Only a few hours after having touched down from Beijing, Sasha Perera and Oren Gerlitz have rolled into the Platoon dressing room and are relaxing before their gig. Although they both confess to being hungover from the previous evening’s exploits, neither seem subdued. In fact both, before long, are pouring drinks.
Jahcoozi are a Berlin-based trio who make electronic music. Third member, Robert Kosh, stopped touring with Jahcoozi a while ago, though he remains an integral part of the band. Both Sasha and Oren moved to Berlin – Sasha from London, and Oren from Tel Aviv.
The result of this geographic mix is a set of musical influences so broad and diverse that it resists definition. They released their last LP on cornerstone techno label BPitch Control, and have collaborated with Modeselektor, yet their music betrays a more diverse and worldly trait – outside the confines of Berlin club music, at least. John Peel once called their music ‘beautiful and surreal.’ The beats – a mix of unfurling gritty high-end and restless percussion – sit above a relentless drool of sub bass; though both elements are ultimately a backdrop for Sasha Perera’s soaring vocals.
Oren is reluctant to name any staying influences, saying that this ‘would take it in the wrong direction,’ but he agrees that dub ‘in the very wide interpretation’ might be a unifying feature. Dub echo and an easy 2-step groove are definitely significant aspects of both their music and Sasha’s DJ mixes.
Another unifying feature of the group is the Berlin neighbourhood of Kreuzberg, where they have a studio. Jahcoozi are well toured, and in the last few years have played far-reaching cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Nairobi and Mexico City. Yet their musical background might be well explained as being distinctly from the area of former East Berlin which was a little-known suburb before cheap rent attracted artists and musicians.
During the 90’s, Berlin’s liberal licensing laws, plenitude of space, and burgeoning music and arts scene quickly made it an attractive destination for creative-minded people who wanted to move somewhere less cut-throat and more accommodating than, say, London. Kreuzberg is now one of Europe’s most notorious neighbourhoods for art, music, and parties, with a thriving scene having developed there. Along with this came a whirlwind of media attention, welcomed by few, and many would say that the party finished long ago.
‘We are all based a couple of hundred meters from each other in Kreuzberg , we work a lot there,’ Oren says. ‘I’ve been in Berlin for 12 years, and about half of the time in Kreuzberg.’ During this time, Oren says that ‘the whole city has changed a lot.’ In terms of the club scene, he says ‘it was all about small parties, squat parties, [and] house parties. Now it’s more about the big clubs – it was less like that before’.
Jahcoozi’s last album was released on BPitch Control records, a label founded by one of Berlin’s most popular DJs, Ellen Allien. She says that Ellen saw them play many times before they talked about a release on the label. ‘When we moved to Berlin in 2000 it was tiny. Our first EP came out on WMF Records, which was a big club in Berlin where everyone played – where Ellen played. I guess it’s different now, because there’s so many acts in Berlin, there’s so many clubs. There were like 5 clubs back in the day. [Now] It really is an industry.’
Sasha is critical of the mainstream media attention that for a long time promoted Kreuzberg as a kind of hipsters’ haven. ‘The most horrible article I ever read was in about 2007 in The Guardian. The title of the article was “top 10 things to do in a hipsters’ to do list,” and number one was “move to Berlin”. One of the things It said about Berlin was that you can further your career in Berlin… At the time people were maybe moving to Berlin to make electronic music, to get their feelers out. I certainly didn’t move there for some kind of financial return, it was for cultural good, you know?’
There’s been positive change, too. ‘It was much more uncomfortable to live there before. That’s the reason people didn’t move there. When I first moved there I had coal heating! You’re freezing your ass off when you’re having a shower! The food was shit…There was no food variety. You probably wouldn’t want it to go back to that.’
I myself first visited Krezberg for the first time almost 10 years ago, and most recently returned last year. During this time, the change in the neighbourhood has been subtle, but apparent. Cycling around during the evening, it’s remarkable how many buildings seem to be housing full-on parties, clubs or bars – the streets seeming truly alive. At the same time, it’s hard to explain my affinity with the area to Sasha and Oren without perhaps coming across as one of the ‘hipsters’ who have flocked to the area.
Many like myself are attracted to Jahcoozi’s home neighbourhood because of an active interest in techno and house, and because they dislike London’s scene so much in comparison, where one struggles to find a party that last past 6 or 7AM. Oren agrees that Berlin is still the most exciting place for electronic music. ‘Absolutely. It still has a lot of freedom – the freedom that the clubs have, the freedom to go out, and go to a club whenever they want, drink whatever they want.’
Sasha is, by her own definition, ‘a real London kid,’ yet she talks down the city’s clubbing landscape in agreement. ‘London was just a meat market. People spend a lot of money to go out and if they don’t go home with pussy or high on a pill then it wasn’t worth it.’ Berlin, is, in comparison, a place where the clubbing experience is more casual and enjoyable. ‘In Berlin, you might just get on your bike, and if it’s happening, it’s happening, you leave or you don’t.’ Oren agrees that ‘It’s more a cultural thing, it’s like your meeting place, you go and listen to music, drink a few beers, it’s completely normal.’’
Clubs in Berlin notoriously timetable DJs into the morning, lunchtime, and even afternoon of the day after. Might the cultural importance of dance music to the city be why there has been an explosion in the popularity of after-hours events? Do Berliners actually consume dance music differently, I ask? ‘’I think they consume everything in a longer sort of way’, Sasha says humorously. ‘Because everything’s less expensive, you don’t have to make everything work immediately. You can build something up…I guess you know it’s like a timer in London – if your club doesn’t work in two months, you’re bust.’
It’s the pair’s first time in Seoul, and they’re eager to hear about this city’s own ongoing social evolution. When I say that a conflicting attitude to welcoming outsiders is, in some people’s opinion, a feature of Korean society, Sasha suggests in a humorous tone that the attitude might fairly be summed up as: ‘Don’t have sex with our daughters, basically!?’
‘My boyfriend is white, and I tell you, if we go to places like India or whatever and I’m walking alone, it’s fine. If he’s alone, it’s fine. But when we’re walking down the street together, people can’t believe it! How does that work?’
Their performance showcases a full range of tempos and dynamics – with Oren mostly using a sampler and bass guitar, whilst Sasha prowls the stage, dancing wildly atop risers, and venturing into the crowd itself. The gig starts with Sasha playing trumpet on an almost solemn-sounding song, but soon the tempo becomes more energetic, songs like ‘Barefoot Dub’ employing a free-falling 2-step beat which recalls the glitchy sound of fellow Berliners Funkstörung. ‘Lost in the Bass’ brings the pace back down, Sasha’s effortless singing voice intercepting the rumbles of sub bass which sit at the heartbeat of the song.
From here in Seoul, Jahcoozi will continue on to Shanghai, Manila, and Ho Chi Min City before returning home to Kreuzberg, Berlin. During this time, they’ll take on even more worldly influences to channel into their music – but their sound will surely always remain to be unmistakably of Berlin.
Words by Marcus Siddall
Photography by Hyunmin Jeon