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Teaching Taste With Oliver Koletzki (An Interview on Style Over Talent)

Earlier this summer, I was honored to interview one of the greats: Oliver Koletzki.

As I test the Wifi and audio in my Los Angeles duplex, I anxiously jump around the living room to one of his sets. My nerves are put to rest when the video connects and I’m greeted by a giant grin– something you don’t often see in pictures of him. A beautiful stained glass window that he’d recently built into his Berlin apartment frames his figure on the call. The decor and incessant glint in his eye made even his most trivial movements shine. Koletzki wears 46 years with a certain swagger.

After exchanging introductions, I explain to him that, above all else, I hope to get his perspective on “youth” over the course of the interview. He smiles at this unexpected development in his day and divulges that there were two pivotal moments that shaped his.

“[The first was] going to The Doors movie when I was about 17

From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be like Jim Morrison. I wanted to play music on a stage. I wanted to travel to other countries.” 

Oliver Koletzki, 1993

“[The second was when I] took my first ecstasy [at a rave in Northern Germany]…

Oliver Koletzki, 2008

It had an enormous influence on me. This experience… it took my whole life in this direction.” 

The day after the interview, I listened back to the recording in full. I sat beaming as I took notes on how the conversation progressed– laughing at our laughter. And yet, a throughline refused to make itself clear. A combination of writer’s block, rumination without progress, and intrusive thoughts surrounding my conversation with the legendary producer drove me mad for months. Everything I typed felt immature and I wanted nothing more than to do one of my favorite Electronic acts justice.

How the hell do I say that successful people–or is it those people I like most–or is it… Ok, why do people like Oliver Koletzki find comfort in nightlife?

Nothing stuck out. I put my Google Doc to rest and started going out with an impressive frequency in search of inspiration. I found clarity on a Saturday at an after-hours on the outskirts of Downtown Los Angeles.

SHOP THE TEE INSPIRED BY THIS PIECE.

I was drawn to the woman in the smoking pit of the warehouse.

She’s 30. An engineer. Dressed impeccably. Stylish. Absolutely breathtaking. She speaks softly while holding firm eye contact. In a thin accent, she told me about growing up and attending university in Iran. I find myself intoxicated in the conversation and in awe at her story. Ups, downs, hard work, practice, and impossible odds led to her being contacted by a SpaceX recruiter. She accepted the job offer and that’s what brought her to LA 8 years ago. Oh… and she adores Techno. She told me she is always on the hunt for a proper party– always has been. As the conversation progressed and WhoMadeWho’s set time approached, it became clearer and clearer that she was unequivocally cool– and wise. There was just something about her.

I have seen that something in other people that I admire. I have tried to write about it on a number of occasions. I reckoned that this something may be the key to the Oliver Koletzki piece so I jumped on the opportunity to get her thoughts. I shift our conversation and ask, “Why do individuals like yourself, people who are smart and driven and have seen success, why are they drawn to settings like this one? Is there a correlation between those who are out late and those who succeed?”

Oliver Koletzki, 2000

She replied, “Well, the smart ones, the ones who really think and contribute, we would go fucking mad without it, no?”

Oliver Koletzki, Fusion Festival 2003

Yes...

As Koletzki and I trade stories of minds once lost, I find similar comfort in his romantic descriptions of the night. A proper night out is something of an artform for the two of us– doing it right comes with rules, lessons, and risks. “I’m really sensitive at after-parties,” he confesses. 

Koletzki smirks, “I’m getting older now, but, uh, that’s how it was all my life. It is not only [about] being a professional. [The party] is a thing deep in my heart. It’s like a passion. And that kind of plays into the style over here.” While open-mindedness and creative expression are nurtured in Berlin, things were a bit different in the Brunswick area where he was born.

It’s honestly impressive that Oliver kept his head up and continued to refine his craft over the course of his childhood and teenage years. “When I was young, I was singing in the choir in school. The teacher [would] throw me out of class [and say], ‘You’re not good at singing. You’re not talented.” When he’d practice music at home his parents would say, “Oliver, it sounds awful… you’re not talented.”

And then one day, he took a stand and rebelled: “My grandmother, she gave me 2000 Euros to [get] my driving license. I took the money and went straight into a music store and bought a synthesizer for $1,500 euros.” He spent the rest on weed. “From then on, I had two synthesizers at home and made music every night. Like every fucking night….” Koletzki finally got his license three years ago.

“Now I’m a good musician and a bad car driver.”

After a stint working at a bank under the direction of his father, Koletzki committed his entire focus to music at 25. For the next three years, Koletzki played at small clubs for 50 euros and a couple of drinks. “I was eating spaghetti like every night… A normal life] was never the choice… it’s really hard for young people to find out what they really want to do. [We] don’t find it in the beginning of [our] twenties…”

In 2005, a chance co-sign from Sven Vath and Cocoon Recordings made it clear once and for all that Koletzki’s precarious choices had paid off. His track “Der Mückenschwarm” and a remix from Dominik Eulberg skyrocketed him to fame in the Electronic Music world.

Today, Koletzki’s greatest marker of success is his record label– Stil vor Talent. In English: “Style over talent.” I consider the implications of the word “style”– in this or any other context. I ask him if he feels that “style” is something you earn. He does wholeheartedly and explains that it is a certain lack of experience that plagues the younger generations. “Kids today… they are too lazy. They [just] want to get there… The internet is so fast. Practice [your craft]. It’s not a bad idea to study…”

Record-Label of the year 2012 @ Dj-Mag Germany.

Going into August, I put down this piece once more when I left for Europe to attend my sister’s wedding– still, style-obsessed. I studied those with style in Spain, Zurich, London, and Paris. I was impressively inspired for a month straight. At restaurants, parties, museums, and shows, I met incredible humans– stylish humans. In a final attempt to avoid reality, at the expense of my bank account, I stopped in New York on the way home. The city was as spectacular and romantic as ever. There was style pouring out of establishments on every corner.

Having lived in Southern California for the better part of a decade, stagnancy perhaps has exhausted my appreciation for the style here. A lack of new experiences has likely been watering down my own. I came to realize that I too had just been looking in the wrong places. When I got back to LA, I saw the city and myself with new eyes.

Jim Morrison earned his style. Oliver Koletzki earned his style. The woman in the smoking pit at the warehouse earned her style. That something was style. Style over talent. Koletzki explains, “Everyone loves to say, ‘Be patient and you’ll succeed!’ But it’s almost more so… keep working your ass off. Because if you stop and you give up, then you’re just like anyone else, right?”

NIRVANA

Style doesn’t come of how old you are. It doesn’t come of partying or drugs or travel. It really just takes going out and living. Doing things, real things, in a way that many of us have forgotten. It also takes saying no.

“I don’t want to die in 10 years. Yeah. I want to get older. So I start[ed] to live more healthy and have to keep an eye on my body. I decided that like five years ago, I’m doing much more sports and, um, I stopped smoking and then stopped drinking.”

Koletzki still parties today. He loves a club “eight minutes walk from [his] apartment” and describes it as “really comfortable.” More often than not, he goes out with the same friends he had when he first moved to Berlin. “Since I’m getting older, I normally escape when it’s getting bright.” Of course, when Koletzki himself plays, it’s a party as well. “I’ll be on stage till 50. Yeah, more or less. It’s four more years. When I say that to my friends, my friends say, ‘Blah, blah. You’ll be on stage when you’re 60.’ Maybe it’s more like that.”

When we finally wrap our call, my cheeks hurt from laughter and smiling ear to ear. I blush when he tells me, “To be actually totally honest, this was a really good interview. I really have to say that that was really different from other interviews.” As I finally wrap this piece, only now do I fully grasp just how great of a conversation it was.

Danke.


If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:

A Comprehensive History of Techno and Finding God in the Music With Ellen Allien

All photos in this piece are credited to Oliver Koletzki.

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