Occupation: DJ, producer, label founder at Elevate
Current release: Cinthie's entry into the DJ Kicks series is coming out April 1st 2022 via k7!
There's a small store in Berlin-Friedrichshain. It sells a few tshirts and sweaters, it offers records, but not all that many. You won't find a third wave coffee counter here, nor branded mugs or handbags. If first impressions are anything to go by, in fact, this small space hardly looks like the beating heart of a tight network of talented artists run by one of the German capital's most respected DJs. And yet, this is exactly what Elevate is: A skyscraper witin the confines of a living room, the micro equivalent of Cologne's famous Kompakt store, which was once at the epicentre of one of the last major musical revolutions.
Elevate is run by Cinthie Christl – Cinthie for short – but it's not open every day and even when it is, she tends to drop by for a few hours only. Time is scarce, especially if you're also running no less than six in-house labels, maintaining a career as a DJ and making a name for yourself as a producer as well.
The latter especially has become a priority for Cinthie, who first dabbled her feet in the waters of production as early as 2002, when, as a barely 20 year old in love with dance culture, she presents two 12inches under the Vinyl Princess moniker. Those tracks should hardly be regarded as serious attempts at artistic expression, but they do mark the start of a long and rewarding journey. Two decades later, Cinthie would publish her official solo full-length debut City Lights on Aus and this time, the music miraculously manages to feel diverse and eclectic while maintaining a serious depth and a coherent mood throughout.
The same can be said about her DJing, which is still the discipline she is most widely known for. For a good reason, too: Without any extramusical gimmicks, distracting show elements or complex live processing, she manages to keep the attention of dancers and listeners throughout long and winding sets full of sensuality and surprises.
In this expansive interview, Cinthie expands on her vision of DJing and production and how the world she's built around Elevate feeds into it. It may not be huge, but it's exactly the way she wants it. That's why this seemingly small store and label mean so much to so many.
If you enjoyed this interview with Cinthie and would like to find out more about her work, visit her on Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud.
Before we talk about DJing, I wanted to shortly highlight your production work, which is going from strength to strength. You released your first full-length album Skylines in 2020, which I thought was amazing. Tell me a bit about the journey that led up to it, how you look back on it and your current ambitions as a recording artist.
Oh wow, thank you so much. I m super happy that you like my album. It's definitely a milestone for me. Never ever did I think I would release and album when I started to make my first tracks around 1996 on an old Atari with Cubase 2.0. You have to remember that there was no Youtube and hence there were also no Youtube producer tutorials. Also, I did not really have any friends I could have asked for advice. So those early tracks were anything but well produced.
Adrian Misiewicz and Uwe Dockhorn, whom I worked with for my Vinyl Princess project, did have a great studio, though. They helped me get the tracks “tight”. Since then, I've learned a lot about rhythm and groove. A project like 803 Crystal Grooves allows me to freely express myself and to do what I want to do: Disco, house, chicago house, rave.
As with so many of your endeavours, you were in it for the long run.
Yes, and I always had my ups and downs with producing music because the learning curve is definitely higher than with DJing for example. It's like sport, the more often you do it, the better you get.
But I can say that I only got better since the moment I really dedicated a lot of time to producing since 2012. Or even a bit later, actually, when I realised that my tracks were okaaayyy but I could do better.
So I almost lived in my studio day and night, watched tutorials, asked friends for help and practised and practised and practised. That's the only way. At least for me. And I'm still learning, but I'm happy with my tracks … most of the time.
So all of this happened without any pressure.
I started producing in a very natural way. Just after a few years of DJing I sometimes had the feeling that I wanted to play a certain kind of track which did not exist yet. So I tried myself. So now that I'm at a point where I'm mostly happy with the outcome, the next natural step for me personally would be to try playing life. I'm currently working on it. So fingers crossed.
Producing is now a very big part of my journey, I love to create stuff or just fiddle around with my gear in the studio, watch a tutorial and become better.
In our last interview, you mentioned that you started out DJing as a hobby for a very long time.
It still feels like a hobby. Or let's call it passion. It's something where I can completely let go while doing it, it clears my mind and it calms me. From 1999 onward, I was lucky to be able to work at Humpty, which was a record store in Saarbrücken. I believe this left its mark on me, music-wise. From there, I quickly managed to get a club residency at the Flash near Frankfurt. That was incredible. Although I have to be honest and say that very few people took me seriously back then. After all, I was only 17-18 years young and rather shy.
After my time at the Flash and finishing school, I quickly moved to Berlin. There, I Djayed for the crew around Westbam. He also helped me get my first international gigs on the Electric Kingdom Tour.
Do you see yourself as a “professional” DJ these days?
I would not call myself a professional DJ although I'm doing it in a professional way. For me it's still about digging some records, testing them at a gig, have a nice glass of wine, meeting some friends and just enjoying being out and alive.
The term professional DJ sounds a bit strange to me because when I hear that term, I suddenly have people like David Guetta in mind who perform a DJ set more like a concert - and that's definitely not what I'm doing. I'm first and foremost a club DJ that plays club music to club kids.
I guess the scene as a whole has become more professional. You see vinyl DJs working with isolation feet and vinyl weights.
I'm honestly not sure if stuff like that is an improvement. Either you can mix or you can't. Let me give you an example: One of the things that made life difficult for DJs in the 90s was feedback. So you had to be inventive. We'd hop over to the nearest petrol station, but a few slices of toast and stick those underneath the turntable – that got rid of the feedback. I do like vinyl weights, though. Some of my older records weigh around 90 grams only at best. So when I pitch those, they'll fly off my turntable. Weights add more stability.
Are there things you wouldn't try or play anymore or are there, conversely, things you can do now because you've become more proficient?
I wouldn't want to change anything. Do I try more things, now that I'm more confident? Not sure, I think I was always quite confident or at least believed in the music I played. So I guess I just continue in the way I've already been doing it for 25 years.
You're about to release your entry into the DJ Kicks series. For me, these releases have traditionally been real markers in my life.
For me, too. A DJ Kicks was always a statement for very well established artists. And what I really loved about it was that they always tried to put some real gems together. Of course, depending if they were allowed to licence it. But I had the feeling the market wasn't so saturated with music yet. You knew those guys who had a DJ Kicks, they dug deep in their collection and usually you didn't know all of the tracks. That's what I always loved about it: to discover great new tracks.
Kruder & Dorfmeister's DJ Kicks was playing just about everywhere in the 90s and it's one of the key albums from that time I still play. Same goes for the Kid Loco and, more recently, the Kamaal Williams. Which were your favourites?
The Kruder and Dorfmeister is a killer DJ Kicks, maybe one of the best for me, too. Then I loved Motor City Drum Ensemble, Andrea Parker, Kid Loco was great as well. Phew … there are so many around. I collected them like crazy back in the days.
And to now have my own feels just unreal. I really hope people will like my selection.
The era of the mix-CD is over, the era of the youtube mix is here. Would you say, in terms of the quality of the mixing, things are better now? Or is there something to be said for the time when people would put on a DJ mix like they put on a recording of a Beethoven symphony?
I'm not a big fan of those youtube mixes to be honest. I did do some myself, but most of them feel really cringe, If I'm allowed to say that. No hate of course but most of the time these days, I feel like the harder the music the better, and the weirder the performance the better. I mean - some people made a whole career out of that. Or the people that dance fucked up next to them and entertain the listeners without knowing. I sometimes wish it was a bit more about skills or nice track selection. But it almost feels like it's a forgotten art.
I sound like an old grandma', don't I? I guess we just all need to go with the new times and new generation. But for myself, I try to keep it easy.
If you compare one of your recent sets and this DJ Kicks CD, what did you approach differently?
I usually always play vinyl but with this mix for my DJ Kicks I had so many exclusives, I had to do it on my computer. Also I went a little crazy with signing tracks cause I thought I had unlimited time for the mix. Until they told me I had to squeeze all 23 tracks in a 70 minute mix. Whoopsi. So I kept it tight and only played a few miniutes and maybe also only one break of each track. That was definitely different.
Also while playing in a club, I usually have a bit more time and you can do more fun stuff with transitions. But I was well excited to put all these new tracks together by my mates, knowing or hoping that I'll be able to shine a light on them for those who have not had the pleasure to hear any of the tracks by the artist I signed.
Even though there was no audience present when I recorded it, I knew there would be one when I go on tour and play all the tracks I signed.
Is the mix more of a live in the studio affair or a deeply planned out, carefully constructed work?
I never plan mixes, I always go with the flow. Especially for club gigs and mixes. But with this one I had to plan it wisely so it would have a nice flow or maybe even tell a story. Yes, yes - the good old story telling while playing.
So as I said before, I had almost too many tracks. So I had to plan wisely how I'm gonna put them together. And then I used some Ableton effects, boosted some tracks here and there et voila.
Already by the tracklist I can see a lot of thought and emotion has gone into this mix. What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ?
Thank you very much. With the playlist I wanted to highlight my old heroes and also shine a light on the new kids around, combining the past with the future.
Digging still plays such a big role in my life, both for myself or my Elevate record store or my weekly Spotify playlist update. It still excites me just like 25 years ago when I started playing or even a few years before when I started to shape my music taste and looked for cool music. Unfortunately the market these days is quite saturated, so it takes a bit longer to really find the pearls.
Which brings us back to the DJ as a tastemaker and selector.
In fact, that's also why my record store has this edition of “selected vinyl”. I only sell what I would also play myself. So I'd say I play 90 percent tracks that excite me and then in each set one or two crowd pleasers but not really any functional tracks. Or well ... I do play them sometimes when I have tracks with too many vocals etc and I need a bit of a bridge between them. But overall I only play music I like and make the crowd like them too ... most of the time I hope. (laughs)