I thought a while about how to actually craft this piece. A self-interview? ‘Forcing’ somebody from the team to interview me? Everything feels a bit too much anyway. And weird. After a year of having my Electronic Empathy article series here as well as the accompanying Spotify playlist now it’s suddenly my turn to host an article and the playlist. I don’t blame you for labelling this an arrogant move. From internationally acclaimed artists like Tycho, Lydmor and Claude VonStroke to that guy who runs NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION who suddenly decided to put out some electronic music as well and now calls himself a producer? Obviously this article only exists because I’m the man in charge of editorial decisions here, especially when it comes to my dear baby Electronic Empathy. Alright I get it, it’s a bold move. But I’m going it anyway, avoiding any “self PR work” here and simply tell the story of I decided to switch sides, release my own music and finally found the confidence to talk – or better said: write – about it. With a maximum amount of honesty, as you know it from me.

This is Burnout Sumner, my musical alter ego. I introduced it before in this category or when I talked about my Imaginary Rave Tapes. I’ve been using this name for a few years now, it was a play on words, originally created by my good friend Stefan and I shamelessly stole it as my DJ alias. It’s a reference to New Order bandleader Bernard Sumner who I consider to be an idol of mine and who I once famously met in the summer of 2015. He turned out to be such a sweetheart but I didn’t tell him about the name back then which I still consider a mistake. Most of the time I use that alias for digital mixtapes and DJ-sets, sometimes even for real life ones but a few years back I started to produce own little edits and remixes of tracks I liked or the music of dear colleagues like Kraków Loves Adana, Ultraflex or Man Without Country who were kind enough to give me the stems for their music. Now, I just released a first three-track-EP of original material to the world – Imaginary Bliss. And this feature is a bit about that, but also my love for electronic music in general.

Why now?

Dropping your debut release with almost 37 years might not be the coolest move but like for many others the whole Covid-pandemic changed all plans I had for 2020 and without this historic event that release might have never happened. So, yeah, another victim of lockdown boredom/ creativity if you like. When the world shut down I turned towards my little digital recording studio again, something I barely did in the past years due to the lack of time you have when you run a blog, an agency, have a private life and so on. Working on music and sounds helped me to cope with everything, keep me creative and sane. So, following an intense work period where I created a few new remixes I suddenly found myself working on own tracks, fooling around with sounds, structures and a few things I haven’t really done before. I continued to work on the music throughout the year but had a break of three months when the world opened up again last summer. In the end I shuffled many ideas around, threw one track out last minute and finished what now goes by the name Imaginary Bliss and is out now here on Bandcamp.

Why that sound?

This is not club floor material. Just like Tycho explained here before I’m also quite impatient when it comes to sounds. Reduction is my natural nemesis here, instead I tend to head for sonic textures and dreamy sounds, nods to other electronic musician that inspired me throughout my life. With the absence of actual dancefloor experiences last year my longing for that sort of euphoria and vibe grew stronger throughout the month; it made me discover new electronic music, old music from the 80s and 90s and partly even reconnect with the sounds of my childhood. Damn, I even compiled a trance mixtape last summer. The positive utopian spirit of the joint club experience is what always takes me back to this sound. I told you before about my affinity for the late 80s ‘second summer of love’ vibe and the warm vibes of the Balearic house music of these early days when the idea of the future seemed to be a much brighter one than it is right now. That all came together in these tracks that might channel these sounds and moments in various ways. The title-track is a clear nod to this late 80s vibe while U Ain’t Dancin’ is a little memory of a great night I once had on a festival where I discovered DJ LUZ1E who’s also part of my Spotify selection. And there are probably more subconscious stories in here as well. Ain’t that the beauty of music?

Where it all started

I always ask the artists I encounter about their roots and special relationship towards electronic music and for a boy like me growing up in Germany during the 90s it’s kind of hard to do that without getting a dose of that sweet Eurotrash and techno pop hype that’s been going around that time. My first bought CD’s include such ‘high quality’ acts like Scooter, Rednex and E-Rotic so that’s the sort of musical territory we’re talking about right here. My older brother and his affection for trance and dance music of that time played a crucial part here as well. Older siblings (and also parents) are always an important aspect of your musical socialization and if I would have had a bigger brother who would have been a total grunge, punk or rap fan my life might have looked a bit different. But instead we had the Pet Shop Boys playing on repeat (a love I already wrote about before) and samplers like Dream Dance which brought artists like Paul Van Dyk, ATB and others into my life (once again, please check out my trance mixtape from last summer). So, melodic electronic music was my thing back then and somehow still is although I discovered lots of different electronic music over the past 25 years. Just as a prime example (and because it’s not on Spotify) I’d like to share this 1993 Jam  & Spoon rework of a lesser known Pet Shop Boys track with you. It’s still the favourite remix by singer Neil Tennant and I couldn’t agree more. It sums up the sound of that time pretty well for me.

First attempts

When digital music making became a thing in the 2000s I was of course ready to jump on board, despite having literally no musical knowledge at all, only the thousands of songs I listened to in my life. It still feels a bit weird that me –  a dedicated music nerd and journalist in that field – never actually learned to play an instrument or at least started a band. There are multiple reasons why that never happened (laziness, shyness, wrong setting, troubled adolescent times, barely any musical friends etc.) and that chapter surely deserves its own story but finally – through the power of a cracked Ableton Live and countless Plug-Ins – I was able to finally create own music and instantly upload it to the internet (thank you, MySpace). Inspired by the nu-rave scene back then and acts like Crystal Castles or Does It Offend You, Yeah? I thought to myself: Well, I can do that as well. Only that I couldn’t, obviously. My first tracks were horrible and mostly rubbish but not in the good “lo-fi-bedroom-pop” style. I wasn’t Joseph Mount of Metronomy although I really tried and I was lacking of patience, skills and a general understanding.

Over the years I continued to release own material and remixes under that alias Pretty Boy Makes Rave until Soundcloud shut down my profile due to copyright infringement (that was the time when every bootleg remix and wrong track in your mixtape could mark your end). That was a much needed sign as I felt the entire thing had run its course when I turned 30. I’m still happy about a few of those later releases. There’s an EP from 2012 called Searching For Home which I still like a lot and I’m kind of proud of. It’s also closely connected to a brief period of “finding myself” in the city of Leipzig. A time when I not only fell in love with house music and rave parties but also when I joined NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION. Music can transport you back to certain periods of time and listening to the songs I produced back then I actually get an understanding what it means for musicians to look back on songs from their own musical past. I was ready to move on.

Photo by Liv Toerkell

Finding a new understanding

Let me get this straight once again: I don’t see myself as a professional producer and musician. And I know, in a previous feature Lydmor told me that you are a producer from the moment you produce something and decide to share it with the world. But I still don’t see myself in that position. First and foremost I consider myself to be a dedicated lover of music and its power, sometimes I even call myself a curator. It’s what I do here on the blog, in my mixtapes, in all the playlists you’re enjoying on Spotify and so on. I love to dig for music, sounds, no matter what genre and area and as I’m convinced that good music can make the world better and change a person to the better this is my mission goal, so to say. Over the years I got more interested in how music’s been created, certain sounds and structures and that’s why I continued to produce own tracks, continue to learn and get better to a certain degree. There are still a few limitations, in terms of skills, techniques and patience but the Imaginary Bliss EP was also a personal challenge for me on that level.

The fact that I worked a few month on these three tracks, ditched various ideas and sounds really benefited the result. I forced myself to reduce the amount of different sounds, purify structures and leave out things where they aren’t necessary. And I took a bit more time for the whole mixing process, way more than I did before. I wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t for the pandemic which forced me to focus on that. It was nerve-wrecking and partly frustrating but I didn’t want to share something with the world unless I’m really happy with it. So, here we are. Well … here I am. I like these tunes and there’s even more coming up in the not so distant future hopefully. I don’t plan a career here, I don’t plan to invest in tons of gear, I simply enjoy the process and the sounds; I’m doing this for fun and – in this case – use the music as a creative outlet for myself in a time of crisis. And maybe for the first time ever I’m confident enough to share it with the world, no matter if you all like it or not.

Under the influence

Last but not least I also put music in the Electronic Empathy Spotify playlist. Well, I always do as you might have noticed by now. Usually the artists put in as many good songs they want to and I fill out the rest with current favourites and important tracks from the electronic music scene. I’ve stuck with that pattern this time only that this time it’s entirely my selection (well, besides certain tunes that were suggested by previous participants). However, the first 20 tracks in that selection are specifically dedicated to tracks and artists that inspired me throughout the past year while I was working on Imaginary Bliss. There are a few contemporary ones like Octo Octa, Four Tet, The Pilotwings, Bicep and Robag Wruhme but my selection also includes a few classics from the past. Of course there’s space for Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and New Order here but also for The KLF, The Future Sound Of London and Opus III who I really learned to love in 2020. These colourful tracks might give a better understanding on the tracks I had in mind while I was working on my own music and the sort of party vibe I envisioned when there were no parties at all. Luckily we’re in a slightly better state this time and maybe those Burnout Sumner tunes might comfort you in the remaining summer of 2021. It would mean the world to me. Until then: thanks for sticking with me, the Electronic Empathy series and the entire blog during these tricky times. If it wasn’t for people that resonate with what we’re doing here it wouldn’t be so much fun, that’s for sure.

In the meantime please check out the playlist featuring the already mentioned personal inspirations at the beginning and brand new electronic music by beloved artists like Perel, Little Dragon, WhoMadeWho, Peggy Gou, Kelly Lee Owens, Lone, RÜFÜS DU SOL as well as tracks from previous playlist curations.