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  • FJAAK: “We had some tough years being the outsiders”


FJAAK: “We had some tough years being the outsiders”

We talk to Felix Wagner and Aaron Röbig, the duo behind FJAAK, about their 15-year roller coaster journey in the rave-music scene.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Berlin-based rave duo FJAAK, aka Felix Wagner and Aaron Röbig, are one of Germany’s biggest dance-music exports, spreading their Spandau sound across the world. It has been six long years since their last full-length record, but the wait has been worth it – FJAAK THE SYSTEM is both a timeless homage to classic rave music and a reflection of how far they’ve come from their humble beginnings in Spandau, making beats by night and stacking supermarket shelves in the daytime.

While they’ve made a name for themselves worldwide, they haven’t forgotten their roots; the pair are passionate about supporting local artists from their community and they’ve actively made this happen through their label Spandau20. Talking to us from their home and production studio, Wagner and Aaron take us back to the start.

You’ve been making music since 2009. A lot has changed in that time – do you remember what life was like back when you started?

Aaron: Back then we were both working at Penny. Just think of us two hyperactive musicians at Penny, beep, beep beep!

I realised there is no reason to not just do music.

Felix: But at the same time, we were making music all day. Aaron had a job there already. He said I should go and work there, as they don’t care if you smoke weed or are late. All you have to do is work properly. But, at some point, I got robbed with a knife as I was closing the shop. That was the moment we asked if it was really worth it. This guy was waiting until I left, and he thought I could reopen the store, which I couldn’t. He was out of control and on drugs. I showed him my wallet was empty and my phone was broken. He started to poke me with the tip of the knife, and I was super scared. I was frozen and shaking. He smashed my phone on the ground, picked it up again, gave it back and then told me to run. [It was] moments like this, and like when I had a crazy car accident and other moments when we almost died, [that] I realised there is no reason to not just do music.

How did the FJAAK style evolve? Were you always into electronic music?

AR: We did a lot of different music before we did electronic music.

FW: We did a lot of lo-fi stuff, a mix between electronic and trip-hop, like Kruder and Dorfmeister, with lots of instruments, samples and song parts.

AR: FJAAK in the beginning was four people. The other two were in a rock band and were more into hip-hop beats and recording people. At some point, because we were in the same building, we said, “Why don’t we do something together?” So we looked for something in between, something that was for us, and that’s how we ended up doing electronic music.

FW: We had this one friend who was an actor, and he had a hip-hop studio. That moment was the first time we had contact with music production, when we were around 12.

AR: Every day we would make new tracks and then share them with each other. It was like a little competition. No one was booking us back then; we had to do our own parties for that, and this is how our collective was created.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Can you tell us a bit more about the collective? It seems like you guys are really supportive of artists you’re close to…

FW: It’s the same collective that we brought to Berghain, for our Spandau20 parties. It would have been easier for us to take 20 successful acts from across the world, but we saw all these young guys and we knew they were gonna be big. We always supported the musicians around us, and did not take a profit from it. We stuck with our family, as these are our real friends; people who we lived with.

AR: It was never our approach to do the biggest or most successful label ever.

You’ve been at the forefront of techno long before it was the mainstream mainstay it is today. How has the scene changed since you started out?

FW: We had some tough years being the outsiders. Back then, if you were doing techno, it wasn’t that cool. Everyone in Berlin was listening to German rap back back then, and techno was the alternative. This music just showed us a new way of love without discrimination.

AR: It was a beautiful scene, and I had the best conversations of my life back then.

In 2020, you donated the proceeds from some of your records to clubs you had played at. How did that happen?

FW: During the pandemic, we were sitting at home making a lot of music, and this one record sold like over 2,000 copies. So we decided to just give this back to the clubs. In the end, it became part of a whole series of records, called ‘Support your Scene’.

AR: It was payback, because the only reason we do what we do is because some clubs at some point liked us and booked us. Like PAL in Hamburg. This guy booked us before we were big.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Let’s talk about your latest record, FJAAK THE SYSTEM. Why did it take six years to make, and can you tell us a bit more about the collaborations?

FW: It didn’t take six years, as during that time we actually made three or four albums [unreleased]. We kind of did one with Modeselektor, which no one knows about. There’s one track on the album that we did together. And then when corona came around, we had this crazy time being locked inside.

AR: Corona gave us a lot of time to make music. We went to Bavaria to make music with Skee Mask.

FW: We would make eight to nine songs in 24 hours. We put one of those on the LP. We’ve been in the studio with so many people over the last four years.

Some of these songs are deep and really complicated productions, with a lot of emotions.

The album is a diverse offering of breakbeats, moody ambient sounds and full-on techno belters. How did this all come together?

AR: We did a big filtering of songs, but in the end, they all had the same mood. The goal was to show the whole spectrum of music that we make.

FW: Artists today focus on smaller projects that are well-promoted, making singles and thinking too much about the marketing without thinking about the project itself. It’s this goldfish-brain society that we’re developing. We could have done that, an album with nine-tracks, top vocals and Missy Elliot samples. We could do a crazy viral single, but we wanted to do something great. Real music. Some of these songs are deep and really complicated productions, with a lot of emotions.

AR: It was just wanting to do the best album in our style.

What’s next for you?

AR: We have a new AV [audio-visual] show.

FW: We just made our debut with it last week in Hollywood. The crazy part was that people in the crowd were shouting “Spandau, Spandau”. We couldn’t believe it. They did that in New York as well, and I really started crying. It’s so crazy to have grown men screaming Spandau at you… that’s wild!

  • FJAAK THE SYSTEM is out now, follow on FJAAK on Instagram at @fjaak.