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Session Victim

Berlin’s dynamic disco duo

2020 Mar 31     
2 Bit Thugs

We chat with Session Victim’s Matthias Reiling about their new album ‘Needledrop’

Session Victim’s Hauke Freer and Matthias Reiling are DJs, producers and renowned live performers. They’ve been releasing music together since 2008, run the vinyl-only label Paper & Pen and have appeared on Toy Tonics, Delusions of Grandeur, Classic Music Company and Heist – a list that should provide some insight into the kind of music they make. We’re talking quality underground house music that's heavily influenced by disco and soul, with an ‘organic’ feel – the term journalists reach for when they want to describe dance music that manages to imbue computer-created dance music with life and warmth. 

The pair have just released their fourth album Needledrop, which consists of 11 mostly laidback, downtempo tracks, only one of which comes in at over four minutes. Live instrumentation rubs up against software-generated and sampler-manipulated audio, and much of the album is redolent of 90s trip-hop, peppered with jazz and soul references. Needledrop performs that rare trick of glowing with nostalgia while simultaneously sounding completely contemporary. 

We thought this would be a good time to chat to them about the new album, so we tracked down one-half of the outfit, Matthias Reiling, and quizzed him on all matters Session Victim…


First of all, this is your first time in iDJ, so tell us a bit about who you are and what you do… 

"Hey, nice to meet you! Of course, we are Hauke and Matthias, both originally from the town of Lüneburg in northern Germany. We have been living in Berlin and Hamburg respectively since 2000. We write and produce music, sometimes on our own, but mostly together as the two-man house band Session Victim."

Yours was quite a long journey to your current level of success, I gather, so tell us a bit about your start in dance music?

"We got to know each other back in 1998 when a mutual friend brought us together to throw a party in our hometown. Although we’ve been friends ever since, it took another 10 years until we first got on a sequencer together to make our first beat. Hauke has been into dance music since the late 90s, when I was still focusing mostly on the metal band I was playing in then. 

"Sometimes the great response to our releases surprises us, but it always felt more like a slow but steady growth, and then suddenly a big boom out of nowhere. We think that has been, and still is, a blessing. In fact, we feel very fortunate with how things have been going for us over the last decade."

Which people have been most important to you in your dance music career?

"Ah, difficult question. The most honest answer has to be the two of us for each other. But besides that, we were lucky to get to know a bunch of fantastic and inspiring people through music – the Retreat crew with Quarion and Iron Curtis, then Leafar, Dustin and all the Gieglings, the Wolf Music Team…

"However, most notably Jamie Odell (AKA Jimpster) has been a great friend, sometimes mentor and sometimes just the best record label boss you could ever wish for. It feels like we have always been overly lucky with the people around us, it truly does."

You have a lovely new album out, so tell us a bit about making it. How long did it take, and what’s your creative process? 

"The idea for Needledrop started in January 2019 at our friends' house in Earlwood, Sydney, and it took us until October to finish all of the music that went into it.

"We had not planned and figured it out completely, but there was definitely more of a clear idea about where we wanted the record to go than we've had with other albums before it. It really made us confident during the process and kept us focused – having this idea of an LP in our mind rather than collecting pieces and sorting them on the way. Also, Hauke came up with the title in the early stages, and having a name for it all along really helped with that focus too."

The album has a definite laidback feel… was that part of the plan?

"It was indeed, yes. The most important thing for us was creating a complete album listening experience, rather than deliver particular standout tracks. That is also why we wanted Needledrop to be a one-piece vinyl album, so you only have to flip the record once to listen to the whole thing."

How did you meet vocalist Beth Hirsch, and do you have any plans to work with her again?

"It was a great honour and an absolute pleasure to get to know Beth and to work with her. When we sat down to think about singers we would like to show our ideas and sketches to, Beth's name was one of maybe five we could think of and agree on. We didn’t know her personally, nor anyone who did, so we simply wrote her an email. Luckily, she got back to us and was immediately interested in trying herself on the beat that later became Made Me Fly. 

"We already loved the first demo she sent us, so bringing the song home together came easily and naturally after that. It was a fantastic experience overall, and we certainly hope to do more things together in the future."

How do you feel about the album now that it’s released? 

"We are very happy that it is out and are flattered by the response in the messages we get from people. Though we try not to think too much about how songs might be received when we write them, the relationship between us as the sender and a listening audience being the receiver is essential, and the feedback we get has always fuelled our hunger and strengthened our desire to explore further and write more." 

How and when do you know when a track is finished? 

"That is easy to answer – when we both agree and say 'Now it is'! Being a duo puts a certain quality control on what you do that you just don't have when you're on your own. On the other hand, sometimes one of us believes in an idea and the other just doesn't – and it took us each quite a long time to learn to let something go and just move on, start something new."

Do you think much about DJs and how they might play your tunes when you’re producing? Or are you more concerned about making it musically successful? 

"We are both DJs, we love to DJ and of course a lot of the time, the idea of how a track will work in a DJ set influences how we approach the arrangement or the sound of it. On the other hand, sometimes it just doesn't, and that is as good as the aforementioned. It is important to free yourself from the little formulas you use sometimes… the best case is usually if the idea you are working on tells you how to approach and where to go with it."

There are many different flavours and styles of house music – how did you arrive at your particular take on it? 

"Ha ha, that is impossible to answer! I mean, like everyone else we are inspired by certain artists, records and songs of course. But then, it doesn’t feel like we ever 'arrived' somewhere really. You just constantly learn new little ways and methods that you start to incorporate, and you shift your focus a bit every now and then – sometimes deliberately, sometimes we don't even realise that until much later, or probably ever."

Your live show is super cool – any key bits of kit that are essential to making it work?

"Well, thank you! We came up with our own way of using Ableton Live for playing our songs to people, as we simply did not have anyone who told us how to. We’ve always been looking for ways to expand what we had and optimise our tools to express ourselves the best with it. What we do use at the moment – the drum machines, the synthesiser, the bass guitar – is all essential for us to strike a good balance between performing what we rehearse and being able to improvise, react to each other and the situation we're in."

Does it ever go wrong? What do you do if it does?

"Oh, believe me it does! But that’s more of an opportunity than a problem. Bob Ross [US painter and TV presenter] taught us a long time ago to embrace our happy little accidents – and over time we learned more and more how to actually do that. Our live show has a lot of room for mistakes, and that also offers the chance to play things better than ever before, different than the night before. And that's what keeps us excited about it."

Do you have a personal favourite track of your own? Why?

"Sometimes, sometimes not. And it might be this track for me today, and next week another one. And the two of us rarely have the same favourite at the same time. Right now, my favourite Session Victim track is Isle Of Taste. Listening to the finished song to me feels just like a bit more than the sum of its parts, and that is one of my favourite things to happen when writing music."

Finally, is there anything you never get asked about that you’d like to discuss? 

"Well, now thinking of it, I would like to tell everyone how much fun and how rewarding it is to take the time to actively listen to an album from start to finish. I had lost that ability for a while and did not even realise. I only found my way back to it about two years ago. Albums like Panoram's Background Story, Yussef Kamaal's Black Focus or The Heliocentrics' The Sunshine Makers OST have been an essential source of joy for me over the last year."

Words: Harold Heath Pics: Micki Rosi Richter (main pic), Schaaly (B&W insert),

Needledrop is out now on Night Time Stories – get your copy here.

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Tags: Session Victim, Hauke Freer, Matthias Reiling, Jimpster, Night Time Stories, Beth Hirsch, Ableton Live