31.01.2019 | Words by: Jasmin Hoek
With a fast-pace take on techno filled with acid lines, dark vocals, and broken beats, CEM knows how to keep any rave or club crowd moving. This Saturday marks his fourth time at De School. Last October, he kept us dancing hard well into Saturday morning. After an equally fun, but also very warm, Monday morning in August. CEM is a resident DJ of the Berlin-based Herrensauna series, which is known for its wild and sweaty parties. And that is exactly what he turned those mornings in our basement into; a wild and sweaty party. I sat down with CEM to have dinner, and find out more about himself and Herrensauna.
“My initial interest in music was more grounded in genres like death metal, I was really into noisy and harsh sounds. I played electric guitar in several metal bands, and did the vocals. Even my appearance was quite metal, I had the whole look; long hair, shabby clothing, and mostly dressed in black. Apart from some iconic bands I grew up listening to, my taste has changed considerably. Whenever I listen to metal again, I often think of it more as just a phase I had in my life.” CEM says.
CEM first came into contact with electronic music through his uncle, who used to be a raver during his youth. “I had all his old CDs at home. But, I didn’t really like them until I was quite a bit older. At 18, when I started going out to bars and club that had DJs or live performances, I started getting more and more interested in electronic music and djing. This whole new world I was experiencing was very intriguing: the continuous music, and the whole atmosphere around it. I would say, unconsciously my uncle’s CDs did influence me.”
His first steps in the electronic music scene were made in his hometown Vienna. Together with his ex-boyfriend, he started inviting techno DJs to queer-run parties he was involved in. CEM: “This kind of sound was not really present in Vienna at the time, so I was kind of introducing techno to a crowd that was mainly used to a more ‘commercial’ sound. We were throwing these parties in different clubs across the city.” Around the same time, CEM started collecting records, and teaching himself how to mix vinyl. After practicing almost every day in the kitchen for several months, he played their own part in 2013 for the first time. He began to play regularly since then, while continuing his studies in Film and Media Production. “As soon as I finished studying I felt like it was time leave Vienna, and moved to Berlin. Two close friends of mine from Vienna that I had known for very long, Jordan and Nicholas had already been living there for a couple of years. They had this idea to start some kind of party concept in Berlin, so when I moved there after regularly visiting them, we started throwing our own parties.”
For the first year and a half, they threw parties under the name of Herrensauna in a small basement that was hidden behind office buildings, along a canal in Kreuzberg. “The space was only accessible through a tiny entrance, somewhere behind a hidden courtyard. So, it was often mistaken for just another commercial space. It was so sweaty, packed with people, no fire escapes. If anything would have happened in there, we would have all died. This anxious feeling somehow did add something real to the intense atmosphere.” CEM laughs, “It had this extreme vibe, like we were all raving for our life. It was nothing like I had experienced in Vienna, Berlin always feels a lot more extreme.”
Even though it started as a party more for CEM, Jordan and Nicholas’ friends and their ‘bigger circle’, Herrensauna quickly grew out to be on of the most-loved queer parties of Berlin’s underground. “We never labeled it as a queer party, but it was always a given fact for us; it’s just what we are and what our circle of friends was. The name Herrensauna [translation from German would be male sauna or men’s sauna] is more like a tongue-in-cheek comment on the environment itself”, CEM explains, “it gives an impression of the wildness and hedonism that’s usually going on in these kind of saunas, but it was always open to whoever”. He says. “From the first party on, it was very crowded, and it was a quite diverse crowd. It just hit the right nerve at that time, people were really intrigued by it. Maybe because it was quite straightforward, or even simple, it resonated with so many different people. One of the oldest ravers I know, he’s around 50 years old, told me that our party reminded him of Berlin in ’95 in the best sense possible. That was such a nice compliment. The sound we played was a lot more intense and up front than this ‘stoic’ sound of contemporary Berlin techno. The tracks we played were closer to acid and rave, and our techno is faster and more melodic. This probably made it feel refreshing at the time.”
When they had to leave their regular location after well over a dozen events, they almost gave up on the whole concept. “We had to leave due to disagreements with the venue owners, it was just unbearable to work with the people we rented from. They only wanted to make money in every way possible. The fact that there were no toilets in the club didn’t help either: the toilets were all outside in the courtyard in a random trailer, and even that got destroyed in the first few hours of every event. We felt really bad, especially for our female friends who had to (try to) pee there. At some point, I think people used the corners of the dance floor for those kind of things, it did get messy in there…” CEM laughs. When they started to look for a new location in Berlin seemed next to impossible to find one. Many local clubs in Berlin already had a fixed queer event series, and other spaces were simply not interested.
Then Tresor approached them. “At first we were a bit confused, because Tresor is this huge institution, but we decided to give it a try. And Tresor ended up being a great fit for us.” For the Herrensauna nights at Tresor, they have their own door staff, who work for other queer nights around the city as well. Just to be sure they know the people or recognise the faces that come to dance. CEM comments: They know who fits or doesn’t fit. Besides, the regular crowd at Tresor is simply too different from our regular guests, and some of them might not really understand what our queer community is about and what we value. We also have our own security team. They know how to act in emergency situations, and enforce some rules. But also respect our guests, and know how to maintain a safe(r) space. To us, this feels safer than with your average bouncer, who in Berlin, are typically seen as aggressive, non-communicative and male.”
Together with Jordan and Nicholas, CEM started to host Herrensauna nights outside of Berlin, including Rote Sonne in Munich and Faust in Seoul. Their first release is planned for this spring: a 3 part compilation CEM has been working on together with friend and Herrensauna regular Hector Oaks. It includes tracks of Peder Mannerfelt & Pär Grindvik new project 'aasthma', December, Violet, VTSS, Cadency and more with artwork by Mauro Ventura. “The compilation is put together with tracks from artists who have played for us, and helped us shape the sound and spirit that is representative for our nights,” CEM says, “I’m also excited about SPFDJ joining us as a resident, she’s always been coming to the parties and played couple of times which were all stellar performances. She really fits to our vision, and adds so much to it as well.”
“We’re involving more people. I think it’s really exciting to be able to do this, and being able to bring Herrensauna somewhere else. You know, you can never recreate what happens in Berlin, but you can bring the sound to another venue, and bring in more people, and try to change things.” CEM continues: “I love checking out cool and upcoming artists. It’s really special when you get into this position were you can push others and help them develop, offering them opportunities to perform in front of a mindful and eager crowds. For me, our own parties really formed a platform where I could develop my personal taste as a DJ and try new things.”Photo by: Sven BijmaCEM is playing the basement during the Saturday of Het Weekend. Tickets are still available here.