Rødhåd is the quintessential Berlin DJ. With all the expats that have taken up residence in the capital to chase the techno dream, it's sometimes easy to forget these Berlin originals still exist. Born in 1984, Rødhåd grew up in Hohenschönhausen, a neighbourhood in the city's far east. His first name is Mike, and he would rather not reveal his surname.
Rødhåd currently stands as one of Berlin's most promising new talents, propelled by the Dystopian parties and label he helms with two friends (who preferred to remain nameless). The former has been taking place for around four years, with the trio inviting local and international guests to spin at various locations—but mostly arenaclub—every few months.
The label, meanwhile, is a more recent development, having started in the second half of 2012. Its two 12-inches so far have both come from Rødhåd, with each of the tracks exhibiting the kind of hypnotic techno his DJ sets have become known for. Alongside all of this is Rødhåd's development in the DJ booth. He's become one of the best closing DJs in the business, schooled at Berghain where he's become a regular Sunday (often unannounced) fixture, playing last on the main floor with marathon performances.
Despite its geographic dislocation from the city's inner neighbourhoods—where clubs like Tresor and E-Werk informed an entire generation—access to music in Hohenschonhausen was straightforward. Hip-hop was popular in the East, but for Rødhåd "it was always more about electronic music," he reflects quietly. "When I went to my first techno party it was a big surprise: there was no stress, you could stay for ten hours, there'd be no fighting, no beatings and you could just be yourself."
Parties in Brandenburg (the semi-rural state surrounding the German capital) impacted deeply on Mike and his peers. Open-air events took place regularly, helmed by the likes of Andre Lodemann and Norman Nodge, drawing kids from the suburbs into paddocks and parks with everything from hard techno to poppy house. Fittingly, the first "event" Mike was involved with resembled an open-air. A group of friends drove a car into a field, set-up speakers and had a party, with Rødhåd and his friends manning the decks. They did it again shortly afterwards, this time drawing around 150 people.
Rødhåd, meanwhile, was setting his sights on becoming a club DJ. He managed to secure a semi-regular slot at Berlin's notoriously hedonistic Golden Gate, allowing him to routinely work on the fundamentals of club gigs. In 2006, he landed a residency at Zementgarten, a now-defunct and "rough" small club in Friedrichshain. Playing every four to six weeks, the ensuing two years were instrumental in his development. "I would mostly play at the beginning or the end," he explains. "When I first started buying records, I always seemed to get the harder stuff. But when you play the beginning of a night, you need to think about how you're going to build the atmosphere."
Around the time he secured this residency, the minimal techno boom was in full effect. Although the sound seemingly gripped the whole of Germany it wasn't necessarily his thing; Rødhåd turned instead to more atmospheric and dubby textures, styles that still define many of his sets today. Essentially, while most other DJs in his hometown went minimal, Rødhåd went deeper.
The "closing DJ" tag has stuck—although these days it's in a far more extended form than the hour or so he used to play at Dystopian. It's easy for him to explain why he enjoys them so much: "I like to start at peak-time—or maybe a little after," he says. "You can play hard at the start, and then get deeper. You can get very deep when you're playing a long set. Playing eight hours is like a heavenly trip."
It seems that DJs like Rødhåd can only be schooled in Berlin. No other city offers young jocks a chance to spin for six hours or more, in front of an enthusiastic crowd, on a regular basis. Luckily the place that has been so influential on his career happens to be one of the world's best nightclubs. "Playing in Berghain for eight or ten hours is crazy," he says with a laugh. "If you play for that long, you can lose sense of everything around you."
Rødhåd asserts that playing these kinds of extended sets comes naturally. "I think it's just like something in my head," he replies when I ask how he manages to construct these marathons. "I need maybe one or two hours to get into the mood. But when I get into the mood, I don't even need to think about what I'm playing. It just comes across as, 'OK, I need this, and this, and this'. Sometimes I pick out a record I would like to play and think, 'I would like to play this record, but I need to play about five records to play before doing that.'
"I like to play with the crowd," he says, describing a scene that's become common to him. "I'll be playing records that are bringing [the energy] down, and I'll be standing there smiling while I'm putting the next record on. I'm thinking to myself, 'Everyone will freak out if I play this.' So you're standing in the booth smiling, and no one knows what the next step is. Then you drop this bomb."
On the production front, Rødhåd has been busy. His first 12-inch, 1984, was released in June of last year, with the second, Blindness, arriving in November. Each of the six cuts released to date, with the exception of the latter's title track, are exemplary DJ tools, crafted with the intent to hypnotize. To a certain extent, they're ego-less—much like their creator. They'll happily slide into a set with minimal fuss, and make it all the better just for having been there. He's also laid down a remix for Svreca on Semantica, also very much a DJ tool but slightly less conventional, making use of a stepping, broken beat. "It's not so easy," he says on finding time to produce. "I have this daytime job where I'm working 35 hours per week, and at the moment I'm playing almost every weekend. I've had the studio space since the summer and it's not far away from my flat. But if you come from work at 8 PM or something like that, it's not so easy to be creative."
In his usual humble manner, Rødhåd is hesitant to suggest that his increasing DJ schedule will enable him to cut back his daytime working hours at an architecture firm. "They really need me," he says with a smile. "I've been working there for seven years. I'm happy with the guys and my boss is really cool. They all know I play at Berghain, so if I play on a Sunday they'll let me take some time off on the Monday."