Cinthie: “Just Because We Can’t Dance, it Doesn’t Mean the Music is Canceled”
Mention the name Cinthie to any true Berlin house head, and you’ll likely be greeted with a smile. They’ve probably seen her throw down at about blank, Else, Tresor, Watergate, or almost any one of Berlin’s many clubs. Maybe they’ve gone digging for wax at her Friedrichshain record store, Elevate Berlin. Or perhaps they’ve become personally acquainted with her — Cinthie’s charm and warmth are almost as famous as her music.
Growing up in the German city of Saarbrücken near the French border, Cinthie has been DJing for over two decades, and producing almost as long as that. She got her start working at a local record store before a few big releases took her around the globe. But she was unhappy, and made career move that included playing illegal squat raves around early ‘00s Berlin — some of which she organized herself. As her fame grew, she went on to hold a residencies at clubs like Watergate. These days she’s also regular on the festival circuit, and before lockdown performed in over 40 countries, with gigs at Concrete in Paris, Circoloco at DC-10, and Amsterdam’s Shelter among the numerous hotspots she graced in 2019.
Aside from owning one of Berlin’s most popular boutique record shops, Cinthie is a single mom, and runs a whopping three record labels — 803 Crystal Grooves, We_R House, and the newly-launched Collective Cuts. Though she’s also been a regular on imprints like Heist, and especially Aus Music — the label she’s released her debut album with.
Skylines — City Lights is an exhilarating 12-track LP that pays tribute to all the musical styles that have inspired her over the years. It’s filled with big, bright, laser-focused club tracks, and often inspires moments of unadulterated joy. This might seem at odds for our current moment. But as Cinthie sees it, it might just be exactly what we need.
Where would you say the origin of your DJ story started?
It’s funny you ask because I’m currently at my dad’s house, and I’ve got loads of pictures from me at 16 [or] 15 raving in front of a wall with lots of flyers and stuff from that time. It’s nice to think back when everything started. I lived in a city close to Saarbrücken, which is about an hour from Frankfurt, but it’s closer to the border to France. I think I started listening to electronic music when I was 14, so in 1994.
I always collected records, and so did my parents. I first started DJing in the bedroom before I got this job at this record store in Saarbrücken, called Humpty Records. It all started there. The guys who worked there — all of whom were much older than me — asked me, “are you a DJ?” I said, “Yeah. Sure. Of course.” In truth, I didn’t know anything, but I was well on my way.
Before you became Cinthie, I saw that you used to DJ under the moniker Vinyl Princess.
When I was around 17 years old, there was on this kind of nerdy online music forum that I used to love. Because I worked in a record shop, I knew quite a lot of records. People were always asking about track IDs and stuff. And whenever I knew something, I gave it to them. And then someone said, “Oh, yeah, you’re the Vinyl Princess. You’re so cool.”
And I thought, yeah, that’s quite a cool nickname. So I changed my nickname in this forum to Vinyl Princess for fun, and that was that. I played a gig under the moniker right around the time I turned 18. Because I was so young, it was just more like a nickname.
For some reason, WestBam — co-founder of Low Spirit Records (and the Love Parade) — picked up my first record. When it got pressed, I saw it and was like, “Fuck. What the hell is this?” I mean, I had no clue about anything at the time, but it came out under the name Vinyl Princess. I was like, “Oh… my god.” Because even though it was cute and was kind of fun, it was also embarrassing.
Tell me about your becoming a Berlin resident. What kind of music and shows were you playing at the start of your career?
I finished school in 1999, and the next day I went straight back to Berlin. Once I got signed by WestBam’s Electric Kingdom sub-label, I played quite a lot of tours with them in places like Japan, Amsterdam, and a few other places. When I got signed to the imprint, it was quite commercial, so many people thought I spun commercial music and was “too expensive” or something. So when I left the label in 2003, it took me quite some time to convince people that I’m cool and that I play cool music. So, with a friend, I started throwing some little DIY parties around Berlin.
I can honestly say I worked my ass off to be where I am at the moment. There was this idea in Berlin that if you play at particular types of clubs, then the others don’t book you. It took me a while, but I never gave up.
You have a ton of in-house labels at your record store, Elevate Berlin. Tell us about how you formed up with the Beste Modus crew and how the subsequent imprints came into existence.
In 2009, I got pregnant and had my daughter, so I didn’t have too much time to join or go to the studio. I was still playing in Berlin a bit, but I was still at a loss about what I should do. There are two ways: Finding something and really pushing for it, or I just play here and there and become a mom or something.
I met the Beste Modus guys — Diego Krause, stevn.aint.leavn, Ed Herbst, and Albert Vogt — in 2011. They were super nice, came to all of my gigs, and also they sent me some tracks. And I was like, “Fuck. I need to do something with them.” I saw that their stuff had loads of potential. I hadn’t released a record for seven years or something, but they made me want to start producing again. Then we started with the label.
It was a super big success. We sold our first 300 records overnight. And then we planned for a second one, and then a third one. We sold something like 3,000 records with the second repress. We were fucking killing it. We came in at the right time when house was having a massive revival. From there, we started the sub-label Beste Freunde because we had lots of really talented friends and wanted to release their stuff.
After a while, I also started my We_R House imprint with some other friends because I wanted to be a bit freer from my old crew. I was touring a lot the last couple of years and started to feel that the vinyl-only market was getting a bit saturated. I wanted to do Spotify and maybe go digital. The rest disagreed because they didn’t want to “sell their soul.” I get it, but I found myself playing in places all over the world with people who wanted to hear my music but couldn’t get it because they don’t have turntables or couldn’t get the vinyl. Why should I deny them my music?
You could feel I didn’t fit anymore. So I said, “Look, I think we should call it a day.” And then they said they also didn’t like it anymore, so Beste Modus ended, but it was very kind and mutual. Regardless I’ve still got my imprints We_R House, 803 Crystal Grooves, and Unison Wax alongside Diego Krause.
Tell us about your new Skylines — City Lights LP. Did you ever manage to test out any of its tracks on the dancefloor before the pandemic hit?
I tested out some of them because I’ve been working on the album for two years now. At first, I was just making tracks and stockpiling them. But then I would get impatient and think, “Shit. Maybe I should release another Crystal Grooves.” So I took the best four and released them. But after that, I decided to focus on the album. I’ve tested some of them on the crowd, especially tracks like “Calling,” which is a big boomer in the club. I played “Horizon” and “Concentrate” a couple of times on the floor as well.
But, yeah, it feels weird. I mean, it feels weird, especially now, when I’m signing a piece from other artists, or I have some new tracks, I don’t have the opportunity to play them out. Because of this, I feel like I really have to trust my feelings on what will work well, but I think I have enough experience to know.
Instead of releasing your debut album on one of your labels, you decided to go with Aus Music. Why that label, and how did you first link up with Will Saul?
I met Will through a friend. He had heard of me and asked if I would send him some tracks. I released my first Aus Music EP, Trust, in 2018, followed by a second, Mesmerizing, in 2019. Then he came to Berlin, and we got on really well. I was giving him a lift to the airport when he asked me what I had going on next, that’s when I told him it was “album time.” When I told him I was going to release it on Crystal Grooves, he was like, “No. You’re going to do it on ours.” So I was like, “Oh, Okay. If you say so!” It just felt right. AUS Music is a legendary label, and Will is such a good guy with lots of experience.
Can you tell us more about your approach to the album?
I’m a club DJ, and I feel like the album kind of plays out like a set. I really tried to make the tracks super accessible, so you can also listen to them at home and bang them out on the dancefloor. I also tried to include all my influences, so it incorporates Chicago house, garage, a bit of acid, and some nu-disco. It also has this track “Flashback,” which goes back to my roots when I produced broken beats. I also think the opening track, “Skylines,” which comes in at like 105 BPM isn’t going to be what people expect, but it builds with this band that’s like “Wow! Fuck yeah!”
What are some of the challenges you’ve been facing during the COVID pandemic? Have there been any unexpected upsides? Where do you think clubland is heading after all of this?
The biggest challenge has been that my daughter’s school is closed. Because usually when I’m at home during the week, I go to the studio at least three, four times per week. So I was a bit scared. So I haven’t been for quite a while. And I was a bit afraid to lose my workflow. The upside of this pandemic though, is that I have more time for my daughter. We’re a perfect team, and when I would have to leave over the weekend for a gig, sometimes she’d not want me to go. But now since I’m home so much, she’s almost like, “Oh, mom, can you go back to work again now?”
People can’t spend money on club entry and drinks, but they still want their music. While stuff was closed, people ordered a lot of records from our Elevate Berlin store. Our sales quadrupled — such a funny word in English. My music sales have also been outstanding. We were thinking about moving the album, but I can’t help but feel now is the time. Just because they can’t dance doesn’t mean the music is also canceled. I think it’s more the opposite. People still need their dance music. I want to create happy music, and I want to help promote music that gives people hope and helps bring back memories.
Cameron Holbrook is a staff writer for Beatportal. Find him on Twitter.