WestBam is determined not to be idolised ‘cos he reckons DJs
are nothing special. However, with a mystical and
mesmerising album. Bam Bam Bam now released through Polydor
Records, Lesley Wright can’t resist asking the German trance
wizard for an autograph.
Who wants to be a pop star? Not Westbam, that’s for sure.
The German DJ has a peculiar predicament. Having just
released his new album Bam, Bam, Bam in the UK, he’s
obviously keen for it to do well. But not too well. Because
this likeable chap just can’t get his head around stardom.
Straight up. He hates it. “It’s all a lot of pop-star
bullshit”, he groaned.
You think he’d be used to the fame and fortune by now, but
he’s not – not even after a career spanning twelve years and
a number of hit singles. But then WestBam’s a bit unique. At
the age of thirty he’s old enough and wise enough not to be
taken in by all the music business ostentatious grandeur,
yet he’s still full of youthful enthusiasm about music. He’s
a character, someone who knows what he wants to do and what
he wants out of life, and he hasn’t got time for people
pussyfooting around him. His career path has always been
straight and narrow and that’s why he still manages to zip
along it almost effortlessly.
WestBam founded his own record label Low Spirit, in Berlin,
back in 1986. But he first came to prominence in Britain in
1989 and 1990 with Hold Me Back and The Roof Is On Fire.
Released through Swanyard Records, both tracks went top 75
and enjoyed success in the UK charts.
The release of Monkey Say, Monkey Do and
Alarm/Clock/Saxophone further established WestBam as a
DJ/producer/artist to be reckoned with amongst his UK peers.
Last year, we enjoyed another taste of WestBam’s techno
mania with Celebration Generation. Now with new single
Wizards Of The Sonic, taken from the album, WestBam’s due
another huge dose of respect from Scottish ravers.
Respect is one thing. He can, and would, much rather cope
with that. But in his home country he’s treated like a pop
star, sharing the same adoration lavished on singing
sensations. He’s idolised, worshipped and held in the
highest esteem by his German compatriots, but he just can’t
get to grips with the gushing glory which goes with hit
records. For WestBam, the elevation of DJs to pop star
status is a whole of bull. He just doesn’t want to be a
Star status, sycophant sentiments, pretentious and garish
showmanship have no place in WestBam’s world, where the
basics of music and people and how the two interact are
firmly retained as the two most important factors - the only
ones that matter.
“In Germany all our records have to become so famous and
there’s al this pop-star bullshit”, he complained. “It’s
very much the stupid side of things. People stand and look
at you as if you’re the eighth wonder of the world. That’s
no what it’s all about. A DJ is someone who enjoys seeing
people go crazy. DJing is about playing records, it’s quite
a boring thing and nothing fun to watch. The people are
supposed to do their own little thing – that’s what makes
WestBam desperately wants people to concentrate more on
music than him. “I certainly don’t see myself as a show DJ”,
he stressed. “The only stage in any DJ show, should be on
the dancefloor. DJing about communication. It’s about people
and music and bringing the two together”.
That’s exactly what WestBam sets out to achieve every time
he gets behind a set of decks although he doesn’t have any
pre-set tactics for reaching his continuous goal with each
and every set instantaneous and direct to the punters.
There’s no chance of WestBam’s sets ever becoming insipid
“There’s just no point in preparing sets. If that was the
case, you’d be as well just sending a DAT mix around – the
sound quality would be better. DJing should be a live,
fee-feeling thing”, said WestBam forcefully.
“You don’t just want to follow what people want to hear and
likewise you don’t play what you want to play. Somewhere you
have to find a contact with the people and bring your point
across with the music. That’s what a good DJ does”.
Perhaps that’s why WestBam is so bloody good. Throughout his
career he’s maintained a natural love for music, he’s failed
to be touched or sucked in by the fickle music industry –
pretty amazing really when you consider he’s the darling of
Germany’s rave scene. But WestBam’s music is still a
reflection of his talents, remaining fresh with an imprint
of his character on every track. He refuses to conform or
compromise which perhaps explains why his career has, and
continues, to flourish.
Born Maximillian Lenz (true), he began DJing when was
eighteen. With DJ Afrikaa Bambata a high influence of the
time, friends jokingly called him West Germany’s Bambata.
The name stuck but thankfully it was shortened down.
WestBam was engulfed by the musical tide and soon moved from
his home town in Munster to Berlin where he began DJing at
Metropol – a high energy club then at the cutting edge of
the Continent’s club culture.
“There I got into the whole mixing thing and people were
cheering and making noises”, recalled WestBam. “I was mixing
disco with experimental new wave music – the forerunner to
all techno stuff”.
In 1985, WestBam released his first record 17. He remembers
it well. “At that time you couldn’t buy samplers. A guy from
my home town had built his own and so we sampled voices and
little bits from records. It was quite unusual”, he laughed.
A year later, the record label Low Spirit came about and
everything, as they say, took off from there with WestBam
quickly becoming the catalyst behind Berlin’s vibrant rave
scene. The organiser of Berlin’s first house party, WestBam
is also one of the founders of the biggest musical events to
shake Germany – the May Day festival/rave, now undoubtedly
the biggest indoor rave event in Europe which attracts about
25,000 ravers to northern Germany annually.
On vinyl, Monkey Sam, Monkey Do brought the first hit in
1988 – a record since sampled by just about every other
bugger. “Not that I minded”, claimed WestBam, “it’s the
Throughout his career WestBam’s not only had to contend with
the ever evolving techno scene but also vast changes in his
homeland, playing a living part of Germany’s history.
Undeterred by the haunting, daunting, Berlin Wall which
separated the city, WestBam was determined to take rave
music into East Berlin. It wasn’t easy to take the whole
concept of rave culture into a disheartened and oppressed
society but he succeeded.
“It was weird”, WestBam reflected. “East Germans were really
depressed. I know it sounds a bit cliched but everyone kept
their heads down and tried not to talk too loud. It was just
like you would imagine, like the way it was portrayed in
The Berlin Wall, of course, came crumbling down and for
WestBam it was party time.
“Shortly after the wall came down was the best rave time in
Berlin”, enthused WestBam like it was yesterday. “There was
an atmosphere of complete liberation. East Berliners made
the rave scene really happen at the time. Suddenly they
could let loose”.
WestBam puts that period down as the highlight of his career
– so far.
But the German scene has already changed. The Germans jumped
on the rave steam train but have since been stuck at their
They’ve found a niche they like and they’re staying there.
“In Germany, too many people are too specialised”, said
WestBam rather disappointed, “they know exactly what they
want to hear and that’s the most boring thing. They don’t
want to be surprised any more. I like to be able to develop
something and maybe surprise myself. That’s how the rave
culture should be – open minded and musically open without
WestBam admits it’s often crossed his mind to pack up and
bugger off when the crowd just aren’t up for a good night.
Boring crowds are his worst nightmare. “It really sucks”, he
said. “Sometimes I just want to leave and go somewhere else.
As a DJ you have to try and work a crowd but if people are
just boring and into one thing, they can’t understand what
I’m about. It’s really frustrating and can get too
depressing. Both I and the crowd have got to enjoy the
music. Travelling around as a DJ, I try to get a kick
“It keeps me interested in the music. But in Germany there
seems to be no excitement anymore”.
He’s quick however, to point out he’s never experienced any
problems with Scotland’s party people and he harbours a
great deal of respect for Scottish ravers and Scotland’s
dance groups. “Some of the Scottish stuff is really popular
on the Continent”, WestBam said.
“And it’s been a particular influence in the Netherlands.
They really didn’t know what direction to take and the
Scottish sounds have quite inspired them”, he added.
WestBam’s all for breaking down European barriers when it
comes to music. “Our old tracks were pretty popular over
here a few years ago”, he said. “But after a while the UK
turned in on itself, concentrating more on its own artists
and not bothering so much about the continent while we were
busy developing the scene in Germany. But now the whole
scene has opened back up again and that can only be good for
It could certainly prove good for WestBam. “Hopefully, if
everything works out with the album I’ll be back in Scotland
much more often”. The album, by the way, isn’t really that
new. It’s been out in Germany for about six months but it’s
finally been released here, through Polydor Records. Bam,
Bam, Bam presents a cross section of WestBam’s musical
spectrum, rendering a sort of self-portrait into music and
simultaneously displays his inimitable manner of creating
The album was produced by WestBam and his long standing
partner Klaus Jankuhn in their Low Spirit Studio, in Berlin.
From the rushing transport intro of Acid Sausage Is
Salzburgo, WestBam takes us on a trip, dodging from the fast
lane to the slow lane before hitting the accelerator again.
Wizards Of The Sonic is simply mystical and mesmerising with
infectious beats that’ll leave you grinning from ear to ear.
Celebration Generation, WestBam’s hit single from last year
still sounds great. A fusion of powerhouse beats meets soft
keyboard chorus over a grating electro-voice, it expresses
exactly how WestBam feels about the whole rave culture.
The pace picks up with Strictly Bam and Bam Bam Bam, before
WestBam takes his foot off the gas and makes a pit stop with
Then Carl Cox takes over the driving seat and goes into
overdrive, full-throttle with the big one. Carl Cox’s MMR
Mix is a feature length roller-coaster ride back over some
of the album’s tracks.
The big man proves he too is a master of varying musical
spheres taking the track from more laid back house vibes up
to hedonistic, dizzy heights seething with power creativity
How would WestBam describe the album?
“It’s a range of sounds I like”, he said simply. “At about
155bpm, it’s too fast for house and too slow for gabba. How
else would I describe it? I don’t know. I’d have to go and
listen to it again and then tell you!” He confessed he
doesn’t find it easy to talk about his music, probably
because he never sits back to reflect on his achievements,
pushing on with the next project and continually exploring
“I guess from 1985 I developed my own direction. Of course,
I take influence from things around me, like everybody else,
but I still have my own direction. My whole production
technique has been developing for about twelve years”.
And it doesn’t stop there. At thirty, WestBam still has the
same vigour for learning as when he was a fresh-faced
teenager mucking about on his mate’s home-made sampler. He’s
on an educational voyage and there’s still a long way to go.
“My basic direction for the next few years will be around
DJing and production. I want to re-invent the whole idea I
have about this dance music”, said WestBam confidently and
ambitiously. “I want to find new ways to produce records. If
I know all about something and how it works, it becomes
boring for me. I want to find new ways to get sounds and put
sound together. I always want to learn”. WestBam knows what
“The concept of a DJ as only a teacher is wrong”, declared
WestBam. “DJs should also be pupils. Just telling people
about music would be boring. I’m always wanting to learn
something I don’t yet know”.
DJing does have its hitches but for WestBam it’s pretty
minor, irritating stuff like feedback, jumping needles and
Ask WestBam about the best aspects and he’s off again,
rambling on excitedly like a young apprentice on the first
day of a new job.
“There is a certain point in DJing I just love”, said
WestBam. “It’s when I’m first starting to build up my set
and thinking about it, choosing each record carefully. If
it’s a good night all the thinking comes to an abrupt end
and suddenly everything seems to work by itself. “There’s no
longer a DJ and an audience – just the one part of the same
thing. That’s the part I like about the whole experience.
“It’s been really fantastic so far and DJing is still
fascinating”, he claimed.
“If only there wasn’t all this pop-star bullshit”, he said
getting back to the one major gripe in his life.
So, an autograph is out of the question then?