The Danish-born producer Rune Reilly Kölsch has tried his hand at everything from pop to dancehall. But it’s the soft-edged, broadly melodic techno he makes under his surname for Berlin’s standard-bearing Kompakt label that has brought him the most success. On 2013’s 1977 LP (his birth year) and the new 1983 (the moment he got into electro, his earliest musical love), Kölsch has bridged the gap between the stadium-dance mainstream and more underground-leaning tastes with hands-in-air tracks that get love from everyone from Detroit purist Jimmy Edgar to gleeful hit-maker Chuckie.
Kölsch's set at Electric Zoo: Transformed is sure to be one of the weekend’s highlights. He spoke to Fuse about creating anthems, crossing over and the necessity of the human touch. —Michaelangelo Matos
How did you work out the material on 1983?
I'd been making demos on the road—in airplanes and such—that I'd been testing out in a live show. The beauty of a live show is that it's very exact, and a breeze to change. So I would constantly test out the arrangements. Obviously, if they keep working, I’d leave them in the live show, and if not I’d take them out again. There are at least seven or eight tracks I discarded because they didn't work. [Then] I sent them off have the strings re-created, or the piano re-played.
Isn’t it easier to just do it all yourself?
It is, but real instruments have a certain margin of error to them that has its own beauty. Repetition is only interesting if there is the human touch—it makes it much more relatable, somehow. For me it was important to respect techno as a musical genre, not only as a tool. When you DJ you need these tools because they're very important to the vibe of the whole thing. But it was important to make this as musical as possible.
How do you know when you've made an anthem?
You never know. That's the beauty of it, somehow. For instance, the first album , every country in Europe had a different anthem from the album. In the U.K., "Der Alte" was a huge record; in France it was "Opa"; in Belgium it was "All That Matters"; in Holland it was "Goldfisch"; in Germany it was "Lorelei." I don't know what it is. "Goldfisch"—I had no idea it would be an anthem. It's huge everywhere! People go nuts for it. It literally took an hour to make that record. Sometimes you just get lucky.
But you led 1977 off with that track. Surely you must have had some idea?
That was because it was the softest I could open with [laughs]. You can't open with with "Opa"—it's way too hard. Some of the other tracks are pretty punchy, and I wanted "All That Matters" at the end—a nice way to round it off.
The subtler music of a label like Kompakt is starting to catch on with the big EDM crowd. Is your audience changing?
Yeah, all the time. I take it as a huge compliment. I get a lot of love from the EDM crowd. Tiësto closed his set at Ultra with "Lorelei" this year. I really appreciate that. Some of the kids have a steep learning curve ahead of them. It's not as easy to comprehend as EDM is, obviously, but they seem really appreciative of the melodies, and they're all very welcoming.
You play live and DJ both—which do you prefer?
It's very different. With DJing, I've been doing it for 20 years, so it comes very naturally, and it's rewarding—I can enjoy it more than a live show. That's not to say I don't enjoy the live show. It just takes so much concentration compared to DJing. I can put on a record for a minute and have a drink and enjoy the party.
What is a typical festival day like for you? How does it differ from a gig in a club or hall?
The biggest difference is the logistics. It's more difficult to get to a festival. A club is very pleasant—you land at the airport, go to the hotel, dinner with the promoter, hang out. A festival—when you land, you have a two-, three-hour drive ahead of you. You have to get credentials, get the stage set up. It becomes very tiring before you even start playing. But the reward is also that much bigger. People are that much more enthusiastic because they've been through the same thing you've been through to get there. They don't care if they look like shit. They just want to go fucking crazy.
Electric Zoo takes place this weekend, September 4-6, at Randall's Island Park in New York City. Tickets are still available here, and Fuse's conversation with performers Above & Beyond is right here.