A Saturday evening in late summer 2020 on the terrace of Cologne’s Stadtgarten venue, one of the few places where electronic music is still being played during the coronavirus pandemic. On the stage is Phillip Jondo. Jondo, who is in his late 20s, runs the SPA Records label with two friends. With just five releases and an NTS radio show, the trio have already established themselves as an open-minded collective, free from all dogmatic restraint. On this evening, Jondo fuses pitched R&B samples with euphoric soundscapes and beats in loose multiple tempi. Although he started out producing German rap as a teenager, his favourite Cologne record is Can’s “Tago Mago” – a stylistically assured choice.
When describing his DJ philosophy, Jondo says: “Even if it didn’t suit the crowd one bit, I would probably still play my favourite song – simply because it means a lot to me and because it triggers something in me that I want to share with others”.
So far, he has put his time to good use during the coronavirus period, by releasing a new EP, for example. He also reveals that he drew up a list of pointers for himself before starting: leave room for surprises; take responsibility for one another in the studio; don’t just look for one mood in the music.
The following day sees Marie Montexier DJing at the Kompakt label’s annual Total party on the same stage. The 22-year-old sees Kompakt as “family” even though her personal musical tastes lie elsewhere: “I originally come from the drum ’n’ bass and hip-hop scene, so I’m really into electro stuff and breaks. I worked my way through all the genres until I found my own niche.”
When asked how she, as a young artist on the verge of a career breakthrough, felt about the coronavirus and its repercussions, Marie Montexier replied: “It was tough for me. One week after the shutdown I would have done my first Boiler Room and then I would have had my first gig at Berghain in Berlin. It was all right in front of my nose and then suddenly taken away from me…” Being able to keep financially afloat by working in a CBD store helped her to flick the switch and get her creative juices flowing again relatively quickly. And it also meant that she didn’t have a lot of time for navel-gazing. With Pistache FM, she has her own radio show at Munich-based Radio 8000 and plans to launch her own label, something that is very close to her heart.
Sören Siebel put out two highly regarded records at the same time. First there is “Klavier”, recorded together with Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco under the name Shaw & Grossfeldt, and then a solo EP “Lost in Sensation”, released under the name Bas Grossfeldt on Metroplex, the label owned by Detroit techno veteran Juan Atkins. As he recalls: “I was speechless at first. The idea that a small Cologne artist like me could ever release an EP on the Detroit techno label is pretty surreal”. Siebel doesn’t think it’s such a bad thing that the two releases happened to coincide with the pandemic: “I think that people are allowing themselves more time to discover music right now.” Although, as he admits, “you need the whole atmosphere in the clubs for the records to make a lasting impact.”
To avoid falling prey to coronavirus-induced resignation, Sören Siebel is working on new tracks and a soundtrack for his performance installation “Die Architektur des Unbewussten” (The Architecture of the Unconscious). As part of his dissertation for the Academy of Media Arts here in Cologne, he performed it at the local Jaki nightclub shortly before the lockdown, innovatively combining a club performance with performance art. As Siebel explains: “For me, this ʻin-between’ creates a tension that I have never felt anywhere else. It also has a lot to do with which energy impacts whom, with when and how this happens – and with how that affects the space and the people there. And, above all, it is the physical experience that takes centre stage again and again.”
Michael Kastens sees himself as a “chameleon”. He works for the PollerWiesen open-air parties but is also one of the brains behind the labels Ki Records and Henk Records, organises the Cologne Sessions at Jaki and makes his own music as DJ and producer MK Braun.
While most other people were still reeling from the coronavirus shock and waiting for the all-clear to be given, Kastens was quick to launch into a plan B and started a model agency: Fifteen Minutes Agency. Thinking back to March 2020, he recalls: “Everything I do for a living and everything I had worked towards for years fell apart within the space of a few days. As no one had any idea what course the pandemic was going to take, I soon felt a void that I wanted to fill as quickly as possible.”
In the noughties, Kastens worked as a model himself so he certainly knows his way around the industry: “The first jobs — both paid and unpaid – are now starting to come in”, he reports, “which is great news of course.” He takes the same approach to the agency as he does to his music: he is interested in models with a “more progressive, edgy look”.
Of course, music hasn’t disappeared from Kastens’ life completely. Far from it: his label Henk is releasing a maxi single by Stikdorn which also features him as a musician on one track. Reflecting the current lack of clubbing opportunities, it doesn’t just include euphoric rave bangers but also spherical tracks for listening to at home. Michael Kastens: “Of course, it’s a pity that pretty much all the feedback on the promos will be sent digitally. But then it’ll be all the more rewarding when we can finally get hear the tracks where they are meant to be heard – in the clubs!”
(by Thomas Venker)