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Credit: Henrik Alm

Fresh Kicks 210: Stella Zekri

Berlin-based Parisian DJ, vocalist and CockTail d'Amore resident Stella Zekri spins a thumping vinyl mix of early house, post disco and boogie for the Fresh Kicks series, and speaks to Ria Hylton about finding her feet in dance music, her Body Language party, and more

When French singer Stella Zekri arrived in Berlin nearly a decade ago she had “zero interest in club culture”, only dreams of building on her vocal chops. Her first DJ gig was as an impromptu fill-in at her local corner pub when someone failed to show. She nipped home, returned with some 40 records and began learning on the job, spinning hip-hop, R&B, neo soul, funk and disco for around four hours. “It really flew by,” she tells DJ Mag. More gigs soon rolled in and Zekri started to branch out musically, attending club nights while digging deeper for all the disco, funk and boogie she could find. By this point, she’d also discovered the dancefloors of CockTail d'Amore, where artists like Hunee, Alex From Tokyo and Daniel Wang would weave wonky, spacious four-four in the party’s Winter Garden, followed by thumping house sets that played into the night.

“This was where I started enjoying harder music,” she remembers. “I would go on Sunday to listen to warmer, disco-adjacent, more accessible sounds and that enabled me, when nighttime came, to be more receptive to harder styles. It was a really formative party for me. I got into this trance feeling that you get while raving and came out thinking, ‘Oh, so that’s what it’s about.’ It made a real impression.”

In 2019, CockTail d'Amore booked Zekri for her first gig, a five-hour opening set in the Winter Garden. It was a rare gift in a city like Berlin — an opportunity to spin unhurried and sensual sounds for a crowd hours deep into a rave. “Thanks to their [CockTail d'Amore] creation, you could play slow soulful music to a crowd that was partying hard. You could play jazzy things, slow groovy things — and to a crowd that is really loose.” The event has welcomed her back a number of times since.

Stella Zekri DJing on vinyl

Pre-pandemic, Zekri was running a small illegal party with friends, but in late 2022 club Re:mise reached out for a one-off event at its Köpenicker Straße location. Zekri and co. had one month to pull everything together. “I’d spent the pandemic running a Covid vaccine centre, so I was making more money than I’ve ever made in my life,” she says, “so we said, ‘We’re gonna try and throw this one off party and invest money to do it ideally how we would like to do it — paying everybody what we believe is fair, what is right. We invest, and if we lose a lot of money, then it is what it is.’” 

Body Language has gone on to become one of Berlin’s go-to queer parties. Having held eight events last year alone, including bookings with JADALAREIGN, Rose Kourts and Sarah Farina, the crew is gearing up for its second outing at WHOLE Festival.

As well as DJing, Zekri founded Stella and the Longos, a band best described as a zouk and boogie-inspired outfit, with a warm ’80s-style production. So singing remains an outlet — as does her breakfast show on Berlin’s Refuge Worldwide. Once a month, on a Thursday morning, you can listen in as she explores the deepest, dreamiest parts of her collection. “I talk a little bit about the record I’m playing, why I like it or how it makes me feel,” she shares, almost wistfully. “I absolutely love it. It’s the best way to start the day.”

Speaking about her Fresh Kicks mix, which you can hear below, Zekri says: "It’s a really raw mix of proto and early house, mostly from '87 to '90. I see it as a statement celebrating vinyl culture and playing old – cracking! – records in a confident and honest way."