ANJA SCHNEIDER: HEART AND SOUL
She's built a rock-solid unit that's celebrating a decade of electronic music brilliance this year...
It’s the 1st May. ‘May Day’ public holiday in Berlin, traditionally the time when the city transforms from the grey, oppressive bleakness of its winter months, into the sunny, euphoric party hub that befits its international reputation.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of young people spilling out into the bustling Kreuzberg district. Bars are hosting their own improv street parties and “open airs”, throwing up a few speakers on the pavement, while a few doors down, entrepreneurial neighbours sell vodka shots out their window for 1€.
As the May Day activities wind down late in the afternoon, large numbers head towards the Friedrichstraße “clubbing mile”, a hive of techno-related activity that includes the stretch of repurposed industrial buildings along Revaler Strasse. Today one of the destinations is Haubentaucher, a club with an expansive outdoor pool terrace that’s too good to be true.
Today Anja Schneider and her Mobilee Recordscrew are throwing their first ‘Daytime Pool Session’, with the prospect of tapping into the iconic vibes of their Barcelona rooftop parties. Perhaps serendipitously though, there’s a noise complaint a few hours into the afternoon, and the party moves into the venue’s impressive basement club.
Mobilee doyen Schneider hits the decks after 8pm for the final stretch, and it’s a set brimming with party vibes, and a variety of selections that teeter ambiguously between tech-laden house and groove-driven techno; without settling too much into either.
She keeps things rocking, without going for the easy wins.
Terranova 'Labrador’ brings the wonkier grooves; there's tougher tech with a jazzy touch courtesy of Kenny Larkin and his remix of Radio Slave’s 'I Don’t Need A Cure For This'; the deep percussive throb of the Heiko Laux rework of Funk D’Void’s 'Soul Slap'.
Behind the decks, Schneider has every bit the enthusiasm of the raver who decided to never grow up. With more than 20 years of history in the city already behind her, after moving in the mid-'90s to be a part of the city’s burgeoning dance culture, it’s the sort of genuine dedication that inspires an unannounced sunrise set the next morning at Sisyphus, one of Berlin’s infamous open-air playgrounds. First and foremost, she’s a clubber.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Schneider’s baby, Mobilee Records; the ultimate realisation of her creative output, and the avenue through which she helps curate a posse of young artists, a pursuit that takes precedence above even her own profile as a DJ.
However, the past 12 months have been particularly strong for Schneider. Mobilee had a solid year, with label regulars like Sebo K, And.Id, Rodriguez Jr. and Re.You all delivering a steady slew of polished weapons, plus a memorable return to the fold by Maya Jane Coles with her ‘From the Dark’ EP, nearly four years since Schneider spotted her talent and released her debut ‘Beat Faster’ EP.
All of this activity was collated and captured on this year’s ‘Back to Back Vol.9’, featuring 20 of the biggest cuts released on Mobilee in 2014, plus two extra-special mixes presented by Re.You, one of the label’s true blossoming protégés; both elaborate affairs that saw him locking himself in the studios at Mobilee HQ, stripping out the sonic essence of the label’s back catalogue, and rebuilding all the different elements with two 30-minute mixes.
Meanwhile, Schneider herself had a knockout year as a producer, showcasing a new-found knack for melodic deepness with the particularly memorable ‘Dubmission’ and ‘Jimmy’. She also made her own entry into the Essential Mix pantheon, and she’s touring the world as much as ever. After 20 years of industry involvement, Schneider is at the forefront.
“I’m happy about it,” Schneider tells DJ Mag, when we catch up in a café just around the corner from the Mobilee offices and studio in Mitte, in the city’s east. “Because sometimes it’s the other way around.
You come into the market, everyone is super interested in you, and you’re the hot new kid on the block. To be able to hold this, and then still it’s going higher and higher… this is interesting, and I’m super happy about it. I’m not doing anything different, and I didn’t change. I’m just keeping focused on Mobilee, and my music.”
It was a two-pronged approach that Schneider brought to her Mobilee venture when she launched in 2005; her history of involvement in the clubbing scene since the early '90s, as well as her background as a marketing and business professional, combined with a canny knack for spotting talent, and the willingness to invest energy into building others up.
The strongest feeling you get about the Mobilee brand is that it’s an extension of Schneider; it’s her concept, her vision, her baby.
It represents her ideals, rather than something as mercenary as a ‘business card’ with the sole intent of boosting her DJ career, as record labels are so often spoken about nowadays.
“To build something, there’s a lot of heart and soul involved. And not everyone has this,” she says.
2005 made for an interesting time to launch a label. Schneider says they sold records in their first year in numbers nobody would dream about these days (“It’s never gonna happen like that again, it doesn’t matter how good or not the track is”).
The ‘digital disruption’ represented a tectonic shift that shook the industry to its core.
Those remaining have needed to pivot with the changes, streaming being the latest big shift. Mobilee has watched Spotify gradually transform into a viable revenue source, while they’ve also recently road-tested Beatport’s ventures into streaming.
“Beatport changed their whole business model. Selling music is not their main business anymore. We knew it would be this way, from when they first were bought by SFX.
Of course these changes are difficult, but of course we also have to react to this. Will it be better to stay one step ahead? Whatever happens, I still believe in Mobilee. But this is why you need a booking agency, you need showcases, and you need a strong brand.”
The booking agency side of Mobilee began in 2007, just a few years into the life of the label, and Schneider agrees it’s an essential ‘bolt-on’ in the current climate. However, with Mobilee set to hit its 150th release this year, and its sibling offshoot Leenaclimbing towards its 50th, Schneider says music will remain the focus.
“The booking agency side of things will never grow more important; because the label itself is the content. If you don’t deliver good music, and you don’t care as much about what’s coming out on the label, you put all the other business at risk.
Because this is my main focus. We have the potential to really build people up. But we have to be careful with who we choose, because they’re representing the brand too. And I keep Mobilee as my baby.
I don’t want to have every other week a new release from someone, which might be good, because we receive so many good demos. But we can’t do this, because we need to focus on the artists we’re working with. And if I’m gonna go with someone, we’re gonna go a long way. Not just for one release.”
Coming to Berlin
Growing up in Bergisch Gladbach, a small town in the west of Germany, Schneider studied Communications in the nearby city of Cologne after leaving school, which led to a role at an advertising agency in Dusseldorf.
However, Berlin was calling. Her first visit was during the wild, wild early days after the fall of the GDR, the city still high on the energy of reunification.
Ravaged urban landscapes and abandoned buildings had opened up in the city’s east, with more than a third of the buildings lying unoccupied. Of course, these old spaces were put to good use, as spaces of wild clubbing abandon; a trend that remains in Berlin to this day.
“I came to Berlin quite early, so I can call myself a real Berliner,” Schneider tells us. “I was already a little bit involved in club culture, but Cologne during this time was quite limited. But the first time I heard a DJ mixing two records… ‘What the hell?’ It was a completely different world. And I became more and more interested in this music. And my biggest goal was to go to Berlin.”
Her first visit saw her packing her old Citroen and embarking on a solo mission, with a 12-hour drive, all in the hope of visiting the legendary Tresor. In standard Berlin style, the iconic club had been set up in the basement vault of an abandoned Wertheim department store.
“I walked down the steps, and with every step things began to change. The lights shifted, I could hear the bass… and suddenly a completely new world opened up to me. I remember it like it was yesterday… it’s the same feeling people have when they enter Berghain for the first time.
“I could feel there was something going on, and I wanted to be a part of it. I couldn’t go back to my normal life. So I quit my job in Dusseldorf, and I moved to Berlin.”
Schneider quickly struck up a relationship with the city’s Kiss FM radio station. While it’s now an established broadcaster, at the time it was essentially a pirate station without a proper frequency, largely serving the multicultural community, but with a growing cast of DJs commandeering the tiny studio to play their latest records.
“I remember I knew about it because Paul van Dyk was doing the morning show,” she remembers. “Ellen Allien had started her Braincandy show there. So I knew it was quite cool. So I saved some money and quit my job, I found the address and I just went there. I said, ‘My name is Anja, I love what you’re doing. You need me’. They said, ‘We have no money’. I said, 'I don’t care'.”
Schneider points to the 1994 edition of the Love Parade, the iconic mass gathering that partied its way down Unter Den Linden throughout the '90s and early 2000s, as a turning point.
“It had already been a few years in Berlin, and I said to the radio station, we have to support it. It was already quite big, but not like the millions it eventually grew to.
So I had the idea of a party on a boat that would sail the River Spree, and we’d put the DJ booth on the deck, and put some sunbeds so the DJs could come with their friends, hang out and have a good time.
It was called the KISS FM Loveboat, starting Friday 6pm and through to Monday 6am, 60 hours with every hour another DJ on the decks. And we’d broadcast on the radio over the weekend.
“It will be cozy, cool and small, I thought,” Anja continues. “But within two hours of it starting, I realised, 'This is not gonna be cozy, and it’s not gonna be small'. Because everybody came, there were 60,000 people coming over the weekend.
People were jumping into the river, it was like a crazy demonstration, it was the biggest thing ever. Even DJs like Richie Hawtin were calling me and asking to play, I hadn’t asked them because I was too afraid to at this time! But after this weekend, everybody knew me all of a sudden. t was my most changing moment.”
While KISS FM eventually won its campaign for a frequency, money got involved (as well as a more regulated playlist) and Schneider got bored. At this point she was approached by Fritz FM, a state-funded station that is essentially Germany’s equivalent of Radio 1, hiring Schneider as a programme manager who would help forge a stronger connection with the dance community.
The birth of Mobilee
Schneider’s radio show Dance Under the Blue Moon launched in 2000 (continuing weekly to this day), and it represented the next step of her evolution, that saw her DJ career strengthening, her first early forays into producing, before eventually beginning her Mobilee label in 2005.
Compiling the ‘Loveradio Compilation’ to accompany one of Berlin’s latter Love Parade broadcasts on Fritz FM, it inspired her to flesh out the musical ideas that had been swirling in her head for some time. ‘Tonite’ was her debut, produced alongside fellow Berlin stalwart Sebo K, who became one of Mobilee’s key producers when the label launched several months later.
“I was getting so many demos from young producers, and it was our distributor wordandsoundwho had said to me, ‘Anja, you run this radio show and you have a prominent name, you have these young artists who are sending you music, you need to make a record label’.”
To help realise her vision she partnered with Ralf Kollmann, a fixture among the Cologne and Frankfurt techno communities before relocating to Berlin after 2000, and Mobilee hit the ground running.
Swept up in the ‘minimal’ wave that was gripping Berlin at the time (“this was never our intention, but it was a good wave to ride upon”), the label nailed an anthem in its first year with the seductive, tripped-out grooves of Schneider and Sebo K’s ‘Rancho Relaxo’.
Initially appearing as a B-Side on 'Mobilee 003', it was quickly propelled to anthem status, with its wonky melodies sounding nearly as fresh and recognisable more than a decade later.
“It was absolutely nuts, this new professional direction. I remember all the DJ feedback we would receive would come via fax. Everytime we heard it start, we’d be dancing around.”
One of the label’s earliest artist success stores was Pan-Pot, the Berlin duo who first appeared on 'Mobilee 02'with their ‘Popy & Caste’ EP. They’ve been a fixture on the label over the years, and gone on to become one of the city’s most present and consistent techno acts, as well as a perfect example of Schneider’s commitment to cultivating up-and-coming talent.
And there’s more where that came from, as DJ Mag had no trouble finding artists with kind words to say.
"Anja is a charismatic woman who motivates and inspires people around her,” Mobilee mainstay And.ID told DJ Mag. “I admire her for being able to manage such a busy life, yet still be the same sweet person she was when I first met her. Through Mobilee she gave me the opportunity to launch my international career, and she’s been supportive ever since.”
“The least I can say is that working with Anja has massively impacted my life, thanks to her legendary energy and inspiring, clear vision of things,” says Olivier Mateu aka Rodriguez Jr, who’s grown into another key artist for Mobilee since Schneider helped guide him through the demise of his role in The Youngsters towards a solo career, offering important feedback.
“Anja has a particularly strong feeling for music trends, and she runs Mobilee as she runs her own life. It’s not so self-focused, but more about an exciting community where everyone can interact and develop. It’s not so usual these days, but after so many years of working and travelling together, I can't imagine being part of a better music family. It’s part of my balance.”
“Anja is a very special person to me,” says Holger Behn aka H.O.S.H.fromHamburg’s towering Diynamic crew, who says there’s more than enough parallels between the two enduring German labels.
“We always felt related to the Mobilee label as they were growing alongside Diynamic, and constantly releasing great music. But it’s the personal relationship that stands out, I must say. It was just a matter of time before we musically exchanged, and it started with Anja remixing my ‘Steppenwolf’, and then both Solomun and I releasing an EP on Leena. She played many times for us as well, as she’s always fun to have around and such a great DJ.”
The first year of Mobilee also saw the team embarking on a rather spontaneous adventure, to the sunny and spectacular week of activities that constitute Sonar Festival in Barcelona; which turned out to be a formative moment for shaping the Mobilee identity.
A chance visit to the scenic poolside rooftop of the Hotel Silken Diagonal inspired what would evolve into one of the sought-after parties at Off Sonar — so popular that it was extended to 10 dates over the summer last year, with a similar number planned for 2015.
“Everybody has a rooftop party in Barcelona these days,” says Schneider. “But we were one of the first. And it was simply because we didn’t already have a booking. The idea we had was, Sonar starts on Thursday, and everyone was coming.
Let’s make this rooftop party, and we can invite all of our friends and we can just hang out and play music. So it was just a party for our friends, basically, and gave them somewhere to go before the main event started later on."
Stunning pool-side panorama views of Barcelona, a strictly limited capacity of less than 300 people, and an impressive cast of DJ guests that were often surprises on the day — Matthew Dear, Solomun, Radio Slave, Claude VonStroke, Maya Jane Coles and beyond — it lent an air of exclusivity to proceedings that cultivated an enigma around the parties.
“The magic happens when we’re all together. Travelling alone can sometimes be quite tiring, but together there’s always a special vibe. Nobody naps before a gig, we’re all always there from the start to the end.
It was like this four weeks ago: we went to Paris, Rodriguez Jr, Re.You and me. We arrived for the soundcheck at 10pm, and we all stayed there together until the club closed, 7am. And it’s this special harmony because we are all friends.”
While Schneider has unleashed a steady stream of EPs and singles since firing up Mobilee, her history as a producer has seen her focus on quality over quantity. It’s a risky proposition at a time when producers need a breathless pace of output to hold fickle attention spans. Nonetheless, she’s been responsible for several records in the past year in particular that really went the distance.
It would be hard to miss how much stables like Innervisions and Life & Deathhave embraced a dramatic, melodic sound over the past year, a stark contrast to the stripped-back aesthetics that defined Berlin techno for such a long time, where anything even resembling a harmony was dismissed as ‘pop music’.
It was a change Schneider picked up on at the BPM Festival in Mexico early last year, shimmering melodies bubbling to the surface. All of a sudden, you could be forgiven for unleashing a dash of emotion in one of your DJ sets.
“This big hype of Tale of Us… they’re trance! And Ten Walls, it’s completely trance. And trance has been a dirty word in Berlin, it’s just not something that you use at all. But we needed the young kids to show us how to use this sound, and it’s not cheesy at all, it makes perfect sense.”
It’s not hard at all to spot a natural affinity with melody in a lot of Schneider’s work; there’s more than a shimmer of it in efforts like 2013’s ‘Diagonal’, it’s peppered amongst the percussive grooves that drove 2010’s ‘Pushin’', a constant thread on her ‘Beyond the Valley’ artist album from 2008, and even all the way back to that mesmerizing synth hook that defined ‘Rancho Relaxo’.
However, when ‘Dubmission’ dropped in 2014, it unashamedly channeled the enigma of early '90s trance, named after a weekly party at Berlin’s iconic E-Werks club that Schneider used to frequent. Its feathery-soft collection of melodies wrapped gently around the tougher-edge of the bassline, used by Schneider to weave in some particularly beautiful harmonic elements; far more so than your average disposable club record, there’s some real sonic storytelling going on.
The same was true of ‘Jimmy’ later that year, a record that stubbornly worked its way into your head and refused to leave. While the tribal percussion established it as more of a straight-up house record, a delicious organ harmony slowly works its way into the mix, complemented by a cast of melodic flourishes that elaborately build and weave in a fashion you don’t often get with a functional 12 inch release.
Expect more such trancey excellence when ‘Circle Culture’ drops in July. However, initially there was some trepidation in embracing these sounds.
“For a long time I had a fight with myself about it. But what’s really changed is, I don’t care anymore. Back in the day I was more focused on, ‘Oh my god it’s gotta be cool’. But now I just let that go. I’m probably older, a bit more free.
I don’t need to be the coolest kid on the block anymore,” she laughs. “And it’s really me, I can stand beside this. I’m always saying to new people, ‘Be authentic, don’t try and be someone else’. So I must also do this myself, of course.”
Schneider is also upfront about how she’s worked closely with other producers to help execute her ideas. Partnering with Sebo K early in her career, she now works with Martin Eyerer at the spectacular Riverside Studios that he built with Pan-Pot on Berlin’s River Spree; a short walk from Watergate Club, and with water views stretching to the iconic Oberbaum Bridge.
“Producing is something that I do not like to do on my own. I never had the time to really focus on those technical aspects, I’m not nerdy enough. I cannot sit in front of Logic or Ableton for hours and hours, I need a technical hand.
I have ideas, I know music, and I know exactly what kind of kick I want to use. But I could never be one of these people who works by themselves. I need the interaction, I need the discussion, I even need the arguments.”
Looking to the future
One of the things Schneider insists about Mobilee is that it’s not about ego; the label isn’t simply an avenue for releasing music that she can play in her DJ sets. If her artists grow up to eclipse her, so be it. This was apparent on the European tour to support ‘Back to Back Vol.9’ earlier this year, where Schneider insisted the compilation’s curator Re.You play the headline spot.
“I was always happy, and still am happy, to have artists on the label who are more successful than me. I never had a problem with Pan-Pot for example being more successful. And it makes me happy when they’re growing.
Mobilee was never this huge label where I say, ‘I’m the guru, this is the sound, everybody has to sound like this’. I also have no problem if someone is on the flyer ahead of me… but thank god my name is Anja, and I’m first alphabetically,” she laughs.
Berlin will continue to be central to the identity of both Schneider and her Mobilee label. After two decades of living in the city, she vouches for its authenticity amongst all the changes.
“I was never one of those people who felt negative about new people coming. First of all, this creative potential was not just here with electronic music, it was already here in the '70s and the '80s. David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Depeche Mode, they all made some amazing albums here. It has an amazing history; and this atmosphere is still here. Berlin was always something special.
“And of course, we have these super-developed clubs like Berghain and Watergate. But because of this energy, and maybe also because of the people coming here, some people are tired of this and the young kids are building up their new things.
All these new open airs like Sisyphus and Griessmuehle, and during the summertime these parties where you don’t even have to pay entrance… All because some people wanted to continue with this. It has to come from somewhere, and I think it’s the city. Everyone brings a story to Berlin, and it goes on.”
Catch Anja at LWE presents Anja Schneider Invites @ Steelyard Warehouse on Saturday 3 October. Line-up TBC.
THOMAS OF PAN-POT PRAISES ANJA
"Anja was an inspiration for us when we heard her with her radio show in Berlin. We really liked her and booked her to an event that we did. That was the time where things got rolling for us, as the Mobilee label just started and became a platform for us. She was the one who gave us a great guideline and advice in our early career, which we are truly thankful for.”
NICOLE MOUDABER BIGS UP ANJA
“Anja has always been my inspiration, she’s a successful career woman and amazing producer and DJ. I practically have every single record she’s done.
I remember when I released an EP on her label I was over the moon — to be acknowledged by someone I respect deeply was quite an achievement for me, as I was just starting out on the path I’m currently on.
Her support meant a lot for me and has helped propel me in many ways. We became friends and got to hang out a few times in Berlin and Ibiza, and boy how fun she is! Love her and all she’s about, simply amazing."
words: ANGUS THOMAS PATERSON