Musician Rieger on the album cover of "Andere": "You look at the picture and don't even know what you see there"
In order to understand why Max Rieger is a key figure in German rock and pop music, one has to delve deeply into the flourishing, vibrant indie scene, away from streaming playlists and pop charts.
You then learn quickly: Rieger, a 28-year-old musician and producer who moved from a suburb of Stuttgart via Leipzig to Berlin, has not only set accents here in recent years;
he has become one of the defining sound designers.
Successful musicians such as Drangsal, Ilgen-Nur, Jungstötter and most recently Stella Sommer owe the often outstanding quality of their most recent releases to Rieger's ability to open rock songs to a wide resonance space - and at the same time to condense them atmospherically.
It is an alternating tension of explosive power and brooding intensity that he himself also masters as a performer.
Rieger is the singer of the punk rock frustration valve Die Nerven and mastermind of his quieter solo project All this violence.
His third album "Other" has now been released.
Producer Rieger in the studio: conserving emotions in music
Photo: Erik Weiss / Glitterhouse Records / Indigo
It is one of the most beautiful and at the same time unsettling albums of this year, an intimate chamber music that shines again and again and shimmers in the fog of general social uncertainty, but also cuts it sharply.
Its immersive effect unfolds completely beyond genre attributions such as pop and rock, alternative or mainstream.
All this violence
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Four years of self-deconstruction have gone into the songs of "Andere", says Rieger.
He is wearing a bright red sweatshirt and has tucked his slim two-meter figure behind a garden table on the narrow balcony of a record company employee in Friedrichshain.
During the conversation, a heavy autumn shower sets in.
It's cool, rather uncomfortable - interview in a state of emergency corona.
Rieger smokes self-rolled cigarettes and drinks soda.
He looks relaxed, but his gaze stays alert all the time.
Rieger is not bathed in his success, he is a scene star.
At an awards ceremony last year, he was nominated as "Favorite Producer", the "Tagesspiegel" even compared him to the American rock guru Rick Rubin, who redefined the sound of Johnny Cash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But Rieger sees no advantage in being famous.
"I don't need that," he says.
"I don't feel important or relevant enough as a voice representing anyone. Other people can do that better."
He also doesn't get an "ego push" from Instagram followers or Facebook likes.
"I don't need any outside confirmation that people think I'm great".
Brief thought, a self-deprecating smile.
"I like to stay a little more private".
The "others" in the title of his album, that's us, that's exactly this world out there.
A state of hectic and hypocrisy from which Rieger has become more and more alienated in the quiet little room of his studio.
"Beautiful and insurmountable", "strong and invincible" (a Trump quote) or "proud and insensitive", as the title song says, are other subjects, but not the subject of his songs, who stumble between longing and solipsism.
"Nothing comes too close to me, doubts are always there," says "Hold me".
Elsewhere Rieger sings: "I know I am alone and always will be / in my chest, there lives a stone".
Always just before the escalation
Electronic beats stumble over each other, piano clinkers get lost in acoustic vaults, an inner emotional chaos that is now, for the first time with All this violence, enclosed by surprisingly gripping melodies and choruses.
A bit of Depeche Mode flashes through, sometimes the opulent synthpop from OMD.
Despite this confidence, one worries about the singer who is waiting for "something to happen".
On the cover, Rieger, wrapped in a red, flowing cloth, poses with a machine gun.
Like a nightmare figure ready for terror.
Musician Rieger: "What I'm trying to do is to do something that will still apply next week."
Photo: Bettina Theuerkauf / Glitterhouse Records / Indigo
Rieger says the picture actually appeared to him in a dream, inspired by René Magritte's "The Lovers".
"It was about betraying a secret, but also keeping one. You look at the picture and don't even know what you're seeing - although you know exactly what you're seeing. That fits the album very well. "
And it fits in well with the ambiguity of our time, marked by political unrest and fear of pandemics, in which the outbreak of violence and calmness seem to be in a very similar limbo.
Always just before the escalation.
Rieger smiles at journalists who open their interviews to this nerve-racking ambiguity with the concerned question of how he is doing.
"There's no proper answer to that," he laughs, quoting Hengameh Yaghoobifarah.
The controversial "taz" author replied in a podcast with a warning undertone: "Loaded question", he likes that.
His music has a more therapeutic character: "Of course it's about me, it's my artistic expression. There are these aha moments on the album when I look at it and say: Oh God, how awful. But it gives me the opportunity to behave differently and learn from it. That's what it's there for. "
With "Other", Rieger succeeds in what the artists appreciate about his work as a producer: he preserves feelings in music, even those that are uncomfortable.
There is a method that it never becomes concrete.
"The world is so complicated that any clear answer to a question tomorrow will no longer be relevant. What I'm trying to do is do something that will also apply next week," he says.
Like the tender ballad "Blind", desperately trying to achieve equanimity, perhaps the saddest but also the most sublime song that Rieger has written so far: "I get up, I lie down / everything has its meaning".
Organ and trumpet.
Rieger has long been tempted to break out of his underground existence.
The zeitgeist plays into his hands.
Inwardness, psychological abysses and melancholy are often the determining motifs of contemporary music, also in the charts.
"The boundaries are totally blurring," says Rieger.
"A generation is growing up with Billie Eilish right now and for them it's pop. But if Billie Eilish had happened on the German market, it would have been a small indie project."
Next station German rap?
He never had any contact with pop music, she found superficially.
But that has changed.
"I would like to know to what extent my music is compatible with a larger audience. It was never a decision of mine to make music that has an exclusionary effect, such an - in quotation marks - intellectual thing. I would like mine Mother understands my music that I play something for her and say; Look, I did that. And then she doesn't worry, but can sing along the second time the chorus comes. "
So it can only be a matter of time before Max Rieger's name appears on the albums of great German pop artists and rappers.
The stylistic openness and the clarity of "other" will help.
Just as she helped him to rearrange his musical toolbox (that's what he calls it).
German rap, for example, the most successful pop genre in Germany at the moment, is currently turning in circles, says Rieger.
You need an act that does something different.
Like Rick Rubin back then at Kanye West.
"If Capital Bra asked me, I would make a great album with it," says Rieger with a grin.
"I would like to do Capital Bras 'Yeezus'."
Contact is gladly arranged.
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