VOLTAGE Podcast 17 - Reka Zalan
It’s an honour to welcome Reka Zalan to the podcast series. Reka is a Berlin-based Techno DJ and promoter, resident at the infamous ://about blank club where she’s furthermore part of the booking team as well as being responsible for co-organizing the ://elements series.
Reka’s sound can best be described as a palpable blend of cosmic and driving Techno which she pulls off with precision, luring her listeners further down the rabbit hole.
In her everyday life, Reka works at Hard Wax, a multi-faceted job that functions as the glue to what she’s so passionate about: deepening her interest in & beyond techno while impacting the experience of likeminded people for the better.
Give us some background on who you are. Where are you from and how has this affected your taste in music?
First of all, thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself. I’m super happy to be able to record a podcast for you and to be part of this feature series.
I'm Reka Zalan (that's my actual name) and I'm originally from the south of Germany, more precisely from Middle Franconia in Bavaria, namely from Erlangen. I have Hungarian roots on my father's side (that's where my name comes from) and German-Dutch background on my mother's side. I moved to Berlin for the first time eleven years ago, but then lived in Bremen for 5 years for my studies of culture and art studies and came back to Berlin almost 6 years ago.
I developed my interest for electronic music and also DJ'ing during my school days, especially through the event series Play! of the F.E.T.E. - Freunde Elektronischer Tanzmusik Erlangen crew. Friends actually gave me a DJ workshop for my birthday in 12th grade.
I really started DJ'ing and intensifying my passion for electronic music and club culture during my time in Bremen, where’s a vivid subculture scene and where I was part of an event collective and surrounded by many music enthusiasts. The one year in Berlin (before moving to Bremen) I started exploring the local club culture and built an important foundation for that.
My musical taste has naturally evolved over the years, I think that's a constant, ongoing process for any music lover and DJ. Certainly, places I've lived, events I've attended or artists I've seen / heard played a role, but most essential was and still is the (musical) exchange with likeminded people within a certain socio-cultural environment. The own immersion / digging into certain spectrums of music and of course my work at a record store and in the club-context.
You’ve been working at Hard Wax for the past few years, what’s it like being behind the counter of one of the most legendary techno record shops? What’s your favorite and least favorite part of the job?
I’ve been working at Hard Wax for 2.5 years now and am very grateful to have been given this opportunity. Working in the store plays an essential role for me, not only in terms of HW being a very inspiring environment and influencing my selection accordingly, but also in terms of it being a networking place where I come into contact with people who share the same passion.
In addition, our diverse assortment has broadened my musical spectrum, deepened my interest in directions beyond techno, and also given me access to music that I may not necessarily incorporate into my DJ practice, but touches me deeply on other levels.
I also value my team very much, as wonderful friendships have developed from working together. I really love making recommendations to people who come into the store and ask for support, and showing them music that I think is great or that I think they might like. Even though record stores are supposed to be a social place, I've found that people are often afraid to ask questions or interact with the staff - so I always try to be very friendly and warm to all customers to make them feel welcome and able to interact. I want them to leave the place with a good feeling and a nice memory and also to come back.
What can be a bit challenging at times is when, for example, something goes wrong with our online shipping (UPS loses a package or the records arrive melted) - these things are out of our hands and can leave customers feeling frustrated. Sometimes there are also people with whom you somehow do not have a good connection or who act a bit "smarty pants" which can be exhausting at times.
But the bottom line is that I’m just very happy and enriched by my work in the shop. It's an important part of my job spectrum as a DJ and promoter (you discover new artists through releases or network with people from the scene) and of course in general as a passionate music lover.
Having been active in the scene for quite some time, joining the ://about blank booking team seemed like a logical next step for you - especially when considering the ://Elements parties you do. How did you come in contact with the club and what do you have in store for the upcoming clubbing season?
When I came back to Berlin in 2015, I was given the opportunity to co-host a monthly event series (Kurz vor Weißensee) together with my friend Toni from Mensch-Meier Kollektiv, where I could invite artists and perform regularly as a resident of the party. This was very essential for me, as it gave me access to the local scene and allowed me to network as a DJ and promoter (within Berlin and beyond). At this time I also met Basti aka THNTS and invited him to play at our party. We had noticed before that our musical tastes were very congruent (he and our common friend Marc were running the "Esch" series at the time). When they started a new in-house format named ://elements at ://about blank in November 2017, they invited me to play at the first edition, which was also my ://about blank debut and therefore super special for me. I got amazing and fond memories of that night.
Following this, Marc and Basti later in spring 2018 proposed me to become a resident at ://elements, which was a milestone in my DJ career, not only because the series at Mensch Meier no longer existed and I had a kind of "new harbor" through my residency at the ://elements, but also in terms of my connection and engagement with ://about blank, into whose structures I have since grown more and more. In late 2018 I joined the booking team where I mainly take care of external promoters and strategic issues, but also have the opportunity to participate in actual booking processes through my involvement with ://elements.
For the upcoming season we will definitely realize some dates for ://elements and we are super motivated. In fact, we're currently looking at expanding the rhythm of the event, which used to be quarterly, and making it even more regular in the future. Before the pandemic, we had the idea of releasing a V.A. record on the occasion of our third anniversary with artists who have played with us or whom we simply appreciate and are close to. This project was unfortunately put on hold due to the pandemic, but I can imagine that we will look into this again and check implementation / realisation options.
We know that music is your main occupation - as a DJ, promoter, and even beginning to produce - but do you have any other interests or hobbies that most people don’t know about?
Haha, good question! It’s true that very much or most of my life revolves around music in whatever form or practice. Oddly enough I have to remind myself of this sometimes but of course I realized it especially during the pandemic when a big part of my work areas were on hold. In terms of starting with music production though I have to say that it’s actually taken a back seat, since I was heavily involved on so many other levels, and I really need to make room to tackle it again.
Anyways.. I’m a very sociable and communicative person and love spending time with friends and generally bringing people together. I like to watch crime series or political dramas, go running (started after more than 10 years of no sports in the pandemic), bake banana bread and in general I’m a passionate eater and love to go to restaurants :D. Apart from that I like to deal with "meta-topics and questions" that rank between psychology, society, culture and politics. In addition, humor is super important to me in (everyday) life and I love sharing that same sense of humor with others and laughing my ass off together.
Talk to us about your work in the Berlin Music Commission, what kind of work did you do there and why have you moved on?
Haha, you did good research :) - Yes, I worked at the Berlin Music Commission for three years (2016-2019), first as an intern, later as assistant to the executive board and as junior project manager.
The BMC is, so to speak, the partner network of the Clubcommission and, as a capital city network, connects various players (from the small and medium-sized sector) from the different segments of the local music industry and also helps them to professionalize themselves in their specific areas of practice. As an association, the BMC represents the interests of its members vis-à-vis decision-makers in local politics and has in general a very diverse range of activities: BMC realizes networking events, also in cooperation with other industries, implements workshops and discussion formats in which, among other things, the status quo, current challenges and developments within the music industry are addressed, but also works in the field of research and hosts the annual music award "listen to berlin Award" as well as the large conference format "Most Wanted Music". I supported the BMC team and especially the board (Olaf Gemse Kretschmar and Jana Rahmlow) in various areas, including steering and monitoring of project development and support in strategic, political and conceptual planning and direction of the network work. I assisted in the preparation and implementation of local and supra-regional BMC network events, in communication with partners as well as in the planning of funding applications, in member support or in general network administration.
Specifically, I was involved, for example, in the production of the MusicTech conference Hybrid Music Lab at Holzmarkt Berlin, the production of the listen to berlin 2018/2019 compilation and the funding acquisition / process of paving the way for the establishment of the local music women* - platform musicBwomen.
The work at the Berlin Music Commission was very versatile and enriching, as I learned a lot on the content level, was able to develop / educate myself further and got to know many actors of the local scene. Especially in view of the fact that I'm currently located more in the subcultural club culture context again, I've been able to get to know many different perspectives and people within the scene in the meantime.
Even though I had a very fulfilling and educational time at BMC, I stopped working there in 2019 for various reasons. On the one hand, I noticed that full-time project management and parallel DJ'ing / co-hosting of events on weekends was no longer easy to reconcile. On the other hand, I wanted to intensify my work in the sub-club cultural field (from which I originally came from my Bremen time) and wanted to have more time to proactively help shape musical practice and club cultural structures. At the same time, I just felt that a change was coming, as I was in different processes with myself and accordingly have since divided my work into three strands that complement each other wonderfully (record store, club culture work / DJ'ing).
What can we expect from the scene in Berlin after such a long silence and, more importantly, what do you have planned for yourself?
I think Berlin is currently experiencing a very interesting and intense time on different levels. Not only the fact that after 1.5 years the clubs are now officially allowed to reopen indoors including dancing without a mask is a milestone and feels "too good to be true". It fills me with a whole lot of joy, motivation and excitement that we at ://about blank are currently starting to go into planning for the winter / spring season and even talking about New Year's Eve concepts, which, thinking back, wasn't possible at all last year. It all feels surreal and there remains a bit of anxiety of getting excited too soon. Because one thing I learned during the pandemic is that nothing is safe and reliable haha, but I'm just trying to be optimistic and hopeful now. We are currently in the middle of the preparation process: soon a ventilation system will be installed, all technical and operational details will be revised and the team will be assembled so that we can welcome guests inside the club soonish. As far as I know, other (bigger) venues are also currently still in the preparation phase and will open in October / November (Berghain, Tresor etc), others have already started their indoor program.
In general it feels like the Berlin scene has been and still is in an intense process. Some clubs have closed temporarily due to issues with noise/regulation or building authorities, others are currently on pause because they have to restructure internally on various levels, others are experiencing a kind of upswing because, for example, during the summer they were finally able to book artists who are normally not available (due to touring or because they are blocked for specific venues here in Berlin). Also, completely new venues are popping up or existing venues have opened under new names.
At this point I find it also interesting to mention that the Berlin Club Commission has done very valuable work for the interests of the clubs during the pandemic: for instance it played a leading role in ensuring that clubs in Berlin are now recognized as "cultural sites" and are thus formally on the same level as highly cultural institutions in terms of protection, preservation and appreciation. They also offer support in various areas, such as the use / preservation of open air areas and open spaces, problems related to noise control, or structural support through workshops on awareness and diversity.
In general, these days, it feels like people are meeting on the dancefloor full of love and gratitude and are motivated to develop new formats or discover new places. People want to dance as if there is no tomorrow and in doing so they are more than willing to make up for a lot of what we’ve all been missing: letting go of everyday life stress, "self-dissolving" in and with the music we love, and recharging emotional batteries in community with like-minded people.
At the same time, recent situations, conflicts and incidents within the local club culture have built up a certain tension that can be felt within parts of our scene and its various communities. Especially when issues are negotiated and discussed in the online world (social media), a very destructive type of communication and discourse has become increasingly visible, which is unfortunately often strongly characterized by divisive dynamics and cancel culture. It feels like that in some cases, there is a lack of interest in illuminating contexts and forming a complete picture or addressing grievances. Often, the individual role is not only not reflected, but responsibility is increasingly shifted to others. I think there is a lot of work to be done structurally, especially in the area of conflict resolution, diversity and awareness work, and that also includes dealing with deficits in dealing with discriminatory or sexist behavior in the club culture context.
Nevertheless, I am in good spirits that any grievances can be resolved by joining forces and that we are all able to learn something from and with each other, to be mindful and respectful to each other, to raise each other's awareness and to come together again when conflicts arise. I’m curious to see what the future will bring, how the (local) scene will develop and to what extent the pandemic break may have long-term effects, both structurally (booking and sustainability) and especially on the level of mindfulness and awareness.
Personally, from October on this year, I will further deepen my work at ://about blank taking on more responsibility in certain areas and help shape these. I'm really looking forward to that. Our ://elements party will take place again in December and I have a few bookings in the making including a set at Hör as a radio guest of Amotik, which means a lot to me. In general I can imagine joining a booking agency in the near future, but would like this to happen organically based on a good human connection and musical appreciation without any kind of coercion and pressure.
1. Rove Ranger - Galactus (EarToGround Records)
2. Planetary Assault Systems - Serc (Mote Evolver)
3. Arthur Robert - Kataract (Figure)
4. Amotik - Chappan (Amotik)
5. Rene Wise - Marbles (Mote Evolver)
6. Mode_1 - Escape (Knotweed Records)
7. Nihad Tule - Rotacija (Sloboda)
8. Ausgang - No 100 - 18 (Key Vinyl)
9. Clotur - Paradigm Shift (Warok Music)
10. Dustin Zahn - Ascendant IV (Enemy Records)
11. Shkedul - Sovversivo (NORD LTD)
12. Johannes Volk - Mutable Motor Unit 2 (Eternal Friction)
13. Robert Hood - Black Man’s Word (M-Plant)
14. Ruskin & Broom - Arc (Blueprint)
15. VIL - Drum09 (Be as One Imprint)
16. Robert Hood - Shadows (EPM Music)
17. Kaspiann - Heat Seeker (The God’s Planet)
18. Viels - Five Feet Under (Nwhite)
19. Eddie Hale - Surging (Denude Records)
20. Ignez - Need (Somov Records)
21. Utroit & K.O.S. - Mofo (Mitsubasa)