Love hip hop, hate homophobia? Me too. I also hate sexism and a macho attitude and so do Stitch & Tchuani, the makers of Berries, an unsual hip hop party that was born almost a year ago. When I went to my first Berries night and danced like no one was watching, I looked around and was almost puzzled by the lack of gender stereotypes I faced at most other hip hop events I had gone to. Instead of white gangster and bitch clichees I saw guys making out with each other and ladies rocking the turntables and dance floors. Also, the music was way beyond the ususal charts’ best of. Hanno Stecher and Dominik Djialeu compare their pearl diving (in the sea of hip hop music that is) to picking berries. Hence the name. I sat down with the duo and asked them about their concept and what to expect at OHM this Friday.
As Stitch & Tchuani you created Berries about a year ago, which was the first time for both of you as professional party organisers. What was the initial idea behind Berries?
Dominik: Two years ago we hung out at a bar and wanted to dance to hip hop. The question was where to go…
Hanno: We neither knew of good parties nor was there any particular hip hop event we wanted to go, which we found kind of absurd, since we talked about hip hop music all the time. We researched a little bit and found nothing that kicked us. So we decided to do our own party.
Berries, if I understand it right, is a queer hip hop party. Is that a contradictory concept or a logical thing for you?
H: Let me clarify first that our conception is not that of a queer hip hop party. It’s true that Berries is organised predominantly by queer people, with many queer performers and queer people among the crowd, but this is not the only “target group” we have in mind. Right from the beginning, we had a very open concept for Berries and hadn’t labelled the party as queer, since we didn’t want to limit ourselves that way. We’re also interested in other aspects of diversity. The subtext of the party is queer, but that’s not all we cared about when we started.
D: Our word-of-mouth works mainly in the queer scene, true, but we want people to come regardless of their sexuality and want them to be open-minded in general. At the last three parties we were able to create a very open and friendly atmosphere with a very diverse group of people coming. One thing that might be different to other hip hop parties is that we have a lot of women coming. They tell us that they like to be at Berries and how comfortable and relaxed they feel here, which isn’t always the case at a hip hop event.
H: It’s a thin line in general. Many queer parties are organized as safe spaces for queer people, because they don’t have to face discrimination there. Our party isn’t a safe space in that sense, but we choose our artists and the music we play very carefully, which we’d hope would positively affect the atmosphere. Our choice is not just based on sexuality, but also on other dimensions like race and gender. At the same time, we don’t really have a door policy that would exclude people because they’re “too straight”. Let’s hope we can keep this up.
If we look at the national and international hip hop scene, rap music is still a place for open homophobia. Just recently the Berlin-based rapper Bass Sultan Hengzt put an image of two men kissing on the cover of his record and was facing a homophobic shit-storm. Although the hip hop scene is not entirely male dominated anymore, it still doesn’t seem queer. Don’t you have a political agenda with your party?
D: I wouldn’t generally say that hip hop is homophobic. Of course, homophobia is more common in some areas of hip hop than in others, but at the same time the queer hip hop scene has been growing and become more prominent in the last couple of years. Just look at Le1f, Jay Boogie, Cakes da Killa, Micah Tron, or Angel Haze, all of whom deserve much more mainstream-attention. It has to be said, though, that queer rappers get more and more visibility and attention now.
H: If we are talking about a political agenda, it’s not necessarily about positioning ourselves against anything. Of course we are against homophobia in hip hop, but it’s more about showing that hip hop has many sides. From the beginning, when it started as a black movement in the US, people have made hip hop music for a number of reasons: Women have always played a part in the genre and have used it for their agendas. As early as the 1990s there was rap with queer perspective, which was labelled “Homo Hop”. For us it’s important to make these things more visible and create a space where such artists are played, whilst at many hip hop parties in Berlin you hear mostly commercial music produced and performed by men. We also try to feature more female artists in our sets because there are incredibly amazing things to discover there and we want to give them space. Female artists have to struggle much harder in the business and the same applies to queer hip hop artists. It’s more about playing the stuff you rarely hear on the dance-floor than emphasising on how tough it is for a gay man to listen to homophobic lyrics. Especially as a white person with a middle-class background I don’t want to overstate the argument, because it is often used for a racist and classist approach.
As hosts of Berries you also play at every party. How would you describe the sets you are playing?
D: It’s important for us to play lots of new stuff. You often hear people say they like hip hop music only for the classics and the older music, but at Berries we want people to discover artists they’ve never heard of.
H: It’s not like we don’t play commercial hip hop artists at all. But for us it’s more interesting to look at exciting but lesser-known grassroots artists, and give audiences a wide range of music. I am also looking on an international scale. There are hot new artists from South Africa or Latin America for example. For us it’s a lot about thinking outside the box and going a little further than what you might expect when you hear “hip hop”.
Would you play some charts or say 90s hip hop as well?
D: Sure, we like to cover as much as possible. Maybe not so much the 90s stuff, but remember that the music for each night always depends on the DJs we invite. That Fucking Sara for example, who played at the second party, included a lot of old school stuff, which worked well, whereas the two of us concentrate more on the bass-driven, newer stuff.
The first four parties had a very distinct and fun poster design by Lavender Wolf. What’s the idea behind these paper-cut images?
H: Lavender’s wonderful artworks reflect questions of sexuality, race and gender. So it was a deliberate decision to collaborate with him. But that’s only one aspect of the design. We wanted to show an openness, mixed with an idea of playfulness and kind of go against the general notion of hip hop as being aggressive or hyper-masculine. So the posters are quite cool, but also a little wacky and that’s kind of how we perceive the party as well.
D: It’s super sweet and dope for us to work with graphic designer Colin Quinn. He understands what we want pretty well and knows how to impress us with very fresh ideas.
How did you come across OHM as your party location?
D: We had several clubs in mind, but found that the OHM is a suitably unusual location since it normally hosts more techno-style parties and is known neither for hosting queer nor hip hop parties. Apart from that there’s a very urban and modern feel to it, which fits our party quite well.
H: The people from OHM were open to our concept right from the beginning. There would have been other and more obvious locations for both an “alternative” hip hop party and a queerish party. But it was our idea to detach ourselves from the queer scene in that sense and start something new and fresh and different somewhere else. And I think it’s worked out quite well.
What artists are you playing and how would you describe your kind of music?
D: In general you could describe it as fresh, danceable party music that is heavy on the rap flow. If you want me to drop some names, here’s what we’re playing among other things: Angel Haze, Le1f, Micah Tron, Freaky Boiz, Cakes Da Killa, Esther L Banks, Lizzo, Mykko Blanco, Lady Leshurr, Katie Got Bandz, A$AP Rocky, Reema Major, Black Milk, Tink, Amplify Dot, Nicki Minaj, Danny Brown, Kid Ink, Missy Elliot…
What are your favourite songs at the moment?
D: For me it’s „Jumpman“ by Honey Cocaine.
H: Mine is „None“ by the Freaky Boiz.
edited by Jörg von Stein
Berries – Hip Hop and Beyond
Friday, June 12, 11pm,
at OHM (Köpenicker Strasse 70)
Find Stitch & Tchuani on Facebook: Here.