It might not be what you expect for a DJ synonymous with fast, hard, and heavy techno, but according to Chris Liebing, he’s always been something of a slow starter. “I’ve wanted to do something like Burn Slow all my life,” he says. Aiming to go beyond his hard techno practice, Liebing opted to seek out new harmonic territory, taking aim at the heart rather than the feet. The result is the slow burn of Burn Slow; a minimalist electronic epic and start of a new chapter for one of German techno’s leading authorities.
While the final recording sessions lasted 14 studio days, Burn Slow has been gestating in the back of Liebing’s mind for decades now. Back in the early 1990s, trance label Eye Q Records was initially one of the key inspirations for Liebing to get into DJing – although he would soon jettison the emotional melodies of trance for the uncompromising hard techno that would become his signature. “I kind of buried that emotional side of me over years DJing,” Liebing explains.
Liebing ran into gifted musician, and once key part of the long since defunct Eye Q family, Ralf Hildenbeutel, and told him he wanted to work with him on a new project. Hildenbeutel obliged, and soon after playing with familiar tempos and well-worn methodologies in his Frankfurt studio, Liebing began drifting into new territory with his new musical ‘enabler’ in tow. Driven by Liebing’s fresh energy, a new music began to take shape. While retaining the skeleton of techno beats, Burn Slow is moodier, slower, and more emotionally articulate than anything yet in Liebing’s three-decade career.
The debut release under the name Burn Slow sees Liebing diving head first into tackling these deeper themes. The key concept of presence – the idea that everything is happening in this moment, and that everything in the past is mere memory – form the thematic backbone of the record. It’s something Liebing got in touch with via British philosopher Alan Watts (a speech of Watts’ is in fact read out by Cold Cave on opening track, ‘So Then’), not to mention decades of getting entire dancefloors lost in the present. “If people would stay in the now, everything in the world would just have a bit more harmony,” Liebing says.
Affected not only by tumultuous events in his own personal life, but by the well documented suicide of Chris Cornell while the album was coming together, Burn Slow sees living in the moment as an escape route from useless negative thoughts and creeping depression. Guest vocals written and performed by British singer-songwriter Polly Scattergood on ‘And All Went Dark’ see her take aim at a “dark shadow on my shoulder”, while Miles Cooper Seaton (Akron/Family) describes how “we are alive here in this moment” over the seven-and-a-half gothic groove of ‘Card House’.
Finding the album’s vocal guests was no easy task. At first Liebing found himself repeatedly rejected by artists insisting they don’t do ‘techno’. Eventually, none other than pioneering electronic legend Gary Numan became involved. It was only after Liebing took a wild stab in the dark, sending him a request for a vocal contribution to the Nine Inch Nails-inspired Sci-Fi vignette, ‘Polished Chrome (The Friend Pt. 1)’. “Within a week of asking him I had the track! I couldn’t believe it,” says Liebing.
The slow-moving, gradually unfurling music of Burn Slow is a key step forward for Liebing. While the loops, beats, thuds, and repetitions of techno remain intact, a new sonic scope, sheer emotional depth, and introspective approach have appeared. Liebing’s focus on finding new sounds, and in summoning something unique from his analogue gear has never been stronger. The album’s centrepiece is arguably the vast 19-minute minimalist epic, ‘Trilogy’. The track’s production evolved bit-by-bit, Liebing and Hildenbeutel sewing pieces together for days, meditating on rhythms and simple melodic shifts with mature calm and precision.
While Liebing would eventually spend half a year mixing Burn Slow, the recording process was characterised by spontaneity. Liebing often worked in direct tandem with Hildenbeutel in realising his new ideas, jamming on countless drum machines and synthesizers. As Liebing describes it, tracks would “just happen!” For example, intensely moody, almost John Carpenter-esque album highlight ‘Novembergrey’ appeared entirely by chance. Hildenbeutel accidentally hit a key while moving a synth in the studio, and Liebing instantly stopped everything to capture the resultant sound that would ultimately form the bedrock of the track. The chiming arpeggios of ‘Ghosts Of Tomorrow’ were just as organically formed, with Hildenbeutel instantaneously interpreting Liebing’s instructions into the song’s central melody. “He just lays his hands on the keyboard, and it comes out straight away,” says Liebing.
Burn Slow will be Chris Liebing’s first album release for Mute, something of a happy twist of fate for Leibing as the label was another key inspiration to the producer from a young age. “Without realising, a lot of the music I was into came from just one label, Mute. I vividly remember dancing around at my neighbour’s house in the early ‘80s to songs by Depeche Mode and Yazoo. Banging my head in dark basements to the likes of DAF, Laibach and Nitzer Ebb to name but a few. Things came full circle when I found myself in the Mute office. What I learned is to keep going and try your best – you will never know where it may lead you to.”
Chris always stood and still stands for solid Techno on the deeper side of the musical spectrum. His sets are sonic journeys between darkness and light, always far away from the beaten tracks of the musical mainstream. Being a kid from the 80s and growing up with Synth Pop bands like Depeche Mode and electronic dance acts like Nitzer Ebb amongst many others, his musical background also contains the melancholy, the vocals and the melodies from this era, which he increasingly blends into his current sets. People who exclusively know him for his fast and unrelenting Techno sets of the past might be surprised about those new facets he is adding to his at all times dynamic sound.
Liebing, for the past 25 years, has channeled his passion to the performance, production, distribution and broadcasting of music on a global level. His DJ sets continue at full tilt – sonic journeys between darkness and light, always far from the beaten tracks of the musical mainstream.