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It feels safe to say that Berlin’s dance music scene is crowded, especially in tech/house-related fields. The occasion and topic for discussion in this article is—in my eyes at least—one of the city’s most successful and promising underground house crews, Beste Modus, a collective of East Berliners who gathered in the conference room at the Electronic Beats office in mid-November last year to chat.
Three of its five core members are seated at the table: Cinthie, Diego Krause, and Ed Herbst. Cinthie seems in some ways to be the matriarch of the group; the one two decades of experience as a DJ; the one who speaks the most during our conversation; the one who wrangled the others to form the collective and record label in the first place. Herbst has a quite, easygoing demeanor and the stoney approachability of a former backpack rap fan. Krause is, so far—and I hope this observation won’t chafe the others—the most successful of the bunch at garnering buzz about his immaculate productions. His tracks appear on a few other labels besides Beste Modus, including his own Unison Wax imprint and a 12” on the label run by globetrotting French DJ trio Apollonia.
A fourth member, a guy with a likeable jokester vibe and who DJs under the cheeky moniker stevn.aint.leavn, arrives 20 minutes late. (The fifth member is Albert Vogt, who wasn’t present at our interview.) By that time we’re discussing the attention the latest Beste Modus record has received on DJ charts and online record stores. BM04, like every release on the label, is a hand-stamped 12” that features a handful of solid, straightforward house grooves. This one in particular features one cut from each constituent of Beste Modus.
The tracks are accessible floor fillers that work within the established conventions of tech-influenced house production and maximize their rewards. Beste Modus is a team of native Berliners, and its music bears the unmistakable influence of its city’s homegrown brand of dance floor sonics, a mechanical and psychedelic groove with drums that smack harder than old-school American house tracks. Dub chords wash over spoken word vocals from a disembodied black male, boots-and-pants rhythms underpin undulating sub bass notes, and bongos ricochet off the crispest of high-end percussive clicks.
Their style is traditional but fluent and remarkably well-executed, which makes them a neat foil to the rising interest in local labels, artists, and crews who subvert the conventions of dance floor productions, many of which are run by and/or comprised of expatriate artists. While the Beste Modus producers don’t challenge existing structures, they’re extremely successful at constructing fuel for all-night parties, which is, of course, a challenging endeavor nonetheless.
Beste Modus’s own audience has grown with each new release. “For the first two records, we only pressed 300 copies,” Cinthie explains. “It was sold out in 48 hours. We pressed 800 copies of the third one, and now we’re pressing 1000.” Their next record, Beste Modus 05, is a split 12″ featuring Cinthie and Herbst, and it shelves next week—but you can hear it here first.
The label’s immediate success was a relief for Cinthie, who has been an active DJ and producer for nearly two decades (and once contributed to our EB Radio mix series). “I was with Keinemusik, and that didn’t work,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘I’m either going to quit now, or I’ll find someone I can work with.’ I wasn’t desperately looking for someone, but I met the boys and felt really comfortable and liked their music and attitude. So I just decided to pressing one record, and if I lost some money, then fuck it. For some reason, I was 100 percent, or 1000 percent convinced we were going to make it.”
“Cinthie had the idea to start the label,” Diego chimes in. “She met up with us and said, ‘OK, this is going to sound crazy, but I want to do a label, and I want to do it with you.’ We weren’t even playing vinyl by that time, but she was like, ‘And it’s going to be vinyl-only.’”
Prior to Cinthie’s proposition, Diego, Herbst, and Steven were hip-hop producers who originally met through their ties with the German arm of EMI. Diego racked up a few production credits on a few of the major label’s German rap CDs (he wouldn’t say which ones) and teamed up with Herbst on a project with a soul singer signed to EMI publishing. “I think Stevo was [the singer’s] intern,” Diego recalls.
“Ed, Stevo, and I made the transition from hip-hop to house together,” Herbst says. They started to explore Berlin’s club scene and discovered the seductions of house through extended and repeated visits to Watergate starting in 2009. “Over a few nights—or mornings—we fell in love with the music,” he recalls.
In 2012, they met Cinthie at a party at YAAM. “The party was super shit, so I don’t know why we stayed that long,” Diego explains wryly. “But when Cinthie came on at 9 in the morning, we were super surprised because, all of a sudden, someone was playing good music.”
Stevo made the first contact with Cinthie by asking for a track ID. “We had a nice chat and exchanged email addresses,” she says. “I think Stevo told me that he produces and asked if he could send me tracks, and I said yeah. When I listened to them, and was like, ‘Damn, this is really good.’ I think that’s how we all met, then we met more often. He also sent me some tracks from Diego and Eddie and I was like ‘Whoa this is amazing.’”
So far, it seems like many agree with Cinthie. The constituents of Apollonia are among the crews’ admirers, and they included a track from Diego’s second Unison Wax 12” in their BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix and contacted him via Facebook. “The whole Apollonia thing is pretty huge,” he says. “I wrote back to Dan [Ghenacia] and he was super chill. I sent him some demo tracks and he replied six hours later to say, ‘OK, we’re going to pick these three tracks for an EP.” The record, Right About Now, is set to drop at any minute; the tracks recently premiered via Mixmag.
Diego’s success bodes well for the rest of the team, whose accessible approach to house production makes them attractive to international audiences. While there’s some scorn in the world of Berlin’s underground techno savants for Ibizan dance floors and big room clubs, and while “tech house” is often used as an insult therein, Beste Modus seems to have little interest in confining to a militantly alternative listenership or conforming to their expectations. For the most part, they’re humble with their ambitions. “I’m happy if I can pay for my vinyl addiction with my gigs,” Herbst says.
But if Beste Modus is keen to break out of its hometown and reach wider audiences, that goal seems within their reach.
“I want to play parties where I have the feeling that people appreciate my music,” Cinthie explains. “I play music, and I want to have the people rave and dance their ass off. If they do it in a small club in Berlin, I’m gonna do it. If they do it on Ibiza, I’ll do it.”
Published February 27, 2015. Words by Elissa Stolman.