Taking their name from gay male saunas, Herrensauna are setting new standards in Berlin’s hedonistic party undergound. PW-Magazine got in touch with resident DJs Cem and Nicolas.
The charismatic party collective that is turning Berlin’s gay underground into a frenzy is offering us a glimpse at how the prized night came to be. Retaining their slots for lesser acclaimed, upcoming artists, Herrensauna are refreshing the scene in a musical sense, yet they curate a space of throbbing energy, a basement full of sweat and subtle positivity, an invitation to freedom, an incentive.
Why did you start Herrensauna? What were your intentions to create a new techno party / platform in Berlin, a city which is so well known worldwide for its dozens of club nights?
Nicolas: I think it was something that was created more out of a spontaneous feeling and the urge to provide a more intimate atmosphere, and of course, to create a party for us and our friends. We didn’t decide to found a new techno-platform in this city with a particularly strong concept.
Cem: We have been doing this almost forever and we have always been involved in the party scene and have been deejaying. It was a natural thing for us to invite our friends, share our taste in music with them and finally create this project. That is also why we picked a rather small location with Bertrams; it offers an intimate setting and we are trying to keep it as low-key as possible.
Nicolas: It’s a really rough space and a kind of underground labyrinth with lots of separated little rooms where you can walk around in the darkness and do whatever you want. Actually, when we first looked at it, we intended to keep the party much smaller. But after the second party we realized there are way too many people who want to attend, so basically we made the club twice as big as it has originally been.
Cem: In the beginning it had a dance floor for 200 – 300 people but after the first night we also made use of the other rooms offered by the venue. Every time we do the party, we have a lot of physical work to do to get the space ready for people to hang out. This takes about three to four hours in total.
Who are the main characters of the Herrensauna – collective? How did you get to know each other?
Cem: We all know each other from techno parties in Vienna. We started going out in Vienna together. The main people who are involved in it are Jordan, who does the booking. He actually founded it together with Nicholas and they had the initial idea to do it. I came on board afterwards. We are basically the main figures.
Nicolas: Then there is Mika, who is working very closely with us. She is also one of the core members. Mika is doing the door selection, so she decides about every face, whether they get in or not. She also has a very strong opinion in terms of aesthetics and what we should do next. And then there is Fritz, our graphic designer, who is very important in creating our visual identity. And of course there are a lot of close friends who are accommodating us during the party.
“There are basically no restrictions – you have the freedom to do whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt anybody or yourself.” – Nicolas
What do your musical influences look like, how did you first come in contact with techno or club music in general? Where does your affinity for techno come from?
Cem: I have always been into quite heavy music like black metal and death metal and hardcore punk back then. This kind of music offers a repetitive element that I find in techno as well. We actually started going to parties when we were 18, that’s where we came in contact with electronic music for the first time. Berghain was of course also a huge influence for us and actually a really life changing experience.
You were able to build up a really good reputation in quite a short time. How would you describe a Herrensauna night, what makes the party special compared to other club nights and is there a secret recipe?
Nicolas: There are basically no restrictions – you have the freedom to do what ever you want, as long as you don’t hurt anybody or yourself. That is the feeling that has been transported through the nights, and you can see how people respond to this and how relaxed and open minded they are. Often the result is that people, men and women, take off their clothes. Girls come to our party, because they feel very free and they don’t have to fear annoying glances of others.
Cem: It’s also the whole experience you get when you enter the basement, because it’s really dark and claustrophobic, and then you have this pumping techno sound and a very diverse and sexually open crowd. Compared to the big rave parties Berlin offers, our party is more like a 90ies underground techno party, which is also supported by the DIY-idea.
Concerning the remarkable artwork: where did you draw influences from and who is responsible for it?
Nicolas: Fritz, our graphic designer, brings in a lot of his personal ideas. He doesn’t get any restrictions from us, so he can do whatever he wants. Fritz is inspired by gay culture, warning signs, high energy symbols and feelings, released energy and the tension of the party itself. The first time we came across the logo was at Volksbühne Berlin. We immediately wanted to have it for Herrensauna as well.
“Through the reputation we gained in a rather short time, we don’t have to book big names to get enough people to the party. They already know they can expect high quality music.” – Nicolas
Looking back at the line-ups of Herrensauna nights so far, it seems your focus is on artists who have been under the radar of the main techno scene. Who is responsible for the booking, where do you find these artists?
Cem: Jordan is always in search of new artists and has suggestions for the line-up and afterwards we discuss them together. He discovers unknown artists since he is very closely linked to Leipzig and the club Institut for Zukunft. He travels a lot through Germany to visit other clubs. We try to mix them with more established names at our parties.
Nicolas: Lately we were getting requests by bigger artists who wanted to play at our party, which is very flattering. Through the reputation we gained in a rather short time, we don’t have to book big names to get enough people to the party. That’s why we also have the opportunity to show them new artists, because they already know they can expect high quality music.
As a DJ-collective, you did not only draw attention of other promoters of the techno scene to you, but also got booked for parties which took place in different contexts, for example, in the fashion scene. What were your experiences compared to random club nights? What was it like to deejay for an audience with a different background?
Nicolas: It all started with the Dust Magazine-parties. They brought us to London to Alexander McQueen’s party and afterwards to Paris. It’s really nice to play there, but this is not our main focus. Of course we appreciate the interest. People know what to expect from us when they book us, so we just do our thing.
How do your plans with Herrensauna look like for the future? Are there any new or different aspects you want to bring to the project?
Cem: We have collaborations coming up in Berlin, but also with promoters from Copenhagen who are doing the Fast Forward parties. We are curating parties with them once every two months and bring in other artists and collectives as well. We could also imagine doing music distribution or label work, and we want to do our own party more regularly. Who knows what else will happen.
Text by Daniel Hartl & Julian Derkits
Photography by Luca Fuchs