Come On In My Kitchen captures the celebrated German club with 380 pages of pictures, interviews and essays.
"One room. A bar built out of scrap wood clearly taken from the local hardware store. A small DJ booth at one end of the room, six televisions above it, a tiny booth for the VJ to the left and...well, that's about it. OK. Fine. But one of the best clubs in the world? In a word: Yes." This was Todd L. Burns' reaction when he visited Robert Johnson in 2010. Run by Ata and Sebastian Kahrs since 1999, the understated Offenbach spot is one of Europe's most loved venues, especially among house and techno connoisseurs (DJs most of all). Come On In My Kitchen aims to capture the essence of the club with nearly 400 pages of photographs, essays and interviews. The book is edited by Gerd Janson, and features contributions from Ewan Pearson, Roman Flügel, Theo Parrish, DJ Harvey and Bill Brewster, co-author of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.
Like the book, the Come On In My Kitchen tour will try to export the Robert Johnson experience, but with a series of parties at clubs around Europe. Each event will feature some of the venues residents or regulars—Ata, Oliver Hafebauer, Dixon, Arto Mwambe, Massimiliano Pagliara et al.—and will take place at their favorite club in each city. As a nod to Ata's love of gastronomy, the parties will be preceded by intimate dinners in the style of Club Michel, Robert Johnson's in-house restaurant.
Last week we talked to Gerd Janson, who was a resident at Robert Johnson long before he edited Come On In My Kitchen. In his typically self-effacing manner, he told us more about the book, and mused on what gives Robert Johnson its unique appeal:
What was your involvement with the book?Come On In My Kitchen will be released in March. The tour starts on March 9th at Robert Johnson, and hits 17 other cities by the end of June.
I guess I'm something like the editor. Ata had the idea to do a book maybe three or four years ago. Because of my involvement with music journalism he asked me to help out with it and the initial idea was a photo book. I don't know if you've seen the pictures Daniel Hermann has taken over the last few years, but he is a somewhat known artist and photographer. He would just show up at Robert Johnson with a camera and deliberately take in-your-face pictures, putting the camera right in your face and flash. Usually there is a no-photo policy at Robert Johnson, but Ata really liked how they turned out. It reminds me of those Indians who think their souls get taken if someone takes a picture of them—that's how you felt when he took a picture of you because you never saw it coming.
So the initial idea was to just put those pictures in one book and have five essays by guys like Ewan Pearson, who are regulars at the club and also quite eloquent. But since then, it's become more like the Robert Johnson encyclopedia. It just went bigger and bigger and bigger, and now it's not only Daniel Hermann's pictures, there are pictures from other people and more than just the Ewan Pearson essay—Theo Parrish and Ivan Smagghe both wrote something, so did DJ Harvey and others. Those artists were picked either because they were regulars at the club or were somehow very close to the essence of Robert Johnson. Harvey only played once but it had a very special impact.
My involvement was to take care of all the written things—what an editor does. It wasn't like I was writing the Robert Johnson story or anything. I think actually, I didn't write anything myself.
What's your relationship with the club?
I guess I'm one of the longest standing resident DJs there. The first Construction parties were in 1999. When you grow up around Frankfurt with an interest in house music there was no way you could escape Ata and Playhouse and all that lot. So I followed them around from what they were doing in other clubs until Robert Johnson opened and I just went there as a club kid, so to speak. Back then I already DJed a little bit, and Ata asked Thomas Hamann to do a night once. He told him he should invite someone else to play with him, and Thomas asked me. From then on I guess I was more or less in the resident DJ pool. And of course I've always been helping out with all the writing stuff, I'm kind of Robert Johnson’s in-house writer, I guess just because I'm a DJ who also writes, or a writer who also DJs. But I'm definitely not an interesting interview subject, I've just noticed [laughs].
What makes the club worth having a book about?
Well, I'm a bit of a devil's advocate, but usually that’s exactly my problem with projects like this. It's also my own problem with writing about music. It reminds me of that stupid quote about how writing about music is like dancing to architecture—you’re putting to words something that you can't really have verbal expressions for. I think it's really hard to describe a club night, for instance, to describe some of the things that go through your head when you really have a good night out. And also the problem is, when you ask what makes Robert Johnson worth having a book about, usually you would do a book once the club is closed. "This was the Paradise Garage; this was The Loft; it was all so great, yeah nostalgia, mirror balls never looked as good as they did back then." So as an editor I was also a bit skeptical because I think the aim was not to do a book where every page says, "This is the best club in the world." That would feel like tooting your own horn. Of course there are certain places where it's being said, in a way you can't help that.
Really I don't know if Robert Johnson is more worthy of having a book than any other club, but in my opinion it comes pretty close to the music I like and the way I want to spend a night out. It's The Loft without columns. It has wooden floors, a decent sound system. In a way it's not only a place for nerds but also for party people, so it kind of comes together—the hedonism side of going out and the music side of it, because the music is the centre and rest comes around. Of course there are a few other clubs in the world that have the same policy.
Is there a certain kind of track that when you hear it you think, "Oh, that's so Robert Johnson"?
Yeah. I mean it sounds strange to say, "Oh that's so Robert Johnson," but I would maybe say there are certain records that, once I played them there, I couldn’t play them anywhere else because they wouldn't have the same impact. So there's definitely music that fits that room very well. You know, there are those records you really like, but you play them in certain clubs and they just don't have an impact because either the sound system or the room isn't right, and they kind of die when you play them and you get really sad and you can't touch them again because you always think of the time that they died on you. At Robert Johnson it's the other way round. There are those records that wouldn't do any damage anywhere else and you play them there and it feels like this is a rave track all of a sudden. It's the club I’ve played the most at, so I guess that's normal for you when you DJ a certain room a lot: with certain records or music styles you think of that room. Like the famous 'Berghain techno' tag. As cliché as it is, it's also true.
Can you name a record that you can't play anywhere except Robert Johnson?
Maybe he will hate me for it, but there is this Dionne record on Terpsiton, it's called The Xchange. I can recommend it. I played that at Robert Johnson and it kind of spoiled it for me to play it at other clubs because it really sounded so great and fitting. That's what I described earlier, that I'm afraid it won't have the same impact somewhere else. That's kind of a Robert Johnson track for me at the moment, although I think it's one and a half years old already.
Would you say you can get away with more subtle tracks at Robert Johnson than you can at other places?
Yeah. That's that's essence of what I was trying to say earlier on. Maybe because of the intimacy of the room, the sound system, the light situation, and of course how you build the set. It just works differently there. It's very psychological but it's like you said. As a DJ, you have more freedom to just play those kind of records and you never get into mindset of, "Oh now I have to put it up a notch so people will get into it."
I've always felt that the things that make a club great or not is a chemistry that’s hard to plan and hard to explain. It seems like Robert Johnson has it.
Yeah. That what I was trying to say in the beginning with putting things into words where there is not really a verbal expression for it, and you end up using clichés, or kitchen table psychology to try and explain it. Chemistry is maybe a good word, or alchemy even. You also get surprised as a DJ there when you play one of those boring warm-up records and you think not much will happen and then it grabs you in the neck and you're really taken by it.
Mar 09 Come On In My Kitchen Book Re.., Robert Johnson, Frankfurt Mar 10 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In My .., Zukunft, Zurich Mar 17 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On .., Conne Island, Leipzig Mar 24 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In My .., Rex Club, Paris Mar 31 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On .., Wild Gallery, Belgium Apr 06 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In My Kit.., Jaeger, Oslo Apr 14 Loaded presents Live At Robert John.., Rashõmon Club, Rome Apr 20 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In.., Six D.O.G.S, Greece Apr 21 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On.., Kim Tim Jim, Stuttgart May 04 Live At Robert Johnson with Iva.., Corsica Studios, London May 11 Live At Robert .., Berghain | Panorama Bar | Säule, Berlin May 17 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On I.., Plateforme, La, Lyon May 25 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In.., Studio 672, Cologne Jun 09 Dear presents Come On In My Kitchen Tour.., Golem, Hamburg Jun 16 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In.., Motel Campo, Geneva Jun 29 Live At Robert Johnson - Come On In My.., Trouw, Amsterdam