g and comes frequently, it comes as punctuation between the conversation we have and at times it makes me forget that we’re only on the phone, such is it’s booming warmth.
Mid September and it’s her first interview since the world went weird in March and like most DJs in the entire world, she suddenly and unexpectedly found herself in the unusual position of having time at weekends without rushing out to play. There’s a brightness to her personality, to her sound, that contrasts with the image of a DJ that plays techno and lives in Berlin. A city that, at least stereotypically, portrays itself in oily black Rick Owens. Monika Kruse is a surf rainbow, less dark room, more VW camper van. Yet its this life-embracing quality that lights through a twenty-five-plus year career, which feels as if someone’s drawn a route across a map of techno and house history. From early nineties in Munich where she played illegal raves in WW2 bunkers and was a resident at South Germany’s wild Ultraschall into the mid nineties, playing alongside alongside Sven Väth regularly at Omen in Frankfurt and crossing the world as an international DJ. Settling in Berlin just before the millennium, I could mention about Terminal M, the label she set up that has just celebrated its 20th anniversary and and I should most definitely mention her human rights work via her No Historical Backspin charity that since founding in 2000 has raised more than 100,000 Euros to help people suffering from racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant attacks.
Where DJs, promoters and venues have been erecting their self-created fences around a more and more narrower set of sounds and rules, her fluidity and her lack of tribalism is one of the reasons why so many people love her. How many DJs can fit between playing regularly in both Berghain and Panorama Bar, fly over in Ibiza and then hit it off at Burning Man?
So, how has 2020 been for you?
M: Amazing, not! (laughs) I mean, of course I think we’re all struggling worldwide with the stress the pandemic is causing us. I think everybody has been pushed out of their comfort zone. Everything now seems to be very fragile, starting from health, money problems or the future question of what is the world going into. It’s not an easy time for sure. And as a DJ, I played four times this year,
I’m missing playing and I don’t know what the future will bring us. But also I had some pretty good moments to say in the Corona time. Finally I had a lot of time for myself and my friends and my family. I’m re-socialising with a lot of people around me and even finding new friends because now I have the time and I’m not traveling, I’m not tired from the weekends. I’ve realised how much I really need my friends and need a hug. I became really grateful for the all these little things which used to be normal. And now I’m like, wow, I can see people, wow, I can go for dinner outside, wow, I can at least go outside! And that made me very grateful and positive. And also I dig deeper into meditation, which helped me a lot, I did some workshops on this and I explored myself more through sport activities like wake-surfing and wake-boarding. It’s not an easy time, but not everything is bad.
K: I love that you see things positively.
M: It brings you even more down if you only concentrate on the negativity, because it cannot change this thing, you know it’s there and you have to handle it. And, if you’re always in a miserable state of mind, then of course it’s causing even more problems to yourself.
K: Yeah. it’s interesting for DJs during this time isn’t it? Because you spend so much of your life missing every weekend through deejaying and touring and being away a lot.
M: Yes, that’s so true. It’s kind of shocking too because every weekend I think all of us get a little bit excited, like ‘oh, it’s the weekend!’ And now it’s like (sighs) ‘Oh, it’s the weekend!’ Now you don’t see the world, you’re stuck at home and then you have the feeling something exciting has to happen. And especially now in Autumn, when it was summer, you could do a lot things. There were even some little parties, but now that the winter is coming I don’t see anything, and that is frightening for me, its like what’s going to happen then in the winter time?
K: Did you go to any of these parties?
M: Yeah because I love dancing, I need loud music. I played two parties by myself, which were legal. Like 100 people wearing masks and staying safe, it was still different than normally. But I realised I really need to dance with the people and get connected. I think it’s very important for the mental health too, dancing. Human beings since the beginning, dancing was always there, everywhere in the world, it’s in our roots and its important for our health and not to be able to do this, that is, I think a dangerous thing too, because then you cannot let loose your emotions. Dancing is about falling in a trance and letting loose your sorrows, letting loose your problems, and to not to be able to have this is not good. And I think the governments worldwide, they don’t see this, that people need some escape otherwise maybe they’ll go to the streets and be aggressive.
When things get back to normal and you go back to DJing full time, is there anything that you will be doing differently? Do you think that you’ve learned from this year?
M: Yeah, I definitely will play less. Even though I love playing, I’ve been doing this 29 years now and in that time I’ve never had summer with my friends, I never went to any birthday parties or something like this because I was always touring or tired. And this is what I really want to change. I love playing, but friendships is for me now more important, because this what you have left when everything else goes.
Do you think, when you were starting out, for many young DJs as well, a lot of friendships you have are in the club. And as you grow older, more people have children and have families and settle and it’s more like you need to have a life outside of the club?
M: I think so, yes. A lot of DJs, like Laurent Garnier and Carl Cox, they burn for the music, but also they have self projects, like Carl is into racing and Laurent is doing a movie or writing a book or he’s jamming with a band. It depends on the person, but for me, I saw that I love DJing, but I love also the social life, I love wake-boarding and wake-surfing. So I want to have a balance with this now that in these last 29 years was very unbalanced. Even now, I still feel out of balance.
K: Does it feel like when clubs reopen properly things will be exactly the same? Or do you feel that things will have moved on?
M: Right now, even if you go to clubs, everybody has it still in their mind that there’s Corona, unless you’re really fucked up and then you forget it. Sure. First of all, you see people dancing with masks, so there’s not the freedom at all. Like we had the freedom in ‘89. And also we’re afraid to hug each other, it’s not like ‘Yeah! Express yourself! You can do what you want. Everything is possible!’ No!
K: OK going, going right back, do you have like a moment where you can remember music really vividly coming into your life for the first time?
M: Not really because even as a child I was always a music lover, but it was never like, ‘wow, this track!’ My parents were listening to music and I was always there and I loved music. And then then somehow I was just sitting in front of the Hi-Fi and I was taping from the radio some music and my parents thought: ‘Okay, we lost her into music now!’ I was a music nerd since I had my first pocket money, I went to the record store and bought a record, you know? So there was never a wow moment. I had a moment when I went to a concert, when I saw Prince, that was my wow moment.
Prince! What a person to have a wow moment with!
Yeah, 1986, and that really changed my world.
K: Before you were a DJ you were working in the music industry, right?
M: It was not before, it was at the same time, but as a DJ, I’d get maybe twenty Euros paid in the night so you couldn’t make a living. So I had to work besides DJing and I worked for one year for a record label, first on EMI in Munich and on Chrysalis and then later when I went to Berlin, I worked for K7 for a couple of years. I did a lot of jobs in my life and I studied too, But after seven years I said, okay, now I go full on and just try and DJ.
K: Where did you start DJing?
M: I started in a bar, playing hip hop, funk, some deep house, some vocal house stuff, you know, Larry Heard, Frankie Knuckles, and then I did my own parties, some illegal parties and there I was already playing house and techno sometimes and I played everything mixed, it was the freedom we had in the nineties. People were not so nerdy. They were not like ‘we only like this genre,’ they were open and we were free. Even when sometimes I played drum and bass in a set and some trip-hop, everything worked because people were cool with the change.
I love that kind of eclecticism.
M: Yeah, me too. And I love DJs who still are doing this. Like I mentioned Laurent Garnier and Carl Cox both have quite a wide spectrum.
M：是啊，我也是。而且我喜欢那些还在做这件事的DJ。就像我提到的Laurent Garnier和Carl Cox都有相当广泛的光谱。
Over the course of the nineties, the whole house and techno scene really evolved. Do you feel that there were times that you can pinpoint where you noticed things changing?
M: Yeah, from quite early. We had The Love Parade and at the beginning of the nineties as it started with a couple of thousand people and then suddenly it ended up as 1.5 million people in the street. It was getting commercial, to be honest, after the first few years. Suddenly there were TV stations that broadcasted it, there was sponsoring, there were VIP areas on certain trucks. Well, okay, now it’s getting commercial. I don’t blame it, but it changed. And now everything is like pop business. Almost every DJ has a manager. Some so-called underground DJs have a photographer with them even though they’re underground, to have some pictures for social media. I’m like, ‘Hey, wasn’t it only about music?’ When a DJ was hidden in a corner and people weren’t even dancing towards the DJ. And now everything is about star private jets and getting as many gigs as possible and exposing yourself on social media and that the promoters book DJs who are famous on social media. So it’s become pop, it’s not underground anymore.
M：是的，从很早开始。我们有 “爱的大游行”，在90年代初，它开始时只有几千人，然后突然就变成了150万人在街上游行。老实说，最初几年后，它越来越商业化了。突然间，有电视台播放它， 有赞助，有贵宾区在某些卡车。好吧，好吧，现在它的商业化。 我不怪它，但它改变了。现在一切都像流行的业务。几乎每个DJ都有一个经理人。一些所谓的地下DJ有一个摄影师，即使他们是地下的，也会有一些照片在社交媒体上。我就想，”嘿，以前不都是为了音乐吗？当一个DJ被藏在角落里，人们甚至没有朝着DJ跳舞。而现在，一切都关于明星私人飞机和尽可能多的演出，在社交媒体上曝光自己的照片并且发起人会邀请在社交媒体上出名的DJ。所以它已经变成了流行音乐，不再是地下音乐了。
K: Towards the end of that decade, you moved to Berlin. What was Berlin like at the time?
M: I’m from Berlin originally. So I’ve been there every year, always back and forth. And in ’97 everything was like still possible. There were underground clubs, it was still very free and rough and amazing. There was still this freedom and nobody judging you. It’s still good, I don’t want to complain, I still love to dance to this music I still love to meet the people, but it’s an industry now.
Do you think Berlin deals with the industry side of things and what you’re talking about with the pop side better than other places? Like clubs still, perhaps more than other cities do keep a level of anonymity for the DJ and keep spaces as safe spaces. I guess what I’m saying is, do you think that there’s still more of an underground vibe here than in other places?
M: I think so. There are still clubs who book DJs that are not so well known or not known at all, to give them a chance and because they like their music. If you look around worldwide now you don’t find this so much anymore, there always has to be a headliner who is known but I think Berlin is still a little bit different. There are some DJs here who really have huge followings, but they’re totally unknown somewhere else, and I really like this. I really like that people explore the music here and, and are ‘OK, Let’s check this DJ out because they’re playing at this club soon and they have to be good because otherwise they wouldn’t been booked even though we don’t know them, let’s check it out.’ And that’s how it used to be.
You’ve played everywhere. What makes you feel happy, when you remember a place that you’ve played?
M: I really like to play places where nobody knows me because then there’s no judgment or any expectations. So it’s like a blank wall and of course when everything’s connecting and where people are smiling on the dancefloor and I look at people’s eyes and see their happiness and I smile and feel happy and get goosebumps from the music and the energy in the room, you know what I mean? Sometimes there’s so much happening on the dance floor. That is a good night for me, when everybody’s connected.
And what about Burning Man, how was that?
M: Oh I really like Burning Man (laughs)! When Corona is over, I’m definitely going again because that’s another thing I learned now. Never postpone anything you want to do because you don’t know if it’s gonna happen again. I went the first time in 2011 and since then, three times. I know it changed and now it’s a little like Coachella with all the Instagram models and even Instagram DJs with designer costumes making the best pictures to get more followers, blah, blah, blah. But I’ve had so many really extraordinary experiences there, I love the temple where you go and pray and think about all the dead friends or family members you lost. I love when Carl Cox is playing in front of three dancers in a dust storm and you’re like “Man, go in your tent or get to your RV, but what are you doing?”. And he’s still playing in all this craziness.
M：哦，我很喜欢Burning Man(笑)! 等Corona结束后，我一定会再去，因为这是我现在学到的另一件事。永远不要推迟你想做的事情，因为你不知道会不会再发生。2011年我第一次去，从那以后，去了三次。我知道它变了，现在有点像Coachella，所有的Instagram模特，甚至Instagram的DJ，穿着设计师的服装，拍出最好的照片，以获得更多的粉丝，等等，等等。但我在那里有很多非常特别的体验，我喜欢在寺庙里，你去祈祷，想想你失去的所有死去的朋友或家人。我喜欢卡尔-考克斯在沙尘暴中对着三个舞者演奏，你就像，伙计，去你的帐篷里或者去你的房车里，但你在做什么？而他还在这疯狂的环境中演奏。
I love your description of Carl Cox still playing in a dust storm.
M: Yeah, it was really like this, he played there for hours. I was like “Really, Carl? You cannot even breathe, but you’re still playing!”
K: Oh my God. That’s amazing. Isn’t it? I mean, the dust just scratching the vinyl and…
M: Yeah well, he was playing with USB sticks. But you couldn’t even see the CD player anymore. He didn’t care, that’s real passion and that’s what I love so much, if I see really passionate people.
DJs describe often a point in a set when it all comes alive, like up until this point you’re just playing, and then, you’re in the zone. Is there a way you can describe that moment where you realise that the set has come alive?
M: I think everything is floating, you’re just like, ‘oh, and now I’m going to pay this, and then play this’ and it’s so magical, You don’t even have to think of what you’ll play next. That’s this magical point where you let loose and you play risky things and feel free.
IG : Monika Kruse
make up @chrisbaer.makeup