An introduction to Berlin’s Techno scene from a Stateside Perspective
Last week I hung out with my friend Kellen aka Black Dominoes, a DJ and producer originally from the States now living in Berlin. I asked him about DJing, producing club music, and how all of that fits in with his personal lifestyle. After showing me his studio/ workspace, he took me to a local burrito spot down the street from his flat in Friedrichshain, a really chill neighborhood just north of Kreuzberg here in Berlin. While seeing Berlin from his point of view, I had a few obvious questions about who he is, why Berlin, what Berlin means to him, and most importantly what DJ’ing means to him. Plus the unavoidable future question.
- First off who are you, where are you from, what brought you here to Berlin?
I’m originally from Atlanta GA, and came to Berlin in the summer of 2013. It’s the best city in the world!
- Alright, so tell us a little more about your story.
Well, most of my life I spent in Georgia, in the southern United States. I grew up in Atlanta and went to undergrad at the University of Georgia in Athens. I went to law school in LA, and also lived in Yellowstone National Park for a summer. Before Berlin I lived in south London.
- Best city in the world?
Yeah, for me at least. It’s insane. The parties here are the best i’ve ever experienced. I feel so inspired here. Most of the music I’ve made in the last couple of years I’ve made here, even though I’ve only spent 6 months at a time a year here.
- How are you so productive here?
Imagine the money you need to be in somewhere like New York or San Francisco. Cut that number in half. That’s the money you need to live in most European capitals. Cut that number in half again. That’s the money you need to live here in Berlin.
- So it’s cheap?
Yep, but that’s not all of it. Otherwise, half of Brooklyn would move back to the midwest. Berlin is a sort of New Orleans of Europe. You can drink on the street, parties can go for days, and everyone here is extremely laid back. As a Southern American, I dig all of that. But it comes down to the amazing people and music scene here. For me, it’s unbelievable.
- How does all that create a Berlin style? What is a Berlin style to you?
Well, clothing-wise Berlin is like New York and Paris and London, in that everyone wears a lot of black. But unlike everywhere else in the world, Berlin is very casual, even with nightlife dress codes! You can’t get into clubs here if you’re wearing a shirt with a collar, of if you’re wearing dress shoes. Women will get denied at the door of a club if they’re wearing heels or fancy dresses. Basically it’s the opposite of everything everywhere else.
- You seem to favor a clean and trim look, does this come out of this idea as well?
Yes of course! Though I think I had it before I got here…I’ve always favoured a plain grey T-shirt or blue polo and a pair of Levis.
- What got you into music?
Hmm, ahh, I have always been a music nerd. My dad played piano and synths in funk bands in the 70s, and I grew up listening to him playing piano and listening to his music. He’s a really big fan of stuff like Steely Dan, Average White Band etc. My first exposure to music was when I was a little kid in Detroit. There was a small parquet floor in my house as a little kid, and I always thought of it as a dance floor or as the floor of the Boston Garden!
In Detroit there was a radio station called ‘the Mothership.’ I don’t remember the numbers or letters of the station or anything, but there were billboards all over the city that read THE MOTHERSHIP. On the radio they would have commercials like ‘The Mothership lands tonight at 8 o’clock’ or something like that. Prince and Michael Jackson and Madonna and P-Funk were big, I’m an 80s baby! I swear, the radio stations always played P-Funk when I was little, even if it was the 80s and a lot of that stuff came out in the 70s. Those were the first situations I noticed music, that I began to enjoy music.
- And how did that turn into DJing and production?
The first time I ever saw someone DJ, the first time I ever saw DJing, that was also my parents. They DJ’d my elementary school 3rd grade Halloween dance together, in costume, with all vinyl records of course! I remember I was really popular the week after that happened in school!
My own first DJ gig came by accident. I really liked (and still like) going to concerts when I was younger. At some point I got a job doing street team, putting up posters, for this indie rock bar in Atlanta. This gig came with a great perk; I could go to any of the concerts they had there for free, and because I worked for them I started getting in for free at other music clubs and dance clubs in the city. After awhile the people there learned I was a music nerd, and started asking me to DJ there on Saturday nights after the bands were done playing. In exchange for DJing I got 50 bucks and unlimited draft Pabst Blue Ribbon. The place was called Lenny’s Bar, and bands like King Khan and the Shrines, the Black Lips, Deerhunter, and the Coathangers played there. Those bands of course weren’t as famous as they are now. I started making edits of disco tracks, doing remixes of rock tunes, all kinds of stuff for my gigs. The first real remix I did was for the band Vampire Weekend from NYC. A bunch of blogs picked up on the track, and a couple DJs from BBC Radio One started playing it.
The day that tune dropped on Radio One, i woke up to like 140 emails! Of course that remix led to other ones…I did one for the band Fleet Foxes from the Pacific Northwest, I did a couple for another NYC band called Yeasayer. It was cool, I learned a lot about music production from doing them, and one of the remixes even got written up in Rolling Stone magazine.
- So that’s when you knew this was something for you, something you could do?
Yes! of course! From there I got a lot more serious about DJing. I mean, I was a music nerd already! I took a residency at a place called Top Flr where I played 4+ hours of tech house, techno, and classic house/disco every week. My friends opened a venue in Atlanta called the Sound Table, it’s kind of the Electric Pickle or Panoramabar of the Southeast. Got lucky enough to play there and lived right down the road from the club for years. It became my life! I got to travel occasionally to places like New York and San Francisco and LA to DJ parties. I’m in a crew called Q/Q, (meaning quality over quantity) with my friends Hernan and Luis in the States. We’ve been throwing warehouse parties and more underground stuff these last couple years. I also do stuff in the USA with my friend Bryce, who runs a promotions and party crew called In Real Life. He also helps out Justin Miller with his label Have A Killer Time in NYC.
- So why Berlin? What’s next?
Well, i’m happy and satisfied with the parties we have going in the States, but I want to do more. I want to focus more on being a producer, making more of my own tracks. Here in Berlin I can go to great parties without throwing them myself, and I have the flexibility and time to record on my own. I’m going to be here for a year or two at minimum, and I work on music every day!
Life is perfect.