Artist to know: Meerkat Meerkat
Artist residency at Villa Lena in Tuscany inspired duo’s latest pair of singles
There’s an old German proverb anfangen ist leicht, beharren eine kunst, which translates to “starting is easy, persistence is an art.”
This couldn’t be truer of Meerkat Meerkat, the electronic duo out of Munich, Germany.
Masi Bräunlich and Manuel da Coll started the project in 2014 but only released their first batch of singles last month. While balancing their lives as professional musicians –– Bräunlich scores German TV series and major theater productions, da Coll drums for the widely popular La Brass Banda –– the two 39-year-olds have quietly been producing an arsenal of techno songs and are finally ready to share them with the world.
With over 9,000 monthly listeners, Meerkat Meerkat’s debut single “Eleganz” has racked up over 30,000 streams in less than a month on Spotify while “Blackness” and “Galaxy” are slowly following suit.
“[The success of ‘Eleganz’] surprised us, but we also hoped something like this would happen,” Bräunlich says. “We always got good feedback for ‘Eleganz’ so we hoped that it would translate nicely to Spotify. It’s nice to see the algorithm discover quality … It’s our very first release but it’s four years old, from our first phase. It’s really important for us.”
Meerkat Meerkat’s sound is a unique mixture of harmonies paired with traditional European-style techno dance beats. It uses handmade instruments; samples of field recordings, old funk songs, exotic percussion instruments; and analog synthesizers and drum machines to create a contemporary, spacey take on European dance techno.
While they use a range of non-traditional soundscapes, the duo is minimal in their approach. They generally leave their songs as instrumentals and sometimes drop heavily-used instruments from tracks to create more space to avoid cramming too much into a song.
“When I score plays, I try to reduce a couple of instruments and work with the reduced opportunities,” Bräunlich says. “It’s the same when composing electronic music, that’s [also why we use] analog instruments. These days it seems like you have unlimited possibilities to compose music but I think no human being needs unlimited possibilities.”
The two musicians met in 2014 at Herr Hotter, a former World War II bunker now a nightclub in Munich where Bräunlich was playing his first live electronics show. Afterward, da Coll approached him and asked to form a group. They wrote numerous songs but ultimately had to put the project on the backburner as they dealt with their day jobs.
The name Meerkat Meerkat followed shortly after but has no symbolic meaning. The duo eventually landed on the name and figured they’d double it for fun. They’ve had fun mixing images of humans and the animal to create abstract imagery to accompany their releases.
The duo credits their recent creative spark to their artist-in-residence at Villa Lena in Tuscany in 2018. They say it finally pushed them to record and release their music. The residency supports international contemporary artists working in art, music, film, literature, fashion and culinary arts, offering them a rural setting to collaborate and exchange ideas.
During a holiday at Villa Lena in 2017, da Coll learned of the residency program and thought it could benefit the project. Hoping to put their busy lives aside and focus on producing electronic music for a month, he applied and got the residency.
“We were really lacking time and I thought one month at one place, caught up together would do good things for us and it did,” da Coll says. “We thought ‘This is our opportunity, we have to go there and finally start this thing.’ It was fruitful, Working with all the other people super inspiring. Even if they were like working in different fields,” Bräunlich adds.
It was during their residency that they met the estate’s 2018 chef-in-residence Kristopher Edelen, who goes by the moniker Chef KPE, was featured on “Blackness” and “Galaxy,” which the duo wrote during the residency. da Coll says they fell in love with his voice and knew they had to feature him on a track.
With two new, different tracks –– “Galaxy,” a dub reggae joint and “Blackness,” a traditional European techno track –– they used Edelen to bridge the two songs despite them sharing nothing musically in common.
“I’ve never had the combination of reggae and European-style techno track so close together, brought together by one guy, and I kind of like that,” Bräunlich says. “At first we were thinking to have one or the other, but both combined makes sense to us. Audiences aren’t so strict anymore with only listening to only one style of music; only listening to hip-hop or techno. I think it’s changing and this was an experiment to combine [the two genres] but I think it worked out.”
Edelen says he had never rapped professionally before, but when he heard “Galaxy,” which has a spooky, almost hollow undertone paired with a meandering synth melody, he was inspired to write lyrics about the Black Lives Matter movement.
The lyrics “in a galaxy of blackness/black holes creating madness/how great is this attraction” are a double entendre about a recent first photograph of a black hole being taken contrasted with the fight for people of color in America and how they are the blackholes creating an attraction that can’t and won't be ignored, Edelen says.
“I wrote [the first two bars] about how Black Lives Matter making America aware of the violence and the systemic racism towards people of color,” Edelen says. “The ‘how great is this attraction’ verse is about the fruits of our labor being received through this movement and the campaign and protest bringing justice, freedom, love, and healing around the world. ‘Blackholes’ in my song is supposed to be a metaphor for black people doing the work for freedom.”
As “Blackness” ends and “Galaxy,” its reprise, begins, listeners hear Edelen’s voice echo and then warp into outer space as the beat drops marking the transition from reggae to energetic, driving techno.
Moving forward, the group has six finished songs and plans to release one each month. “Anton,” the next to drop, will be out at the end of the month. They also have a song with fellow Villa Lena artist-in-residence Magnus Chapple which is set to drop in spring.
Though they have the content to publish a full-length album and have received “good” offers from labels –– da Coll’s band has a record deal with Universal –– Meerkat Meerkat will remain independent and continue to release one song every month.
Bräunlich and da Coll both agree they find it more rewarding not to have the goal of an impending record or pressure from a label hanging over their heads. They want their hard work and music to speak for itself and see how far it can carry them into the techno scene across Europe and eventually the U.S.
“We discovered after these three or four years of a break, where we didn't even see much of each other, that there’s a deep understanding of the music side,” Bräunlich says. “We’re independent artists now and on purpose, we’re not signing into the label. The industry is rapidly changing and … you can just promote yourself as many people do on Instagram, streaming services and social media.”