Boris Brejcha on his unique approach to DJing

We hear how every aspect of the German artist's craft, from the music he plays through to his fondness for rubber ducks, is designed to stand out from the crowd.

The German artist Boris Brejcha has built an enormous global following over the past 10 years, which can mostly be explained by repeatedly saying the words “his own.”  

Boris exclusively plays his own music. It’s extremely rare that a DJ does this, but for Boris it was a straightforward decision: he’s incredibly prolific in the studio, producing a track every week and releasing his music as a continual flow of albums, singles and remixes. In fact, he produces so much of his own music that he invented his own genre, “hi-tech minimal,” a term for his melodically-rich style of techno and minimal, which you can hear on his new album, Level One.    

You can also hear this sound at the shows Boris and his team produce around the world, where he merges the often separate vibes of DJing and concerts like few other artists. For a flavour of these shows, see Boris’s smash-success streams for Cercle and Tomorrowland, which boast a total of over 200 million views. 

Things really began to take off for Boris when he started his own label, Fckng Serious, in 2015. He surrounded himself with like-minded artists, and began to build out his musical universe. The label spawned his own fashion brand and merch store, Fckng Fashion, which famously includes his own rubber duck

And then, of course, he has his own mask. Since he first donned it at a Brazilian festival in 2006, Boris’s joker mask has been an indelible part of his artistic identity. With all of this considered, it’s clear that Boris is extremely committed to creating his own lane, and is a case study for anyone looking to stand out from the crowd. We recently reached Boris in Berlin to discuss his preferred style of mixing and sequencing, the DJ gear he enjoys to perform with, and his unique approach to DJing. 

Do you remember why you decided to only play your own music? 

Actually when I started to produce music, like back in the day, I didn’t know that you could be a DJ as well. So I was just thinking, OK, let’s make some tracks, sell them. But then after a while, I met a good friend, and he showed me how to play with vinyl and CDJs. And since then, my first gig I ever played, I already had a lot of tracks from myself. And so it was easy to decide, OK, I’m just going to play my own tracks. It’s Boris, and when people come to my show they want to hear some kind of Boris music. And so it was a simple decision.

I assume you’d already produced a volume of music before your first show?

Yes, because I never sent a lot of demos out. I was just producing, producing, producing. And then in the end I had so many tracks. Frankly, I anyway wasn’t going on Beatport and searching for tracks from other DJs, so it was a super simple decision. 

So your connection to DJing more comes through a motivation to give a performance? Like a concert with your own music. 

I always had the intention to just play my tracks. And so it’s somehow like a concert. Of course, I got to mix them.

Photo: Felix Hohagen

Usually when artists are only playing their own music they perform live. Why did you choose to DJ instead? 

A few years ago, I played live two or three times. But the main thing is, I really love to produce music. And I don’t want to be in the studio for weeks to prepare this live set, you know? In that time I can make another track. So for me, making a live set isn’t fast enough, you need time to make it. So for me it didn’t make sense. 

If people know the music of the performer, they probably want to hear versions that are close to the original. So when you step back from it, in electronic music it does seem simpler in some situations to DJ instead. 

I always like it when a track is played from the beginning until the end, because each track is telling a story. So I would never really change something. I think it’s better to just produce another track. So when you play the next year for the audience you have a lot of new stuff they’ve never heard before, so it’s also a surprise. 

Do you DJ with the versions of tracks that are publicly available? 

Yes. Sometimes looped, or played faster in the mix, but it’s the original versions, yeah. 

Tell me more about your working week. It sounds like you run a really tight schedule. 

It’s super tough. For example, when I’m on tour, and I play Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I’m coming back home, doing nothing. And then Monday is like my office day, doing all the paperwork and stuff that needs to be done. And then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I have three days to go into the studio. I split it. The first day is just to make an idea of the track. The second one is to make an arrangement. And the third one is to work on some details and change things and do the mixing and stuff like this. 

Is it possible that you’d start a track on Tuesday and play it at a gig on Friday? 

Yes. But of course, sometimes it’s not working because sometimes on Tuesday you might think the idea is good. And then on Wednesday, when you start to arrange it, after some time you see OK, maybe it’s not my style or the idea wasn’t that good. And then I just delete it and the week after I’m gonna start a new track. So it keeps my mind clear. I have no projects that aren’t done.

Do you also do all your own mastering? 

Yes. I mean, we tried a few times to give it to someone else. But in the end, it was not sounding like I wanted it to sound. I’ve had a lot of time over the years to watch YouTube tutorials, and stuff like that. It works very well. 

Photo: Felix Hohagen

What percentage of the music you produce winds up in your DJ sets? 

For example, this year, over four months, I think I did 11 tracks. One of them I don’t want to play because I think it doesn’t fit. But the other 10 I’m going to play. I always love to play the new tracks, because with the old ones you’ve heard them, like, 1000 times. There are some tracks, like “Gravity,” you have to play because people want to hear them. And that’s OK. But the first hour I play, it’s only the new stuff.

Is there a mood or a theme that runs through the new album?

Yeah, for me it sounds like, and it looks like, the Earth was just born. There’s just nature and nothing and everything is just rising up.

Is that something that you were conscious of while you were in the writing and producing process?  

No [laughs]. Maybe two or three tracks after we went to Iceland, because I was getting a little bit influenced. But no, when I chose the tracks I saw, OK, wow, this is really cool.

Do you prefer to produce tracks that have FX for the dance floor, or do you prefer to do this live as you DJ? 

I remember there was a DJ, a good friend of mine, a few years ago I was producing a little bit more weird than today, with so many FX. And he said to me, “Boris, I will never buy one track from you because they’re not possible to play. There are too many breaks, too many FX.” But I was happy because I was just producing the tracks how I was feeling. And I do it today as well… It all needs to be done in the studio, then we’re going to see what we do on the dance floor.

How about sequencing? How much do you decide in advance, if at all? 

Every year I produce a new intro. So of course, I’m gonna play this as the first track. And then normally, I have a list of three or four tracks after the intro I always play because they fit very well. I always want to create an impact in the beginning to get the attention of the people. But after that, I just see how the crowd is reacting. 

Do you consider keys and harmonies when you’re mixing? 

I do. A few years ago, I did a test. If you hear tracks in your car, some are sounding good and some less so. And so I went into the studio and played just one note of a baseline on C D, E, F, G… And then I went to the car and I was listening to it and then I chose the two notes which had the most impact in the car. And this was the G and the F. And so most of my tracks are in G or F.

Would you say that you have a mixing style or a particular method of doing things?

When I see the other track is running for one, two minutes, I loop the next track. And then I slowly fade in the incoming track. I play a lot with the main filters. I always use delay, sometimes reverb. 

Do you prefer smooth transitions or do you favour impacts? 

It depends on the style I’m playing. If I want to make an impact, I always try to cut the bass super hard on the incoming tracks. But if I play a lot of melodic tracks, then I really like more slow transitions.

Why did you opt for the V10 as your mixer of choice? 

There’s just one thing I like more than on the DJM-900. On each channel you have the high, the middle, the bass. And then there are the filters. And on the V10, you can put the bass on if you turn the filter all the way down to the left; on the DJM-900, you need to be in the middle and I don’t like it.  

Do you feel that the way you play has evolved over the past 10 years? 

I mean, you definitely evolve. Because the mixers are getting better, you have more opportunities, you can test more out. I mean, in the beginning I was more focused on making a smooth transition. But today, it’s super simple to put one track with the same BPM over the other track. This isn’t hard. So you can just focus on how you want to make the transition. 

There are so many options on mixers now. But I have to say, I’ve never focussed on that because I focused on making tracks and giving the tracks a nice vibe. 

Photo: Felix Hohagen

You’ve built a distinctive niche for yourself. How important is it for artists to find a unique lane? 

I think it’s really important to find that. But it’s not so easy. We have artists on our label, like Moritz Hofbauer, I think he’s really good, and I think he’s going to find his identity at some point. So then it’s his sound, and he’s playing like this. But we also have other artists on our label, and for them it’s really hard to think about what they can do to be, like, the one you remember, you know? 

How did you do it?

I don’t know. I mean, I was just producing my own music and a lot of people told me it was like something new, so that was really nice for me. And of course, I have my mask, which is a big thing. It helps. And now we are starting our own concerts, which is cool. I was creating my own rubber duck, which was cool. So you always need to have ideas to keep the people on the highest level. 

Do you have any advice for people trying to find an artistic niche or identity?

The main thing is you need to be creative, because there’s so many details and it’s complicated. But the most important thing is to make good music, and not to make music like the others. So not copy a style or something else, you just need to focus on your own style.

To all the people who want to start making music, I would say it’s really important to learn an instrument, like playing keyboard or drums, because then you can feel the music much better. And for example, if you can play keyboard, you can create super nice melodies. And that’s really important, for fans to remember your track. And then I think you just need time to find your identity. So just go to the studio. It needs a lot of time, but just produce, produce and just do it, never give up. That’s what most people are doing: they give up too early.

Social media is also important. For example, like Instagram—I don’t have a manager, I answer every single message myself. It takes a lot of time. But I love to be connected with fans. Because when I play a show, and then someone comes to me and tells me he messaged me, then OK, I can remember. So this is super important for me. And I think the people love it. 

Why did you decide not to have a manager? 

I think it’s more personal. People see that you’re just a normal guy. 

So you feel like remaining connected to people is, overall, a really positive thing for you as an artist?

I think so. Sometimes it can be hard, because sometimes it can be annoying writing all the time. And you can’t write back every time. But I try my best and I’ve done it for years and it works really well.

Words: Ryan Keeling