An interview with Snacks

Snacks are a Berlin-based duo comprising of Kiwi Rene Corbett and German Aljoscha Babel. They have been making waves in the electronic music scene in recent years, with their fun and funky house tracks combining with their ever-evolving live shows to deliver energetically diverse sounds.

These experienced producers have releases on House Of Disco and Boogie Angst to name but a few. Their live performances have become somewhat of a trademark of theirs, infiltrating an electronic music scene that lacks such intricate and instrumental focus as times.

Their latest record, Nobody Else, was released on Boogie Angst on 9th March, and has proven to be one of their most experimental and mellow records yet. Ahead of their live set at Flux’s first day/night party of the year at Beaverworks on 21st April, I had a chat with them about ping pong bars, synthesisers and Berlin, amongst a few other intriguing stories of course…

Hi guys, great to meet you. What have you guys been up to recently? Rene, how were your travels?

Rene: Yeah so the last six weeks I’ve been on holiday in Australia and had a trip back home to New Zealand. I caught up with family and escaped the cold winters of Berlin with BBQs, swimming every day, surfing, the good stuff you know.

Aljoscha: I’ve been playing a lot of piano. I just finished reworking a remix of a track by Johannes Albert. We almost finished it in June, but I went back to rework on it as I thought it needed some brushing up. I just finished it today and we’re going to be trying it out tonight at a club called Farbfernseher.

That sounds good, I look forward to hearing it! I read somewhere that you met in a ping pong bar? Tell me a bit about that meeting. How did things end up getting musical?

Aljoscha: We both went to a table tennis bar every Tuesday and got hammered. As the weeks went by, less and less people showed up as you had to wait a long time for a game.

Rene: We began to notice each other as regulars and one way or another we got chatting about music. We were chatting and it turned out that Aljoscha needed a drummer for his band so I got involved. At the ping pong bar, we just kind of realised that we had similar tastes and got along pretty well.

So was this when Snacks was born?

Aljoscha: When we initially began working together, Rene was a drummer in another project of ours.

Rene: We started sharing a lot of music with each other on a Facebook page and noticed that we were both very into our funky house and disco. While we were on tour with our other band, we produced our song first song ‘Purdie’ and this is how Snacks began. It was a great way to kill the time on our 12 hour bus ride.

I hear you have a big collection of equipment. Have you always had a passion for the techy side of things? What’s your go-to piece of equipment or favourite instrument?

 Aljoscha: I used to be really into collecting lots of synths and gadgets, but in the last couple of years I’ve not really bought a lot of equipment. I’m not so impressed with the new equipment that’s coming out at the moment. My set up right now consists of a Korg Poly 6, Pioneer AS 1. We’ve also now got a new piano in the studio that we’ve been trying to record with a lot.

Rene: That’s an interesting question. I’m really into the software stuff and usually do a lot of stuff on a laptop. Me and Aljoscha are kind of opposite when it comes to that. When it comes to the live show I really like my Roland SPD-S Drum pads and TR-08 drum machine. I guess I enjoy using these the most because my main instrument is drums. My set up remains largely the same but Aljoscha will usually suggest any interesting changes. His setup is constantly changing and evolving.

What would you say each other’s greatest musical influences are?

Rene: Aljoscha’s taste is pretty broad but I really think his background in hip hop has a big influence on our music. He also has a taste for acid house, 80s and Italo disco.

Aljoscha: Rene is really into his funk. He’s into short, punchy synths. He likes a lot of modern funk and enjoys stuff like Kaytranada.

How do these influences come together in Snacks, are they harmonious or do you have your clashes when producing?

Rene: I think all of these influences integrate well into house music. Each influence can add its own element to our music. We like to keep things fun in the studio. We each bring a lot of our own ideas in and interaction between us in the studio is kind of back and forth. Aljoscha might show me a bassline and I will layer drums over the top and he might then put some synths over it. It works pretty well and keeps things fresh and fun.

We’ve lived with each other, so naturally sometimes we may get on each other’s nerves in other ways, but we’re usually alright in the studio.

Aljoscha: Sometimes when we are DJing we’ll have moments when get really annoyed with one another, but I think that’s natural when you’re playing sets with each other all the time. Generally, we have a pretty good relationship when playing live.

What would you say is each other’s biggest fear?

Aljoscha: Rene’s biggest fear is losing a game of FIFA to me.

Rene: Aljoscha’s has to be accidentally playing the same song twice in DJ set.

Berlin is a city with a huge pool of musicians and DJs, what’s it like living there and being surrounded by such a creative environment? Do you play a lot in Berlin? What are your favourite venues there?

Rene: There are a lot of different venues in Berlin. We like a lot of smaller venues such as Paloma Bar and Farbfernseher where we’re playing tonight. Small, intimate venues with good music that are not too pretentious represent the true nightlife in Berlin.

Aljoscha: We like the bigger venues too such as About Blank, Renate and Kater.

Rene: Sisyphos is also a favourite. The location and atmosphere is amazing. You can comfortably spend a whole weekend there as they have everything.

About Blank has a great outdoor area that feels like a mini forest with a sound system. There’s an amazing atmosphere there Sunday evenings outside when the sun is going down.

It’s hard to choose a favourite one as we’ve had great nights in all of these. We’re really spoilt for choice here in Berlin. 

Berlin has a world renowned techno scene, but what’s the house and disco scene like?

Aljoscha: There’s definitely still a house scene. There are venues that will play a lot more house music and are not really into techno. It’s definitely nice having the techno venues as it provides good variety.

Rene: Even the venues that play techno will usually have a house room. Here you often find various types of house music, so there’s quite a range. Sometimes with disco and funk you may have to search around a little more as it’s not as popular as techno, but there’s still a lot there.

One of the most popular clubs Heideglühen, is playing just house music and at the moment that’s the place to go. It’s got a great atmosphere. They always have a fantastic line-up and it’s got an awesome outdoor area and a greenhouse with a proper sound system.

I loved your Burnin’ E.P. I thought the sheer energy in Burnin’ worked really well with the mellow groove of Matinee. I also love your new E.P., Nobody Else, but it definitely has a very different vibe. It’s more cool and laidback. How did your creative process differ on both records?

Rene: They were inspired by different moods. With Burnin’ we wanted a high energy, sample-based house record that people could dance to. With the new stuff, we were looking to create some slow jams and something more alternative. Something that you can sit down and listen to rather than a record for the dancefloor. We also wanted to explore some different styles of producing.

It’s going to be very interesting hearing how your different material will work together in your live shows. Do you find that you improvise at all or do you stick to a very rehearsed set?

Rene: We try to keep a lot of room for improvising in our sets. Often we’ll take different parts of our songs before we go on stage and adapt them for the live show. When we’re up on stage Aljoscha might improvise on the synths or I might improvise on the drums. About 50 percent of the show is improvised and we’ll change it up depending on the crowd to make it more interactive.

What was your inspiration to play live electronic music rather than just sticking to DJing?

Aljoscha: We both came from a background of live music initially. I started DJing but I was DJing in a hip-hop group which always had live elements. When Rene joined my old group he played drums and later on we founded Snacks. After two years of playing live, we got into DJing and we found that we really enjoyed doing that as well.

How do you normally end up incorporating new music into your live shows? Do you have to spend a lot of time thinking about how you do that, or does it occur to you when you’re producing?

 Aljoscha: This all depends on the song I think. Sometimes our live equipment will change to keep things interesting and that will change the way it works on stage. We are also sometimes limited by what our live equipment can do and how much luggage space we have when we’re travelling to our shows. In our last live show, Rene used a drum kit. Variation like that is really nice and means that we have a lot of fun playing our shows.

Artists can be incredibly intricate with their stage setups when it comes to live performances, what’s your typical stage setup?

Aljoscha: We will have one computer running Ableton Live which runs sequences, along with a keyboard to record chords over the top. We will usually have two synths and a Roland TR-8 drum machine – Roland have a new drum machine coming out called the TR-8S which you can load samples onto that looks really interesting. We also have sample pads, a crash cymbal and a cowbell.

Rene: This all runs into a Pioneer mixer so that you can blend the tracks together and we also have various midi controllers.

Is it always just you two on stage or do you get other people involved?

 Aljoscha: Sometimes we will have a singer.

Rene: We’ve done shows with a trumpet and a guitar player but it always depends on what we can bring. Our equipment takes up a lot of room on stage but if we place things carefully we can usually create a bit more space.

Another thing I wanted to ask was about your cover art. I really like the cover of Matinee and having seen the artwork for Nobody Else, I’m seeing a fruit theme emerging on your Boogie Angst releases. Who comes up with all these crazy ideas? What role do you guys play in choosing them?

Aljoscha: With Burnin’ we were recommended a French artist by David Magnier who runs the record label House of Disco. We were suggested a few things but were shown this one piece that we really liked straight away. This became the Burnin’ cover art.

Rene: With Boogie Angst, they always have an in-house artist who sends us a few suggestions. With the We Want Love EP we decided on the oranges and with the Nobody Else EP we decided to continue with that fruit theme and go with the grapes.

Aljoscha: Our friend, Megan J Archer did our logo, a cover and our bumpers for us. She’s a really talented artist. Funnily enough, these also include fruit.

Rene: The images of fruit are fun and colourful and this seems to fit well with our music.

Feeling fruity – the new Snacks EP Nobody Else

 We’re really excited to see you at our party in Leeds! How does playing in the UK compare to shows in Europe? Can you tell the difference?

Aljoscha: We’ve played a couple of times in London and it’s always been really nice.

Rene: One thing I like about the UK crowds is they’re always really passionate and chatty. They will often come up to the front and say thanks and hello after the show. In Europe they can be a little bit quieter.

Playing live comes with a lot of unpredictability, have you ever had any particularly embarrassing moments in any of your live shows?

 Aljoscha: There’s been a few. We’ve had equipment falling off stage before when we’ve filled up a table with equipment and there’s not been enough space. It was actually okay because the crowd didn’t notice but it can be a bit of a struggle getting all of the stuff we need on stage.

Rene: Sometimes the whole table has flipped over or it’s been raining so hard that the ceiling was leaking onto our computer and we had to switch it over mid-set.

Aljoscha: I think the worst time was when we were playing a show in Lithuania. A girl was dancing on the speaker next to me at the beginning of our set and she dropped a whole glass of beer onto to my Roland SH-101 synthesiser. It was an expensive synthesiser from the 80s and we had to improvise the rest of the show. The show had to go on because it was New Year’s Eve and everyone was there to party and have a good time. It was really difficult for us. After the set I turned the synth over and beer was pouring out. Luckily I left it to dry for two weeks and it was somehow okay.

You tweeted about our line-up a while ago. Who are you looking forward to seeing most at our upcoming party?

 Aljoscha: We’re really looking forward to Soundstream. We’ve done a warm-up set for him before and it was a really good party. It will be fun seeing him again. Konstantin Sibold is a friend of ours and he always plays great sets. Barnt and Atjazz also have really interesting sound so it will be good to see them.

Have you got any song suggestions for our readers, what are your favourite records at the moment?

Rene: I recommend Lele Sachi’s “Dreaming Won’t Do”, which is coming out on Rebirth records.

Aljoscha: Check out “Giovanni Frizzante” by Johannes Albert. The whole EP is fantastic. I’ve been playing the promo for a while but it’s now been officially released.

And finally, if you had to pick one track each that has had the biggest influence on your careers, what would they be?

Aljoscha: “Purdie”. That’s the easiest answer.

Rene: It may be a bit cliché but I’ve got to say “Inspector Norse” by Todd Terje. That track changed my life.

Thanks guys, take care!