Strolling between pop and art. Hamburg house producer Peter Kersten aka DJ Lawrence releases a new album: "Films and Windows".
Tip from the DJ: At least four years of life out intensively. Image: Carola Wagenblast
Peaktime at Amsterdam’s Club Trouw. People dance around the DJ booth, colorful neon lights flicker through the room, there is a boisterous party atmosphere. Only the little man behind the turntables stands out from the crowd. It is Peter Kersten alias Lawrence, who has just started his set. He wears a neat shirt with a gray cardigan, his gaze is concentrated, even tense. You almost want to worry about him – is he perhaps too hot?
But then bright light illuminates the dance floor, the party crowd is lit up head-on. Lawrence looks up, laughs delightedly, does a little dance step. The ice is broken. "Ideal atmosphere for me is when people dance with their eyes closed and remain silent," Kersten will explain later. "I’m more suspicious of the pro ravers who fire up the DJ with screams when the bass drum stops."
The darkness of the club has given way to dull, autumnal daylight. Kersten, known to everyone as just Pete, is sitting in his apartment in St. Pauli, tired from the many DJ engagements of the summer that has come to an end. At least that’s what he says. You can’t tell by looking at him. Because there is far too much to tell.
Dial Records, the label he runs together with David Lieske aka Carsten Jost, turns 13 this year. No musician has ever signed a contract with Dial. Kersten and his longtime friend Lieske find the word "contract" alone disgusting, as well as "profit" or "invest". The birth of Dial speaks for the fact that they really mean it: The label was founded in 2000, at the time when other house labels capitulated and shut down.
Lieske, Kersten and their friend Paul Kominek aka Turner were there from the beginning, soon joined by Hendrik Weber and Stefan Kozalla, better known as Pantha du Prince and DJ Koze. They met – of course – at Hamburg’s Golden Pudel Club: "The best club in the world," says Kersten.
Label in St. Pauli
"Smallville," another label associated with Dial, was founded by Kersten in 2005 with Stella Plazonja and Julius Steinhoff. The label and the Hamburg record store of the same name have become an institution and it’s hard to imagine St. Pauli without them.
And Lawrence, Kersten’s DJ pseudonym, has been DJing for over 15 years. This career is bearing fruit. His new album "Films and Windows" has just been released. His sixth. Since 2011, Kersten and Lieske have also had a foothold in Berlin with Mathew Gallery. The two also run this together. Oh yes, Kersten would also like to open a Japanese yakitori restaurant. He is already looking for premises for this now and then.
It’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. But anyone who thinks Kersten is a typical creative workaholic – always working just short of burnout – is wrong.
His various activities are united by the idea of enjoyment. In this, Kersten finds, dancing, art and good food are fundamentally similar: "Every person should go out intensively and regularly for at least four years of their life." Kersten knows how to talk about the club scene, the music industry and its figures without lapsing into exalted verbiage. Nor will you hear gloomy forecasts, lamentations about supposedly better times or even bad words about others from him.
Cosmos of friendship
Today Dial is a veritable cosmos of friendship and music. The label’s spectrum now extends beyond club and house music. Thies Mynther and Dirk von Lowtzow live out their passion for art song on Dial as Phantom/Ghost, and more offbeat, quirky stuff like the suicidal guitar music of New York artist The Queens also finds a place on the label. "What we think is good, we release," Kersten says, "so sales figures are secondary for now." In good old D.-i.-Y. fashion, the artists do everything themselves, taking care of production, designing covers and writing promos for their records.
At Mathew Gallery in Berlin, too, art dealing know-how is secondary to gushing about the neighborhood: "Next door is a great old Charlottenburg gay bar, ‘Harlekins gute Stube,’ and a few meters away Ursula Block runs ‘Gelbe Musik,’ a wonderful record store," Lieske says. "We feel right at home here." The gallery space was discovered – of course – by a friend, Japanese artist Ken Okiishi.
All of this sounds so wildly romantic that it takes Kersten to tease out the downsides and downsides that come with this free-spirited approach to business acumen. "Sure, sometimes things go bad financially," he admits. "You just can’t be afraid of existential angst." Hardly anyone would say such a sentence as calmly as he does.
Varied sound patterns
The convinced but not spasmodic resistance against everything trendy can also be heard on "Films and Windows", Lawrence’s new album. Here he relies on the tried and true: straightforward beats with clear deep house and ambient elements go hand in hand with playful melodies and varied sound patterns. Sometimes the soft, metallic sound of a triangle creeps in, while percussive elements are just about to drive the track forward. Sometimes a lush, rhythmic thump joins a bouncing bassline.
The various sound elements don’t just layer on top of each other, but come and go, seeming quieter and louder, supportive and counter-intuitive. Thus the listening experience becomes squiggly in favor of unexpected discoveries that invite you to listen.
The titles of the tracks open up Lawrence’s universe of travel notes, night thoughts and melancholic moods: "In Patagonia", "Har Sinai", "Angels at Night", "Kurama". "Films and Windows," the album’s title, Kersten took from the eponymous title of an exhibition at Mathew Gallery. It describes the feeling of movement, the view out of the train window onto passing landscapes. Thus it fits the situation of origin of many tracks, almost all "somewhere between Hamburg and Berlin tinkered".
Always on the move
Sitting in an office would be "really the most awful thing" for Kersten. He speaks from his own experience; during his studies he did an internship at Universal. Since then, he has been on the road: in Hamburg, in Berlin, in clubs all over the world. Do his various activities and places of work sometimes get on top of him?
"Sometimes I do think it would be nice to give someone else one of my jobs," Kersten says, and follows up directly, "But no one would do it as well." He sounds like a mother who would be heartbroken to leave her children in someone else’s care for an extended period of time.