Jennifer Cardini: In Conversation

Few people can match the wealth of experience in electronic music that Jennifer Cardini holds claim to. Early in her career, Cardini regularly played at legendary Parisian lesbian club Le Pulp in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She now holds down a jam-packed worldwide touring schedule alongside regular sets at Panorama Bar in her home city of Berlin, alongside her two renowned labels Correspondant and Dischi Autunno that she founded with Noura Labbani (the label name translates as ‘the discs from autumn,’ appropriate seeing as we’re speaking in early October).

Cardini is known for her exhilarating DJ sets that radiate positivity in both track selection and her personable energy as a performer. It then comes as no surprise that the French DJ, producer and label(s) owner is so friendly and open when I call her a couple weeks ahead of her set as part of Sulta Selects at Printworks.

Throughout our conversation it becomes increasingly clear how central human connection is to all her projects and working relationships, and, even more so, maintaining it with the loyal crowd that regularly comes to watch her perform. Within a vast scene that can often feel alienating to newcomers and fall prey to monotonous single-genre-conforming DJ styles, the example of supportive fervour that Cardini brings along with her expertise and unharnessed creativity feels more needed than ever.

Hey Jennifer, how are you?

I’m well thanks! I’m in Berlin and it’s very nice today – 24 degrees. I’m wearing a t-shirt and just had lunch in the sun!

How are you feeling about being back at Printworks?

I’m really excited! Last time was great, and the place and how it looks and the sound and also the crew behind Printworks is really good, everyone is really lovely so I’m definitely looking forward to it. I actually have a big weekend coming up, and it’s the highlight of my weekend.

I definitely think Printworks is one of the best places you can play at the moment so it means a lot to be to be able to come and play things from my label and new music I like.

There’s lots of excitement around Printworks here, it felt like we needed a club in London that was on a similar scale to Berghain. The line-up for Sulta Selects is so varied as well.

I feel like this is why I’m so excited too, I have lots of friends on the line-up and I’m a big fan of Todd Terjje as well. I’m looking forward to seeing Virginia, especially live! I think altogether it’s going to be a great evening…or afternoon actually.

You have a Breakfast Sessions party at ADE in Amsterdam for your label Dischi Autunno coming up too. I saw they’re serving croissants and it’s free entry, which seems to fit well with the ‘home listening experience’ ethos of Dischi Autunno. The label’s sound is geared towards rock and new wave, and is more experimental and less dancefloor-driven than Correspondant.

So we were keen to release more listening music, not club music, but we kind of failed at doing this because we got so many good demos, especially when Curses came around. So Dischi Autunno is still turned over to LP format and we still have a lot of indie music on it but now we are also doing more electronic dance music on it as well. So we do both now. We had to change the direction a bit.

It’s very hard to do a label dedicated to listening experience, especially with album formats because there’s a lot of expenses for releasing an album. With the music industry as it is today, it’s very challenging for a label to live from artists’ LPs alone. So we had to adapt to stay alive, so some of the releases have turned in the direction of the dancefloor, but not the entire label. Correspondant is mainly dancefloor, now Dischi is more of a mixture of dancefloor and non-dancefloor.

As a touring club DJ it seems very difficult to nail experimental fully, especially when you’re playing things out live. There’s this pressure to make people dance and move which is harder to do when, say, there’s less of a steady beat.

Yes, with the current market we don’t know how long we are going to make vinyl for, for example, and how it’s going to be with streaming DJs. It’s constantly changing but it’s also very difficult for a label that does indie music and non-danceable music to release the music in physical format. If you’re only releasing digital, it’s very challenging to survive without being involved in touring or the party service. You always have to do things around it to be able to survive.

With independent labels, the margins are so small for what you can earn from digital, and that’s weighed up against the cost of making vinyl. I’m wondering, as a touring DJ known for powerful dance-focused sets, why is it important for you to have this experimental free-form imprint alongside playing in clubs?

Well this was how I grew up listening to music. The first record that got me into electronic music was Aphex Twin’s Selective Ambient Works. I listened to LFO a lot also. So this form of electronic music is the base of everything I’m doing, from what I’m playing out to what I’m listening to at home. And to be honest everything is electronic today anyway.

My roots are also in ambient and things like Artificial Intelligence, Warp and Autechre. After that came Detroit, Underground Resistance, I’m also a huge fan of Drexciya. All this is the base of my DJ career and it’s important to me to stay curious in this and not only listen to ‘DJ’ music. So many of my friends also do really interesting music that is not club music based, and I wanted to release their music somehow.

That really shows with both labels. Your roster for Dischi Autunno and Correspondant has a range of releases from ambitious creators, and there’s a mix of emerging and established artists too. You’re doing these ongoing compilations for Correspondant, how do you approach that from a curatorial standpoint?

At the beginning I would put a lot of time and thought in, but now my DJ schedule is so crazy – I still put in the same amount of love – but it became more chaotic, which is also nice, but it had to became more spontaneous. I’ve just finished the tracklist for the 7th compilation of Correspondant, it was supposed to come out in March, then when I started to play more and more it became repeatedly pushed back.

I had some unreleased music from some artists that are regulars at Correspondant and then I had a list of newcomers I’d spotted making good music. So I contacted them and then started to build the tracklist. I’m now also doing a tracklist for Dischi Autunno, which will be the first compilation. Some things made sense to go on one label over others. I sort of played Mastermind with deciding which goes where. Now it’s finished I’m happy with the result.

The Dischi Autunno compilation will be more weird, and both labels are quite complimentary now. I will be playing a couple of unreleased songs at Printworks too.

Your projects definitely all inform each other. How do you find running two labels has influenced your DJing?

I do most of the track selections and creative direction, but Noura predominantly runs the label, as well as doing my management.

It sounds like you both share a succinct outlook.

Yes, we are really close so it’s more of a family business which I really enjoy.

I find Dischi Autunno emits a punk attitude, like everything is hand-picked and that you’re involved on all levels of execution and you put out what you want regardless of current trends. I get a sense of the label’s personality when I explore your releases; I was particularly struck by the descriptions with each release that reflect your dedication and belief in what’s going out.

I’m happy you like them! No one usually reads these. We have another person called Adam writing them, but we usually ask the artists for some key words or little descriptions or what the EP means to them, because we like it to be personal. You know most of those info sheets are so annoying, with one fact after another. So we ask always to have a little bit of input, whether a story behind the EP, or if there’s two contributors, how they met. We want some content to explain the releases.

Whenever I’m on Soundcloud listening to something I like, I read these descriptions if they’re there as the story behind tracks enhances the sentiment you get from listening. I kept reading yours because they’re all light-hearted and have a humorous edge. I connected this with having watched you play out, you have an infectious energy where you sense your enjoyment and everyone watching then has fun as well.

For me, if people like what we’re doing then we’re doing our job right.

I’m also interested to know more about your work with Curses, an artist who you’ve been releasing music for through Dischi Autunno.

I just had lunch with Lucca [Curses]! We like to eat together. I have to say that because I’m a foodie, I couldn’t sign anyone to the label that doesn’t like to eat. If you eat frozen fish-sticks and you put ketchup in your pasta you can’t sign with us… No, I’m kidding! But really, I love cooking so whenever I have an artist in town, we always have lunch. I see Lucca a lot and talk a lot, and we try to watch over him to make sure he has everything he needs to develop well. The first album was great, and the second album is going to be even better and we have some collaborations that he did which are going out on Dischi in January. Then we aim to release second album in May. It’s a real family feeling with him.

It’s also great to work with people who are so creative but also are consequential with work; Lucca takes things seriously. It’s good to work with him because you have a good workflow, which isn’t always the case some people are more complicated or need more time, which is also okay. But when you have someone like Lucca who is so on-the-ball it’s great.

So it’s super important to connect with the people you work with, both on personal and professional level?

I think when you get older, you reach a point where you don’t have to engage in politics you only work with the people you want to work with. You have to be very grateful because it’s a real luxury, but that’s where I am now since being in this job for a while. It’s important to me we have a good connection, that everyone’s respectful and everyone’s got the same goal, we want the same good quality, good record together. I have this with a lot of our artists, I’m also close with Zombies In Miami for example.

‘Surrender’ by Curses sounds like a tying of new and old, both in the original and your remix. It’s got a 70s new wave sound, like a reimagining of New Order, but then also has a fresh disco flair.

For me, New Wave definitely. Being from that generation had a major impact. I love sad melodies and keyboards, and arpeggios with low voices. Lately I’ve been dying to play ‘Temple of Love’ by Sisters of Mercy at Panorama Bar, but it’s so fast and the song I want to play has this weird break over the top. Maybe I’ll do an edit and take that break out, otherwise it’s a bit too much.

Do you find when you DJ you have to do this quite often? My impression is that you take a lot of risks and mix dispersed genres together, but I know there’s always that need to cater to the environment in front of you.

When I was first going out clubbing, I went to a small club in South France and there was a British DJ called DJ Batman and he was playing all kinds of things. I really loved it, he was playing everything from acid house to techno, sometimes movie scores. It was super trippy. I also grew up listening to Laurent Garnier, and Laurent would play rock, disco and techno for hours. When I started clubbing a lot of DJs were doing this. There was no straight four-hour techno, everybody played a bit of everything. That’s where my influences were.

You’ve had an expansive amount of experience. I’d like to know how you’ve seen things develop. Now there’s such a proliferation of DJs especially with streaming platforms, how have you seen things change?

I think it’s way harder to be a DJ now. You can get successful way faster, if you take the career of Charlotte de Witte or Amelie Lens as examples. And you get people who have been doing this for over 30 years, they have a complete other way of approaching this industry than we had 20 years ago.

I’m not saying it’s better or not, it’s just another way. It’s nice to see women becoming so successful, we needed this. But it’s changed a lot, when I started there was no booking agent, no one had management, we didn’t even think this was going to be a job. That’s why so many of us partied for so long, going to after hours and then going ‘hang on…that’s my job now?!’ But I like it at the moment.

There are some extreme sides where things that weren’t good have escalated to new levels. But then on other side, the community and movement went back and reconnected with its LGBT+ roots which they had lost in the year 2000 when techno (especially minimal) became more mainstream, I had the feeling that when techno and house got big, the fact that it came from minorities got forgotten. Nowadays the kids especially in the queer community took us back to what was important of this scene. Especially with the revival of 90s music. But I’m excited by what I’m seeing, how parties are more queer with more queer line-ups, more diverse. I feel good about the scene at the moment.

Would you say there’s much more visibility for queer DJs, and more importantly, more celebration for them nowadays than before?

The thing is, in the early 90s, queers had a lot of visibility, as did women. Sometimes people forget this. But then it faded out and became very straight, and very different from what it was.

Clubbing is such a sanctuary for our community, it allows us to feel safe and connect with others. I don’t know how you feel, but I find the experience of being queer can require you to be bold in your everyday life because you’re not necessarily the norm, and I feel this gets reflected in people’s music as well.

I got asked for the first time recently about how I feel about being a lesbian in that scene, because for a very long time, I was only being asked how I felt about being a woman in this scene.

And somehow, it can sound weird, but I think that being a lesbian was and still is a superpower. Partly because I felt I never had to deal with this misogynist bullshit that is going on, and I was never sexualised. It was always more a plus than a difficulty. Wherever I play there’s always a group of queers and they are there for ages, and I owe the fact that I live from my job mainly to them. People that came for many years at Pulp in Paris and now come every time I play Panorama Bar. I get a lot of support from my community which makes it a plus for me.

I think it’s important for people to see queer people that have positive vibes about being gay. If I was a young queer teenager, and I saw a queer woman DJ smiling and enjoying herself on the decks, it would make me feel good. Especially today where everything is more difficult politically, it’s important that people are public and open about being gay and give out a positive image about homosexuality. Right now in France, we still have people that protest on a regular basis against our marriage and child rights. We need to stand against this and show them we are here, and we are not going anywhere. This is really important to me.

I’m keen to know more about Le Pulp. What are your highlights from those years?

It was crazy! 15 years of high life. This place was amazing, basically everything you wanted. I felt The Cause in London was similar. Le Pulp was all classes, all religions, all genders, all sexualities, everyone mixed together every weekend. It was exactly how clubs should be. The sound system was shit, the drinks were terrible, but it was fun and total freedom. People with Panorama Bar and Berghain will complain about this and that, but there’s so few places you can be today without being filmed or photographed with phones or CCTV. What made it magical was that you could do whatever you wanted.

[At this point as we are speaking, a car unexpectedly drove past Jennifer in Berlin blasting ‘Temple of Love’ by Sisters of Mercy, the song that Jennifer wants to play at Panorama Bar.]

How do you feel like your DJ style has evolved from playing at Le Pulp to Panorama Bar?

I play less harder, less darker stuff than when I was younger. Now my style is more broad. Apart from this I don’t think it changed much. I’m very curious, I listen to young producers and I dig for music, but I think what I like about music the fact that it’s atmospheric or New Wave, this never changed. There is a line that connects all my years of DJing. Especially arpeggios. They are in each of my sets.

What are you working on next?

Releasing the Correspondant compilation and finishing the Dischi Autunno one. We have a couple parties planned with the label and a special project I started to work on that I can’t talk about. I’m also playing every weekend, I’m going to America and then probably India.

Catch Jennifer Cardini playing at Printworks for Sulta Selects on 9th November.

Words: Katharine Doyle

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