Photos by Maximilian Virgili
Max Graef and Glenn Astro get mentioned in the same breath so often that some people might actually believe they are a single indistinguishable entity. Believe it or not, the Berlin-based house producers, DJs, and good friends are not only two separate people, but their musical roots and influences are actually quite different. Graef cut his teeth on classic rock, listening to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, while Astro grew up immersed in the hip-hop and beat scene. So perhaps it's their varied musical origins that have created such a stellar symbiosis in their collaborative work, acclaimed genre-spanning b2b DJ sets, as well as their new album The Yard Work Simulator (released May 27 on Ninja Tune). Continuing the conceptual ethos of the label they run together along with OYE Records' Delfonic, Money $ex Records, the new album is chock full of dusty, hip-hop inflected deep house music that's danceable without folding to any conventional molds you'd find in dance music. When you hear a Graef and Astro tune, you just know it.
Instead of simply conducting a normal interview with the guys about their dope new record, our friends at THUMP Germany decided instead to see how much these acclaimed crate-diggers really knew about the obscure wax in each other's prized record collections. To do this they designed a little game. The rules were simple: Each would take turns pulling a record from their bin, play the beginning of a track while the one blindly faced in the opposite direction, then whoever was in the hot seat would try to guess the artist playing. From Santana, to The Smiths, British rap, and even a wacky Polish jam—the guys continually stumped each other, while also learning even more about each other's varied musical tastes. They also added a lot of interesting commentary about the tracks and genres being pulled, after the fact.
THUMP: Ok, so how should we do this? One of you sits on the couch while the other is in front of the turntable? That chair looks really sweet though.
Glenn Astro: The chair is cooler.
Max Graef: It's hard to look away from the chair though.
Astro: So look to the side when I put the record on.
Record puller: Glenn
Hot seat: Max
1. The Smiths - Still Ill
(Before the record starts playing)
Graef: This is hard, I really want to look.
Astro: Ok, let's go.
(The first verse begins)
Graef: Yeah, I've never heard this, it's not my thing. Is it The Cure or something?
Astro: Almost, you're in the right decade.
Graef: I like it. What is it?
Astro (Shows record): It's The Smiths—"Still III"
Graef: Ah ok. All the cool girls in school used to listen to this and for some reason I thought it was stupid [laughs]. I was more into Nirvana. But this is still cool, it's magical.
Astro: I agree. I think Morrissey is really cool. This is my favorite Smiths song.
Graef: It's funny you chose this one though, I was never into it, even though it's good. Are all the 80s fan going to hate me because I thought it was The Cure?
Astro: It's easy to get [The Smiths] and [The Cure] mixed up. I was somewhat torn between the two of them. I got into The Smiths pretty late.
Graef: This was made in the 80s right?
Astro: Yeah, 1984.
Graef: I was never really into the music of the 80s. I'm not sure why. There's some really good stuff from that time to discover.
Astro: My artist name was Still III for a while. Bot not because of the song!
Graef: I definitely do like the track.
What do you think of Morrissey's solo albums?
Astro: I don't think they're that good.
The guitarist, Johnny Marr, is missing.
Astro: Definitely. And the solo albums are so cheesy, it's hard to take it sometimes.
2. TY - Groovement
Astro: Ok, you have to know this. At least the vocal.
(The record momentarily plays at 45rpm instead off 33rpm)
Graef: Are you sure it's playing at the right speed?
(The track continues to play)
Graef: I've never heard this before, but it sounds great.
Astro: It's TY, he's also released on Ninja Tune.
Graef: What made you choose this?
Astro: I like the label, Big Dada. Also because my friend and I were really into him back then.
Graef: Is it British rap?
Graef: Ok, I don't know anything about that .
Astro: The B-side is also great. Wait a second.
Graef: Yeah I know this one, it was a hit right?
Astro: It could have been. The reason I like the album is because it has a lot of broken beat influences. It sounds similar to Dilla. You definitely have to listen to the entire album.
3. Build An Ark - Always There
(Glenn looks skeptically at Max, to make sure he isn't peeking)
Graef: I didn't look. Why did you laugh? Do you know the cover?
No I was just laughing at the look on Glenn's face.
Astro: Unfortunately I don't have that many really funny records.
Graef: I used to have The Simpsons soundtrack on CD.
(Record begins to play)
Graef: I don't know it.
Very Jazzy. Astro: You want to know?
Graef: Yes, of course.
Astro: It's Build An Ark.
Graef: Oh really? I've read a lot about them. Where are they from?
Astro: Holland. The record was released by Kindred Spirits in 2003. It's a sub-label of Rush Hour.
Graef: Apparently I'm really uneducated. I always thought [Build an Ark] was was a rock band. Are they even a band?
Astro: Yes, they're a jazz band.
Graef: Killer record.
Astro: The violinist from Flying lotus is also involved, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. He also was part of the Dilla suits. I really like spiritual jazz—stuff like Pharoah Sanders.
Graef: That's not as accessible as what we're listening to. You're making a bit of a bold statement…
Astro: Oh come on. Those guys cover a lot of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane. They're definitely my favorite contemporary jazz band, that's why I chose this one.
This reminds me a bit of Rub Rushton's album on 22a from last year. Max recommended it to me. Astro: Yeah, they're going in the same direction.
Graef: That's so true. Groovier jazz, you can't really explain it. But yeah, no I see what you're saying. Also, there's the Rhodes.
Apparently there's a Rhodes revival happening. And a lot of Rhodes-based deep house. Astro: [Laughs] I like that…a Rhodes revival.
4. Pharoah Sanders - Lower Egypt
Astro: Okay, since we're on the subject [of spiritual jazz], I chose this one next. But I have to start in the middle otherwise it's too hard. The track is 17-minutes long.
Graef: I have time.
Astro: Good, so I'll start it from the beginning.
Astro: Do you know what it is?
Graef: Hmm, no. Maybe the Art Ensemble of Chicago?
Astro: Wait, I'll skip forward. And?
Graef: I'm still at Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Astro: Okay, I'll skip even further ahead. Now it's getting hot.
Graef: Sometimes I wish Art Ensemble of Chicago sounded like this.
Astro: They aren't like that.
Graef: That's not true, sometimes they sound like this. This record seems really familiar to me.
Astro: Dilla sampled it.
Graef: Help me please. Who is playing what instrument?
Astro: If I tell you the instrument, you'll know right away.
Graef: [Laughs]. It's one of those saxophone dudes.
Astro: It's Pharoah Sanders.
You also played it in your 'Hijackin' Mix' right Glenn?
Astro: Oh yeah, that's possible.
Graef: It's a great number. Funny enough, I have a lot of jazz records, but nothing by Pharoah Sanders.
Astro: And that's what I mean about being accessible. Obviously [the record] has its "out there" parts, but it always returns to nicer melodies.
Photographer: I drank too many Club Mates, now I'm totally wired.
Graef: You're going to have 12,000 new photos on your hard drive.
Graef: But it's crazy. I always avoided big names with music. Like when people would go on and on about John Coltrane. I have three of his records, which I love, but I never got so deep into [his discography] that I knew every part of each release. I always struggled with that/
Astro: I know what you mean, but Pharoah Sanders is different in my opinion. A friend showed him to me, and I got addicted. Kind of like I felt with Gil Scott-Heron—I wanted to have it all.
Graef: I ignored [Gil Scott Heron] for years, and then I finally listened to him. And then I couldn't stop. You know how it is, you'd rather find new artists on your own. But you can miss a lot in the meantime doing that. It's like with Bob Marley, some of his early work is amazing and people don't know it. Twit One got me into it.
5. Radiohead - Idioteque
Graef: Oh, I definitely know this one. Fuck. I can't think of it.
Astro: You'll know it when the vocals come in. If i'd pick another track from them, you'd know it right away.
Graef: You just want to embarrass me in front of everyone.
(Vocals come in)
Graef: Oh, it's Radiohead. I like them, but they also have the problem of being too famous. I only have one of their albums, but I listen to it a lot. It's the one with all the different colors on the cover. "Reckoner" is on it.
Astro: This is the only album from them that I have and listen to a lot. But I never thought about buying another one. You can't mix this track also, it has a 4/4 rhythm but still skips a bar every five sequences. Could you say it's 6/4?
Graef: No, but I get what you mean. It's clever pop for sure.
Record puller: Max
Hot seat: Glenn
1. Santana - Canto De Los Flores
Astro: I think it's the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Just because you always talk so much about them.
Graef: Unfortunately, I only have them on CD. I collected those back in the day.
Astro: Am I supposed to know who it is already?
Graef: You should know who this is.
Astro: Bill Withers?
Graef: You're totally off. The artist isn't playing his typical instrument on this track. The piano's about to come in, then i'll tell you what it is.
Astro: It sounds great though.
Graef: I think the song sounds even better on the portable record player. It's Santana.
Astro: That's crazy. I never would have guessed.
Graef: I was always into Santana's guitar stuff, then I discovered this record. This was actually the first record I had myself, I got it from my dad's record collection. I just wanted it because of the amazing cover art.
2. One & Lazy Jones - Sofortrente
Graef: Yeah, you could recognize their style?
Astro: Yes, it's recognizable. I don't own this record though.
Graef: I brought it so you could listen to it. Listen to the vocals, they're amazing. Also it's called "Sofortrente" ["Immediate annuity in English"].
Astro: The vocals are simple but work perfectly.
3. Free - Be My Friend (Live)
Astro: This is a live record.
Graef: Yes, you're right. That's also what the album is called.
Astro: This is cool.
Graef: This is what i'd listen to when I was young and heartbroken. I'm sure you know the singer—he also performed with Queen. [Editors's note: The singer is Paul Rogers of Bad Company].
Astro: It's very bluesy. But I'm not sure.
Graef: It's by Free.
Astro: Ok, I don't even know them .
Graef: This has the most amazing guitar solo I've ever heard. It's from 1970.
Astro: I like this kind of melancholy music. It sounds like "The Thrill Is Gone" by B.B King.
4. Sleep D - Street Cleaner
Graef: Now for something totally different.
Astro: Techno? you didn't pull any techno dd you?
Graef: Just wait.
Graef: I brought this one because I play it when DJing all the time and you've never asked me what it is. It's really nasty.
Astro: You play this?
Graef: Yeah. It definitely sounds nastier than usual because of the portable record player.
Astro: Do I know them? Where's it from?
Astro: Mic Newman?
Graef: No. It's Sleep D.
Astro: Oh fuck, I actually really like it. I just don't know why I've never noticed it. It's great. It's a bit plump, but it's good.
5. Krystyna Pronko - 1980
Graef: Now for an old find.
Astro: A new, old find?
Graef: It's old, but I bought it recently.
Graef: I can't even figure out what's going on in this record.
Astro: Is she singing in Portuguese?
Graef: No, it's actually in Polish. David [IMYRMIND] knows her.
Astro: Oh, it's that singer. I know that papaya track she did. Or maybe it wasn't papaya—some other fruit.
Graef: Wait, you'll definitely know this track. It's an amazing song.
Astro: Fuck, I don't know.
Graef: It's Krystina Pronko, from 1980. I'll put on another one.
Astro: Oh, that's Ptaki. The Very Polish Cut Outs, made an edit of this.
Graef: I don't get why they edited this song specifically. I like some of the other ones much more.
I think this one was more of an obvious hit.
Graef: True, that's right. But I would have liked to make edits out of some of these tracks.
Astro: This record must have been expensive, right?
Graef: It was okay: 40-50 euros. I bought it on Discogs. Boring.
Astro: I want it too. And this isn't the one with the papaya hit, I just realized.
Graef: I have to get some of your stuff.
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