Paul BirkenView in iTunes
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As a stalwart of the techno scene in the U.S., Paul Birken's love affair with electronic music started at an early age when he visited a Roland trade fair with his father. Keen to secure himself some synths and drum machines, Birken saved up to buy second-hand equipment from the Sunday classifieds, eventually building himself his own basic hardware setup driven by his trusty Commodore 64. Inspired by mid-'80s synth pop and early electro, Birken honed his skills, learning how to program his machines inside out while emulating the music he was hearing on the radio. Birken graduated in 1990 and moved from his home town of Burnsville, Minnesota to study at the University of Minnesota Duluth and also take advantage of the snow; as an early adopter of snowboarding, he was sponsored in the early '90s by the then fledgling snowboard company Burton. It was in Duluth that Birken first started to come into contact with dance music. With the techno scene in the Midwest blossoming, he went to a rave in Minneapolis that opened his eyes and ears to a whole new world of dance music, going on to inspire his production work. After sending a demo tape to DJ and producer Woody McBride, Birken's first release appeared in 1995 on McBride's Communique Records. The 12" double pack, Surfin' Superior, fit perfectly with the new breed of hard, acidic techno that was coming out of the Midwest at the time. A follow-up release, Speaker Freaker, appeared the following year on Communique, and over the next few years Birken issued releases for labels such as Hi-Pass, People of Rhythm, and the legendary Milwaukee-based Drop Bass Network. In 2001 Birken set up Tonewrecker Recordings, releasing his own material as well as material from artists such as DJ ESP, Tony Rohr, and Bam Bam. Although continuing to produce and release music throughout the noughties -- as well as holding down a full-time job and raising a family -- Birken's music would suddenly strike a chord with a new audience as the rise of harder techno started to appear once again in the early 2010s. The 2012 Midwest Whippersnappers EP with Freddy Fresh appeared on Irish label Earwiggle and signaled a slew of releases the following year for Mord, Candela Rising, and Brothers. In demand not only as a remixer but for his own live sets, Birken found himself flying to Europe and across the U.S. to play hardware-only shows at the likes of Tresor, Berghain, and House of God. ~ Rich Wilson.