Last year, Berlin techno figurehead Monika Kruse was knocked out by illness. But now she's fighting fit and ready to take on the world once more…
With gender equality currently such a hot topic, it's been heartening, in recent years, to see more and more female DJs and producers rising to the top of the dance music tree. The likes of The Black Madonna, Charlotte de Witte, HAAi and Amelie Lens have taken the world by storm, and only the most knuckledragging chauvinist would try and argue that their success is due to 'tokenism' or 'political correctness' – these are artists who've got where they are today through sheer talent, hard work and determination. There may be some way to go, but the glass ceiling is definitely, if not entirely broken, then certainly showing distinct signs of fracturing.
But dance music has always had its female figureheads, and while you might argue that the contributions of the likes of Screamin' Rachael in Chicago or Lisa Loud and Nancy Noise in the UK have been traditionally undervalued, to argue that they weren't THERE would be a nonsense. And as the barriers that have, in the past, prevented more women from pursuing a career in dance music start to come down, we should surely celebrate the achievements of those women who pushed on through said barriers all the more.
One such case in point, of course, would be Monika Kruse, who's been a stalwart of the German techno scene since the early 90s. Starting out organising raves in Munich bomb shelters, it was her long-term residency at the city's Ultraschall club that really put her on the international map, and was the reason she became one of the first German techno jocks to start touring overseas. In 1997, she moved to Berlin, where she set up the Terminal M label three years later. Today, nearly 20 years on, Terminal M is still one of the world's most respected techno imprints, ensuring that Ms Kruse's grip on those upper branches remains as tight as ever!
Last year saw her encountering something of a bump in the road, when she was struck by a mystery illness. But now she's firmly back on track, with her current single Violet – a collaboration with Drumcode regular Timmo – riding high in the techno charts. And as she explains below, it's all thanks to South American shamanic ritual…
You were quite ill last year, and had to cancel a lot of dates… are you all recovered and fighting fit now?
"Yes, I was really sick from a virus which I still don't really know what it was. Some doctors said it was EBV [AKA glandular fever/mononucleosis], others said it was a tropical virus. For half a year I was suffering with it, no medicine or doctor could help me and then a friend of mine told me to try Kambo and somehow it was calling to me. At this point I just wanted to do anything I could to see what worked.
"Kambo is a shamanic cleanse that's been used for thousands of years by indigenous tribes in the Amazonian rainforest. It's a secretion from the Giant Green Monkey Tree Frog, which a shaman puts on you as he burns your skin with little dots like a cigarette burn. It works on a wide range of illnesses like virus infections, anxiety, depression, addiction, borreliosis, migraines and more. It also gives your immune system a huge boost, along with energy and serotonin levels. I could talk so much about Kambo now, it could actually take up this whole interview! I puked up for about 20 minutes, it was hardcore. Afterwards, though, I felt relieved, fresh and energised. I was back on track!
"I have actually done it now four times, to cleanse myself, get more energy and replenish what I lose during a heavy touring schedule for months on end. It has been a life-changing event for me and I am very thankful that I got sick in a way, which lead to me to try Kambo and learn about myself and alternative ways of healing. I wrote about it a little on Instagram and Facebook, and now almost every gig there is someone who comes up to me and asks me about it. This is beautiful for me, because I like to share experiences and we all have bad moments in our lives where we search for answers, so it’s important to talk about it together and overcome them.
"Right now, I have reduced my gigs to follow my path of exploring new ways to heal – mentally and physically. Last year I even skipped ADE to do a three-week retreat of breathwork and healing. Breathwork is another great way to get closer to yourself and change patterns and traumas just by using a breathing technique which puts you in a trance-like state with visions, like you took LSD!"
Wow, that's quite an answer – glad to hear you're feeling better! Now, coming back to music… I had a look at your DJ diary and you've got an INSANE amount of festivals coming up. Does that actually leave you any time to do club gigs in-between, or are summers all about the big outdoor shows these days?
"Well, in the summer I do mostly festival gigs. A lot of clubs close now for that summer period, as they cannot compete with all these festivals, and people prefer as well to dance outside and mostly daytime than in a dark club."
That diary includes playing at arguably the most famous festival of all, Glastonbury – are you excited?
"When I heard I would be playing at Glastonbury I was shocked, but so happy! It was always one of my biggest dreams! Not only music-wise, as there are so many really great acts performing, but also they offer a lot of spiritual things there. I would love to spend the whole weekend there, but I was booked at Awakenings festival on the same day, so I arrive late Saturday night at Glastonbury. I can’t wait!"
What are the main differences between when you play at a club and when you play at a festival, and which do you prefer?
"The main difference when I play at a club is of course that it is more intimate, closer to the people, and generally speaking I have a longer set. I can take the people on a musical journey from soft to hard to soft… .at festivals it’s more of a pushing set. But of course, it depends who is playing before me!
"I like to play both, clubs and festivals. But I prefer if I am close to the people, if I can touch them, as you radiate a better vibe with everyone. Some festivals have achieved this with their stages, but in general most of them are SO huge, that you are miles from the audience. I don’t like to be too far away from the crowd, but then again with the big stages the production is just so insane, you can’t always have both!"
The emergence of so many dance music festivals worldwide is obviously a good thing for the scene, but has it had a negative effect on club culture per se, do you think? Good regular, weekly nights seem harder to find these days, or at least they do in the UK…
"I totally agree, the club culture is dying. I think people spend their money to go to festivals. There are benefits for them at such big shows, as they can see a lot of their favourite DJs at one event, but this means that a lot of them maybe don’t go to the cosy clubs anymore. The clubs are afraid to book unknown or new artists, because they run the risk of the club not being sold out or breaking even – which is always a concern. In turn, this means they cannot then open during the summer months.
"So I actually think that with the amount of festivals now, it’s potentially killing the club scene, and mostly only the big names and headliners are on the festival line-ups, so people do not get to discover the new talent of the future, which is sad."
Moving away from festivals, your latest single release is Violet with Drumcode's Timmo… tell us a little about how that came about, and how it was put together – did you work remotely, or physically get together in the studio)?
"I have been a fan of Timmo’s for a long time, and he actually did a remix on my label about two years ago, of Clint Stewart's Breath – I still play this track today. He was always such a nice guy and after a few conversations I felt we really connected without even meeting him personally.
"At the beginning of this year, he sent me over his first album and asked me to release it on Terminal M – what a honour! I loved it and with the talk we had back and forth on emails about the tracks, he asked me if I fancied doing a collaboration. I actually told him that I didn't have the time to get into the studio, but I had a track which I was not really happy with, so maybe he could give it his ‘Timmo’ touch!
"I sent him the stems and melody, and he added his techno edge. After two weeks of calling and emailing each other with many different versions, it was complete! Even though we never actually went into the studio together, I feel like we did because we spoke every day, and I think this was an amazing collab. I really enjoyed it and love the end result."
These days, you're something of a role model to a new generation of young female producers. Is that a position you're comfortable to be in, or can it sometimes feel restricting?
"I am honoured if I would be considered a role model for my sisters, but I never saw myself as that. I always did what I feel" I never thought too much or worried about what I should or shouldn’t do for my career, and how to present myself on socials and be accepted as ‘cool’. I think it is very important to stay true and authentic and not follow any hypes or pressures of social media or the number of gigs you play or the style you play. Just be unique!
"Right now our society is so obsessed with social media and appearance, which I think is a dangerous thing. I don’t want to post every day, sometimes I go social media silent for a week or two. I don’t want to do too many gigs, as I sometimes need my time out for my friends and family and myself. I always did it my way, no specific career calculation which I see a lot nowadays. So, if that is inspiring for somebody, that is amazing to hear."
I'm guessing you must sometimes find yourself, these days, sharing bills with DJs and playing to crowds that are half your age! As one oldie to another, does that ever feel a bit weird sometimes, or…?
"No, it doesn't feel weird, as I still feel like them. I can totally connect with my audience even if they could be young enough to be my kids, because I still have the same desire and passion like them: to get lost within music and dance."
With some 28 years in the game under your belt, what are the best and worst changes you've seen in the industry and the club scene over the course of your career?
"The good thing is the sound systems are sooooo much better, the tools to produce are better and I am always happy to play for people like Timewarp or Awakenings who continue year on year to host these amazing parties. The bad things, I guess could be the use of mobile phones on the dancefloor, the whole social media thing, the hype and the lack of pushing unknown DJs in line-ups."
You're also a well-known advocate on social justice issues, particularly with your charity No Historical Backspin. What's going on with NHB lately?
"Unfortunately, with the dying of the club scene, there are not so many clubs here anymore. Plus the interest in doing political events is gone as well. I had some requests that year for Dresden and Cottbus (German cities) but suddenly the person disappeared. It is really not easy anymore to do these kinds of parties.
"Of course I could do another in a club like Watergate, but we have done them there three times and I feel it might not have the same impact as using a new venue.
Finally, what else is going on in Monika Kruse's world right now (album plans, Terminal M releases etc) that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I don’t have any album plans but I will return to the studio of course after the summer. Terminal M is running very well, and right now I release something new every three weeks. The upcoming releases will be Timmo’s album, the Bangers Vol 3 compilation, Patrick Berg, Ramon Tapia and Mario Ocha."
Words: Russell Deeks Pics: Christoph Köstling
Violet is out now on Terminal M