Published on 08.06.2023
Pro support versus competition
Together they cover a wide range of different genres and understand how joint work and collective communities can help in the long run. The DJ network SLIC Unit from Berlin and Hamburg share similar experiences and political commitment, not only through their migration history. They understand that a serious interest in structural change is necessary to bring about change. The five artists Jaxx TMS, Nissa, SENU, Slimgirl fat and yung_womb founded their collective during the lockdown and did not let the circumstances deter them from pushing their musical ambitions.
We interviewed them on the occasion of their performance for an event by PUMA at POP KUDAMM.
Pop Kudamm:SLIC Unit is a DJ network consisting of five female artists, how did you come to join forces?
yung_womb:SENU heard me as DJ at the "Hallo Festspiele" in Hamburg in 2019 and introduced herself directly to me. At the time, I didn't even know she was DJing herself. I listened to her sets after she followed me on Soundcloud, after which I suggested her for events like Formation Now***fest and SENU in turn recommended Slimgirl fat. That was the first time the three of us were on a line up together. I met Nissa when she was DJing after me at the Millerntor Gallery. We chatted backstage and found out that we both had a primetime slot request from the same event. We both turned it down. We were both intimidated by the prejudices of the other more experienced DJs in the line up, who thought we didn't have sufficient skills for such a slot. As a result, we exchanged numbers.
Then I brought up that none of us are in a collective, with a label or an agency. So there is no professional way to book each of us. Also, no existing group or organisation matched us 100% aesthetically, politically or musically. That's why I suggested we form a team. During the creation process, SENU then told Jaxx TMS about our project, who later explained that she had felt the need for a collective for a long time, and so we came together.
SENU:I am proud of us that despite the announcement of the first lockdown shortly after our founding in 2020, we managed everything so well organisationally. That was not the best time to set up a new collective and perform. We complement each other musically very well. We all cover a part of different genres and have great intersections at the same time.
Pop Kudamm:What is so important to you about the community of a DJ collective? What do you stand in solidarity for within the music industry?
SENU:I firmly believe that collective communities and joint work will take us further in the long run. As women and people of colour, we share similar experiences. This allows us to strengthen, motivate, pull along and support each other. We have built many structures over the last few years and I am very proud that we are developing and growing them together. Also, it's just fun to DJ with everyone or play B2B with a SLIC member than to be on stage alone. We call that "Collective Joy". With all the organisation that sometimes comes with collective work, it is very important for us to have Quality Time without a party every now and then. We try to practise this attitude of mutual support also outside our collective, for example by involving new FLINTA*DJs. Creating access via our radio shows or offering DJ workshops. Unfortunately, the music scene is still not equally accessible to everyone.
Pop Kudamm: Is your foundation politically motivated?
yung_womb:Yes and No. At first I thought practically. We would get together, find a name and share an email address for booking. Which can definitely be seen as a necessity in the prevailing club politics. However, after my first meeting with Nissa, I quickly realised that the whole thing had a lot more potential. And that we consist of five non-white FLINTAs* cannot be read in any other way than politically. Although when we started, it was mainly about music, our relation to it and the way we DJed.
SENU:I believe that our existence as a group is political. We have made decisions in the past based on our values. This was certainly shaped by our experience, as FLINTA* living in Germany with a migration history. Of course, we still have different opinions on some issues, even though we work together in a collective.
Pop Kudamm:Your music is a mix of club and downtempo sounds. What particularly fascinates you about this music?
SENU:I think it reflects quite well the different emotional worlds and life situations in which one finds oneself. I have days when I listen to a lot of highlife and old dub and then again dark gqom. Fortunately, we have gigs where we can live out these different musical worlds, depending on the context.
yung_womb:Club and down-tempo are not the same music, but different moods of various genres. On the one hand, we have all the genres we play in the club and on the other hand, all the genres we play outside the party context. I could spend hours describing the individual musical genres and my fascination with which ones I or we play.
Pop Kudamm:Your collective exists between Hamburg and Berlin. What are the difficulties of organising between two cities? What are the differences in club cultures between the cities? Are there any?
SENU:The biggest difficulty is that we can rarely meet spontaneously and at short notice. That is very unfortunate. Also, we usually play somewhere else on the weekends, so we are happy when we are all booked together as a SLIC unit and can spend time together. Berlin's club scene is generally bigger than Hamburg's, but in terms of the music we play, it's still very manageable. I would say that you get to know all the relevant events and collectives very quickly. I could imagine that there is a bit more support between the crews in Hamburg. There's the Golden Pudel Club, for example, which is simply unique and legendary without being elitist like some clubs in Berlin. What I like about Berlin is that it's so international. I think the club culture of any city definitely has big challenges to overcome, because the underground niche programme can hardly keep up with the commercial rental prices for the city's clubs. This of course affects the clubs' willingness to experiment.
yung_womb:In Hamburg, I think it's easier to maintain mutual support and exchange, due to the clear scene and the more manageable number of clubs, in contrast to Berlin. I love that we have a joint FLINTA* DJ Telegram group, for example, where we can exchange ideas. That we keep a calendar where we share upcoming events so we don't take each other's audience away. I am always touched when members of other collectives come to our events or book us and are honestly happy about our successes.
Pop Kudamm:What do you wish for the future of your collective? Which clubs would you like to play in?
SENU:First and foremost, I want us to continue DJing together for many years to come and have fun doing it. In the future, I would like to offer more workshops and events for our community. I would also like to organise more parties during the day to make the music we play accessible to a wider circle of people.
yung_womb:I'm thinking more of events here, not clubs I would like to play for, like "Emergent Bass", "Puticlub", "Boiler Room" in Berlin, the "Whole Festival", "Melt Festival" or" Nachtiville". And internationally, for example, the "Somos Festival" in México, the "Bonanza Festival" in Colombia, the "P3" parties in Paris, the "Putiveulta" parties in Bogotá, the "Proibidæ" parties in Miami and a "HiFi" event at Jumbi, London.
Pop Kudamm:What still needs to change in the club landscape in the next few years? What do you wish for?
SENU:I would generally like to see more support and cohesion in the scene. Above all, more transparency in terms of payment. There should be less of a dominant feeling that we are music makers in constant competition. There is room for everyone. For some time now, certain political stances have definitely been in vogue, so it's almost obligatory to stage yourself with marginalised groups. This is true within the DJ scene as well as for clubs, festivals and organisers. We don't need symbolism, but a serious interest in structural change. But that would also mean that some people would have to give up more power and a high degree of self-reflection is required. In fact, no one is exempt from this work.
Everyone can influence this change and must take responsibility for it. I think people should remind each other of this and act accordingly to enable collective learning and growth.
Pop Kudamm:What advice would you give to young aspiring female artists? What does it take to be successful in the scene?
yung_womb:I don't think there is a universal magic formula here. Every music scene is different and strives for different aspects or qualities of a DJ. That's why I recommend getting to know the scene and its culture. Go to their event and support. This will definitely make it easier to choose the medium and style for interesting transitions when DJing. The people, mentors and collectives whose contact could be helpful for getting started also depend on the scene and the success you are aiming for. But each scene also includes certain clubs, shops, streams or platforms that are considered certain milestones of a successful DJ, but which are completely irrelevant for other scenes. And what is a successful DJ? What parameters determine success? Is it the number of gigs, the fees, the DJing technique, the followers, the choice of music, the passion for it or the performance that define success? And quite honestly: as long as the emphasis on the individual parameters varies from scene to scene, no one should worry about what others consider a successful DJ. Each person should decide for themselves what "success" means to them. Don't look left and right and don't compare yourself to other DJs.
SENU:I think it's important to just start and not worry so much. If you are open and stay open, in time you will find the "right" people and scene. Also, be sure to ask for help if you get stuck. Get in touch with your role models - maybe even find a mentor. Talking to experienced DJs has helped me a lot.
Above all, don't be intimidated by others! Try to do your thing and have fun doing it. Because at the end of the day, the love of music and the joy of it should be the main thing.
Slimgirl fat:As SENU says, ask questions. Look around, check out institutions that offer workshops, open meetings and counselling, for example. Since the pandemic, for example, there has been an increase in digital/local radio stations. They are often a good place to introduce yourself. The most important thing in my eyes is to go your own way and do it the way you want to do it. Don't be intimidated by trends and other influences.
SLIC Unit is a DJ network from Berlin and Hamburg and was founded virtually in 2020 by Jaxx TMS, SENU, Nissa, yung_womb and slimgirl fat. They share not only their enthusiasm for music, but equally their longing for unity, collective joy and radical solidarity in the music industry. Their club sets reflect their respective influences: an intimate fusion of Afro beats, baile funk, UK bass, house, dancehall, perreo, US club music and rap.
SENU: Drawing from the musical and cultural richness of the Black Atlantic, SENU continues to fall in love with old and new sounds from Africa, America and the urban spaces of the various diasporas. Embedded in Berlin’s diversity of genres, influences and expressions, SENU and her eclectic sets continue to evolve – no two sets are alike, but heavy basslines and polyrhythmic arrangements weave the threads between Afro Beats, Baile Funk, UK Funky, Gquom, Rap and whatever else enriches her eclectic sound. SENU is one of the founding members of SLIC Unit, a BPOC DJ collective formed in 2020 to practice collective joy and radical solidarity within the music industry.
NISSA: Nissa’s style is influenced by soul, disco and early rap brought to her by her parents, the pop and RnB anthems she adored as a teenager and the dark sounds of Atlanta, Houston and Memphis that seeped through her brother’s bedroom walls. Combining bass and club music from around the world, her sound is a diverse sound collage of international pearls.
slimgirl fat: The singer, producer and DJ slimgirl fat loves to break all kinds of genre conventions. Not only in her own music, but also on the decks. Her favourite songs aim to have a special, disturbing and emotional dynamic. Her sound collection ranges from contemporary pop, hip-hop, UK jungle & hardcore to dancehall and reggaeton. “Disorientating, dystopian, delicious.”
JAXX TMS: Jaxx TMS – Berlin selector, organiser, radio host and member of the DJ network SLIC Unit, is known for her eclectic and broad musical spectrum. The mix of different influences and genres from dancehall to soul, jazz to hip hop, funk and especially electronic rhythms characterises her unique style of DJ sets and creates an energetic sound all her own.
yung_womb: yung_womb is a genre fluid DJ, radio host and performer from Hamburg. She is part of the SLIC Unit, a DJ network she co-founded in 2020. In her club sets she plays us mercilessly but lovingly against the wall with Baile Funk, Latin Bass, AfroClub, Dancehall, DrumCore and Ballroom and challenges all our senses with the sweaty sounds of the Diaspora. In her vinyl sets and listening sets, she focuses mainly on jazz and jazz fusion, funk and vintage Latin and Arabic sounds. It’s hard not to get carried away by her performances and selections and once again connect our minds to the Culo.