Panorama Bar’s DJ Steffi- I’m Definitely Not An Entertainer (interview)
8 years after leaving Amsterdam to take up her residency at Panorama Bar, DJ Steffi remains one of the Berlin club’s most respected- and popular- resident DJs, renowned for routinely rocking Berghain’s infamous upstairs annex.
Meeting up with Skrufff today at a pavement café close to Berlin’s touristic centre of Alexanderplatz, she’s here to promote her upcoming compilation for the club Panorama Bar 05, a single CD mix that showcases superbly her typically tough, though often upbeat, selection of house and techno.
Friendly and articulate she also swears with relish whenever discussing issues she feels strongly about such as DJs punching the air and performing for the crowd.
“I suppose I read the crowd in my own way but I’m definitely not an entertainer. If you’re were to do a poll based on how much DJs interact with the crowd and entertain them I would definitely not be in any top 100, not that that means anything anyway. It sounds so cliched but the music really need to speak for itself.”
“Of course I can personally dance behind the booth if and when I feel like it but I don’t have to show them ‘this is a good record’ by flirting with the crowd, which is very popular amongst some DJs,” she continues.
So doesn’t she ever flirt with the Panorama Bar crowd even just a little?
“No! It’s not about me, who the fuck am I? WHO THE FUCK AM I?” she laughs. “I’m a selector of the tracks.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How do you usually prepare for sets in Panorama Bar?
DJ Steffi: “About a day or two before a gig I’ll start thinking ‘where’s my head at? What kind of vibe am I feeling What would I want to deliver that night, or rather daytime, which is when I usually play these days. I think about where we’re going to go and what kind of challenging records I’ll try and play. You’re starting with the basic plan of a four hour set and if you’re playing an ending set you might play 8 hours so it’s quite a long time to keep the crowd going so you have to know a little bit what’s in your record bag. I pick out blocks of tracks, certain kinds of styles.
Sometimes I put a challenge in for me, such as tracks I haven’t played before, or for a long time, and think about how I can work them into the set. That’s a beauty of DJing, to decide to make one record a highlight then find a way to work your way up there. That’s a Panorama Bar thing, to try and squeeze in tracks that are more unexpected, at least it was like that when I started, though it’s a little more linear these days.”
Skrufff: On your all time top 10 list, you name checked Patrick Cowley and Sylvester, were you tempted to squeeze one of those onto the new compilation?
DJ Steffi: “The label (Ostgut Ton) warned me before I started that there was no chance of licensing any tracks from majors, that it would be very expensive and would take a long time to clear it, so they said ‘be really careful’. The only record in the mix that’s old is from 1992 by DJ Skull, which was really simple to get fortunately. I wanted to include my favourite Underground Resistance track too but that involved six weeks negotiation, it had to be short within the mix and it was a rather uptempo track so I decided to drop it. Some records don’t work when you pitch then down.”
Skrufff: Your profile as DJ Steffi has grown dramatically in recent years, do you feel under more pressure?
DJ Steffi: “Yeah of course, the minute you get media attention you feel more eyes on you, that’s the power of media, it can build you up and break you down.”
Skrufff: Berghain has a strict no camera policy, you also talked about it in earlier interviews. . .
DJ Steffi: “I have quite some difficulties with the fact that many people no longer seem to live in the moment and try instead to capture it through the camera. That has a big influence on the atmosphere on the dance floor and the awareness of the people. When I was young virtual reality was science fiction- Bladerunner- whereas today there are two worlds, the real life then facebook, Skype, Twitter- I am not on Twitter- the virtual world.
I think the younger generation doesn’t care that they’re focused on media whereas we who grew up in an earlier era without mobile phones will put them aside thinking ‘it’s quite embarrassing to be on the phone when talking to someone face to face’. Whereas young kids don’t give a fuck because they’re not used to anything else.”
It’s up to me what I do with this, because I don’t think I’ll be able to change it. But ideally I hope more clubs will introduce mobile free dance floors, I think that’s a new trend to come.”
Skrufff: Are you still playing vinyl 100%?
DJ Steffi: “Not 100% because I do now bring some back-up on CD or USB stick, because records can get lost and you don’t want to disappoint the people when you’re flying to a gig and your records are lost and you’re unable to perform. You should definitely always have back-up. I bring my own needles too. You have to be prepared. Technics (DJ equipment) often fail these days, the sound system is often not the promoter’s first concern. I rarely play unreleased material from anyone though. All the music I have on the stick is back-up from records I’ve got in my bag.”
Skrufff: Are you still going record shopping once a week?
DJ Steffi: “Yeah, totally, my routine hasn’t changed.”
Skrufff: Asking about your music making, you’re also using mainly analogue machines, how did you learn?
DJ Steffi: “Very much by trial and error with some guidance from friends. For example, I work with Dexter who is a very intelligent producer and he shared lots of knowledge with me. But he’d be telling me to try things and experiment, to do it myself. I’d be saying, ‘fuck it, just tell me how it works!’ but he made me go through the whole process myself, which I’m very grateful for because my studio doesn’t fool me. Someone can unplug everything but I’ll know exactly how to plug it in. Of course you also share stuff and exchange ideas with colleagues.”
Skrufff: Are you anti-computer?
DJ Steffi: “No not at all. When I play live as Third Side (with Lucretio and Marieu aka the Analogue Cops) we don’t use the computer because it’s so live and exciting, we’re programming the drums for example on the fly and things might go wrong, sometimes they do and that’s how we produce too but I prefer to use Logic rather then a hardware sequencer.”
Skrufff: Sales have collapsed for releasing music in recent years, how has that affected your approach to making music?
DJ Steffi: “I just release music because I like music, though of course sales have dropped. Around 2005 we we’re suddenly selling just 25% compared with what we were used to and I remember talking to the distributor saying ‘guys, what’s wrong, are you not doing enough promotion? What;a going on?’ then I had a great conversation with a friend of mine and he said ‘iTunes, darling, that’s the new thing. Digital is going to rule the world’. And I remember thinking ‘what is he going on about?’ He’s crazy. Then it turned out he was correct. He was the first one I knew to start playing with Serato.”
Skrufff: You must get countless gig offers? Do you take them all?
DJ Steffi: “No, not at all. I turn down a lot that don’t suit me. I look at former line-ups, the party and whether it would fit my music, I’m really strict about what I want to do.”
Skrufff: What do you make of Berlin these days?
DJ Steffi: “Ermmm, it’s different. Definitely different from 2005, unfortunately it’s more criminal, the crisis in the European Union seems to have drawn more dodgy people here, in my neighbourhood in Kreuzberg there’s definitely higher crime. It’s more popular in general here. It’s a normal evolution. Amsterdam was popular in the 70s, 80s and early 90s then that faded away. and now Berlin is popular: it’s always been popular, but especially recently. But it’s more expensive, which is not good.”
Skrufff: Do you see yourself living here indefinitely?
DJ Steffi: “No, I’m always flexible, if I feel the need to be somewhere else I’ll go, I’m not attached to Berlin. If I feel there’ somewhere else that I need to be, that personally benefits me more, for whatever reason: peace, excitement, then I’d go.”
Skrufff: Which other places could be contenders?
DJ Steffi: “Maybe Ireland. I really like it there. Unless something really spontaneous happens in another city. You can never tell where life sends you.”
Skrufff: How big a role has luck played in your career?
DJ Steffi: “That’s more a question of do I believe in destiny, or fate or luck? I tend to believe in fate and destiny rather than luck. If you stay sincere and true to yourself and to other people I think you create some kind of positive environment for yourself. And that’s the best recipe for you to create your path. If you were doing something for more money, publicity or to be in the higher leave but you don’t particularly want to do it, you’ll pay a higher price.”
Steffi Panorama Bar 05 is out via Ostgut Ton on 13 May 2013
Tracklist details are as follows:
01. Palisade – 18:30
02. Endian – Doze
03. Big Strick – Hayday
04. Chris Mitchell – Lonely Nights
05. BLM – The Nest
06. Fred P – Project 05
07. Naoki Shinohara – Timeless
08. Juju & Jordash – A Stab In The Dark
09. John Barera & Will Martin – Reality
10. DJ Fett Burger – Disco Tre
11. Juergen Junker – Post Reunion
12. Steffi – DB011
13. Dexter – Jawada
14. DJ Skull – Don’t Stop The Beat
15. Obsolete Music Technology – Latency
16. Trevino – Juan Two Five