The international dance-floor domination of the German electro-house duo Booka Shade as well as that of the record label they cofounded, Get Physical, came serendipitously. "The plan was not to have a plan," Arno Kammermeier, half of the twosome, says of Get Physical's heady early days. It was around the turn of the millennium, and Kammermeier and production partner Walter Merziger had spent years as cogs in their native Germany's major-label record biz, twiddling the knobs on Top 40 pop fare. (Under the pseudonym Perky Park, they even created an authorized remix of Aqua's inescapable 1997 Euro dance hit "Barbie Girl.")
But their real musical passions had always been more eclectic and underground. They first started in the 1980s, like so many others, as a synth pop duo. Called Planet Claire, after the B-52's song of the same name, their sound was steeped in the dance-rock crossover of Depeche Mode and company. "From there," says Kammermeier, "it was a small step towards club music, which we fell in love with around 1992."
While making paper in their day gigs, by the middle of the 1990s, they began releasing original dance tracks. Heavily influenced by the earliest trance (before that genre tag was a four-letter word), their sound was dubby, repetitive, and hypnotic but clearly marked by a melodic sensibility creeping in from pop. Their first releases as Booka Shade came out on a small Dutch label called Touche, followed by tracks on Sven Vath's Frankfurt-based imprint, Eye Q.
Along the way, Booka Shade befriended fellow Germans DJ T and another duo, M.A.N.D.Y. All were fed up with the stagnant nature of dance music after the late 1990s boom — thus was born Get Physical. "I always have really fond memories of this time, because musically it was very interesting at the time," says Kammermeier. "In 2002 approximately, there was a lot of change in the music, a lot of new sounds were coming up."
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The label's earliest releases — DJ T's "Free Mind," Booka Shade and M.A.N.D.Y.'s joint "Body Language," Booka Shade's "Mandarine Girl" — came to define the Get Physical sound. Based on a four-four somewhere between house and techno, the tracks were plated with forceful bass and brain-sticking, twangy synth lines. High-energy but subtle, it was a wakeup call for dance-floor denizens mired in minimal's sparse clicks and with its in-your-face joy snared an unlikely swath of rock fans.
This has only been helped by Booka Shade's shows, which are live in every sense and take place in rock venues more than dance clubs. Merziger mans keyboards, synthesizers, and a vocoder, while Kammermeier works the electronic drums and other effects. "There's a lot happening onstage," says Kammermeier. "If you only have a stereo backing track and you just mime over it, it's completely boring. You can just as well stay home."
Booka Shade will bring its live show to the second day of the Ultra Music Festival and later that night head to Charcoal Studios to play the annual Get Physical get-down. There, they'll coheadline with M.A.N.D.Y. in a double-tag-team DJ set. "We have these computers with Traktor, and we want to sync those machines and do something like a ping-pong, back-to-back DJ thing," says Kammermeier. "I believe it's going to be very entertaining, either because it works really well or something fucks up completely."
Read the full Q&A with Kammermeier at BrowardPalmBeach.com.