Music » Local Music

Perfect pitch



At first, words tumble slowly from the mouth of Aksel Schaufler, a guy who’s unknown here but is Europe’s most charismatic and engaging electronic pop musician. Asked what he’s doing at the moment, the man who calls himself Superpitcher says, “Sweating. Ha-ha-ha. It’s so hot, you can’t do anything but to try and chill. Ha-ha-ha.”

He’s on his cell, walking the streets of Paris, where the French are celebrating Bastille Day. Crackles of children’s voices rise and fall on the street around him. The temperature is in the low 90s in a city where ice and air conditioning are more rumor than reality. Superpitcher is in France resting for a few days, preparing for a short U.S. tour.

He lights a cigarette while revving up his speech, his voice now settling into a warm, almost elegant groove — mannerisms that echo his lush productions. He explains how his interest in “bad and trashy music” as a kid grew into a musical style that critics have called “sweepingly romantic,” “wistfully melodic” and “like a shimmering cabaret.” Schaufler admits that his ear for music came not from the 4/4 techno gods in Detroit or Berlin, but from the ’70s- and ’80s-era European rock and metal that found him when he was growing up in southern Germany.

“I always liked rock, and everyone in my town listened to bands (like the Scorpions),” says Schaufler, 32, who is from near Munich. “But then I began looking for other stuff. I turned to glam in the 1980s: T-Rex, Gary Glitter, Eno, Bowie, Scritti Politti, especially Roxy Music and Prefab Sprout. You can hear it in my music, yeah?”

Yeah, man. You bet. Superpitcher’s music is a mad combination of mopey love songs, hazy-multicolored dreamscapes and enlightened pop philosophy motored not by mechanical klings and klangs but by surging heartbeats. He’s the destined human face of techno, a gifted performer with some emotional intelligence to lend to a genre badly in need of the right kind of global warming.

Superpitcher is the center of the cyclone at Kompakt, the Cologne-based label that has locked up the international dance scene for the past six years running, exporting the kind of techno that doesn’t mind being beautiful, happy, sad, sexy and trippy all at the same time. Early Superpitcher songs like “Shadows,” “Tomorrow,” “Time to Cry” and a frostily accelerated version of Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire” helped put some passion back into the machines. The songs slowed down the pace of the club, brought the love struck and the lonely out of the shadows, and gave people some content to dance to — in style. Drums kicked, guitars cascaded down and layers of strings lifted the sounds skyward.

How did he learn to ably mix his musical metaphors?

“[Listening to] Bryan Ferry and Paddy McAloon taught me that pop music should be tough and elegant. I was not a raver, I looked for beauty in songs. It was only later that I started getting interested in the [electronic music] scene and mixing these elements together.”

Even Superpitcher’s remixes, which are as coveted as his own compositions, are shaped like little dramas, capturing the essence of the source material while expanding or reducing it into something totally rewired. His best are Dntel’s “This is the Dream of Evan and Chan,” “Don’t Save Us From the Flames,” a scorching electro-rock power ballad by one-man French band M83, and Phantom/Ghost’s “Perfect Lovers,” which Superpitcher and co-producer Tobias Thomas turn into a space-disco funeral waltz, drolly renamed “The Unperfect Love Mix.”

Everything he touched was near-perfect until his 2004 LP, Here Comes Love, which most critics found flawed. The record is slow to grab and contains a soulful but unnecessary straight cover of “Fever,” but it also features “Happiness,” a hard-charging, high-rising pop anthem that itself has been remixed by Schaufler’s Kompakt labelmate Michael Mayer (the latter song appears on a John Digweed mix on London’s Fabric), and the gooey, hypnotic 14-minute closer, “Even Angels.”

Earlier this year Kompakt released Today, Superpitcher’s first mix-CD. As the title suggests, it collects music by artists that Schaufler is listening to now, and it’s a real stunner. The mix begins with “Spark,” a groovin’ chiller by Hamburg-based producer Lawrence, who recorded the song for Ann Arbor’s Ghostly International, and ends with Sebastien Tellier’s passionate “La Ritournelle.” In between, Superpitcher weaves together music by artists even more obscure though no less skilled than he: Oliver Hacke, DJ Koze, Nathan Fake and Wighnomy Bros. among them. Today is a 72-minute song-cycle, with hardly a seam out of place, strewn with Superpitcher-branded hues.

Yet, Schaufler says it was only recently that he even considered himself a pro DJ.

“Before I moved to Cologne, in my boring city I was an independent radio DJ who wanted to produce sounds myself. I was 22 when I bought some Atari equipment. I thought, ‘Let’s see what I can come up with now.’ I had a full band in my imagination that I want to bring out. That’s the sound that I want as a producer.”

But it’s as DJ that Superpitcher will perform in Detroit this weekend. He’s been spinning at Euro hot spots in Paris, London, Madrid, Lisbon and Warsaw, where he said he was moved by “the fresh attitude of the Polish kids building a new scene — and by the vodka.”

Superpitcher will also perform in Chicago and New York before heading back to Europe. A bigger North American tour is planned for fall.

Before snapping his phone shut and returning to the heat of the Paris streets, Schaufler says he has imagined Detroit many times as “this historical place where I must go. Now it will be real. Having this chance is very exciting stuff for me.”


Saturday, July 23, at Oslo (1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-963-0300) with Mike Servito. Advance tickets for what the Paxahau promoters are calling an “extremely limited capacity” show can be purchased for $10 at Neptune Records in Royal Oak or at

Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer based in Hamtramck. Send comments to

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