Pole pres. "Wald"

New Topographies for the Dubcontinuum

In 2015 the Düsseldorf-native musician, producer, remixer and mastering engineer Stefan Betke looks back on a steady 17-year career in abstract electronic club music. In particular, the six albums that he released during this period under the Pole moniker have lastingly shifted the coordinates of electronica.

Beginning with his dark blue debut album “1? from 1998, Pole laid a foundation of bass, dub and a defective pole filter as the point from which to explore and implement new sonic architectures. Up until the turn of the millennium, these expeditions grew into a trilogy of albums entitled “1?, “2? and “3?, appearing in the colors blue, red and yellow.

The three albums are now considered milestones of electronic music. “It wasn’t always easy to keep working,” says Pole in hindsight, just prior to the release of “Wald”, which is his first album since 2007. “A common factor in all the releases up until the ‘Steingarten’ album in 2007 was that they all originated in a kind of dub continuum. Melodies have never been my motivation – they were always more peripheral. But across those albums, the reverbs and the bass lines were always related and interlinked with each other. By working that way, I didn’t feel as if I was under any artificial pressure, and I could allow things to end loosely in order to continue my work on the next album.”

This very free way of working was reinforced when Stefan Betke, together with Barbara Preisinger, created the label ˜scape Records in 1999. Soon afterwards he opened his own mastering studio scape-mastering. (The previous Pole records had been released on the Hamburg label Kiff SM, and Betke worked as an engineer for CD mastering and vinyl cutting at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin until 2000).˜scape Records developed into a reservoir for contemporarily relevant excursions in dub, electronica and jazz. Numerous releases by Jan Jelinek, Deadbeat, Kit Clayton, Pole and many others – and not least the “Staedtizism” compilation series – continued the progressive narrative of electronic music until 2010, when Preisinger and Betke decided to bring ˜scape Records to its conclusion.

Betke continues to operate the scape studio, in which he has not only produced his own music, but also a considerable number of remixes for a diverse range of artists including Depeche Mode, Louis Armstrong, Roll The Dice, and The Orb feat. Lee Perry. In the same studio, Betke has also mastered countless tracks and albums for CD and vinyl, including film soundtracks for the likes of Wim Wenders.

The urban canyons of New York or the broad avenues of Berlin, the mountains and valleys with their echoes, the meditative forests, the above, below and beyond, as well as the horizon – offset by the verticals of trees and buildings – became a sort of matrix for Pole, within which he could hone a very specific poetry of reverberation with unmatched virtuosity.

Pole increasingly presented this through live performances, in which the elements of improvisation and the erratic development of his own music played an equally constant and central role. Pole performed in small clubs and on the biggest festival stages, sometimes on consecutive days. Next to Basic Channel and Kraftwerk, Pole is one of the examples of German electronic music that has built up a large international fan base. Pole: “I work on my music with patience, without paying heed to trends and fashions. I write my music outside of the timeline of electronic music. This inevitably means that festivals want to book me, but don’t exactly know what contemporary context Pole music actually fits into. So I am fairly often offered the closing concert, which in turn has given me enormous freedom in designing my sets – and I see it in the faces of the people that they obviously really enjoy hearing something different from on the previous evenings.”

Pole has always been open to various shorter and longer term collaborations with other musicians, such as Four Tet, Roll The Dice or the American rapper Fat Jon. In other words: Over the long period of 17 years, Pole has been able to maintain a consistently high level of concentration, not only daring to experiment, but also to release the results – for example, with the 2003 album “Pole”, which was created in collaboration with (and features the vocals of) Fat Jon. For an entire album, it became evident how it can sound when the human voice and Pole’s unique echo chamber enter into a dialogue. In retrospect, this journey away from instrumental music can be viewed as a singular detour. Throughout these various collaborations, Pole has maintained a head-on approach to the discourse at hand – permanently refocusing a restless mind.

In order to keep his own back catalog available and to release new albums without external interference, Stefan Betke founded the Pole label in Berlin in 2011. The Pole albums “1? – “2? – “3? were rereleased, and the trilogy entitled “Waldgeschichten”, featuring new songs (Pole calls his tracks songs), was the first series of Pole music to be released on Pole (the label) in 2011-12. And the latest album “Wald” accordingly appears on Pole.

Above all, it is thus ensured that the Pole narrative will continue to be written and his musical vocabulary will continue to expand – in dub.