15 Leftfield House And Disco Anthems From Berlin’s Sadly Closed Soju Bar Club
In the early to mid-oughts, minimal techno and tech house ruled most of Berlin’s dance floors. But alongside this more mainstream music movement, there was a parallel scene dedicated to playing records that were not played elsewhere. Seasoned house and disco DJ legends were invited, and gradually strong local and international networks began to plant roots and grow a culture dedicated to digging for more obscure and leftfield sounds. Styles like vintage house, Italo, post-punk, Afrobeat, Balearic, yacht rock and even more specialized musical niches began to dominate these scenes.
The daring eclecticism of this community created an openness that later would go on to inspire many of the tracks that are being played in clubs and festivals today. Call Super and Hunee (pictured above) both came out of this world.
And from 2010 to 2013, a club called Soju Bar was Berlin’s hotspot for this special corner of night life. It was located in the backroom of the Korean street food bistro Angry Chicken—itself an extension of the popular Kimchi Princess restaurant around the corner. The club’s sound system was above average, and the room was decorated with loving attention to detail and an impressive replica of Korean bar culture that made the room appear larger than it actually was.
Hyun Wanner, one of the Kimchi Princess owners—who also happened to be on par with his DJs in terms of his enthusiasm for music—booked Soju Bar’s tasteful program until the club’s close. Like many small businesses in Berlin, it was forced to close and eventually became a part of a hotel in the same building. We asked Wanner to revisit some of Soju Bar’s most dedicated resident and regular guest DJs and pick the music that he associated with their nights.
Hunee: Shina Williams & His African Percussionists, “Agboju Logun” (Earthworks, 1984)
“This record turned into a huge Soju Bar hit. It was just the time when more and more DJs started to flavor their sets with African influences. I think it’s a trademark element of Hunee’s sound these days. Another regular Soju Bar DJ called Nomad, now of Africaine 808, went completely down that road. I love this record. I bought it years before Soju Bar, because my favorite Discogs dealer recommended it to me and offered me free shipping if I bought it. I was very pleased when Hunee played it the first time. I think he still plays it today.”
Lovefingers/Lexx: Carrie Cleveland, “Love Will Set You Free” (Cleve/Den, 1980)
“My girlfriend at the time was obsessed with this song. She knew that it was on Lovefingers’ blog and made him play it at least three times. I remember Andrew playing it two times in a row early in the morning and dancing on the floor with his eyes closed. Lexx had to do the same a couple of weeks later. This was one of these classic early morning magic moments. Sometimes there were only 15 people left in the place, but they had the time of their lives!”
Joel Martin (Quiet Village, Velvet Season & The Hearts of Gold): House Of House, “Rushing To Paradise (Walkin’ These Streets)” (Whatever We Want Records, 2009)
“When Soju Bar started, everything was really disco and balearic. Then, most DJs started to pick up housier vibes again. It was almost a bit like going through the history of dance music in one and a half years, and a few subsequent decades. This record contains all this history. It was first Soju Bar resident, DJ Filippo Moscatello, who introduced me to this record. I have funny memories of this track. For example, it was an incredibly hot night, and it was really empty, but a few people were dancing for hours and didn’t want to leave. Joel was the only DJ, and he’d already played six hours for the same 15 people.
When he was playing this track, a random, very young girl with a record bag came up and wanted to take over. She promised us to play the same kind of music: house! We were like, “Okay!” Well, she had her very own definition of house music, I reckon! Two records later, Joel and me were in a taxi home. She went on for a few more hours, and I have never seen her again.”
I will change. I promise.: Ideal, “Schöne Frau Mit Geld (Losoul Remix)” (Live At Robert Johnson, 2010)
“This was definitely the resident with the best name. I was promising this to myself pretty much every Monday morning! This party was hosted by our friend Alex van der Maarten and was musically on a slightly different trip, but it was always very successful and always busy. It had guest DJs like Nu and Lee Jones. This was one one of its signature tracks.”
JR Seaton (Call Super): Bunny Mack, “Let Me Love You” (Rokel, 1979)
“Call Super—or JR Seaton, as he still called himself back then—played at Soju Bar many times. I think the first time he was invited by Headman, who did a monthly Relish Night at Soju Bar. Call Super finished the night together with Objekt, and they both blew my mind. They were playing very obscure electronic stuff and then broke it up with songs like this. 100 % early morning magic. Nobody cared which genre, which time or which part of the world the music was from. Everything melted into one amazing vibe.”
Druffalo Hit Squad: Nicolette, “Lotta Love” (Warner Bros., 1978)
“This was a huge Soju Bar anthem! The Druffalo Hit Squad‘s party Love Fools was the night where anything was possible. From pop to shock to classics—and not classics! Sometimes very ironic, sometimes iconic! Sometimes hard to follow, and sometimes pure magic. At the end of their nights there was a lot of love in the air indeed.”
Baby G: Jeremy Glenn, “Driving At Night” (We Play House, 2011)
“Baby G is the most crazy Catalonian girl I’ve ever met. Great DJ. I really liked her mid-tempo contemporary house vibes. This was her stand-out track for me, even though she never played a bad record. I loved the whole crew around her, particularly Paramida and Katovl who later helped me with booking Soju Bar in its final year.”
Emil Doesn’t Drive: Sheryl Lee Ralph, “In The Evening” (The New York Music Company, 1984)
“Emil always was one of my favorite DJs. He was a real music lover and enthusiast. Every Emil Doesn’t Drive set was a trip. This was his classic peak-time record after a long build-up with weird cosmic and Italo stuff. I’m very happy to see this record has a huge renaissance now. Harvey even played it at Panorama Bar a few weeks back! Fantastic lyrics by the way, even though I only understood part of it when I heard it for the first time. But that was all the information I needed.”
JG Wilkes (Optimo): Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse” (Smalltown Supersound, 2012)
“Over dinner, Jonnie (JG Wilkes of Scottish DJ duo Optimo) asked me if I had heard the brand new Todd Terje record yet. He played it later that night. People freaked out, and a few weeks later it turned into one of the biggest dance records of that year. I guess Soju Bar was the perfect place for all the DJs who usually played to much bigger crowds to test new records. I could write a book about the weekends when Jonnie was in town, but I better keep it private!”
Daniel Wang: Donna McGhee, “Make It Last Forever” (Red Greg Records, 1978)
“I have to admit—I have no idea if Danny actually ever played this record on one of these incredible Wednesday nights when he was hosting his party Nightflight. It could have been one of his always-amazing guests, like Prosumer, Discodromo or Darshan Jesrani. But for me, it describes the vibe of these nights in a perfect way. All that passion, all that desire, all these smiling faces. I wish we could have made it last forever!”
Nathan Gregory Wilkins (Cowboy Rhythmbox): Cos Ber Zam, “Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)” (Jiaolong, 2011)
“Nathan plays an incredible range of music. I love having chats about music with him, because he doesn’t consider himself to be a digger. He doesn’t care where the music comes from as long as it’s good. And he’s the only reason why I’m still on Facebook. He’s the funniest person on the whole platform.”
Alex from Voices & Johnny Chingas: Henry Mancini And His Concert Orchestra, “African Symphony” (RCA Victor, 1975)
“This track is early morning magic taken to a new level! Those two always had a few amazing records in their bags and a lot of stories about the old acid house and DJ Harvey days. We became really good friends. Christian Pannenborg introduced us. He was hosting the Institute of Harmless Thinking party together with JM Moser, and they had great guests like Young Marco or Piers Harrison of Soft Rocks. Christian runs the Record Loft now.”
Hugo Capablanca: It’s A Fine Line, “Woman (A Makhnovshchina Repossession)” (History Clock, 2008)
“This is a great edit. Hugo played this when he was warming up for Nathan Gregory Wilkins on whose History Clock label it was released. It was the era of edits, everybody was releasing them. Not every edit was as good as this one, though. Sometimes I didn’t understand why some people had the arrogance to touch a classic and think they could turn it into something better.
I don’t know if edits made anything better, to be honest. I think the only justification for an edit is when the result is something completely new. The best Party with Hugo was the first anniversary of Soju Bar when he, Pavel Plastik and Baris K played together for the first time. Amazing set by the three of them. It sounded like they’d already been playing together for ages!”
Kalabrese: Hot Chocolate, “Every 1’s A Winner” (RAK, 1978)
“Kalabrese was invited by Konstantin and Manu, who hosted the party Only A Fool Would Play. It had guests like DJ Supermarkt or Thomas Bullock. That night was all about soft rock, yacht rock and all sorts of cool mid-tempo and sometimes cheesy stuff. Anything was possible. He more or less came straight from a gig at Berghain to play at Soju Bar. This was his first record and he absolutely killed it. He also wasn’t afraid to play a few more hits like that.”
Soft Rocks: Idjut Boys, “One For Kenny (Extended LP Version)” (Smalltown Supersound, 2012)
“This was one of the few nights that was recorded. There is this amazing Soft Rocks live at Soju Bar mix on Soundcloud that shows the great quality of music that happened there. I wish we would have recorded more. That would have been quite some archive.”
Published May 31, 2018.