Educate Your Ears: Radio Citizen

Maybe it was by luck, or just sheer logic, that the musical project by Munich-based Niko Schabel perfectly landed on Berlin-based Sonar Kollektiv, releasing an eclectically filled third album. Five years after his excursion to San Francisco, the founder of Radio Citizen deploys live instruments and samples to create a highly explosive mixture of Latin percussion, funk, poppy dub, Afrobeat and Hiphop in the project’s newest creation. With the city as a main focal point, ‘The Night & The City’ is definitely not your common feel-good album. This is music for after midnight. Music for city neurotics with room for fancy footwork. Read below for our full interview with Niko!

KALTBLUT: What is Radio Citizen?
Niko Schabel: Radio Citizen is Niko Schabel and a collective of musicians.

KALTBLUT: When did your project take shape?
Niko Schabel: First songs like The Hop or Night date back to 2000. I met Bajka 2003 in New York. The first record was released 2005, under the moniker Radio City. But due to legal issues the name had to be changed. The first Radio Citizen album, “Berlin Serengeti” was released 2006.

KALTBLUT: How have you seen the musical landscape change around you over the years? Has it proved for the better would you say?
Niko Schabel: The good side: There is so much different and interesting music! And much more open-mindedness. Music is still alive! The bad side: The exploitation and self-exploitation of musicians has reached a new level. The loudness war is not won. Streaming is not the future some people thought it to be.


KALTBLUT: What would you say you draw your inspiration from the most?
Niko Schabel: For this album, it was literally the city at night, being outside, recording urban sound atmospheres, cycling around and taking pictures.

KALTBLUT: You’re well known for being a multi-instrumentalist, are you self-taught or did your studies include music?
Niko Schabel: I studied audio engineering. I had some good and some not so good music teachers along the way, but I always I regret that I did not spend more time studying with the masters.

KALTBLUT: With so many different musicians involved at different points of your project, does the amount of musical input become too overwhelming at times? Or the more the merrier?
Niko Schabel: Musical input is always good! The only problem is in the editing. Lately I tend to not work with bits and pieces and paste the best together but try to record whole takes. It makes much more sense musically and works against sounding looped, but the best about it is the saved time!

KALTBLUT: What drove you to leave San Fran and create again with a label that is Berlin-based?
Niko Schabel: To choose Sonar Kollektiv was kind of obvious, they were very enthusiastic from the beginning and their stylistic openness matches perfect with Radio Citizen.

KALTBLUT: What can we expect from your third album, The Night & The City
Niko Schabel: A journey through the no man´s land between club culture, free jazz, dub, african field recordings and pop. For this record I´ve been searching contrasts, so there´re combination of dub echoes, jazz phrasings, straight kickdrums, crackling vinyl cosiness, digital glichtes and a modern clear voice. The approach was similar to the other two full albums, nearly all songs started with finding a sample and building a song around it.

KALTBLUT: Are some of the artists you worked with on this album also people you’ve worked with in the past?
Niko Schabel: Yes. Klaus Janek, Wolfi Schlick and Teresa Gruber are part of the live band and with RC from the first album. Munich jazz drummer Matthias Gmelin has played on the Warm Canto EP, pianist Antonis Anissegos is featured on the second record Hope&Despair and both played a lot live with us.

KALTBLUT: I love the simplistic but striking video for Shores. Where did the concept originate?
Niko Schabel: The plan is to make a few videos for the album, each featuring a different city at night. The ‘Shores’ video shows the waves of the Bosporus. We cut out all evidence of Istanbul as the video took a full turn into psychedelica. Malaga, Berlin and Teheran are yet to come!

KALTBLUT: I saw you’ve been travelling with Tom Wieland in search of “new rhythm”, what were the results like?
Niko Schabel: Music never heard before. Or so Tom says, I think the interesting thing about the new 45 single is, that you can´t really fit it in a certain time period, it´s like an odd jumble sale find you can´t pigeonhole. The full album, coming next year, will be much more modern and club oriented…

KALTBLUT: Do you have any other side projects coming up?
Niko Schabel: The Express Brass Band will release its second album in late 2016.

KALTBLUT: What is next?
Niko Schabel: A remix EP for the RC album. Going on tour with the band. Writing music for an old japanese black and white movie. Writing music for a documentary about illegal fishing in Tanzania.

‘The Night & The City’ is out now on Sonar Kollektiv