Anja Schneider Interview: A club half full kind of girl
Mark Dale caught up with the Mobilee boss to discuss Berlin's club scene, her background in radio, curating her own parties and learning to DJ.
Last updated: 6th Oct 2015
Anja Schneider has been a permanent fixture within Berlin's clubbing fraternity for over 20 years. In that time she's seen it all, the Love Parade years, the legendary techno clubs like E Werk and Tresor, the gargantuan spaces afforded by the fall of the Berlin wall utilised by the city's artistic youth.
She came to Berlin in the mid 90s, inspired by the rave scene that was happening in the capital. A driven and constantly optimistic person, she wanted to become a part of it and found a niche. She worked first at Kiss FM, then little more than a pirate station, progressing from a voluntary position to a paid one and then from radio production to becoming a presenter. She later switched to Fritz FM.
Her Dance Under The Blue Moon show has been running since 2000 in which she promotes new electronic music and artists and highlights the happenings of the electronic club scene. This radio show proved to be the starting of Anja's international career as it was a natural progression for her to then move into clubland as a DJ and form a record label to pick up some of the many demos her radio show would receive.
Anja's Mobilee record label celebrates its tenth year in 2015 and has become world renowned for releases by the likes of Maya Jane Coles, Sebo K and Pan-Pot. The label expanded into becoming a booking agency for the Mobilee records artists in 2007. Anja herself entered into the realms of music production and in the last decade has released many collaborative EPs and a debut artist album Beyond The Valley in 2008.
She has steadily seen her reputation rise internationally and now regularly plays across the globe, including several handpicked residencies. One of these is with London's grand LWE parties, where she returns this weekend for her very first Anja Invites night. Mark Dale caught up with Anja for a chat in the middle of a typically busy week in which she'd just returned from playing in Ibiza and while Mobilee was moving into new offices.
You entered into the world of DJing through a quite unusual route, first through radio production then through presenting. What advantages and disadvantages do you think taking that route had for you compared to the route others have taken?
I don't think it was too unusual to come from that background because some other DJs started like I did. For me it was all quite natural and organic. When I started the radio show I was playing techno and electronic music and so I soon started to get requests to play in clubs.
At the start it really was quite hard. When I started the show, radio had a completely different position, it had way more listeners than nowadays, but it was easy for me because I couldn't see all those people. This was my first problem when I started as a club DJ, seeing the people and seeing the direct reaction. I was super, super nervous and of course I made really bad mistakes in the beginning, but going out to play my music in the clubs was one of the best decisions I ever made.
So you jumped straight from radio presenting to playing clubs where you would mix records? You were mixing records on the show?
I come from an old school radio set up which means if you want to mix in a studio, you had to go to a DJ booth to do that. I was working around a microphone and I really like that way of playing a track from the beginning to the end and then telling the people something about it. So I don't mix on the radio.
Music doesn't seem to have much value anymore, so it's really important for me to tell the people 'hey, this track is made by this person and this is his background'. What really helped me learn was working as a DJ for radio parties. We'd travel around, I played in some of the worst discotheques you can ever imagine, with lazer lights and so on.
It was during this time that I understood my job as a radio DJ, you had to have half an hour hip hop, half an hour indie, rock, techno. So, I'm really coming from this old school thing. When I look back nowadays it really helps me feel so much more confident with a night and how I build up because I learned from that.
When you were first invited to play in techno clubs it must have been expected of you that you would mix records, but you didn't do that on the radio. How did you learn that? Did you pick it up quickly?
It was a long process. I had a good friend, he was also working in radio and he helped me. He explained how it worked with the beat counting and so on. But it honestly started for me with 'hey, you've got a club gig', so I learned at every gig. Of course I made some bad mistakes, but I practiced a lot and I learned.
I was always so nervous when I started and, of course, because I'm a girl everyone was looking to see if I was technically good. Everyone values the mixing, the technical skills more from a girl than from a boy. It took a lot of time.
I think one of the most difficult things when you first start is to separate your ears. All your life you are used to enjoying music with both ears, but when you learn to DJ you're suddenly listening to two different songs with each ear.
Yes. I had earlier tried to learn to play the drums, so I already had some exercise in training my ears, but yes. It took time and it wasn't always fun.
How does the music differ that you get to play on the radio compared to what you select to play in a club?
On the radio you can go much more wild and weird. And you can play some more pop-y songs. The last gig I had was in Ibiza, at one of the closing parties and there it was just 'BLAM BLAM BLAM', so you can't do that kind of thing there. The radio gives me a lot more freedom. Also, because I have so little time these days, the radio really gives me the opportunity to listen to a record properly, from beginning to end. That sometimes really helps me decide what is really going to work for my DJ sets.
Your first productions in the studio were a lot of collaborative efforts. Was it a big step to move from that into working solo? I'm thinking specifically of your debut album.
Well, that's wrong. I have never worked solo in the studio. I'm always doing collaborations. I started quite late and I don't have these kinds of technical skills. I have musical skills. I started at a time when I was so busy, so tired, that I didn't have the time or energy to sit for eight hours at a mixing desk and get really into all these programs. Honestly I like to collaborate, I like to be with people and I even like to argue sometimes. What I needed was technical help.
I have all these ideas but I can't put it together alone. I've worked with lots of different producers and the trick is to find someone who can work with you, who can put his ego behind you, because most of them are artists themselves and it's quite difficult to produce someone else and put your own ideas in the background.
Luckily enough I've worked with some really good people, like Martin Eyerer for example, who, if I don't like something, if I think it's not great, he'll always show me an alternative. If I choose it I always end up thinking it was my idea anyway, ha!
How has Berlin clubbing (check out her set from Watergate below) changed in the time since you arrived in the early 1990s compared to where it is today?
Berlin was always great, one of the best cities for clubbing and for elecronic music, but of course everything changed. There was a time in the 1990s when we were struggling, there were a lot of clubs and we didn't have the rave tourism that we have now, there was no Easyjet or Ryanair back then. Now, when you go out in Berlin at the weekend, nobody speaks German. You hear every kind of language, it's a real mix of people and that's great for the club scene and for Berlin.
That's a very positive answer. But how has the city itself changed in that time outside of the world of clubbing? I'm thinking about gentrification, the rise in rents and the fact that this might have caused a lot of the artistic scene, the independents and indeed some of the clubs to move out from some areas.
You had all of these amazing big, unused spaces that presented themselves to Berlin after the wall fell, but they've now gone. Is it all as positive as you made out in your last answer?
Of course not everything is a positive, especially with things like rent increases and gentrification and of course we lost all of these amazing spaces and this kind of anarchy. It's now 25 years since the wall came down. But, what always stands for Berlin and which is still happening, is that there was always this great energy that came from the young people here.
They will always find a way to make their own parties and underground scenes. A lot of younger Berliners, who were brought up here, they're tired of Watergate or Berghain, because they're full of tourists. So they build something new, some of them I don't even know about them, what they are called or where they are.
There are new things happening every weekend in Berlin and this is something Berlin stands for, this energy will never die. Even if the new places are a little bit further out of the city - it will never happen in Mitte again - it is still happening and you have to be excited to get to know about it and to go there. But it is still happening and this is why I love Berlin so much.
You're such an optimist! I love it!
I am! Ha!
After running Mobilee for ten years now, where do you see the company progressing in the future? With that question I'm thinking particularly about your history as a record label - it was only two years into Mobilee that you developed it to also become a DJ agency.
When we started the label we had no idea of what it was going to be like, we didn't know we were going to be here in 10 years, we just wanted to release music, use my name and help other people and build a collective. Of course then everything changed. Vinyl sales were going down, so we had to move on and build up our own booking agency to survive and create something new.
Where we are going to be in ten more years I have no idea. I would love it if we are still in the business, still delivering good music, that we still have the same fun working with each other and working with music that we have now, that we don't lose our excitement for this. That's the worst thing that can happen, if it only works like a business. So, to be having fun and still be a part of the game, I'd be happy with that.
Thankfully there seem to be a lot more female DJs getting respect and reaching the same heights as some of their male counterparts these days compared to clubbing in the mid 1990s. Would you agree?
I agree absolutely and I'm so happy that we have so many great female DJs. I'm happy that I don't always have to talk about what it's like to be a woman DJ so much anymore. We are living in 2015. It's great to see all these young girls come up with all these new ideas, great production skills, super technical skills, it's amazing.
It's nice to think that at some point we will get to the stage where we never hear the phrase 'female DJ' ever again, it'll just be 'DJ'.
Yeah. The worst thing is DJane, I don't know if you have that over there? In Germany it was always like that. That's terrible. DJane instead of DJ, that's just like the worst thing you can ever say to a girl DJ in my opinion.
Ew. That's a bit patronising. No, we don't have that over here, I don't think. Have you ever experienced sexism in your workplace of music?
Well, like I said in the beginning, when I started in the mid 90s everyone would look how is this girl going to do technically. Sometimes when I would play and have a really great crowd, someone would come up to you at the end and say, "You're my favourite female DJ." Even though it was meant as a compliment, that's not something you'd ever say to a male DJ. It would be lovely enough to say "You were a good DJ, it was a great night for me".
How do you think the electronic scene will progress in the next ten years? How will the music change, in what direction? Is there any way of guessing?
It's quite scary in one way that you have all of this EDM hype and thinking how it's going to be, but on the other hand I survived the rave bubble at the end of the 90s in Germany. So I know that when something is blowing up and has a lot of hype, but there's always this big underground scene beneath it doing much more interesting things virtually unseen.
You can feel that it's going more underground now, even with some of the really big DJs, they're changing a bit. Hopefully this EDM thing will at some time be over. But if some of the kids who are into that then go and discover a Mobilee record, that's wonderful. When I started I wasn't immediately a Ricardo Villalobos fan, I needed to find my way to get there.
You're playing for LWE (listen to her set from there above) soon at a night you've curated. Can you tell me a little about why you've selected Citizenn and Igor Vicente to accompany you there?
Yes, it's the first time we've done an Anja Invites night, so I'm responsible. First of all I didn't want to have a full Mobilee roster. I've been a big fan of Citizenn since I heard his debut single on MadTech, Kerri Chandler's label and I met him once, saw him play and he really surprised me. He was one of these artists with a big background, a really big love for music and not so many expectations. He was great musically and personality-wise. I was a bit sad not to get him on Mobilee, but it's good that I can now invite him to do this party with me.
I selected Igor Vicente because he's the latest signing to Mobilee and he really blew my mind at the last three Mobilee parties. He made me dance for two hours and I was so pleased he did because I had missed doing that. Sometimes I just want to go out and dance and forget about the DJing thing and he did it in such a positive way. I was sure I had to have him and he fits really well musically with Citizenn.
You're also playing for LWE again on New Year's Day. Can you tell me a bit about why you chose this as a residency? How do you choose your residencies? Is it a mixture of the personalities involved and the production? Can you tell me what makes New Year's such a good time to play records and to party?
Of course it's a combination of things. LWE booked me for Tobacco Dock and I loved their work, their production, what they think about music, how they love it and how that inspires them to present it, making the DJs and the crowd happy. They always choose great venues and they are super professional, there's nothing I can ever complain about with them. When they offered me this I was really honoured, especially now with this Anja Invites night. It's a great chance for me to step away from Mobilee, which is how most people know me.
Sometimes I think that New Year's Eve is overrated but luckily I play on New Year's Day, which is the best party ever. I've been playing for LWE in London for several years now. I love to be in London, I have a lot of friends there. I'm so happy to have found LWE as a partner there. The Tobacco Dock is a great venue, everyone is in a good mood, everyone wants to party, Christmas is over, it's the holidays, let's go. That makes it special. They have a huge line up, so it'll be good to be with some friends and to hear some of the other DJs. I'm really looking forward to it.
What's next for Anja Schneider?
Well, first of all I have to get to the studio. I can never plan it strictly, like this will be studio time, but I just came back from Ibiza and got some new input. Sometimes you need this, new inspiration to set you on new adventures, to help you find new energy and new ideas. So, hopefully I'll go back to the studio very soon and work on some releases, not for this year as our Mobilee catalogue is already full, but for the beginning of next year. I'm ready.
I have a good friend Berlin who knows you from Berlin and I asked him to give me a question to ask you. He told me to ask about your young son's favourite records.
Ha! This friend must know me quite well. I almost can't say it. Helene Fischer. She's just like the worst thing. She's super successful, but it's kind of coming from German volks music, schlage. It's terrible, but he loves it. But now I'm pleased because Pharrell 'Happy' is winning. He doesn't like mama's records. I don't know why.
But of course you don't like the things your parents like. I'm really scared about the moment he discovers YouTube and he finds out what mama actually does when she is 'working', ha! I will be so embarrassed.