Monika Kruse sits down at Sonus to talk musical development, current events, Croatia, and more [INTERVIEW]
Monika Kruse has a profound love for electronic music that has propelled her through the decades. Discovering the wonders of the rave scene and the art of DJing at a young age when the culture was beginning to embed itself in the European artscape, she knew she was meant to carry out her life studies by way of commanding the dance-floor and instilling unity and joy in others through music.
The German pioneer has been unstoppable in her journey since 1991, making her name by organizing parties in the Munich underground, and eventually launching her revered Terminal M imprint at the term of the millennium and serving as a member on the Cocoon Ibiza roster in 2001. As a veteran talent, she’s since helped cultivate the careers of many notable acts including ANNA, Pig&Dan, Andhim, and more, showcasing just how tuned in she is to music that will make a difference. Her sets are ever evolving as well, as she’s well-versed the art of reading and controlling her crowds and continually shows her adaptability as a skilled performer who can acclimate flawlessly to any setting. Meanwhile, Kruse’s love for the music and its fan radiates out from her with each gig, leading to a dedicated following of fans who share her sentiments.
Kruse’s passions stretch plenty far beyond DJing, however. A former sociology major and global citizen to her core, she’s also known as quite the activist within electronica as well. She is very open in her efforts to open a dialogue on human rights and equality, even launching a charity called Historical Backspin which is dedicated toward protecting persecuted individuals.
Dancing Astronaut was granted the chance of picking Monika’s brain during her time at Sonus festival in Croatia, where topics from her musical past, Croatia as a “new Ibiza,” to current events were covered in an immersive discussion.
Over the past, it seems that Croatia has really been put on the map as a new “Ibiza” of sorts. Do you feel this is case, as new people seek a paradisal holiday where everything is more accessible price-wise and still offers the same type of party experience?
I definitely think this so. Ibiza has changed a lot and it’s very expensive nowadays. The clubs are not that packed anymore either. But yeah — there are a lot of good festivals in Croatia — Sonus is one of them for sure! I also played at Ultra Croatia last year, which was really good. There’s also Lighthouse festival. Just in general I see a lot of good events down here with amazing lineups, and the prices here are reasonable as well. This is really important because we’re ravers, not millionaires. We come here for the music, and we need to have fair price for drinks and accommodation! Plus here you still have the sun and the sea, and you can rent a motorbike, go to lots of parties — there’s so much to do, so you can have a good time as well without spending five times the money.
Exactly. €15 for a bottle of water in the clubs there? Yikes.
Yes! I love Ibiza and there’s still a special, spiritual energy that I can’t describe though. There are still shamans that live there, and hippie artist types doing things there which I love, plus lots of DJs coming to play. But when you go out for a night, and you’re spending around €200 per night, that’s just not something that people can afford anymore. So things like Sonus festival give people a good place to go without the money. The lineup this year for example is the best I’ve ever seen! It’s really crazy, and yeah — let’s go there!
Do you feel the club scene in Croatia will come up as well? Or do you feel like it’s mainly a destination festival type of thing?
No, they have some good clubs! But I’d say here [Novalja] is more of a vacation place. There are other towns with clubs that are good fun when I play in Croatia. The people are nice, the crowds are full of energy, and I love it!
Moving onto a different topic, Tiga recently posted about playing an imperfect set and the “taboo” nature of messing up while performing. As a veteran DJ yourself with three or so decades of experience, what is your take on this topic? How do you react if you fumble during a set? What are your secrets in general to making sure a set goes well?
Well in DJing you can never pretend — that’s what makes what I do so interesting. But at the same time, I also get super nervous. People ask me all the time: “Why are you still so nervous? You’ve been playing for 27 years!” I tell them, “yes, but you cannot predict how the night is going to be; whether the monitoring is right, or if the connection with the crowd will be right.” I really have no idea which track to play at what time going into it, and I think there’s a lot of pressure for the DJs because for me, I really want the people to have a good night and be able to escape from their problems for a few hours and really let loose. I always call it a “holiday in your mind.” There really is no secret; sometimes it goes well, and sometimes you screw up. When I screw up or feel like I didn’t deliver what I could’ve delivered, I feel sad. Sometimes I get depression over it, and sometimes I even want to quit my job. I take it very personally! Every DJ takes it differently, really. Some DJs always look to a brighter day or tell themselves it isn’t the end of the world, but for me I can feel like things are really going downhill and get really sad. Most don’t talk about this though, so I was really surprised when I saw Tiga’s post about this. I thought, “wow, finally someone’s talking!” I even get nightmares sometimes from DJing, you know? I remember this event where there were a lot of interviews with other DJs and I actually brought this up. Many then tuned in and said “yeah, we have these same fears and nightmares too!” But normally we don’t talk about it. People often think we don’t take this type of things seriously, but we do because it’s our life — it’s what we stand for, what we believe in, why we suffer. It’s a very personal thing and if you can’t deliver it, it makes them sad.
Agreed. Generally, real artists wear their heart on their sleeves and are more open people. Would you say you’re more self-critical at times, or that you tend to beat yourself up a bit harder than others?
Oh yes, totally. I’m almost never satisfied to be honest. I think there’s a border between never being satisfied and screwing up. I guess it’s almost a good thing to never be super happy, because you’re always working on improving yourself. On the other side though, others may feel that they always have next week to do better. For me, I worry that I’ll screw up again on the next gig! I don’t know, I’m super sensitive.
And sometimes you even have to ask others if something sounds ok!
Yes! I ask myself all the time, “why do I need somebody else to tell me that was good?” Or, why is it that out of 20 messages that tell me I rocked a performance, one negative one makes me feel like shit?
In the studio, do you also seek out people to give second opinions on your music?
Actually, no. That’s one place where I push myself to find that balance. I can listen to a track dozens of times and make tweaks, but I force myself to find that line where I’ve decided that it’s fine enough to put out. Or if I have a melody I made stuck in my head, it’s a good sign!
Speaking of that, having been around since the 1980s, how do you continue to find inspiration and originality in your productions?
For the last production I made, I made it during my time-out from DJing where I was doing a lot of meditation and had a lot of happiness inside me. This inspired me to utilize a lot of happy elements like soul vocal samples, euphoric melodies, etc, into the work. When I wrote my song “Latin Lovers,” I’d just broken up with my boyfriend. Inspiration comes from many places!Another example is when Pig&Dan and I were working together on our EP one morning, the terrible attack in Brussels happened that afternoon, and it totally screwed us up. This was super meaningful for us, and this kind of inspired us to use this phrase in our track: “Why can’t we live together?” What’s happening in our private world really influences us.
Going off of those Brussels attacks and the generally awful stuff that’s transpired in the world, I know that you’re a bit of a social justice activist yourself, and a former sociology major. What would you say we can be doing as humans to remain unified amidst this onslaught of terrible news and sensationalized media?
That’s a tough question! One thing I can see though is that, of course, music connects us all. When I was playing at Tomorrowland, I saw these flags from all over the world, and everyone was having fun together. There wasn’t any sort of animosity, like “Oh, you’re from this country? I won’t dance by you then.” I personally don’t follow the media all that much anymore because these days it’s all about fear. I don’t want anyone to overtake me, but of course if you’re putting fear in my brain then I’m going to get scared. So I avoid it. I have friends from all over the world — Iraq, Iran, Israel, America, etc. Of course there are cultural differences but this makes things interesting for me because I want to learn more about them and their backgrounds. To erase your fears, one of the most important thing to do is to meet and talk to one another. We have two refugees staying in our family house. My uncle, who runs this family house, was very controlling and concerned at first due to their religious affinities. Then we introduced them to him, and he said “Wow, they’re super cool!” Now they’re best friends who always do stuff for each other. So that’s the solution – meet people, then judge!
You’re right. We’re all humans — we just want peace.
Exactly. Whether you’re Israeli, German, French, you cannot say once country is better than another you know?
Back on a musical path, can you refresh us as to how you got into DJing back then when the scene was so nascent?
Sure — from a young age, I used to buy records of all types. Then I began getting influenced more and more by electronic. Then I heard the first deep house track and thought, “Wow, what is this?” So that’s how I got into it. Then there were the first parties, and yeah!
Back then you were one of the few women in the industry at the time as well. Do you feel things are getting easier now because there are more participating, or is it still as hard as it was back when you started?
I think it’s easier now, but there is still a lot of prejudice. Still to this day when I get a compliment it’s often tail-ended with, “for a girl.” There’s this continued divide between men and women in the DJ realm. It’s crazy! I mean, I like Ellen Allien and Marco Carola, but I’m not going to say Ellen is “my favorite GIRL DJ.”
What is it about techno and house that have drawn you to them as opposed to say, electronica or progressive? Curious as you’re a classically trained musician, so one might think you’d be drawn to music with more of those elements.
I’ve always changed my style around, actually. When I began playing I’d play deep house, or vocal house. I change myself whenever I feel the style is getting boring because every production sounds the same, but I always remain as open-minded as possible. Now I play a bit harder, but I had an even harder period back in ‘98-’99 where I was playing at 140bpm or so. But then I didn’t see any girls on the floor anymore and started playing softer. It all comes in waves, so I just pay attention to how I feel about a certain style or whether or not it’s been played out multiple times. Depending on what’s happening in my private life as well or the setting, I will also change the way I’m playing or curating music.
Speaking of, reading the crowd is another key part of DJing. How long did it take you to develop this skill/how did you get there
I can’t say! Haha. It was built over time. I guess everything was pretty acceptable in the beginning when the scene was starting out, so I kind of just learned the skill as I went along. I’m always dancing as well and like to be part of the crowd, so I feel like that’s why I’m also able to feel what they want. Ultimately, I want to connect with the people when I’m playing because we’re all one party! I still go into the crowd and dance today because I love this music and the community.
So going back to earlier when you were talking about how recently you found inspiration for a track during your meditation time away from DJing. Can you expand a bit more as to what kind of rituals, cleanses, etc. you partake in to maintain your energy and sanity?
I take two months of break at the beginning of the year from DJing and to meditate. I also do a panchakarma treatment, which is a detox where you clean your body by eating a lot of special foods, taking therapy sessions, and at the end, you clean your colon out a bit with a special drink. I know Dubfire, Richie Hawtin, Sven Vath, and more do this each year as well. I have a lot of sleeping problems myself, so I find that after I do this I’m able to sleep well once again. I also take the occasional weekend off to rest. Otherwise, it’s too much!
It’s good to have people like you who’ve been around for awhile to show how important self care!
Yes, it’s very important. That’s why some DJs burn out after 20 or fewer years too; they’re not taking care of themselves properly.
Final question: What’s in your pipeline at the moment, for yourself and for Terminal M?
This winter I’m heading back into the studio to record an album, and we have a lot of new stuff for the label coming out as well. There’s this Serbian artist who sent me some tracks that I fell in love with recently, so I signed him. We also have some stuff coming out from Victor Ruiz, and more. I also like to support newcomers — when I see someone with no name and their music is good, I get very curious and I take them on.
Ok, one more question because now we’re curious. How do find new talent? Do you listen to all your demos yourself, or do you find out who a track during a set is by?
Yes, sometimes it happens in all those ways! I’ll discover someone while out, or a new track through the demos, and sign them. I try my best to listen to everything myself but sometimes in the summer it’s just too difficult. I’m touring so much, so my head really isn’t in the right place to properly select music to sign. I’m an artist as well, you know? I want to have the right time, brain, and concentration to listen to tracks because sometimes when you’re in a rush or a mental touring state, things get hard. You’re not even able to cook yourself a meal sometimes, so how can you listen to a track? Give me a time-out in the summer, then we’ll talk again in October. Aside from that, I also have Awakenings, and a gig with Drumcode! It’s an honor forsure. I have quite a few other festival and big club gigs coming up as well.
That sums up our discussion! Thank you so much Monika for taking your time to answer all our deepest questions!