Ralf, when and why did you start playing an instrument?
I was 11 years old and was at a birthday party of my best friend. He had a acoustic guitar which he proudly showed to me. That was the first time I played an instrument. I consider this moment to be my initial step into making music.
Which instruments do you play?
Guitar, bass and synthesizer.
Do you come from a musical family?
Actually no, I'm the one and only musician in the family.
Describe your first instrument?
My first instrument was an acoustic guitar. A little later I also got an electric guitar as well as a small amp.
What kind of equipment did you start with?
In 1982, I came into contact with a synthesizer for the first time; it was a so-called “Moog Rogue”. Later on, I added a Roland SH01 and a Teisco Synth, which I bought with the first money I had earned. Furthermore, I used a Fricke drum computer and sequencer and started to record my own demo tapes.
You made music together with Talla2XLC at that time. How did that come about?
I got to know Talla during my apprenticeship. We both worked in the same company where we were trained as industrial business management assistants. Back then, he started to work as a DJ and it turned out that he had a good feeling for trends.
At the end of the training he worked at a very renowned record store named “CityMusic” in Frankfurt, supplying the local DJ scene with new stuff from overseas.
That was also the time when we decided to make music together. Talla showered me with lots and lots of records he liked, and - together with my musical background - we created our own sound and the first maxi single.
That was Axodry...
Yes. It was at my house where the basic structures for our first joint project, FEEL IT RIGHT from AXODRY, were developed in 1982-83. At that time, I still used my stage name THE OUTLAW (which I later changed to RaHen). The song was then recorded in cooperation with Axel Henninger at his studio (Dynaton Studio Darmstadt) and the production was completed. Some of the subsequent maxi singles were recorded there, too.
What happened then?
Well, there were two sales representatives from the company Bellaphon, who visited CITY MUSIC from time to time. They wanted to start their own record label – and that’s what they did in the end.
The label was named WestsideMusic and AXODRY with its debut FEEL IT RIGHT was their second release. To be honest, we were quite surprised by the enthusiastic response to FEEL IT RIGHT. Both for the label and for us, this was the first big success. Sales reached the five-digit mark, and we achieved top rankings in many international dance charts.
A little later, but still in the same year, the second single SURRENDER was released, which I had produced and arranged on my own. With SURRENDER, we were able to continue and even increase the success of FEEL IT RIGHT. The subsequent singles THE TIME IS RIGHT (1985) and SAVE ME (1986) were then developed in cooperation with KURT ADER (keyboards) and ALEXANDER MAURUS (vocals). With this cast, we also played the legendary MUSIC HALL festival, which took place in the mid-80s. The playbacks for the performances by MOSKWA TV and AXODRY were produced together with Axel Henninger in his studio.
When the cooperation with Westside ended, I took AXODRY to ZYX Records. In 1988, ZYX/Combeat released the single YOU, which I had once again produced in cooperation with TALLA. LOSING YOU followed in 1991.
There wasn’t only AXODRY, though, but other projects as well…
It was a very intense time back then. I had developed a few other projects with TALLA, for instance the 12” LOOK OUT, which we released in parallel with SURRENDER under PROJECT ONE. (all 1984)
At the same time, TALLA and I produced the song TELK MEE from TWO OF CHINA in my studio. This production was also completed at the DYNATON Studio.
By the way, on the back cover of TELK MEE, you can see a picture of TALLA, standing beside my bizarre SHARP sequencer in my home studio. The first single COMMUNICATE from MCL emerged during the same period.
Each project stood on its own and we experimented with different styles of music.
The first productions were all released by WESTSIDE MUSIC. Back then, TALLA, AXEL HENNINGER and I were the main team of producers for this label and we were very successful, too. A large part of WESTSIDE’s releases from that time was produced by us.
And then, during the same period, you had that great success with MOSKWA TV!
Sure, a lot was running in parallel. Electronic music was developing rapidly and so, in 1984-85, we had the first smash hit with the project MOSKWA TV and the single TEKNO TALK. Shortly afterwards, we already produced MOSKWA TV’s legendary first album DYNAMICS & DISCIPLINE. The breakthrough for MOSKWA TV was the single GENERATOR 7/8, which sold remarkably well.
When people think of MOSKWA TV, it is often only TALLA who comes to their mind. It wasn’t quite like that, though…
That’s something that happens very often. People who do the creative work in the music business often act in the background. It was the same with me, too. The compositional and production-related parts were prepared in my studio, whereas the final recordings and mixes were made in cooperation with Axel Henninger in his studio. To take an example, I did the vocals for the demo version of GENERATOR 7/8. Javelin (Jan Veil), who was engaged by MOSKWA TV back then, became the band’s singer and re-interpreted the song later. Basically, the lion’s share of the production of DYNAMICS & DISCIPLINE (including GENERATOR 7/8) was done by Kurt Ader (as synthesizer specialist), Axel Henninger and me. It’s incredible that it took us only 7 days to produce this album back then.
How did the idea with MUSIC RESEARCH come about?
After the WESTSIDE era, TALLA came up to me and told me about his idea of another new label of our own. This became MUSIC RESEARCH, which emerged in 1986-87. We started in the cellar rooms of a company TALLA had managed to gain as a sponsor, in Frankfurt/Main Höchst. There, and later in Bad Homburg, I worked as a producer for artists and bands such as AIRCRASH BUREAU, ARMAGEDDON DILDOS, LEATHERSTRIP, BLIND VISION, X-MARKS THE PEDWALK, NOISE CONTROL, UMO DETIC and many, many more.
Some of them had their first taste of success – or even their breakthrough – in the music scene with the debut albums I had produced.
Normally, TALLA took care of the management, while I was responsible for the productions. At that time, a more intensive cooperation with ZYX Records and many international labels began.
And ROBOTIKO REJEKTO?
We started ROBOTIKO REJEKTO in 1987. With the first single REJEKTO, we were already able to replicate our earlier success. UMSTURZ JETZT! (1988) and CONFUSION (1989) followed. Shortly after TALLA had left ROBOTIKO, I set to work on the pre-production of the first album. It was called THE CYBER SPACE and was released by ZYX Records in 1990. At that time, I was already joined by Kurt Ader, with whom I had worked together very well for the MOSKWA TV album DYNAMICS & DISCIPLINE.
At the beginning of the 1990s, ROBOTIKO released some singles which I produced with different partners.
What happened to KURT ADER and ALEXANDER MAURUS?
After AXODRY and the single SAVE ME, we worked on our side project WHISPERING COLOURS. This enabled us to live out our gloomy and morbid tendencies. Dark and melancholic melodies were the trademark of WHISPERING COLOURS.
We also produced an album named HEART IS CALLING for CBS; unfortunately, it was never released. Later, I re-mastered some songs from this album and managed to publish them on compilations of WEISSER HERBST and THE MIGHTY MOON – KYRANDIA’S SECOND GATE.
KURT and ALEXANDER went separate ways after that. With RAINER HORNECK, I found a congenial partner for WHISPERING COLOURS.
Together, we produced the albums GLOOMY MEMORIES (1992) and THE MYSTERY OF PAIN (1996), which both met with very positive feedback and reviews.
Have you been making other music as well?
With my label TONE’BIENT, I dedicate myself mainly to meditative and esoteric music. This is a very important side of me, which may lie hidden, but from which I draw a lot of strength. This may sound contradictory, but it gives me the opportunity to balance everything, thus representing the opposite pole to my other styles of music. If you want to define the style, I would say: toward AMBIENT, some CHILL OUT and DARK AMBIENT.
What would you consider your main project?
ROBOTIKO REJEKTO is an absolute priority. Currently, we are developing the new album CORPORATE POWER, a new homepage and some smaller promo videos. There are, once again, numerous co-workers such as the singers DARIA DENVER, FROLLEIN BOND, XXX. ALEXANDER METZGER has also produced a remix for a song. I have always been interested in cooperating with other musicians and DJs in order to get new influences for ROBOTIKO. For instance with Andy Düx from Jack U Rebels Team or Stephan Kessler from Aircrash Bureau/Synthetique.
But you also worked together with VERNON BAUR (Editor’s note: who later became producer of TALLA and studio head of MUSIC RESEARCH)...
Yes it´s good that you mention it. We produced the song THE OTHER POINT OF VIEW for KAROTTE (2006) on KOSMO RECORDS, with me as lead singer. After I had left, VERNON’s style of producing had a decisive influence on the further success of MUSIC RESEARCH.
Can you remember your first electronic music concert?
My first concert… electronic music…This may sound strange now, but it was HERBIE HANCOCK, who presented his first completely electronically produced album with many synthesizers and a DJ live on stage in the Frankfurt Festhalle. Later on, there were DEPECHE MODE and GARY NUMAN.
Who Are Your Biggest Influences?
In the 70s my favorite bands were Sweet, Rainbow and Kiss. Especially the harmonic structures of The Sweet impress me to this day. Later my musical approach was influenced by Funk, Soul and R & B like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Sugarhill Gang, Isley brothers, Cameo, Shalamar and many more. In the early 1980s I opened my musical identity to the New Romantic Wave movement. Sounds such as the Clan Of Xymox, the Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, David Sylvian, Japan, Peter Nooten and Michael Brook (with the fantastic masterpiece "Sleep with the fishes"), Depeche Mode are my favorites for all time. Artists such as Gary Numan, John Foxx, Front 242, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Frontline Assembly, Brian Eno, have also had a hard time. With all the different musical styles I mentioned, the song and the harmonic structure behind it is the decisive criterion for a composition touching me.
The interview was conducted by A.nimA.