For nearly seven years now, the words ‘Sweat Lodge’ have remained at the heart of Berlin’s underground scene. Originally conceived by Israeli ex-pat James Blonde as an artist agency, it now incorporates a weekly party, a radio station and - as of July last year - a magazine into proceedings.
While the agency has proved the catalyst for their success, it’s their weekly Radio Show and shindig – The T Room Sessions – that have really put them on the map.
With their Friday night soiree moving on to a new venue (the cosy Prince Charles) as of this Friday for their 140th edition, I Voice thought it a wise time to catch up with the brains behind the operation, the aforementioned Mr.Blonde, to discuss both his own, personal story, and that of his “baby”…
So, when did you first become interested in electronic music?
Well, I was raving in the ‘90s, but my day-to-day life back then was still focused more towards rock and roll. But it was probably around the turn of the millennium when I was still living in LA that I started to go clubbing quite regularly. Then, when I went back to Israel, the scene there was crazy at the time. There was parties going on every day, and I soon got hooked.
Were you not tempted to stay then?
That was in 2000, and I left in early 2007, because it kind of fizzled out after 2003. Loads of clubs closed, the international DJs stopped coming, and kids were more concerned with hip-hop rather than electronic culture. So I was there for the golden age but escaped soon after.
Do you get back home often?
About once a year, but just to see my family. I don’t really like to DJ when I’m there because it’s so stressful: people think of me as the guy who made it in Berlin, and I don’t like to put myself in that situation.
Now, there are 25 DJs that I work really closely with & 5 labels that we represent.
Even after all this time, I still only really work with people I’m friends with…And how long are you living in Berlin?
I’m here nearly six years. I was a music promoter at home before I set up here. I was always booking international DJs in Israel, so it was just a sort of natural move for me.
And how’s the German coming along then?
[laughs] Haha! Not very well, but to be honest I don’t really need it. I live in a sort of bubble where everyone around me speaks English. I mean I understand a small bit of it, but it’s a really difficult language to learn and I don’t really have the time right now anyhow.
You were quite brave to make the move though?
Well to be honest, I moved once I knew I had something set up here. But even after six years, every day is still difficult. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and most importantly; I still love what I do.
So how did you set up Sweat Lodge?
Well it all started about six-and-a-half years ago as a booking agency. Naturally, all of my first clients were Israeli’s. When I moved to Berlin, I was soon working with the likes Oliver Deutschmann and Ed Davenport, and our roster became full of Berlin based international artists. And now, there are 25 DJs that I work really closely with and 5 labels that we represent. Even after all this time, I still only really work with people I’m friends with…
There seems to be a big ex-pat vibe going on…
In a way, yes, but me also maintain good ties with the local scene too, and we don’t like to look at ourselves as being exclusive or anything. I guess we’re about half-German, half international.
What do you look for when you’re signing a Sweat Lodge artist?
They have to be excited about the music and we have to get along. That’s crucial. The person also has to understand that it’s (becoming a successful DJ etc.) can be a long process.
Before, I was just looking for people who were starting out. But now I tend to do this less and look toward people who are established but want a new sort of recognition.
And how did the idea for the radio station come up?
Three years ago, my partner, Elie Eidelman joined me and we set up Sweat Lodge Radio. At the time I was looking for ways to further establish Sweat Lodge, and a radio show seemed a perfect fit. So it was an outlet where we could promote our community vibes but also promote our artists and good music.
It’s a 24/7 online station, and it helps us collaborate and connect with other labels and artists - especially on a global basis.
And Sweat Lodge was a label for some time too, right?
We were, but I didn’t really have the time to focus on it. So two years ago, we started a SLIM Audio compilation on WordandSound. The first one came out last year and it was by Oliver Deutschmann. It was called FutureWorld, and it featured the sort of music that we’d usually promote at Sweat Lodge. So I’d rather focus on a big project like that rather than a load of small releases.
You mentioned SLIM magazine. What’s all that about?
SLIM is a pocket-sized physical magazine that started in July of this year. It’s in English, and concerns matters such as art, music and culture in Berlin.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the writing is really great and informative and it’s online too. It’s not an industry magazine, but is more something that reflects our lives in Berlin.
Now, I wanted to ask about The T Room Sessions. To those who don’t know, can you please explain a bit about what they’re about?
Sure, The T Room Sessions have always been my baby and my favourite thing I do. When I started Sweat Lodge Radio three years ago, we wanted to experiment with live sessions in Berlin, and that was way before others were doing it.
We started it at a really small teahouse in Mitte, beside a gallery. It was a special time, and we had all the Berghain DJ’s such as Nick Hoppner and ND Baumecker playing, as well as local labels like Dirt Crew and Mobilee who always supported us, even from the very start. It was always a thing for friends, so they could hook up on a Friday evening and has always been very intimate.
Then after a year, the actual tearoom closed, so we moved to Maria Peligro’s, a sort of hip Mexican restaurant in Kreuzberg. We were there for two years every Friday, which was a really consistent time. But then, that restaurant closed in July, so we were forced to look for another new location.
So for the first time ever, we took a little break and reassessed our options, before opting for The Prince Charles in Berlin. They have a new booker – called Charlie incidentally – and have a vibe which really fits with our own, so it should make for a perfect fit come this Friday.
How will the new sessions in the new destination differ then?
Well for a start, they’ll be a lot longer. They’ll start at 7pm will end at midnight. They’ll be situated in the bar area of Prince Charles (and the club area will be closed) so it’ll make for a really intimate environment with maybe, maximum, 100 people. And we’ll also be serving warm food such as soups too. Every Friday we’ll either be putting up our own artists or labels will be setting up, and we’ll have acts playing such as Genius of Time, Iron Curtis and Massimiliano Pagliara in November alone. We’ll also be videoing the T Room Sessions for SLIM magazine too, and they’ll be going out online as of 8pm.
So who sets up the line-ups?
Well Elie and I sit down regularly and hand pick every line-up. It doesn’t matter if the DJ’s are well known or not: if we’re into what they do we’ll try and book them for a show. We’re always looking to promote new talent through the show too, and it usually takes an entire month to set up next month’s line-ups. I have to keep my ear to the ground with what’s going on…
Who’s been your favourite guest over the years at Sweat Lodge?
Wow, that’s a difficult question. Perhaps the most memorable though, was Boris and ND Baumecker who just came down and sat on a chair and played for five hours to thirty people. Any of the parties with Tolga Fidan or with Massimiliano Pagliara from Live at Robert Johnson have always been really special too.
This Friday’s session is going to be our 140th, so hopefully there are plenty more great times to come too.
Did you ever think you’d get to a stage where you’re so well known and respected in Berlin?
Honestly, no. I just came here and was doing my thing, and it just so happened that people were into it. I’ve always loved what I do here in Berlin, but I never thought it’d become so versatile with the DJs and a great working crew too.
Have you plans for this year’s BerMuDa festival?
Yes, and it’s going to be one of the busiest weeks of the year for us. We’re hosting around six events, with the main one at Cookies on Thursday with Ed Davenport, Quell and more. I’m very much looking forward to it as it’s a great chance to see people I don’t always get to see. It’s great for Berlin too, so long may it continue.
And what else have you got in the pipeline?
Well our hands our so full right now, but we’re always looking for ways to expand and improve. Eventually, I see us running a club here, but it’s all a constant process…
THE T ROOM SESSIONS @ PRINCE CHARLES
Friday 09th November
JONSSON / ALTER (KONTRA MUSIK)
QUELL (IBADAN RECORDS/THESE DAYS)
JONA (PLANET E/GET PHYSICAL)
JOEL ALTER (BASS CULTURE/SWEAT SHOP)
Friday 16th November
THE RIMSHOOTERS LIVE (SKYLAX/SLOW MOTION)
MASSIMILIANO PAGLIARA (LIVE AT ROBERT JOHNSON)
FABRIZIO MAMMARELLA (SLOW MOTION)
FRANZ UNDERWEAR (SLOW MOTION)
Friday 23rd November
EDWARD (WHITE / GIEGLING/ BLOOMING SOUL)
PEAK & SWIFT (WILDEN RENATE)
Friday 30th November
GENIUS OF TIME (ANIARA/CLONE)
BABY G (B PITCH CONTROL/SUPERDISCOTECA)
PETER POWER (KLEINE REISE RECORDS/LOFTUS HALL)
20:00 - Midnight Live Stream on Sweat Lodge Radio & SLIM TV
Warm food is served from 19:00
Prinzenstrasse 85F (Moritzplatz U8) 10969 Berlin, Germany