Made up of Daniel Paul and ZKY, the Berlin outfit Cab Drivers have maintained an almost cultish status throughout the length of their 20 year career. It's a given that that's as much down to the reliably high grade output of their Cabinet Records label as much as it is their precision programmed, minimal, hardware driven sound but respect has been given where it's due. The fact that the techno overload Richie Hawtin released a compilation of Unreleased Classics on his essential techno platform, Plus 8 back in 2006 is a big nod to the pair's importance in the scene and even more recently, the minimal pioneer Daniel Bell has signed their most recent cut 'Mind Trip' to his own label 7th City. The fact is, Cab Drivers bleed credibility.
Grounding themselves by using the classic range of Roland machines the pair's 303, 909, 606 and 626 are at the core of their set-up and as a result of that they've [until recently] been somewhat restricted on their ability to perform live, only taking their studio set up to the club once an annum in their home town of Berlin. Over the last 2 years though the duo have been able to take advantage of the slew of new technologies and build a live rig that's a little bit better suited to life on the road without compromising on sound. Thankfully that also means that we've been able to bring this iconic outfit to Room One where they're set to perform this coming Saturday night. Naturally, we stepped in to talk to the guys and probe them to uncover the secrets of their relationship and how they've acquired such an accomplished and respected sound.
You’ve both enjoyed careers at over 20 years long, do you remember what the first equipment you bought was?
Daniel Paul: In 1990 I spent my first Deutch Marks on an Atari 1040. Shortly after that I also bought a Boss Dr.Rhythm & a Korg EX800.
ZKY: I'm not sure, it was either a 303 or the 626.
Could you run us through what you use to produce the Cab Drivers records and what are at the core of your studio?
Daniel Paul: We mostly use the Roland O Series, a big analogue mixer, some simple effects and Korg DW synths. Sometimes we also use the Atari as sequencer and a Genelec monitor, that's basically it.
ZKY: From time to time we use some additional gear and play around with that. Especially when we buy something new - then we look to find out how the machine can work for us. I remember when we got the Korg Volca’s we made some nice tunes with them but then we discovered that they weren't going to quite cut it as fully-fledged members of our machine family so we ended up putting them to one side as our step children! As Daniel said most of the time we just end up coming back to the original set up.
I have noticed that you like to celebrate the iconic 303, 808 and 909 machines online somewhat – are these do you think still the most important ones out there? Or do you think some others have come close in terms of sound and enabling creativity
Daniel Paul: They are just really powerful and sound great and we’re really familiar with the equipment and know every trick and their capabilities, their limitations, their good and bad sides. Saying that, you can make good music with any equipment you just need to love it, find your sound and get a good workflow that allows you to realise spontaneous ideas.
ZKY: It wouldn't be a surprise to you that Roland’s O Series has always been a big influence for us. You can hear it on almost every one of our productions.
Could you explain to us about your own work flow and working process?
Daniel Paul: We mainly jam on Friday nights in our studio, which we’ve had for 10 years at it’s current location. It’s very cosy, sounds great and we can just turn it up really loud so we feel like we’re at club. It’s important to be in a good mood and to feel inspired. We tend to start with a beat or bassline and then build up something around it, to the point where we find ourselves dancing and get those special moments and say "yes!" When we jam we record it in high quality stereo as sometimes trial and error are our best friends.
ZKY: There was a time when we used a DAW as the heart of our set up and it did offer lots of possibilities but we found it to be restrictive to our method of developing a track. Now we only use a DAW if we remix and work with stems.
I know that you took a break from writing and performing together as Cab Drivers – why did you decide to start playing out again? Did you realise that you miss it that working together and playing live was something that you feel is important for you to do creatively?
Daniel Paul: We didn’t actually play live all that much, we’d maybe play once a year in Berlin. It was very complicated with all our big and heavy equipment because we would need a big car to transport it. These days it’s much easier to travel with smaller equipment. From when we started to set up our live show in 2013 we developed it to give us more possibilities but retain 'proper' sound.
ZKY: We didn’t produce together from 2000 to 2008 just because we had a lot going on in our private lives with our families, kids, study and side projects. We always maintained our friendship and this and our musical connection made it easy to start up again. Playing live is still relatively new to the two of us and as Daniel was saying we actually only played live a handful of times in the early years but in 2013 we felt it was the next logical step to go on stage. We both love to play our music out loud to an audience where you get an immediate response. We’re of course already familiar with that feeling as DJs but it’s just not the same.
Did you find it all came back naturally or you need to spend some time reminding yourself of your tracks and getting your flow back?
Daniel Paul: it was super easy! It’s in our mind, hips and feet. We just have good chemistry. At one point we realised the DAW thing had limitations with its sound quality and we became sick of watching a monitor and exchanging a mouse between us. You undoubtedly make great music with it, but we looked back to how we worked in 1994 when we started Cabinet Records it was pure analogue machines. Standing up being physical things compared to just sitting on a chair... when you make dance music it’s important to improve a groove with your body, not your mind and to be able to touch or turn every instrument’s parameter. It's fun and brings life into a loop, so you start telling a story or building and layering an intense moment.
ZKY: We only needed one night and one track to figure out that we could still work together. The track is called 'Get it' and was showing our common feeling for our music. In my opinion we made some good tunes working with a DAW. But what we have missed also is the analogue sound you get if you work with the gear we used the early years, the machines we started using again after our DAW phase.
Do you find that the live sets inform what you make in the studio – do you come up with ideas during the performances that become tracks later or are the two separate?
Daniel Paul: We prepare it mostly in the studio, some ideas come spontaneously while we jam life.
ZKY: And some of the ideas become tracks in the studio.
And finally, what would be your dream purchases for the studio if money was no object?