A deep, techno beat might bring to mind images of a crowded dance floor, but to techno producer/DJ Matthew Altman, that kind of rhythm reminds him of his grandparents.
The song “Never Again” comes from the techno EP, Human Error, available on the online music store Beatport. The EP, created by the Wynnewood-native Altman and released on the Berlin-based label Dreizehn Schallplatten, came out Feb. 19. After Altman wrote the “Never Again” track, he felt inspired to dedicate it to his grandparents.
Human Error was a hit. For a week, it managed to chart at the No. 3 spot for the top 100 hard techno releases on Beatport. Each individual song charted, too.
“This EP is the darkest piece of music I’ve ever written,” Altman said. “‘Never Again’ has a vocal sample in it that for some reason made me think of my grandparents’ experiences during the Holocaust. I had felt that it was time I wrote a piece of music for them to try and illustrate through music what they went through. Instead of the music being sad, it was quite angry, and somewhat aggressive. Knowing what they went through, how could you not be angry?”
Dreizehn Schallplatten first contacted Altman about creating the EP. Marko Schwarzmann Segler of Dreizehn Schallplatten said the label keeps an eye on musicians and noticed Altman’s talent. It wants to continue working with Altman in the future, Segler said.
“Matt has a stunning sense of style in music and his own unique charm,” he said. “It could not go unnoticed.”
Altman’s love of music comes from his younger days playing drums at MilkBoy’s local Monday night Jazz Jam as well as in ensembles throughout the area, including at the Kimmel Center, The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts and the Settlement Music School.
In 11th grade, he started to get more into electronic music, DJing in his bedroom for fun.
On Altman’s 18th birthday, a friend took him to a techno concert to see Chris Liebing and Tommy Four Seven. From then on, he was hooked on the genre.
“Being a drummer, techno — which is very drum-driven music at its core — made it easy for me to get into,” Altman said.
Soon after, about three years ago, he started taking his music more seriously, putting the drums away to pursue being a techno producer/DJ full time.
“I stopped playing the drums for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was the freedom being a techno producer gave me to explore my own artistry,” he said. “As a drummer, I was always in an ensemble, band or group and was at the whim of someone else. I felt like the more techno I produced, the more freedom I had to express myself through my art and write what I wanted to write.”
Altman said going into the creation of Human Error, he knew he wanted the music to sound dark. Like with most of his music, he didn’t know what he was going to write until he wrote it.
It wasn’t until he finished creating it that the idea of dedicating it to his grandparents came to him.
He also noted the oddity that the tribute to his grandparents was released on a German label, and that Berlin has one of the world’s most famous techno scenes.
“I’ve been to Germany, Berlin in particular, and it would seem as though the government has done and continues to do everything in their power to make sure that country never forgets what they did,” Altman said. “Having said that, releasing an EP paying tribute to my grandparents who survived the Holocaust on a label in Berlin, as a Jew, felt in a weird way like justice. We were almost wiped off of the face of the Earth during the Holocaust, and now I was welcomed with open arms.”
Some might balk at the idea of techno music as a tribute to Holocaust survivors, but Altman believes that it would be hard to find a better-suited genre.
“There are no words, which can make it difficult to understand, but techno can be very emotional,” he said. “You just need patience and you really need to listen to it. The drums, the energy, the dark aspects all tell a very important story. Those elements coupled with the title … get the message across. I’ll even go as far as to say because it is extremely popular in Germany, it just made sense to me.
“I also don’t see too many Jewish artists my age doing things like this. The Holocaust is an extremely important part of our history, and we should do everything we can to keep that memory alive.”