Not many people have had the luxury of hearing music through the legendary sound systems at The Loft and Paradise Garage in New York and Berghain’s intimidating setup. But one Berghain resident has that honour.
Boris Dolinski, an original Berliner, is one of the club’s longest-serving residents having first played at the old Ostgut club in the early 2000s. Since its closure, the owners, the club, the dancers and Boris maintained a strong relationship until the opening of the reincarnated club, Berghain, in 2004. The early years for Boris and Ostgut were framed around his love for Hi-NRG, house, Italo and disco but broadly techno is the connective tissue that holds them close together today. But techno is perhaps too broad to properly capture his wide-ranging influences that showcase his dynamism and technique behind the decks.
His resilience and evolution over the past 20 years have given him a valid reputation as a legend in techno. He has an eclecticism and passion for groovy, quirky and “fucked-up” techno which sets him apart from fellow residents and the regular trendy techno DJ auf der Strasse. Favouring the infamous closing slots at Berghain, Boris has utilised these moments to explore music with a special twist and adopted an intuitive approach to these extended experiments.
When the clubs aren’t open and there is nowhere to party, what does one of the scene’s most highly regarded DJs do to wind down? Apart from using sport to focus on his health, he is digging, digging and doing some more digging. An enforced break of just over 1 year from regular gigs and parties did nothing to dull the energy and passion that he has for electronic music and he has not wasted a moment of any lockdown in the continued search for uncovered bombs and new releases.
Inviting Boris to create a mix for us has been a dream come true of sorts, and after meeting him we discovered he’s charming, sympathetic, sehr lustig and as candid as you’d expect from a DJ who’s been there, seen it, done it. In this extended interview, Dolinski’s cheeky personality shines through on what was a rare day of autumnal sunshine in Berlin.
The mix he delivers holds on to the groove, feeling and energy he relishes. It’s a whirlwind mix from minute one filled with breaks, strong synth lines and robotic electro and anyone expecting 4/4 thump might be disappointed. The unorthodox and diverse use of sonics, walloping basslines and powerful noise electronics from artists such as Rian Treanor, Narciss, Mutant Joe and Nick Léon might be the kick you need to start your week right.
Interview by Luke Hawkins
"I have always listened to music every single day. I listen to promos, I open newsletters, I research and constantly dig for new music - so throughout the pandemic I have kept myself current"
Are you still enjoying life in Berlin?
I live in Friedrichshain where the traffic can be a bit bad at rush hours but other than that, where I am it’s quiet. I am close to the hustle and bustle but live in a Stalin-Bau building and have connections for travelling to the Airport, to my favourite club and I am happy there. It’s also still cheap!
What’s your state of mind right now as clubs begin to reopen their doors?
It feels a bit strange. Well, travelling, for example, is more difficult with restrictions and regulations, especially in the UK with lots of paperwork and we still don’t yet have a fully functioning airport in Berlin for European travel. These are the current hassles of DJ travel.
I am of course looking forward to playing in clubs again. It feels slightly weird being out of it for such a long time. I had my first flight this year in March after a whole year as I was invited to do a stream for 30D Records in Barcelona and that was very exhilarating but I did have some anxiety about testing, paperwork, checks and so on. Luckily, I am fully vaccinated and feel a little bit more comfortable with flying and travelling around Europe again.
Where was your first club booking this year?
A while back, I had a premonition that my first real gig in a club would be in Australia. I have a big fan community in Australia and have been travelling back and forth for the past 9 years. One random day, I received a call from the promoter who said he was organising a tour for me! I was happy but it was tricky as we were still very much in lockdown so I had no hope of being able to secure the visa and so on.
I don’t know how but after 6 weeks of hard work they were able to arrange a temporary travel visa which allowed me to commit to a tour. I really love Sydney with the combination of weather, nature, water and living standards so my time is always enjoyable there. I wanted to show my gratitude to the promoter so I flew over and did the required 14 days in quarantine to repay the faith & hard work. I thought, “What the fuck, why not?” Nothing was happening in Berlin so the quarantine was no problem.
How did you feel heading into the party after your quarantine?
That first party was actually really mind-blowing. After so long without being inside a club, it was crazy to be packed so near together with no masks. I had some doubts at first like “am I still able to do this?” you know?
The music, the handling, the crowd, actually DJ’ing again, as I don’t normally practise at home. But it was amazing how quickly I found my flow as if I’d never been away. Sadly, four days after the party the lockdown arrived in Sydney so I was unable to complete the whole tour.
Presumably, this meant back to Berlin for you?
Yes exactly. I spent 5 weeks in Australia, but when I came back things were also starting to open up and outdoor clubs were reopening again. After coming home, the first gig in Europe this year was in One One in Riga, Latvia and everything is fairly normal there at the moment with the same rules with no mask, 3G and so on. I have been lucky to play at indoor events in Edinburgh, Luxembourg and Vienna this summer.
Are you back in the swing of things?
You said you don’t normally practice at home. So how long does it usually take for you to find your rhythm?
I am very intuitive when I play and I embrace improvisation in my sets. I was a little bit afraid at first regarding maybe some technical factors, like a mixer I’d not played with for example. But musically, I have always listened to music every single day. I listen to promos, I open newsletters, I research and constantly dig for new music so throughout the pandemic I have kept myself current as well as adding things to my older collections. I know my collection and have trust in my knowledge of the tracks I have.
There are of course tracks I have bought which I have naturally never tested out in a club so I still need to figure out in which context those tracks would make the most sense. That’s the difficult part. When you play every weekend, you have that contextual understanding and how you want to present tracks. Listening at home meant imagining how these tracks might fit together or which situation might be more relevant.
As a DJ you have to be able to improvise, go with the flow and understand your audience. Taking in those elements can help me understand what works and what doesn’t.
Are you looking forward to giving some of those tracks a test run in the clubs?
For sure. However, I am not the type of person that tags tracks or labels them or whatever. A lot of people have their own ways of managing their collection which is cool. I have more of a feeling. Some stuff I know, some stuff I might not know so well but I will improvise and use my intuition. There have been things I haven’t touched or played that much so there’s going to be some undiscovered bombs in there for sure [laughs].
Have you missed the intimacy of indoor clubbing?
As much fun as it is to play outdoors and have the experience of clubbing, you never get that same volume or the same punch you get from an indoor sound system. You have external noise, people shouting or complaining to their friends, you might have a limiter so there is a point of realisation you reach with outdoor clubbing where you think, “ok, well this is good so I can handle it but it’s not the real deal.” Certain kinds of music need to be heard in that indoor environment in order to be fully appreciated. The darkness, the sound that engulfs you, that’s what I like.
Do you still play with vinyl?
These days I am mostly digital. For me, techno is more the digital domain and I play house and disco on vinyl. To play with vinyl in a club I need to have the reassurance of the right setup.
Panorama Bar for example, when I play there, they have the most perfect setup. I know everything will work if I wanted to play vinyl. Travelling with vinyl is tricky. Freddy K for example is a full-on vinyl DJ but to have the comfort that the whole setup is perfect when you are travelling and nothing will go wrong, it’s difficult. People are forgiving with shaking & needle jumps but I don’t want to have to worry about these things for practicality.
CDJ’s play upside down, submerged in water…they have limited ways in which they malfunction, it turns on or off usually, they are the two options [laughs]. I want to remove my worries from technical aspects and just play. I am also hugely in favour of the technical capabilities of CDJs and all the features they have. In Berghain, we have four CDJs and that setup is something I really enjoy.
Have you experimented with four decks simultaneously?
Yes, I have although I am not usually not cutting between tracks in that way. I like to layer things and then turn multiple tracks into something new.
"I'm into hybrid styles, breaks, quirkiness, something off-the-wall or fucked up. That is what gets me interested"
Most people recognise Berghain for its hedonism and energy but where is your favourite place to relax in Berghain?
I really love Säule. It’s changed a bit from the original space but I find it’s a great space in the club to hang, be able to talk and relax with a drink. It is one of the few spaces to get away from the music, take a breath and take it easy.
It is also a great space for different programming. I saw Phuture play live after the garden was closing in the summer. It was quite surreal. A full-on live set, in an amazing situation, something you wouldn’t have expected. I hope they continue to make surprise bookings like this in the future. I don’t believe in converting it to a permanent 3rd club room though.
Do you get involved with bookings?
Not at all. I can make a suggestion or two but it’s not something I get involved with.
What’s your view on the state of the sound of techno? Does it have more room to develop?
This is a difficult one to answer. techno has become a lot faster in recent years, especially in Berlin. We have a new uprising of kids who want fast techno, which I find very interesting and let them celebrate it. Of course, we will eventually see it branching out into various different forms of techno including Gabber or hard dance (that rely heavily on cheesy samples). Copenhagen probably first had a big influence on this style of techno and I played there about 3 years ago and thought, “oh my god I am the slowest DJ here!”
What about your first love, house music? Do you see the same potential for development?
Sadly, I don’t see the same potential on the house side. I am very sound driven, I love atmosphere and groove, which is why my heart now lies in techno because I find all those things in techno. I’m into hybrid styles, breaks, quirkiness, something off-the-wall or fucked up. That is what gets me interested.
As much as I love classic House from the late 80s and early 90s, these are just memories for me and I have an emotional attachment to it. Many people now in their 20s are hearing these producers for the first time and being heavily influenced by them.
Unlike me, they never had the chance to dance to them at the time they were released. Maybe it can be related to my limited access to house music nowadays or the house that I hear it’s simply not my cup of tea.
What was it like experiencing the emergence of electronic music in the 80s?
GOYA/Metropol was the only club growing up in Berlin around that time that we had. It was a rundown concert hall, which became a sex cinema, which then became a club. It was the only place that hosted 800-1000 people. There were galleries above the stage where you could sneak around and do some naughty things but one of the only places with a big sound system. When I decided to leave Berlin, there were a number of very cool and fashionable clubs but when I left I didn’t want London or Amsterdam, I wanted to go 10 steps up. For me, that was New York, a dream metropolis.
I know you frequented some of the most legendary clubs in New York.
When I was living in NYC I went to Palladium, Area, Paradise Garage and The Loft. But what did it for me was, these places were dedicated to an amazing sound, great people and a fantastic atmosphere that blew my mind. To hear that pumping bass that just blows your stomach away. That was the WOW for me. Most of it was pure raw analogue sound. To balance all of that there was so much planning to make those systems sound so good.
How do modern-day sound systems compare?
These days there is much more access to better tools for planning and building a system. I really enjoy playing on a Funktion One. Especially the one in Berghain. I can play things in there that I couldn’t elsewhere as it wouldn’t sound the same.
The system at the club in Riga I mentioned was hand made by the owner and for that room and space, it sounded incredible. But to be honest, nothing matches Berghain’s crispness, quality and detail which is so important for so many productions.
You came from an era of clubbing in New York and Berlin when phones, photos and videos were never part of a clubbing experience. Is the ethos of ‘what happens in the club stays in the club’ slowly losing its power?
It’s funny because so many promoters and clubs have taken on those concepts but I am not sure whether they have done this to really, truly protect the guests’ privacy, or they did it because it just looked cool? I mean on the one hand, even if they chose to do it because it’s cool, then it’s still fine as the ideology is there.
As a DJ who built a reputation outside the social media era, have you had to adapt how you present yourself through these channels?
Social media was something I tried to resist for a very long time. I use some platforms for fan pages and they have always been sufficient. Recently, more people asked me for an Instagram account where I now have an official DJ account which has been helpful in connecting to an extended fan base.
I am not a big story poster and whenever I do post anything it has to be music related. I am not trying to milk anything I am doing, share 1000 updates a day and never post photos of myself.
I don’t want to contribute to people’s social media addiction. I also try to keep my private life away from these platforms. I am just not into this world but as long as I am in the club scene I need to use it. I am an active working DJ utilising the tools for my profession.
Are there any DJs out there who have always impressed you? Whether stylistically, wizardry or control of a room?
The truth is I am very much in my own world when it comes to DJ’ing. I love my colleagues and the people I know in the industry but I am not a regular club-goer who goes to listen to other DJs. When I play before or after someone I would generally arrive 20 minutes before and stay for about the same time after my gig before leaving. Berghain can sometimes be a bit more tempting to stay longer [laughs].
Why is that?
It’s hard to say. If you are a Michelin star chef can you really be naive about food anymore and think about it in the same way when you go for a meal? I wouldn’t want to be in that frame of mind being critical in a club listening to another DJ and picking apart things I might not like. Everyone has their own style and vibe and that’s what makes it magical.
How do you like to relax when you are not DJing?
I like sports, especially swimming, and like to keep fit. I want to do this job as long as I can – as long as my ears work and my hands work. We are indulgent in life with clubs and partying and I want to look after my health and my body. When I am not doing sports I am normally digging for music.
Did your buying habits change during covid? Did you buy less music for the floor and more for the home?
I don’t listen to techno at home unless for the purposes of preparation for a club. I bought a lot of non-club music and am a big fan of Colombian and African music from the 70s and 80s and I find a lot of that on Bandcamp. If I didn’t find what I was looking for on Bandcamp I went to Juno. I would never normally buy from Beatport. It feels like I am giving my money away to Rupert Murdoch or something [laughs].
There were still lots of releases in 2020 that were club-focused and I did question whether it was the right thing for producers to do, without the context of the clubs to hear those tracks. However, I read vinyl sales actually increased massively in 2020. So fans seemed to have supported a lot to make certain releases possible and affordable for the artists involved.
"I would never normally buy from Beatport. It feels like I am giving my money away to Rupert Murdoch"
Do you still go to record shops?
I am still connected to Mark Ernestus from Hard Wax and we are good friends, but in terms of a connection to the store, I don’t really have one anymore. I left Hard Wax in 1994 or 1995 so it’s been a long time. I think it’s still amazing that it exists and they can cater for a worldwide audience.
Are online mixes as potent or valid as they used to be?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. When I look at my Soundcloud page, how many people are listening to my stuff, how many new people, and the number of plays, and how often older mixes are being rotated it’s quite cool. I like those mixes and they speak for themselves when they are made. Now and again I would go back and listen to them.
The counterargument is that the world is getting bigger, more people are becoming involved in clubbing. 20 or 30 years ago this community was much smaller, now we have a global breadth. If I was able to influence someone, somewhere with my music I would be extremely happy about it.
What’s your usual approach for compiling tracks and recording a mix?
Prior to 2021 I used to record a podcast every 2 years. It was always a bit of a hassle for me to prepare it, where to record it, no time and too much pressure to get it done right. But since January I have been podcast crazy [laughs]. It’s quite fun though. As we discussed before there is so much music I haven’t been able to play out so it’s been very coincidental that these requests have come to me.
I usually try to avoid club music mixes and podcasts as I don’t really want my club sound to be out there. But this year I thought it would be good to feature music that has not had that opportunity to be played. Sometimes these tracks might age, they might leave my collection for whatever reason. So it’s actually been fun to do the mixes.
What about the mix you’ve recorded for us?
For the IA MIX I put more thought into it. We mostly listen to mixes at home, through earphones, in the car etc, so I thought of these contexts where you can actually just sit down and listen and actually have fun with it, but not necessarily something that you need to dance to. I didn’t want it to be too big and oppressive. I wanted to keep it groovy.
I wanted to make it a bit uneven, something that wouldn’t normally be played in a club. Not run of the mill. I have some really cool music I wanted to present and with a focus on some newer releases I have bought.
Did you ever think about putting more energy into production?
I am a DJ, not a producer. I think people recognise this when they hear me play, it’s very obvious I am a DJ.
What big hopes do you have for the rest of this year?
That we manage to live through this pandemic and will not play a major part in our lives anymore.
1. MALUGI – Feels So Right [Temperamental Club Sound]
2. Autre – LA Funk [ESP Institute]
3. Narciss – It Get’s Easier [Lobster Theremin]
4. Glass – Quantic Blunt [Comic Sans Records]
5. Tapefeed – Plain View (Cocktail Party Effect Remix) [Inverterate]
6. Unknown Artist – Lithanae [Analogical Force]
7. Ténèbre – Prototype [YUKU]
8. EMIT – Data Love [JUJUKA]
9. Nick Léon – Rompediscoteka (Henzo Remix) [Tra Tra Trax]
10. Mutant Joe – Knick Knack feat. YVNCC [Natural Sciences]
11. Rian Treanor – Obstacle 1 [Planet Mu]
12. Vladimir Gnatenko – Sacrim [Rhythm Büro Records]