Introducing: Hyperaktivist, the Venezuelan Selector Using ’90s Principles to Reunite the Dance Floor
Introducing: Hyperaktivist, the Venezuelan Selector Using ’90s Principles to Reunite the Dance FloorMarch 23, 2020
It’s often said that Berlin is a transient city, a still-emerging metropolis in which people arrive to find themselves, lose their minds and more often than not, move on. For those who stay put and stay partying, club culture asks DJs, promoters and producers to prove themselves again and again. It’s not always an easy environment, and the rewards are not always immediate. As such, it speaks for the passion and dedication of Ana Laura Rincón, better known as Hyperaktivist, that she has long-established herself as one of the Berlin underground’s most trustworthy and principled individuals.
Originally arriving in the city from her native Venezuela in order to earn a diploma in sound engineering, Rincón has since become the architect of not one, but two vital community-focused club nights. In 2016, she founded MESS (or, Mindful Electronic Sonic Selections); occasional, experimentally-minded parties with a strong focus on femme and non-binary artists from diverse cultural backgrounds. This was later followed by Mala Junta, the cult party she operates alongside DJ Tool and D.Dan, rooted in a re-emerging fast techno scene, and has in just two years built a following that feels unusually transcendent and dedicated for a clubbing landscape as fickle as Berlin. If there were anything left to prove, Rincón’s hit rate speaks for itself.
“We wanted to make music the main subject of the night again,” explains Rincón, characteristically optimistic, despite the emerging coronavirus crisis forcing her to return early from a United States tour with her Mala Junta partners. “In the same way that, back in the early ‘90s, people developed a unique sound for a unique message, we wanted to pay homage to this time, but also to go further and build a future for our community.”
Equipped with an unquestionably impressive knowledge of the furiously-paced yet funky techno currently en-vogue in the sets of DJs like Schacke, Peachlyfe, Rune Bagge and her friend D.Dan, Rincon is keen to stress that this isn’t a sound she has been waiting to come round. Far from chasing trends, the various projects associated with Hyperaktivist have created platforms that have empowered others. If her record collection stretches far into the past, Ricon’s attitude only looks to the future.
“Instead of feeling nostalgic to me, it feels fresh. I have found a musical direction that makes a lot of sense to me,” she explains of her approach. “One of the things I love the most about DJing and music is that it never ends. Today you are into one sound, but then you discover a new genre or a new time. And you start to do your research on this and discover a whole new tribe, a whole new culture… And so it keeps spreading, always changing. You see different genres gain momentum and new music influenced by specific times but with a different approach.”
The phrase mala junta translates in English to “bad behaviour.” A breakneck, fast and loose approach to rave music is central to the party that spans beyond house and techno and into breaks, trance and other bass-heavy surprises that force Rincon out of her comfort zone with obvious pleasure. A Hyperaktivist set can contain a multitude of styles that may once have set a more po-faced sea of techno purists on edge, but represents a refreshed energy in what was once an increasingly placid, undeniably masculine scene. Between the stern, concrete pillars of Berghain’s experimental side-project, Säule, where she has become a Thursday night favourite, the hypnotic rhythm underpinning a Hyperaktivist set is undeniable.
“I think percussion was something I was always driven to, not only because I was constantly exposed to it but also because we have this expression in South America: ‘It’s in my blood.’ You can find it in the center of almost all Latin-American music genres and through our history until now. From the native Venezuelans to all the incredible mixes that happened as a result of the colony and our mix with Africans, Europeans and and so on.”
Throughout her childhood in Venezuela, the tambores drum defined the sound of parties and gatherings. Traditional bands made up of various drums and drummers manipulating raw, percussive sounds, this musical tradition remains a potent influence on the often futurist techno direction of a Hyperaktivist performance.
“I always found it fascinating as everyone started to dance and sweat,” she recalls. “It’s almost like a ritual, so sexy and such a great release. So I guess that unconsciously I always wanted to translate that feeling into my sets.”
When Rincón first established MESS at OHM in 2016, much of the discussion about equality that now defines dance music was only slowly creeping into the mainstream. “I wanted to offer a platform a leading place for femme artists to shine, and there are so many artists that are still underrepresented,” she explains, acknowledging the level of progress that still needs to be made. “I wanted to push the scene forward by having a night were all headliners were femme from different backgrounds, and with different approaches. The result has been quite rewarding, and each night has seen so many amazing artists deliver such great and unique shows.”
Hyperaktivist’s definition of queer culture is broad and not only limited to sexuality. Rather, the aim of both MESS and Mala Junta is to use the parties to “aspire to contribute to overcome some of the burdens of our society’s mentality, and seriously contribute to the work of the Berlin queer electronic music scene.” Although femme and marginalised acts are front and centre, her approach encompasses attitude and philosophy as much as sexuality or gender. As the scene evolves to encompass parties with an approach on increasingly specific identities, has she felt a generation gap emerge in the next wave of techno-feminism?
“I think that, like with everything else in life, there will always be different approaches and interpretations,” Rincón reflects. “And as long as people are working to progress their communities, all should be welcome. From my point of view, if I leave a group completely out then I would be doing the very same thing I’m criticising. I have always believed in working together and pushing each other as the best way to accomplish stuff. And, cheesy as it sounds, thankfully music has always been the bridge between many cultures, ideas, groups and values.”
As the appeal of activism bleeds further into commerce, Rincón’s rock-solid principles are a refreshing asset. Dedicated to community since her teens, and undoubtedly pleased to see discussions about gender and social responsibility become cornerstones of a new generation, Rincón nonetheless operates with a delicate balance of optimism and caution.
“At the time, diversity was starting to be a big topic of discussion,” she recalls of establishing MESS in 2016. “One thing I noticed was that, unfortunately, this discussion was not always being used for the right reasons. Meaning, it felt like some events, especially bigger ones, were using it as a promotional weapon, because they felt they also needed to be part of this wave, or to keep themselves from being targeted.”
“I know how important it is for the scene to understand this,” Rincón affirms. “In a way, it means staying true to the origins and the fundamentals in which electronic music culture started. But the point is to practice it in an honest way and for the right reasons, because we really want the scene to be like this; inclusive and building a community. I know this might be a bit of a naive way to see it, as the capitalist system will always find its way into every realm. So I guess it’s up to smaller venues, events and promoters to keep this fire burning.”
Even as her own profile steadily ascends, it’s in no doubt that Hyperaktivist continues to take this responsibility very seriously, while never forgetting about the transcendent connection that music can make. Within time, we can expect to hear more personal rhythmic incantations from her own studio, but only when and if that music reaches her own high standards.
“Making music is something that’s always been in my mind and my heart,” she stresses. “It’s been a while since I sat down to make music, as the last two years were all about working on establishing the party projects and focusing on DJing. I’ve been making music for a couple of years but now I feel now I’ve reached a point where I’m clear on how I want my music to sound. I hope soon to get back to making music and just to keep on learning. I still have a long way to go, but I hope soon to have something I’m proud of so I can share it with the world.”
John Thorp is a freelance journalist living in Berlin. You can find more of his work here.