British-born, Berlin-based Sam Barker has long sought to push the boundaries of electronic music – both in and out of the club. The Berghain resident’s string of signature solo releases for the club’s Ostgut Ton imprint have explored the rhythmic functionality of pumping, twisting and constantly evolving modular electronics. He is also one half of Barker & Baumecker with longtime Panorama Bar resident nd_baumecker, with whom he has released multiple EPs, two albums and dozens of remixes.
As a DJ, Barker combines bass music tropes, techno, electro, breakbeat, dub and ambient elements that coalesce into a distinctive, future-facing vision – one which is also reflected in his curation of the Leisure System label, which he co-founded in 2009. Originally started as a Berghain club night in 2008, Leisure System has released seminal works by the likes of Dopplereffekt, JakoJako, Objekt and Visionist (among others). The club night also held the longest residency in Berghain’s history.
Barker released his solo debut EP Debiasing on Ostgut Ton in 2018, containing four hypnotic and kick-less dancefloor tools conceptually based on research into behaviorism and psychological conditioning. This was followed by his solo debut album Utility, a playful but non-ironic musical approach to a spectrum of transhumanist ideas packed into a deeper exploration of the emotive potential of rhythmic ambient electronics – once again almost entirely without kick-drums. For many, both releases were seen not only as instant classics, but also as helping to define a discrete category of ambient dance music. Utility made numerous Best of 2019 year’s end lists, including Pitchfork, The Quietus, DJ Mag, Resident Advisor and others. It also earned title of Mixmag’s Album of The Year 2019. As Philipp Sherburne wrote in his Pitchfork review: “For anyone who has ever fantasized about dissolving into the dancefloor, Utility is about as close as it gets.”
These releases were followed by two limited edition white label EPs for Ostgut, BARKER001 and BARKER002. Recently he has also completed remixes for the likes of Martin Gore, Tangerine Dream and Planetary Assault Systems, and contributed a track together with Luke Slater for Ostgut Ton’s 16-year anniversary box set, Fünfzehn + 1.
Barker is also an active instrument designer who combines coding skills with analogue, electric and acoustic instrument construction for his experimental archive and platform Voltek. In the summer of 2020, he contributed a large-scale sound installation for Berghain’s Studio Berlin art exhibition, featuring a self-playing piano performing generative serial compositions which emphasize democratic harmonic relationships between tones. He has also continued to delve deeper into constructing his own MIDI-triggered acoustic instruments, including a prepared plate reverb and various percussion instruments, notably exploring the resonant architecture of Detroit’s abandoned factories with Underground Resistance’s Ray 7.
Currently, Barker’s musical focus continues to be on the peaktime dancefloor potential of ambient music. To this end, he is working on both an album and a new label. Operating on the periphery of club music, Barker continues to shift its center.