“My booker says I can’t tell people anymore that I’ll play for hummus,” Cinthie Christl tells 5 Magazine with a laugh. “I would just play for food, you know? I don’t give a shit!”
It’s late afternoon in the DJ/producer’s hometown of Berlin when we catch up with her. The day, though, is not yet done, and as such, Cinthie’s signature eyebrow-skimming fringe is pinned back with the rest of her hair in a dark, taut bun that looks like it’s survived many errands. She’s recently returned from touring in Australia and New Zealand, which required a stressful total of 18 flights back and forth, and is still shaking off the jet-lag, but her upbeat demeanor gives none of that away until she mentions it.
There are upsides to the frequent-flyer life, like the post-tour trip to Bali where she spent four days recharging. On occasion, she even takes her daughter, Marlene, with her on tour. Last year they flew to Japan, where Cinthie played the Sea of Green festival in Fukui, and then to Bali for what she calls a “play and stay” deal: she wasn’t paid for any gigs during her time there, but the pair was put up in a holiday house with a pool. “[Marlene] was like, ‘Wow, is this how it is all the time?’ And I was like, ‘Nonononono,'” she laughs.
A luxurious getaway on a far-flung island is indeed miles away, literally and figuratively, from the abandoned industrial buildings in Berlin in which Cinthie began building her legacy two decades ago. Over the years, she has assumed many roles – record store employee, DJ, promoter, producer, manager of five labels, radio host – many of them overlapping at any given moment. Cinthie is also making some of the best house music on the planet right now, and she’s doing it all on her own.
Even when she’s not rushing to catch her next international flight, Cinthie’s daily schedule is packed. She wakes up every morning around 6 a.m. to get her daughter ready for school. After she drops her off, it’s either off to the gym or straight to the studio, where she works on her music. Come mid-afternoon, she picks up Marlene from school and makes it a point to spend quality time together – meaning no phone or work – until her bedtime at 8 or 9 pm. Once she’s tucked in, Cinthie’s back to working, this time focusing on the minutiae of administrative tasks: talking to distributors and manufacturers, adding her labels’ records to the GEMA (Germany’s agency for collecting royalties) database, thumbing through promos, and buying music either for her personal collection or for the Berlin record store she co-runs, Elevate. Partway through our interview, Cinthie briefly excuses herself as Marlene waves to get her attention; the post has just delivered some of those records and her signature is required.
Everything I’ve made I made myself so no one can take it away from me.
“It’s hard to find people you can rely on, and who can do things the way you need them to be done,” Cinthie says when asked why she prefers to do everything herself. This lesson can be learned the hard way, such as when you’ve been let down by once-trusted colleagues, as Cinthie has in the past. But she asserts that her independence is a skill she learned early on from her parents. Born in East Berlin, Cinthie and her family moved to the small town of Saarbruecken, near the French border, after the Wall fell and Germany was reunited. Saarbruecken, however, was lacking in nightlife and too spread out to walk anywhere. Tired of waiting for the bus, Cinthie acquired her motorcycle license at 16. “From there I was just free,” she says. Eventually the motorcycle upgraded to a car, which took her and her raver friends wherever the music played loud and long, from Paris to Frankfurt to Munich.
Raving and driving also required money, which Cinthie knew she’d need a job to get. Her parents were not only music lovers but ad hoc crate-diggers, so it seemed only fitting that teenaged Cinthie get a job in her local record store, Humpty Records, sometimes spinning vinyl while customers trawled the bins. She earned a residency at the Frankfurt club Flash (though she had to stop for a few months when the owners found out she was underage) and began producing biting electro tracks under the name Vinyl Princess for the Low Spirit sub-label Electric Kingdom. Despite finally starting to book gigs outside the country, something was missing. Cinthie moved back to Berlin in 2001 and left Electric Kingdom shortly thereafter, seeking new creative interests.
The next decade or so marked a period of not just career-related, but life transitions and detours. After returning to Berlin, Cinthie began throwing and DJing parties in disused buildings across the city in 2004. In late 2009, she became a mother, and though she continued to play locally for a while afterwards, she no longer felt interested in the scene she’d worked so hard to build. “I thought I’d just be a mom,” she says. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I had to figure out my new role.” Married at the time, she also had to contend with her then-husband, a club bouncer. “He didn’t really like me playing so much. I think he was a bit jealous.”
Meeting the people who would make up the Beste Modus crew – Diego Krause, stevn.aint.leavn, Ed Herbst, and Albert Vogt – at a party in 2012 gave Cinthie the nudge she needed to get back in the groove. After sharing their music with each other, they launched an eponymous label in January 2013.
“It all came naturally,” Cinthie says of the new chapter. “I wasn’t looking for it; it just came to me, you know?”
As the label’s profile increased, so did the personal opportunities, including a Boiler Room performance in July 2014, which she considers her international breakthrough moment. The professional success of that year, though, was dimmed by the back-to-back loss of her mother and end of her marriage.
Rather than step away again from her career, as she had a few years before, Cinthie this time pushed harder for it. Behind the scenes, the Beste Modus crew continued to release records, expanding their portfolio with three new imprints: BM sub-label Beste Freunde, Diego Krause’s personal outlet Unison Wax, and We_R House. On the decks, she brought full-bodied house grooves to Watergate’s minimal-leaning dancefloor for four years as a weekly resident DJ, in addition to playing some of the world’s most renowned clubs like Tresor, Rex Club Paris, and Brooklyn’s Output. In the studio, she threw herself into production, teaching herself new techniques via online tutorials and overhauling her gear.
Having recently stepped back from her Watergate residency and her radio show, making music has been Cinthie’s main focus. Back when she worked at Humpty Records, American house music records by the greats – Kerri Chandler, Derrick Carter, Paul Johnson, Masters at Work, Todd Terry, et al. – began flooding the shelves, bringing with them a groovy, often vocal-heavy sound. By studying her heroes, Cinthie sought to find her own special groove.
The work she put in has paid off immensely. Since 2018, Cinthie has added nine EPs to her discography, as well as a spurt of remixes for artists including Daniela La Luz, PBR Streetgang, Agoria, and Detroit Swindle. Though there are some acid and techno detours among the lot, it all comes back to that groove, threaded together by her love of swinging drums and an aim to shake hips. Perhaps some of her best and most notable work so far has been her pair of releases for Will Saul’s Aus Music, the Trust and Mesmerizing EPs, whose title tracks radiate joy with their glimmering rhythms, swirling disco strings, and smashing vocal samples.
Last year she founded her own label, 803 Crystal Grooves, to serve as a personal music outlet. Throughout her career, she’s seen friends and peers rise to the cusp of stardom, one after another, backed by support from big-wig artists and labels, and the belief that said support was unconditional. In many cases, when the hype stopped, they found themselves alone again and back at square one. “I didn’t want that for myself,” she says, “so everything I’ve made, I made myself so no one can take it away from me.”
It’s these achievements, all fresh and lumped so closely together, that make some quick to label Cinthie a rising star, perhaps not knowing that she’s already been in their orbit for a long time.
“It’s funny,” she begins, “I’ve been thinking about this, where my career is at, at the moment. It’s hard to tell because obviously I’m not the brightest candle on the cake, so to say, but I’m on a good way to grow a bit more.” She’s enjoying the slow, but natural progression of her journey. “There’s a lot of space to get to the top. I’m not even sure if I want to be at the top, or if I’ll ever get there, but everything is so satisfying because I see the direct effect of my hard work.”
For all Cinthie has accomplished in the last 20 years, there’s still so much ahead. When she wrote on Facebook about her newest EP, Kiss and Fly, she mentioned that it would be her last one for a while – a risky move for someone so on fire at the moment, especially when today’s landscape relies heavily on continued output and visibility. But of course a person who so tediously plans out her daily schedule would have a game plan with the big picture in mind. “In the first half of this year I released so much stuff that I was scared that it might be too much,” she admits, “so I’m holding back a little.”
For the foreseeable future, all her creative energy is being dedicated to a project well worth waiting for: Cinthie’s debut album, which is due out sometime next year. In the meantime, fans won’t be left completely empty-handed. When Cinthie shares she’s been working on a remix for an “amazing” person, a grin spreads across her face and her eyes light up with excitement. When pressed further, she pauses for a moment with a hand over her mouth, still smiling, perhaps contemplating if speaking this secret into the universe might instantly jinx it. (Though she does give a name, she requested that we not reveal it prior to its release.)
Just as her parents passed down their love of records to her, Cinthie sees history repeating itself with Marlene, who at almost ten years old is beginning to shape her own taste in music, and even shows her mom tracks she finds on YouTube. Cinthie recounts a story from earlier in the day, when she was listening to a playlist of vocal UK garage and house: “[Marlene] was like, ‘This is really cool,’ and started dancing. I was like, ‘Oh my god!'” she laughs, clasping her hand to her heart. “I was so proud!”
If Marlene ever wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a DJ, producer, record store-owner, label head, promoter, or any of the many jobs she’s had, perhaps that’s Cinthie’s next big task. “I think the main focus for now is producing because it’s what’s lifting me up, and playing because I just love to play for hours and hours.
“Apart from that, there’s not much more I can do in music, unless… are there any other jobs left?” she jokes.
Whatever she decides to do, it’s certain that she’ll do it damn well.
Photos by Marie Staggat.