looks at Peter] Hmm, yes, I guess we are doing that on the side as well... Yeah, we’re doing that on the side as well. It’s an ongoing project. It's like a little flower that needs oxygen... And water.
Kruder: It might take another twenty-five years! [both laughing]
Dorfmeister: Yeah, it has to be—It has to be a beautiful flower. [nods]
About the zeitgeist in which you made 1995. You were spending most of your time in your studio in Vienna. What was your studio like compared to today’s standards?
Kruder: I have a better studio on my phone now. You know, it was already very expensive to buy a sampler back then. You needed a bank credit for it, so you had to be really nuts and convinced that you needed to do this. It was a challenge! For your wallet, your family, for everybody. Back then, it took us at least a day to just make a beat. At least! Maybe even two days, you know, just to make it sound cohesive and grooving. Today, I’d make this in, like, five minutes. Back then, I would ask myself, “Do I really need to sample that record?” Knowing it could take a day before I’d have an impression of the outcome.
Dorfmeister: We already started the studio before we came together in 1992. Before that, we were already playing in separate bands, and we had separate studio situations that were even worse compared to the early ’90s. We worked with even worse equipment. [laughs] But it was just magical to have your own setup, without having to go to a professional studio, where you had to work with an engineer, et cetera. It was around the time of the so-called bedroom revolution. When we started out, we just spent months, years in our studio. Day and night! There was not much else. It was our main focus. No distraction.
What were your bands like in the ’80s?
Kruder: I was in a band called the Moreaus, which was more like a guitar punk band. We played as fast as possible. That was our goal. Then we discovered hip-hop, and I started sampling my mom’s records. She had the craziest things, it made me find samples that no one else had. I didn’t have James Brown, so I had to sample James Last! [laughs]
We bought our first sampler, which was an Akai X7000, with a big keyboard, and only like ten seconds of sample time. This was a revelation for me, because I was a pretty bad guitar player, and all of a sudden, I could be an okay guitar player. So I found the magic. We released one hip-hop album as the Moreaus, called Swound Vibes.
Dorfmeister: Our band was called Sin. I just had an Atari computer, a little mixer, some speakers, and a record player. That was it really. Nothing else. No compression, no EQ, nada. It was all done in this little, little frame. We pressed up our “Where Shall I Turn” track, on a white label. I would go around alone to record shops to distribute them. That’s how it kind of started. It must have been 1991. A local DJ here released a compilation, it was called Danube Dance. [laughs] It included a lot of groups from that scene, and was released through the same company that released Austria’s biggest pop export, Falco. I remember everyone was so young, and fresh. Sharing similar experiences at record shops and in the nightclubs. It was freaky!
Kruder: Oh, the same company also released our hip-hop album.
Basically, you two, and Falco, are Austria’s most successful musicians in decades. Were you guys connected?
Dorfmeister: Falco had quite an impact, because he was so successful. It wasn’t really our style, musically, but everybody just loved him. He was just such a big machine and made everything bigger.
Was Falco approachable?
Kruder: We had only met him right before he died in a car accident [in 1998], because he wanted us to produce the last album he made. But we said no back then, and we made a deal that he would play bass on a song of ours. Which obviously never happened.
Do you regret saying no to Falco?
Kruder & Dorfmeister: [say together] Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Dorfmeister: One evening, we visited him at his house, which was outside of Vienna. He was pretty amazing, to be honest.
Kruder: He was a very charismatic guy. Very charismatic, and so much fun. He opened the door with a bass guitar around his neck. And he was just, like, talking and telling us what to do. That was pure entertainment for us. This is one of the most cherished moments we have had with any artist.
When you made the music for 1995, home recording studios were still in development. How did you find your well-sounding, idiosyncratic K&D sound aesthetic?
Dorfmeister: There were bedroom studios way before we started. An example for an early bedroom recording was by a group called the Tourists, with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart [and Annie Lennox], and produced by German legendary musician and producer Conny Plank. Plank produced albums in his home in the late ’70s, and people have been watching Plank’s creative production methods ever since. What he did was make some money, buy a mixing desk, a [Roland] Space Echo, an eight-track recording machine… But he didn’t use samples at the time.
And you guys did use samples.
Kruder: Yeah, sampling helped, of course; I mean, the records we sampled sounded pretty good already, but that didn’t necessarily dictate our sound. So how did we find our sound… We were so obsessed with music, records, and sound. Constantly looking for bits on the records we loved. Listening to everything from, you know, soul, funk, or jazz records, to DJ Premier’s stuff, and in between. And it wasn’t hard for us to find the right bits in the music back then, because we were constantly listening in the studio as well. Always getting a direct reference through our speakers during the recording process. Listening to something, going back to the track we were building, cross-referencing, and so on. So that’s how our music developed. And you know what, nowadays, I don’t sample music at all. We just stopped doing that, because it’s just too much hassle. So trying to recreate that sound is really, really hard. Yeah, that’s really the hardest thing. When you don’t use presets, of course, it makes the process, again, very slow.
The whole process happened in your home country, Austria. It’s not particularly a hub in Europe; I would say it’s fairly isolated. Were you inspired by a local music scene?
Kruder: Vienna had quite a good music scene at that time. There were DJs who were really influencing us. But for us the main influence was probably just the records. Somehow, we always thought more internationally; we were just here in Vienna picturing everything in our heads. And then, suddenly, we realized that we could just do everything ourselves. Make the connections ourselves. I remember it was pre-internet, so we were just using fax machines and telephones. The release of G-Stoned made it much easier for us to connect with people and the industry.
Where did you find the records? In your city?
Dorfmeister: At the start, we were mostly looking for records in Vienna. Not only in shops, but we used to also sample bits from stuff we found in our friends’ record collections as well. When we started traveling, we found a lot around the world. I mean, finding records has always remained an important focus. It was always exciting, because we used to buy many records on the road, and shipped them back. Then we’d arrive home with so much stuff to go through. Often with records we hadn’t even listened to yet, because that wasn’t possible in all the shops.
Peter, in a Red Bull Music Academy interview you were once asked how Falco was able to break through in the U.S. with a German-language song. You answered that he was very good at copying—that he was able to transfer elements from the wider world of pop into his own world. It kinda takes one to know one… Could this answer apply to you guys in some way?
Kruder: Except the fact that we never had a number one hit! [laughs]
Ha! Yeah. But otherwise?
Dorfmeister: We always touched a scene of music lovers, so we never really got into the charts like Falco. It was underground… Falco was the only Austrian to ever do it? Right?
Kruder: He’s the only one, yeah. I mean, what I said about Falco goes for any artist, I think. You need to translate what is out there, to your given audience. What Falco did... I mean, he was a pretty hip guy! At the time. You know, he was a little bit different than most of the other musicians. Like, he played in a sort of ’70s Frank Zappa–style rock-extravaganza band called Drahdiwaberl before his solo career. But he would always wear Armani suits, while the others in the band were dressed in leather jackets. They would make such a big mess onstage. He covered himself head to toe in plastic to protect him from the garbage and food flying around onstage… He was such a showman. As a solo artist, he was luckily produced by Robert Ponger. His first two albums were amazing. Untouchable. But then, because his second album wasn’t that successful, he wanted another producer. He started working with Dutch duo Bolland & Bolland, with whom he made that number one hit, “Rock Me Amadeus.” He hated the idea of using Mozart as a theme for a song but nevertheless recorded it! There’s a great documentary about it.
That’s maybe why guys you never got a number one hit... Because you never crossed that bridge.
Kruder: Yeah, that’s exactly the point. We have to get back to the studio. Thank you. [both laughing]
But I mean, you did use a lot of references in your music, which you used to create your own sound, applied in your countless, very successful remixes. If that makes sense.
Dorfmeister: Yeah. You are right. We developed our own distinct sound, which was heavily copied in the ’90s. Really heavily. On, like, thousands of compilations during the “chill out” movement. We were criticized, because our music was so successful. People said, okay, since we’ve heard it everywhere, we don’t like it anymore. But I have to say that today, after all these years, our early music still works perfectly. Because the music we selected for 1995 was never based on anything from other people. It was original when we made it.
What was it like for you, this horde of people running off with your sound?
Dorfmeister: We realized that it comes with the territory. People discover you, and share your work. We’d do the same. We’d share it with somebody. With our music, it got so crazy that at some point it wasn’t interesting anymore. That was the other side to it. And so for us, it was like... we always knew where we came from. So it wasn’t so much of a problem. But the attention that comes with success! That’s what got really quite crazy at a certain point.
Today, club and festival culture are slowly returning after many months of restrictions. We Out Here is one of the festivals where you guys are finally playing again. What can we expect?
Kruder: You know, we actually started out as DJs. I started DJing in the ’80s, in a time where people were very broad in their music selection. Back then, we used to play really down-tempo. And the people would go nuts! If we’d hit around 105 bpm, it would be really fast. We started playing more up-tempo after drum & bass arrived, in ’94, ’95. We played drum & bass for a couple years, until ’98, when we started to play house, or techno. But now, when we play our live shows, we play really slow—85 bpm, and it works!
Dorfmeister: But live shows also work differently from DJ sets, because these work more like concerts. As DJs, we improvise most of the time. And it goes everywhere, it’s never one style.
Kruder: And then again, the live shows inspire the DJ sets as well. As DJs, we started to break it up more as well. Sometimes, we just take it back to 90 bpm in the middle of a set. I mean, it depends on the circumstances, but yeah, if we find an opening to do it, we’d do it.
We can’t wait to see where you go with your DJ set at We Out Here, good luck!