A solo project by Berlin-based DJ and producer Marian Tone evolved into Key Elements, a full trio together with Waldi (drums) and Jim Dunloop (keys & bass). On their new album on Sonar Kollektiv, they cherry-pick the right elements from hip-hop, jazz, and beyond.
Marian, I read that your initial idea was to produce music “that sounds organically abandoning the use of samples completely but only focusing on own compositions.” What sprouted this new direction as opposed to using samples?
I was just flashed about the Israelian scene, which was in many constellations a hybrid of musicians and beatmaking. Jazz and electronic or Soul and Beats … For example, the Buttering Trio. Sampling is always fun and I still do sampling for my beats. But I wanted to go the next step and to learn to play the keys properly, which is still my goal. Another reason is that I always had to search for some fresh sounding keys samples, which somehow annoyed me at some point. So I started to produce it by myself from the first to the last note.
So what led you to bring in Waldi & Jim Dunloop?
A few years ago I started some new beats and I named the folder Key Elements. Like on my EP One, I was interested to get some musicians to record for the beats, so my brother introduced me to Steffen Kieslich a.k.a. Waldi, the bad-ass drummer. He immediately liked the beats and we started recording drums. Last year, while preparing a concert at the XJAZZ festival, I was really interested to find a new piano teacher, so I asked Jim Dunloop to help me out. I saw him a few times playing keys and knew that’s the style I like. After hanging around (instead of learning), sharing, and listening to our own music he told me that he started playing bass and he could play something on our tracks. I loved the idea and after recording this, we couldn’t stop working together. He made our sound complete. And after a lot of fun time in the rehearsal room, we decided that we want to perform live. As a trio.
So how did Jim make the sound “complete” exactly once he got involved?
It got definitely more funky and complex because of him. He’s an incredible musician, who plays the keys since he’s four years old. He’s bringing that musicality into our band by playing bass, additional guitar lines, or some funky lead synths. He’s also full of energy and can make some shit done. I think we’re sharing a similar taste of music and his sense of arrangements and finishing tracks are very important for us.
I recently saw the description “complexity without being complicated” about your music somewhere. Thought that is quite on point for the album, judging after a first few listens. Was that important to you guys before working on the music, for it to be accessible and not too crazy on an intricate jazz tip?
This description is really on point. A friend of ours told us this after a concert and we fully agreed. For me, I just wanted to create a sound that has a lot of things to discover. I wrote melodies and chords which gives a lot of space for Waldi’s drumming and for Jim’s tight bass-playing. Also, I think it got complex because of the arrangements and different time signatures, but easy to listen to because we’re not interested in being the next crazy jazz sensation, playing solos only jazz students or musicians can enjoy. But we’re still doing music full with our energy.
What does the term/name “Key Elements” mean to you?
At that time I did many different things. I was DJing and organizing a lot of events. There were this crazy monthly Wedding Soul parties, where we booked many artists from all over the world. As well as Backyard Joints, an event I did for some years together with DJ Beatpete. And then there’s Cosmic Corner, an event which was dedicated to connecting the Israelian beat and jazz scene with Berlin and the world between. It was a collab between the Tel Aviv-based label Raw Tapes and Fortuna Records and myself at the lovely club Panke in Berlin-Wedding. The idea came up because of all of these totally different musical concepts I like. Which are all connected with each other in being soulful, jazzy, and organic. Some people call it jazz, others might call it broken beats, or someone else could call it instrumental and experimental hip-hop. But the essence from all of this, for me, has the same ingredients. The same key elements.
Do you guys have an educational background in music, or are you fully autodidacts?
Jim studied classical piano and played the keys on countless projects. Waldi somehow the same. He didn’t study officially, but he’s practicing drumming since the mid-nineties. Back in the days, mainly drum and bass, and after a bad accident, the doctors told him he will never be able to play drums again. But as we know today, they were wrong. And I had the luck to be born into a very musical family. My father plays violin, my sister piano, cello, and violin. My brother used to play sax, and in his early teenage years he started DJing. This was the biggest inspiration in my life. I was 14 years old when I started digging in the crates. Later, in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to study audio engineering. At the same time, I learned to play the keys and to produce music.
Aside from music, what do you all do for a living?
Honestly, not that much at the moment. Especially because of COVID-19. We’re concentrating already on new tracks for the second album. Jim’s daily business is doing music, recording keys, and mixing tracks for different people. Waldi has his family business and is teaching drums for kids. I used to be a cook and a DJ/ promoter 50/50. We all hope we can make our living with music in the future again. But nobody of us is forcing it.