Cover Story: Cinthie

Cover Story: Cinthie

Michael Lawson catches up with Cinthie, the Berlin-based dance music stalwart who is enjoying a creative renaissance.

When Beatportal touches base with Cinthie, she is set to embark on a tour of Australia. The Berliner conveys a refreshing dose of enthusiasm at the prospect of this Antipodean expedition — her first time Down Under since before the pandemic. “Yeah, super excited,” she confirms with a grin.

A DJ, producer, label head, and record store owner, Cinthie is arguably enjoying the most fruitful period of her storied career: picking up numerous bookings across the globe; delivering regular high-profile remixes; and cementing her status as one of Berlin’s most respected dance music figureheads. It’s testament to an artist who has spent her life immersed in club culture.

A musical love affair that stretches back 25 years, her story begins in Saarbrücken, a small German city close to the French border. It was here that Cinthie’s parents introduced her to the sounds of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, WestBam and countless others, and where a rave tape from a mysterious artist called Sven — passed on to her from an older cousin — encouraged her to dig deeper into this captivating electronic world. “Once you’re in, you never get back out again,” she insists, before confirming that the Sven in question turned out to be Sven Väth.

Saarbrücken’s close proximity to numerous larger cities also made it an ideal base for what she describes as her “rave tourist” phase, which saw Cinthie travel to the likes of Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt and Paris (seeing Jennifer Cardini behind the decks at Paris’ Rex Club was a particularly formative experience) for an exemplary clubbing education. “We were out practically every weekend,” she says with a wry smile. “Not so much sleep, but a lot of fun.”

However, it was a weekend job at the city’s Humpty Records that proved to be Saarbrücken’s most crucial contribution to Cinthie’s journey. Just 16-years-old when starting out, her time there shaped her “as an artist and as a person,” and was where she first learned to mix after being taught by the more senior members of staff. 

“Of course I’d been pretending I could mix prior to that!” she laughs. “But actually I kinda hated it when I first started. They would give me all these weird records to mix and I thought they were taking the piss and trying to make me feel stupid. As I became better I realised they were just trying to help me and wanted me to be comfortable in every kind of situation. It took time, but looking back I feel really honoured that they kicked my ass into shape back then.”

Cinthie cover story

Connections made at Humpty led to Cinthie picking up her first ever gigs shortly afterwards. Still only aged just 17, she recalls playing everything from “house to groovy techno to trance — basically everything I liked that came into the store,” and conveying a natural flair for the craft that soon saw her holding down a residency at Flash, a club near Frankfurt. When she found herself supporting WestBam there the following year, the techno legend was so impressed by her set that he immediately insisted on signing her as a tour DJ.

“I was playing the opener and suddenly he came out from backstage like, ‘Oh my god, who the fuck are you?’” she remembers vividly. “I thought that what he was proposing sounded really cool but wasn’t sure if it was actually going to happen. People say a lot of things in the club that they don’t follow through with.”

True to his word, WestBam promptly signed Cinthie to his Low Spirit sub-label Electric Kingdom, leading to her touring Japan and playing shows across Europe, as well as making her first foray into the world of music production. “There was no YouTube or anything like that in those days,” she says. “So I visited a friend’s studio and he helped me to turn the little ideas I had into proper tracks.” The results of this studio time became Cinthie’s first-ever singles: breakbeat-heavy club jams put out under the moniker Vinyl Princess in the early-2000s.

Although an undoubtedly positive time, Cinthie found that, as her tastes developed, they no longer aligned with those of the label. Not only did she have itchy feet, she had also grown frustrated with some of the things she had experienced as a female working in the mainstream music sphere.

“When I started making music I was really into certain flavours,” she explains. “But you’re changing so much at that age because you’re gaining so much life experience. And after a couple of releases I discovered what it could be like for a woman in this industry, as in people not taking you seriously and that kind of thing. I was putting so much work in but always found myself playing the opener, for example. Generally, I feel like I should’ve been treated a bit better.” 

Cinthie by Marie Staggat

With that in mind, she made the decision to leave Electric Kingdom and move back to the city of her birth: Berlin. The local DIY party scene proved to be the perfect antidote to commercial dance music disillusionment, and she soon found herself at the helm of a crew that were regularly hosting illegal raves.

“As always with life, when one door closes, another one opens,” she says, reflecting on what would become one of the most hedonistic periods of her life. “We squatted a lot of houses and did some parties, and I feel like this was a time when I really learned to do things for myself.” Production also took a backseat during this time (“I didn’t really feel like it made sense at that point”), with the desire to tap into the Dionysian party culture of the German capital taking priority — something that raised her profile within the city’s club scene and ultimately led to more gigs. 

She recalls a particularly memorable party that spawned from Cinthie and her friends convincing the Berlin authorities to lease them a former government building. “It was this completely dilapidated house behind the Chinese Embassy. We told them we were going to host an art exhibition with a little bit of music in the background,” she laughs. After building a bar, hiring an electricity box and even covering the windows with mattresses to prevent sound pollution, the party was in full flow. “But suddenly, BOOF,” she gesticulates. “Lights were off, sound was off — the electricity completely stopped working.” Cinthie was given the unforgiving task of going down to the cellar in the pitch black to fix the supply. “Thankfully it was just a case of pressing the right button. And it was such an amazing vibe after the power came back on.”

These debaucherous squat party years preceded an altogether less eventful period for Cinthie, at least on the music front. After the birth of her child in 2009, she describes being at a career crossroads. “One option was to let the music side of my life die. Maybe having a few gigs here and there but not dedicating lots of time and effort into it, just letting it fade out. Then the other option was to do what I could to make things kick off again.”

A chance encounter with a group of young house heads at one of her shows proved to be the creative spark needed for Cinthie to choose the second option. “I was playing at an after hour party in Berlin and a guy came up to me asking for the name of a track,” she begins. “After that, I met him and his friends at the bar. They were all super nice and it turned out we were all into the same kind of music, so we became friends.”

It wasn’t until they began sending her music that she realised just how far this friendship could go. “I was like ‘wow!’” she enthuses. “The tracks were really, really good. I really wanted to sign them, so we decided to start a record label there and then, which we called Beste Modus.”

Cinthie interview

A five-person crew made up of Cinthie, Diego Krausestevn.aint.leavnEd Herbst, and Albert Vogt, Beste Modus burst onto the Berlin electronic scene and almost immediately found an audience. As well as performing label showcases at clubs like Watergate and Prince Charles, they released a steady stream of limited-run records that captured the essence of deep house and generated a serious buzz amongst those in the know. For their first two releases, the 300 copies they pressed sold out in under 48 hours. Soon they were pressing 1000 records per release, each causing similar levels of excitement within the house music community.

After spending years treading water, the launch of Beste Modus felt like the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Cinthie. A fire had been reignited and falling back in love with house music allowed her to find another gear. “Suddenly everything was making sense again,” she agrees. “The experiences from my past, whether good or bad, turned into something that I could call my own, and I was back having fun running this independent label. If I hadn’t met those guys then, who knows if I would still be playing by now.”

After witnessing the success of Beste Modus, it wasn’t long before Cinthie decided to launch more record labels, be that Beste sub-labels or new standalone imprints. “After a while we started to get sent a lot of demos from our friends,” she says, doing her best to trace the roots of this fertile period. “So we thought, ‘Okay we need to create something new for them’. First we started a label called Beste Freunde, which translates to ‘Best Friends’. Then I created Unison Wax specifically for Diego’s music, then I met some friends from the UK, The Willers Brothers, and we started the we_r house label. Later down the line I started my own label 803 Crystal Grooves, which is largely for my own stuff, and then its sub-label 803 Crystal Grooves Collective Cuts (“it’s a very long name!”). Yeah I definitely think that’s enough labels for now!”

With so much record label experience under her belt, suddenly the idea of running a physical record store didn’t seem so daunting. “We actually never planned to open a record store,” she insists. “But we already had our Beste Modus web store where we sold records and merchandise. I had everything upstairs in my daughter’s bedroom and after a while it was simply taking up too much room. We needed storage space.” 

A few months down the line, a neighbour got in touch to let her know that she was moving out of the office space adjacent to her apartment. Cinthie grasped this opportunity with both hands and Elevate Berlin was born. “My idea had always been to make the web store bigger as we were now releasing music from so many of our friends’ DIY labels, so I thought why not? I had the experience of working in a record store back in the ‘90s so what could go wrong? It came to us rather than us searching for it.”

Cinthie Berlin

After Cinthie split with the rest of the Beste Modus guys in 2019 (“unfortunately we went our separate ways, but it felt like a good decision to end the labels on a high”), she took on the running of the shop all on her own: financing everything, taking everything out in her name and working countless hours into the night. “Thankfully it’s going really, really well,” she smiles. “I’m super happy with it. I always try to update it to keep things fresh, like recently I added a proper DJ booth.”

“It’s funny because my boyfriend is from the area around Frankfurt and he used to run a record store there called Freebase for 22 years,” she continues. “He knows everyone from Sven Väth to Ricardo Villalobos to Richie Hawtin — they were all buying records there when they were playing shows in the city. We always make jokes about him now being my consultant. It’s really nice to have someone there that I can talk to if there are any difficulties.”  

More recently a press wing of Elevate, Elevate PR, became the latest string in Cinthie’s bow. “With Jordan [Director of Elevate PR] now handling my press, the idea is to have the stuff he is promoting in the store, then the stuff I’m producing I can also sell in the store, plus listening to all this exciting new stuff that comes into the store gives me inspiration in terms of new ideas for producing music. I think I’ve been very lucky with everything. It all feeds into each other nicely.”

Cinthie has created a dance music ecosystem all of her own, something that she modestly downplays as a “happy accident”. In reality, it’s the result of years of hard work, which didn’t stop during lockdown. “When the pandemic happened, suddenly I had no gigs and so much more time to work on the record store,” she says. “And since then it has just exploded. Not only did it help me survive financially, it gave me something to focus on and take my mind off of the terrible situation.”

In the interim, Cinthie spent a few years as a resident at the legendary Watergate, released music steadily on labels such as Aus Music and Shall Not Fade, dropped high-profile remixes for the likes of Tensnake, Dusky and Scuba, and even found time to squeeze in a debut album, Skylines, in 2020. 

Cinthie portrait

Next on the horizon is her contribution to the coveted DJ Kicks mix CD series. Staying true to her “first love,” it’s a 23-track release that covers the width and breadth of house music. “There’s a wide range on there: from deep to big room; old-school to new-school; jazzy stuff to banging stuff. It’s a nice variation of house sounds.” The tracklist sums up this variation perfectly: there are Chicago and Detroit legends in the form of Terrence Parker, Amir Alexander and the late Paul Johnson; talented newcomers like Logic 1000 and Amy Dabbs, and some of Cinthie’s own material thrown in for good measure.

Despite the clear infatuation with house, Cinthie is quick to dispel any notions of it being the only genre she plays. “I’m mostly known for playing house, but if I’m given the opportunity to play an extended set then I can show people that actually I can draw from a much wider musical spectrum,” she explains, trying her best to trace how her musical tastes have developed over the years. “I also love minimal music, particularly the funky minimal tracks with lots of groove, and at one stage my tastes went a bit deeper, whereas now I’m back towards the ‘90s stuff. I love pianos and rave energy — now that we’re moving out of the pandemic I feel like we need some euphoria.”

But maybe there is one constant that defines her sound. “A friend of mine once said to me, ‘do you know what I can always hear in your music, no matter what you play? The groove.’ That’s something that has stuck with me.”

Looking ahead, Cinthie boasts a stacked list of tour dates across the rest of 2022 and beyond. After Australia, there are European festivals, US tours and a handful of dates promoting her DJ Kicks, to name but a small list of highlights. “Touring can of course be stressful, but to me it usually feels like a holiday,” she says, conveying the kind of infectious zest for life that has helped her become one of the most beloved figures in the scene.

Her action-packed lifestyle is the culmination of a lifetime of hard-work, dedication and, perhaps most crucially, a deep passion for what she does. And now that the DJ Kicks is in the pipeline, Cinthie has set her sights on delivering a live show — the final milestone in what has been a glittering career in music.

“I’ve recorded an Essential Mix, played Panorama Bar and now did a DJ Kicks, so I think that the next logical step would be to play live one day,” she says. “It’s actually the last thing on my bucket list. Otherwise, I could end my career as I’ve done everything!”  

Cinthie’s DJ Kicks is out on 1st April

Michael Lawson is a Scottish freelance music journalist based out of London. Find him on Instagram.

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