To have a vision or an idea and see it the whole way through, entirely by yourself.
To commit to, and create, every single step with absolutely no outside influence or help.
It’s either the stuff of a creative person’s dreams or the doorway to the most intense brain scramble imaginable. Potentially both. Either way, it’s the case, context and concept for Misanthrop’s third album – Universe.
Released earlier this summer, mid-June, Universe is an album that takes the sound of Misanthrop to a cosmos lightyears beyond the dancefloor. From the very first ideas right through to the cover art which he painted himself, Universe is the result of the most personal, meaningful and ambitious exploration Michael Brauninger has embarked upon to date. And not one other mind was consulted with, or shown music to, at all until the LP was complete.
“I hadn’t shown anyone anything. Not to any DJ friends or peers. Not to [Neosignal label manager] Badger, not to Flo [friend and label owner Phace]. Not even to my girlfriend,” lists Michael. “I just wanted to make all decisions by myself and to have a very personal experience through the whole kind of process. It’s hard to do that. Like have zero feedback at all at any stage. You have to question yourself over and over. Have I done this right? Is this okay? Does this make sense? Will this work? What do I actually think about this?”
“It’s an interesting experience; you have to answer all these questions by yourself. There is no help, you can’t Google this type of thing, you have to make the decision by yourself. It is a very personal thing. Collaborations are fun and everything, but I wanted to make something I could look at and say, ‘I did that. That’s totally me.’”
Personal challenge set, the seeds for this were actually sown at the end of 2019 in the wake of his second album Analog. Two unfinished tracks he couldn’t quite get to work on his previous album would eventually blossom into the Universe you can hear and enjoy today. Bring on the unavoidable context and influence of the lockdowns and Michael found himself in the perfect circumstances to pursue his mission.
“Well there was no purpose for me to release music in 2020,” laughs Michael who counted many lockdown blessings. Living in a rural corner of south west Germany, surrounded by woods and great nature, he and his young family embraced and made the most of the sudden change in pace. The album may have been written in total isolation, but the majority of the time during lockdown was spent in his favourite company, exploring his favourite environment. Dancefloors couldn’t have been further from his mind.
“A track like Alert coming out when no one can dance to it? Why on earth should I do that? No one had heard it, so it wasn’t like it was going to go old.”
Alert is one of two tracks that he’d originally intended for Analog. A brazen, urgent screamer with all the panic and pace you’d expect from the German producer, it’s one of a small selection of thoroughbred bangers on Universe. A treacherous theatrical peak right at the summit of the 10 track trip, its extremity highlights the contrast and dynamics against the deeper and more contemplative cuts across the album.
The other track that didn’t quite make his last album was Jupiter. Equally heavy enough to tear holes in any dancefloor’s time/space continuum – but in a much more understated, cosmic way, compared to Alert – Jupiter also helped Michael set the parameters for Universe. But it was the third track he made that would seal the album process deal. A track that took root at his parent’s house while he was feeding their cat – tinkering on their piano as he waited for it to come home – It’s Okay would well and truly put him on the album route.
“It was different but same kind of vibe,” says Michael of the album intro track. Its lingering keys setting a slightly jarring, unnerving sense of curiosity that pulls you into the whole album. Listen very very carefully and you can actually hear the cat meowing outside, waiting to come in while Michael got carried away on the ivories.
“I knew it needed to be a bigger project from then. It’s Okay would be the intro and set the tone. I want to make people think, ‘Okay this is the pace of it. I need to listen to this all the way through.’”
The immersion factor and the idea of telling a story with the music was the most important purpose of Universe, beyond any personal challenges Michael had set himself. “If you’re skipping through it then you’re not ready for it,” he says frankly. “That’s my thinking about it. That’s what I want to achieve.”
For an album that’s made solely in isolation by an artist who’s gone through the whole process from start to finish themselves, Universe is best listened to from start to finish, too. A dramatic, emotional adventure which whisks you off your feet and leaves you in a satisfied heap at the other end of it, the narrative and arrangement was a big consideration.
“I tried to build it up like a drama,” says Michael. “It’s how I play things out in a set. When I DJ I do the same thing. I’m trying to make peaks and then leave you to fall into the emptiness again. that’s what I did with the album. To listen through it and it feel like there are no interruptions.”
Mission accomplished. Even down to the amount of tracks on the album. “The initial album framework had 12,” he explains. “But I reduced it to 10 because I felt everything was told within 10 tracks. the additional tracks would only repeat what I’d said before. I didn’t want that.”
Part classic German efficiency, part artistic clarity, part ruthless editing and quality control; by being so focused on doing every step of the album process himself, and having so much free time away from touring to spend in the studio and deeply think about what he was trying to say, Michael knew when the album was complete. As a result, Universe is a short sharp voyage that doesn’t draw things out or retrace its steps. Its concentrated, power-packed 35 minute length helps to highlight the album’s edge-to-edge narrative experience he wanted listeners to achieve.
The artwork was the final stage of the process. Inspired by his love of all things intergalactic and interplanetary – in addition to the notion that his album was very much his own personal universe – Michael took influence from the marbled, liquid-like appearance of the planet Jupiter and got busy with the acrylics creating the beguiling molten violet and red scenes you now see on the cover art. This was no new challenge, however. Creating the album artwork had been a ritual since his eponymous debut album in 2016. “The artwork is the finishing thing I need,” he states. “Like the final piece in the puzzle.”
A final piece in a unique creative jigsaw, the artwork gave closure to Michael and brought everything together, ready to present to his peers, his label manager, his friend and business partner and now the rest of the world, who he hopes will listen to it as intended. From start to finish. Immersed in its other worldly qualities. A project completely disconnected with all the usual DJ traditions that characterise most albums, it is an otherworldly body of work in the sense that it’s not tested out on the dancefloor, it’s not been sent to friends for feedback and it’s not been written to a tight schedule that’s peppered with big studio gaps as he takes time to tour. These elements were inconceivable prior to March 2020 and now inspire how he sees the future.
“I think I just learnt to be slower and take my time,” he reflects. “I learnt to be confident about my decisions and be cool with the fact that I don’t need to be like anyone else and that I’m good at what I do. ”
Now, post album and back out on the road, Michael’s focus is fixed forward and he’s already set himself new goals. With his album vision fulfilled, he’s now looking at new projects. In classic Misanthrop style, they flip where his head was and now see him going from an epic album works to singles. “That’s what I’ve got to do now,” he explains. “I’ve got a very specific idea for what I want to do.”
With talk like that, it’s clear his vision continues and there’s no doubt he’ll see it the whole way through. Michael’s universe expands once again…