Hailing from small-town Bielefeld in north Germany, Denise Rabe’s experimental musical journey has taken her to the upper echelons of the techno scene in Berlin. The last few years have been formative for Rabe; after some brief dalliances flitting between genres she settled into the inky murkiness of techno, leading to well-received productions on labels including Mutewak and ARTS, collaborations with Rrose and Shxcxchcxsh, and not least, her Berghain debut in 2016.
Rabe tracks are a concoction of eerie melodies, pent-up bass lines and anxiety inducing build-ups. Her self-realization as a DJ/producer was affirmed through the emergence of her own label ‘Rabe’ last year, which saw the release of a technically impressive and frenetic tracklist. But Rabe has yet to reach her apogee as a DJ or producer; as she continues to hone her skills and style she brings us ever closer to the core of her murky greatness. In this reflective interview, Rabe answers our questions about cultural politics, artistic struggles and whether it is necessary to move to Berlin to make it as a DJ.
You can catch Rabe behind the Berghain decks this Saturday August 18th
1. You began your career as part of the Legotek family in Tel Aviv, Israel circa 2012. How did this relationship begin, and what are your thoughts on the cultural boycott currently levied against Israel?
When I moved to Berlin in 2011, after my studies, I met the Legotek guys at a party, then met up and played a few records together and I became a part of their group.
About the BDS I find it terrible and it makes me speechless how humans are treating other humans, animals and nature.
Anywhere where power is oppressing a minority should be boycotted. That’s one way individuals can make their voice heard, be it the Israeli government’s disregard of Palestinians humanity, the AFD in Germany or the US´s war in Iraq or elsewhere.
We do not destroy the planet we destroy ourselves. Pretty stupid and scary!
2. How have your music interests changed over the years?
Lets start with my Hip Hop influence, which is the most important I would say and the most intense and instructive one.
In between there was Dancehall that mixed a bit into the Hip Hop era. After that I had a four year affair with Drum’n Bass & Jungle, which I also tried on the turntables but more briefly. Listing to House and Deep House, which I started playing in Berlin. But the energy that techno provides caught me very quick!
3. You are a resident artist for the Lyon based collective TFIF (The Future is Female), which seeks to break down gender and identity barriers with the techno scene. Can you tell us a bit more about what this movement hopes to achieve, and why this brand of activism is important within the industry?
There was no movement at that time when I began, but I never felt I did not have the same opportunities as any other person. Work ethic and how you relate to other people always seem to be the difference on how you develop as an artist.
That said, being part of a group makes you stronger and movements unite people, so if that helps anyone get into techno, even better.
4. You recently released you second EP on ARTS titled “Oneirology”, which is the discipline of studying dreams. Where did this interest come from and what prompted you to connect it with music?
I find dreaming very fascinating, because I almost remember every dream, even dreams I had years ago. So it’s a big part of my life.
I remember Ricardo Villalobos saying he doesn’t like to sleep because of being confronted of his deepest fears. But that’s’ a big part of yourself and some of the biggest ideas appear in dreams:
John Lennon – “#9 Dream“ – he dreamed about the chorus.
Dali’s and all the surreal movement.
Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity,
Paul McCartney woke up with „Yesterday“ in his head
Richard Linklater’s movie “Waking Life” which is one of my favorite movies (you should watch it)
And so on…
5. Was there any point in your career where you considered giving up? If so, how did you get through it?
I guess everyone comes to a point here and than where you get stuck. I cannot tell when exactly a specific one, the most important thing for me is trying to find a balance.
Listening to guided meditations or hypnosis is one thing that helps me to find my balance. I also ground myself by cooking a lot. I use this as another creative outlet too.
Being an Artist is not always easy but on the other hand it brings also a lot of great moments in to your life.
And there is a saying from bad comes good. You need „bad“ days/moments otherwise you wouldn’t cheer the good ones or new ideas come up from moments like that. So one thing belongs to the other and that is good in my opinion.
6. According to your RA profile, you moved to Berlin in 2011 “to further feed your [her] need for music”. Do you think its necessary to move to Berlin to build a successful career as a DJ these days?
I think it was the most important step for me. And I do not regret one day. I moved here because of the music not because of becoming an Artist. I need a change after my studies.
And Berlin gave me this kind of feeling of freedom; I just knew I had to move there. And yes the great side effect of what I do now was definitely the thing of being in Berlin.
But the Internet offers you a lot these days, I don’t know if it is still necessary to move here, you can reach everyone online. To move in Berlin is never a bad decision for music and art reasons.
7. Last year you launched your own eponymous record label Rabe releasing two EPs so far, The Fox and the Raven (Rabe001), The Lion’s Share (Rabe002), with Rabe003 on the way. The titles of your premier EPs are borrowed from two of Aesop’s Fables, imparting the moral that one should be wary of excess flattery, cunning and physical strength in others. What is the significance of these stories and the enduring lessons they impart, and are they a reaction to the current global social, political and cultural backdrop?
The stories are very old, mankind believes Aesop lived between 620 and 564 BCE. If you read the tales, you can copy them to 100% to our time, society never changes. There are the rich which take always from the poor even 100 years ago or 1000, it doesn’t matter. Of course you can compare them to political, social or any cultural backdrop.
Let’s say the raven is the society and the fox is the state. The cheese is the money. And there is the opportunity to win a lot of money with playing lotto. Of course you’ll loose your last penny. This is just one example. We also can transfer it to the Israel – Palestinian conflict.
But how I did get there to find this whole idea is my last name „Rabe“ which is translated „raven“. Research led me to the tales and fables and saw a great fit. The paintings are bizarre and gloomy like the stories themselves. Who doesn’t see the bridge to techno here?
8. What are the top five tracks that you are listening to right now?
Hard to decide to just name tracks…
Blawan’s Album – Wet Will Always Dry on Ternesc
Belief Defect’s Album – Decadent Yet Depraved on Raster
Desroi’s EP- Dwell in Motion on Avian
Sstorm Album – Otider on Roesten
Enko – Shape on Hayes
9. You have collaborated with some impressive artists recently, such as Rrose and SHXCXCHCXSH. Tell us a bit more about these collaborations.
Emmanuel the label director thought Rrose would be a good fit to remix my track and it´s still played today so he was correct.
I always liked SHXCXCHCXSH and when I had the opportunity to choose a remixer they were my first thought. Luckily they were available and liked the music.
10. After debuting in Berghain two years ago you have been invited back behind the decks to play on August 18th. Do you get nervous about a gig like this and how do you prepare in advance?
I think everyone who gets the chance to play there knows how nervous you can really get. It’s THE techno Club and it became crazier in the past years.
It’s the place you wanna play if you play Techno and of course House upstairs – the energy is mind blowing.
I do prepare like for other gigs I just started a bit earlier. Looking up and buying new music old music, spinning and trying stuff on my decks.
11. Was there any moment in your career that has been pivotal to you becoming the DJ and producer you are today?
Well it’s not really about moments it’s more about the people behind you in my case. I guess hearing from your Mom all the time: „When will you get a real job?“ was one thing, I wanted to show I could do it! I got full support from my family after I took my mom to Berghain on my first gig in 2016!
My friends from Bielefeld who were very optimistic they gave me a lot of strength, the ones who crossed my path and so I could learn from them.
I also got asked once: „“What constitutes a good DJ?“ actually my answer was the collection of the music and reacting to the audience. Which apparently was not the right answer.
It is the creating of emotions, that’s what we do as artists – not only in music. And that’s what I love about doing what I do.