Up next on The Shortlist we speak to DJ, producer, and record label head Anja Schneider, whose story and track selection will see you through to the new year and beyond.Array
Anja Schneider was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed teenager when she first started sneaking out of her bedroom window on the hunt for techno. Unknown to her parents, she’d stay out all night partying, returning home in the early hours of the morning so she could still show her face at breakfast.
“My parents had no idea I was going out,” she laughs over Zoom from her home in Berlin. “But even then, I didn’t want to just be a visitor at the club, I wanted to be more involved.”
Music was too important in my life to just see it from the outside
It’s telling that what’s usually considered a throwaway act of rebellion was in Schneider’s case, a more tactical move to integrate within a scene that captured her young imagination. Back in the ‘80s she was living in a small town just outside of Cologne in Germany, but the futuristic sounds of Kraftwerk still made their way to her impressionable ears over the airwaves, kick-starting a love affair with techno that went on to shape her personally and professionally.
“I never planned to be a DJ,” she admits. “It all came really organically. Music was too important in my life to just see it from the outside.”
This instinct to pursue music predictably led Schneider to follow the yellow brick road to Berlin where, in the ‘90s, a new and exciting scene was emerging. “Back then, we had a lot of freedom so there was a very special atmosphere,” she reminisces. It was the era of unification and the legendary Loveparade; mythical parties and the opening of Tresor, a club that played a key role in Schneider’s conscious awakening at the time.
“That club changed my life,” she smiles, her black, thick-rimmed glasses sliding to the end of nose as she leans forward in her seat like she’s poised to share a secret. “Everything I learnt about the world and human beings, I learnt in clubs. I discovered that it was fine to be whatever you wanted to be and suddenly the world seemed so much brighter.”
Everything I learnt about the world and human beings, I learnt in clubs
It was powerful enough sentiment to spur her to pack her bags and move to the big city in pursuit of a creative life – one she’s lived and breathed ever since. In fact, Schneider is a prolific force in clubbing with an unparalleled output as a producer, DJ, label head (once of the eminent mobilee records and now Sous Music) and broadcaster over the past two decades.
And, though she’s reluctant to admit it herself — she laughs awkwardly at the suggestion — it’s no exaggeration to list her alongside Ellen Allien and Monika Kruse as one of the female pioneers of the scene at that time, which of course was especially tricky given that it came with the usual baggage of a woman daring to play music in public.Array
“We were always judged for how we mixed,” she smiles ruefully about it now. “But our male colleagues couldn’t mix either and no one talked about that!” She’s pleased that things seem to be slowly changing: “Women are playing bigger rooms and bigger slots and that makes me happy,” but honest about the fact that as a 44-year old woman, she’s still forced to contemplate her career in ways that men never have to.
“You ask yourself, how long can I do this? Because it’s fine when it’s a 50-year old Sven Väth celebrating his birthday in the booth but when it’s a woman, there’s judgement.”
You ask yourself, how long can I do this? It’s fine when it’s a 50-year old Sven Väth in the booth but when it’s a woman, there’s judgement
Schneider doesn’t pull punches but her points are always thoughtful, considered and delivered with the kind of mischievous, metaphorical wink that make you desperate to be part of her girl gang. You can imagine that back in the day she tore holes in her beloved dance floors, and though she admits it’s been eight years since her last visit to Berghain and Panorama Bar (probably something to do with her 10-year old son, multiple business obligations and worsening hangovers), her lust for the rave and what it represents is as strong as ever.
That’s why she leapt to the defence of Berlin clubs and their workers during the pandemic, her efforts earning her the Honour Prize from the Berlin Music Commission.
“I’ve never won a prize before, so it was quite funny,” she exclaims. “They were awarded to people who did a lot of work for the scene during the pandemic and I helped set up Booking United, an organisation offering financial support and other help that we set up at the start because we had a feeling that people were going to need to talk to each other.”
She also played a crucial role in lobbying politicians on behalf of the clubs, her warm style of advocacy a slam dunk for team culture in its ongoing battle with the state. “A lot of politicians have no clue what we’re doing,” she laments.
Politicians think we’re out partying and taking drugs all day and night – so we showed them how important the whole scene is
“They think that we’re out partying and taking drugs all day and night, which is completely stupid. So we showed them how important the whole scene is — it’s the biggest reason that people come to Berlin and spend money. Not just in clubs but at hotels, going for food, visiting museums… It was interesting explaining it to them because we’re all paying taxes here, you know?!”
This tussle is being mirrored in cities all over the world, of course, as clubs continue to rail against restrictions placed on them by Covid-19 rules and a lack of understanding surrounding their cultural output. Just this month, clubs in Berlin have been forced to close their doors again as the Omicron variant has surged across Europe, with a subsequent ban on dancing challenged in the German courts by Paul van Dyk and a coalition of clubs.Array
Despite this, clubs are considered cultural institutions in Berlin after a judgment earlier this year, making them better placed than most to weather the storm. The accolade didn’t come without a fight, but it now provides access to additional protection and financial support.
“It’s always hard to explain that young people need space to define themselves, to learn and to socialise,” Schneider explains. “But kids are going to try drugs and explore their sexuality anyway so why not in a safe space where they can be comfortable?”
It’s wonderful that you change over time – wouldn’t it be boring if we all stayed the same?
Thanks to family and work responsibilities, Schneider’s days of epiphanies on the dance floor are more like hazy memories now and in some ways that sits heavy on her heart. “I miss the times when I could rave for 15 hours just for the music,” she laughs.
“It became so much a part of my life that I can’t let loose anymore and that’s really sad actually.” But she remains connected to it through her sets and releases, and her new role as resident for Beats Radio, where she hosts the drive time slot between 5pm and 7pm each day.
It’s been a challenge sourcing so much new music, but she’s relished connecting to a different kind of audience, floating into people’s bedrooms rather than surreptitiously escaping her own. “It’s been amazing to adapt my style a little bit and to think about how people consume music on their way home from work, cooking for the kids or just wanting to relax,” she says.
“It’s wonderful that you change over time. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all stayed the same?”
ON THE PLAYLIST
Kraftwerk / Computer Liebe
One of the very first records I was obsessed with. I heard it 10 times a day as a child in my room, on my very famous ‘Schneider Hifi Record player’! : )
The Cure / The Walk
The Cure are still very important to me, they’re a band whose concerts and records I never miss. I’m still impressed by Robert Smith’s voice, which is captivating just like in the beginning.
Nitzer Ebb / Murderous
I’m very glad that not many pictures from this time exist because you’d have a blast at how I looked! I tried to sit between goth and punk and early raver… I guess that’s still who I am.
Underground Resistance / Electronic Warfare
The reason I moved to Berlin, where a completely new horizon opened up for me.
Laurent Garnier / Wake Up
Once Laurent Garnier, always Laurent Garnier! For me, there is no better DJ in the world.
Age Of Love / Age Of Love – Watch out for Stella
I had a very healthy trance phase when I was growing up in Berlin. I used to be a very big fan of DUBMISSION, a Friday party with Paul Van Dyk. This song stayed in my mind forever, even if trance never had a big impact on me.
Davina / Don’t You Want It
I discovered house music and was obsessed with Chicago house. I’m eternally thankful for all my gay friends I met during this time for making my world so much better and more colourful.
Octave One / Blackwater feat. Ann Saunderson
Still my all-time favourite! Forever!
The Other People Place / Let Me Be Me
Of course, as I grew up I became affected by much more advanced music. Still discovering and still be amazed by Drexciya’s talent.
Miss Kittin & The Hacker / Frank Sinatra
The period of electro pop was a blast in Berlin — probably my best time, in fact, with the wildest parties!
Mathew Jonson / Decompression
And then there was minimal…
Pan-Pot / Charly
I remember very clearly and with a big smile the beginning of my first label, mobilee, and of discovering so many talents like Pan-Pot. We made history together.
Âme / Rej
One of the biggest tracks in electronic music which is not with a pop attitude.
Josh One / Contemplation – King Britt Mix
This song is already 10 minutes long, but I could listen to it on endless loop.
Chaos In the CBD / 78 To Stanley Bay
Techno and house tunes nowadays are hard to remember and rarely stick around longer than two weeks. Chaos In the CBD prove the opposite.
Maribou State / Mother
Maribou State catch me always.