Egert was born in a small Bavarian village called Mühlhausen and moved to Berlin in 1990. In the 25 years since then, she's held residencies at Tresor (the original location), Ostgut (Berghain's predecessor) and Panorama Bar, as well as Freerotation festival in Wales. She's amassed a collection of some 15,000 records, which now handsomely engulfs one wall of her flat. Though she can definitely do techno—she plays downstairs at Berghain from time to time—her strong suit is bright, raw, slamming house, with an emphasis on track selection. There is no filler; nearly every record she plays could be someone's all-time favourite.
It's worth noting that, though she's turned out a handful of fine productions (not least the aforementioned remix of "Zooz"), Egert is a DJ through and through—the playing of records is her preferred mode of self-expression. This made her a natural choice for the first edition of our new feature series, which shines a light on that oh-so essential part of electronic music: the art of DJing.
Why did you start DJing?
I didn't have the plan to become a DJ. I always loved music and spent all my money on buying records. I loved dancing and making tapes for friends. But DJing, for a long time, was not something that I took into account. It was my friend Holger, who, in 1993, managed to convince me to share music with others on that level. At that time we always went out together and went record shopping together. House and techno were still quite new for us in Berlin, and we were excited about the nightlife here.
Holger started DJing at a bar in Kreuzberg called Drama—a very lovely queer hub, where a lot of people went before they were heading to the clubs. At one point he convinced me that I should practice mixing and play with him at this bar.
What was your first setup? What were your first favorite records?
My first setup was: two Numark turntables that I bought secondhand from Holger and—hmmm—I have no idea any more what mixer I had. No nerd setup definitely, just the cheapest solutions as I had no money at that time. As for records, I was crazy for Inner City, Joe Smooth, DJ Pierre, Murk, Frankie Knuckles, Liz Torres, Nu Groove, Kym Mazelle, Adeva, Masters At Work, Lil Louis and early Strictly Rhythm records to name just a few.
Tell us about your first gig. Where was it? How did you get it? How did it go?
My first gig was at Drama thanks to Holger, and I was super nervous. I didn't even know how to put the needle on the record because I was shaking so much. But all went well, thanks to the wonderful crowd who forgave the train-wrecks (and I bet there were a lot). And thanks to Holger and the Drama owners, Matthias and Jens, they managed to take the nervousness away quickly. In the end we all had a lot of fun.
Was there a particular gig that felt like your "big break"? Was there one that made you realize you could do this forever?
Since a lot of people who worked in clubs went to Drama for a "warm-up," I soon got booked together with Holger to play at a gay party at Cafe Moskau, and we also got our first gigs at Globus / Tresor. This all was very surprising for me as I never had a plan to become a club DJ. I was happy about all of these opportunities but I didn't have a "big break" feeling.
The times also were different to nowadays. The whole DJ concept as we know it today did not really exist back then. There were hardly any travelling DJs, at least not so much in Berlin, and I did not have any DJ career master plan. Even in my bravest dreams I would never have thought that much later in my life I would have the opportunity to play abroad, have a lot of new experiences and make a living out of it.
In my first one or two years DJing I got more and more offers to play in Berlin, but I also had quite a while where I hardly played anywhere. A lot changed for me when the old Ostgut asked me to play and when I became a resident at Panorama Bar. With the increase of bookings abroad I decided to give up my daytime job and give it a go and dedicate my time to DJing full-time .
Let's talk about your mixing style. Are there any techniques you particularly like? Anything you wish you knew sooner?
Well, my mixing style is pretty basic. I love to let the music speak and like to give the records time to tell their story. I am not the effect or gimmick kind of DJ and except for playing around a bit with the isolator or equalizer I don't interfere much with the music when the record is playing. I learned mixing by doing it, and there was not any particular advice that I got that was an eyeopener.
How do you find new music?
I check the new records at different stores weekly, not only in Berlin also from abroad. During the week I do a lot of research on the internet, which offers so much possibility to explore music. And thanks to dear friends I discover a lot of musical beauties.
What's your preferred setup?
For turntables and CD players it's the usual suspects: Technics 1210 MK II and the Pioneer CDJ 2000. My preferred mixer is the E & S DJR 400. For needles I use the Shure M44-7 (that I usually bring myself as most clubs have the Ortofons). Concerning the monitor speakers, I love to have them about the height of my head and also not too far away from me.
In general the DJ booth should have enough space to place your records and CDs and the setup as well as the records should have sufficient lighting, so that you can properly see what you are looking for. Unfortunately I have to say that I found myself often enough in places where the lighting is a bit of a problem. Also sometimes you find yourself having to work on equipment that is not regularly and properly serviced, for example the pitch on the turntables is dirty and sticky and therefor does not work properly or the antiskating is broken etc. etc. Good shock absorbers to avoid feedback are also highly recommended.
How do you prepare yourself for a gig? How do you pick your records?
When I prepare I usually try to put a mixture of music together that triggers different emotions. Streamlined is not for me—I love variety in terms of music and atmosphere. Furthermore, how I put my music together also depends on where I am playing and who I share the decks with. Every single place comes with a different feeling or spirit and not every record fits well in every space. Taking that into account, I may emphasize some styles a bit more over the others.
The same goes for having in mind who else is on the lineup. And I always listen to my own moods and feelings. One day you may feel a bit darker, the other you are overly excited over something or your soulful self is on a high, etc. The nuances in what I pick depends also on that. Sometimes there will be one or two records I just bought that I am so into that the rest of the records I choose are subconsciously built around them.
Are there any records that never leave your bag?
No, I like rotation in my bag, so they all leave it at one time. But as I don't care if a record is old or new, a record that once left my bag can always come back again.
What are your favorite places to play?
I enjoy playing the most if I am confronted with a crowd that has an open mind and heart. My favorite places also have a proper DJ booth with equipment that has been taken care of, with good monitors (that don't destroy your ears) and enough space to put my records. The sum of all that will make the place one of my favorites.
What's the biggest challenge you face as a DJ?
The biggest challenge for me is when I play with DJs who I admire and respect a lot. It is inspiring and motivating on the one hand, but I am also a sometimes insecure person and it's the biggest challenge to get over this moment where I feel small and absolutely clueless and have to get myself together.
What's the best piece of advice you ever got as a DJ?
The best piece of advice is always new music. I am the happiest and most motivated person if someone makes me discover music that I didn't know before. For me the technical aspect in DJing is not so thrilling. Of course it is important to have the basic knowledge, but nowadays the technical side is often overemphasized in my opinion. In terms of mixing, I remember one piece of advice that I got back in the day that was very helpful: when I started DJing, for the mixing I always concentrated on the kick drum until a friend told me to keep an ear on the highs. Sounds simple but for me it was a great advice.