Bernd Friedmann is a very busy man. Besides running Nonplace Records he is also part of the Ninja Tune “nu-jazz” project Flanger (together with Atom Heart), makes experimental records with Jaki Liebezeit (former Can drummer) and is the impetus of Burnt Friedman and the Nu Dub Players. With “Can’t Cool” he delivers one of his finest albums to date, mixup soul, funk and blues influences, all topped with nice reggae vibes. “In the western world people are conditioned by the quadruple beat. I want to prove you can also make music in a different way,” says Friedman.
Reggae plays a very important role in the music of Friedman, a passion which started seven years ago. “I was especially fascinated by roots reggae. These days I listen mostly to rocksteady from the sixties. Not one specific group or singer because there are simply too many. It’s really huge. The dub producers were a big influence on my work as a producer. What I want do to is apply the way reggae is made to other styles like jazz, soul and blues. I want to make blues and soul but use reggae production techniques.”
A passion for reggae is often combined with an adoration of the sun and Friedman is no exception to that rule. Every winter he leaves Europe for the sunny-drenched climes Australia and New Zealand. “At the end of the record there’s a hidden track where a voice says ‘Forty six degrees in the shade’. It’s from a phone call I got from Melbourne. The person wanted to make me envious about going to Australia. The title of the album refers to that, though it really has a double meaning. In the first place it means ‘I can’t cool’, as in ‘it’s too hot’. On the other hand it means ‘I can’t be cool, I’m not hip.’”
For Friedman those trips down under aren’t holidays. It’s were most of his work with the Nu Dub players is conceived. “This time I had a sort of mobile recording studio with me. For the first time I could record instrumental takes with excellent sound quality. Basically what I did was collect good takes and edit them when I was back in Europe. It all went very spontaneously. At a certain point a friend turned up with a trombone. So we went to the studio where he worked to see if we could do something with that sound.”
‘Can’t Cool’ features no less then eight vocal tracks and Friedman teamed up with four different singers, from German reggae star Patrice to Lovetta Pippin (His Name Is Alive). “When I came back to Europe I had material for more then twenty tracks. I picked the most interesting stuff out, looked for singers and went to the studio with them. Lovetta Pippin is an exception. I licensed the vocals of ‘Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth”. Two years ago I did a remix for His Name Is Alive and they offered me two vocal tracks. I decided to write music to that track.”
In all over twenty musicians contributed to ‘Can’t Cool’. One of them is Jaki Liebezeit, former Can drummer and considered by colleagues as one of the most innovating drummers of his time. Together with Friedman he experimented with rhythms on the excellent ‘Secret Rhythms’ album. “I’ve learned a lot from Jaki. Actually he drums the way I program beats. He’s one of the few drummers that assemble their drum kits themselves. The way he drums allows him to apply any time signature.”
Those time signatures play a very important role on ‘Can’t Cool’. “I don’t know if you noticed but there is only one track with a four four time beat on the record. The third track has a three four beat, track fife a fife four beat, track seven a seven four beat. I really don’t understand why the four four time beat plays such an important role in our culture. I don’t see any reason for that. In countries like Morocco and Turkey people are used to other time signatures. To people from the Western world the four four beat sounds as the most natural of all signatures, but that’s because people are conditioned like that. I won’t to prove that it’s possible to do it in another way, without the listener even noticing it. I want to make music that’s beautiful and easy to listen to, but if you listen carefully you will notices there’s a lot more going on.”
Friedman is one of the growing number of electronica producers who is working together with ‘real’ musicians to make music. “For a long time I worked on my own, on computers. I’m very well aware of the limitations. What you do on a computer is program instruments. You push a button and you hear a note. There is no real interaction. With an instrument there are numerous ways of pushing a button or touching a string.”
Although a lot of real instruments were used for the making of ‘Can’t Cool’, the computer played an important role in the end result. “I use the computer to manipulate all the input. Sometimes I cut a sequence into small pieces and paste them back together. Sometimes I end up manipulating every single note.”
Friedman doesn’t only manipulate the input, he also puts a lot of time in reworking his own output. “I start with a take, make a track out of it until I have a first version. Then I turn it into a dub version. Sometimes I make another version of the dub later on. That’s how the track ‘Paternoster’ was made. It was actually inspired by the track ‘Obscured by 5’ from ‘Secret Rhythms, the album I made with Jaki Liebezeit. ‘Obscured by 5’ was inspired by a remix I did for Richard Dorfmeister. This whole way of working is how I want to make dub music.
Besides being a music producer Friedman also runs the Nonplace Records label. With acts like Beige, the German label has its very own private space in the world of music. “Nonplace is not tied to styles. That’s why we choose the name Nonplace. We are in a sort of grey zone, we don’t want to categorized. I like to compare it to a Friday night crime movie. The viewer sees a lot details and information that’s not relevant for understanding the story. Only one thing matters: who did it? At Nonplace it’s just the other way around. We only care for the details, the things people don’t pay attention to.”