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This month Carhartt WIP Radio brings you a show by French DJ, producer and label-owner Jennifer Cardini, consisting of moving material from her label Correspondant. Taking the name from her legendary residency at Paris' Rex Club, Correspondant has released a number of compilations, as well as 12” EP's and LP's from artists like Man Power, Vox Low, Javi Redondo, Red Axes, Uriah Klapter and Borusiade. Stylistically the label delves into various electronic styles and tempos, such as techno, house, acid, disco, downbeat, electro, synth-pop, ambient and atmospheric new wave. Before Cardini established Correspondant in 2010, she had already enjoyed a longstanding career as a DJ, with residencies in Parisian clubs like Rex and Le Pulp, and regular guest performances in renowned nightspots like Panorama Bar, Nitsa, and Fabric. As a producer, she has dropped deep, writhing tracks on labels such as Kill The DJ, Crosstown Rebels, and her own brainchild, Correspondant. We talked to Jennifer in her Berlin home about her career, her label and the life of a music enthusiast.
Hey Jennifer, over the years you’ve been based in Monte Carlo, Nice, Paris, Cologne and now Berlin. Can you tell us a bit about these places in terms of sounds?
Jennifer Cardini: Sure. In Monte Carlo as a child I was listening a lot to Italo and disco. My parents liked to go out, they were in their early 20 when I was born so they would listen to whatever was club music at that time. You can still hear this in the sound of my label Correspondant and my DJ sets. But they were also listening to Diana Ross and Serge Gainsbourg. In Nice, where in lived in the early nineties Acid-house, Frankie Knuckles and Detroit and Warp arrived in my life. I bought lots of Trax records, Underground Resistance and whatever Submerge was bringing out.
You were a record buyer at that time, or did you already DJ?
Jennifer Cardini: I have a very classical clubber life story: I got taken to a rave that was in a big club. It was organized by straight people but it was very gay, with lots of fetish people. It felt like home, I felt welcome and safe there. After that I went to clubs or raves every weekend. Back then you couldn’t buy the music they played in clubs on CD or hear it anywhere else, so the only chance you had to listen to the music you like at home was to buy vinyl. So I just bought vinyls, a turntable and a mixer and started to go to a record store in Cannes called Limelight every Saturday, as we did not have any in Nice at that time. One day somebody checked out what I was buying and asked me if I would like to play in a bar. I was really shy and uncomfortable and initially said no, but my girlfriend at the time convinced me. I had just begun learning how to DJ at home at that time. So I played in that bar and then this guy, who was a good friend of the people of Coda magazine said that they were doing a party in Rex Club. So from there I played once at L'An-Fer in Dijon, where Laurent Garnier had a residency at that time, and then went directly to Rex Club. That was how it all started. I had only been playing for six months – I wasn’t capable of doing a DJ set for two hours without a mistake, it was all pretty new to me. I think my first gig after the bar was with Jeff Mills. I remember being so scared. He entered the room with Luke Slater as I was playing that Red Dave Clarke tune. I just froze and when the record ended, I did not get it, there must have been ten seconds of no sound with me just staring at Jeff Mills!
Did DJ skills matter that much at that time?
Jennifer Cardini: Sure, but you had the space to learn. I learned while playing in clubs, and I totally fell in love with it. I’d wake up and play from the morning to the late afternoon at home. My neighbours would go crazy.
You played in Rex and in Pulp in Paris for long. These clubs represent two different scenes. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Jennifer Cardini: Well Rex was famous for techno at that time. So it was great to start playing there as I was coming from a techno background. But I learned a lot at Pulp – the diversity of my set changed there. I had more freedom and friends like Ivan Smagghe, Romain BNO or Sextoy – who I had a band with before she died – they taught me a lot. Sextoy could play Nirvana with Green Velvet, she was very creative and daring. The queer environment was important: there was a social diversity that has disappeared today in many places. It is coming back now I feel. And to today I love small places, where the sound is not perfect, where it is dark and it stinks a bit. There is a special drive in such places. I love also that places like this still exist, places where you just can get lost. I always loved it at Pulp in the morning when the air condition went out and it gets sticky – where Arabic, transgender, black, gay, straight, businessman and lesbian would all dance together. I was told that once when Ivan Smagghe let a homeless guy inside because it was cold. This is how a club should be. Not just one type of people. In my life, these places are very important – and also, places like this have an anti-bourgeois attitude, the same I had when I was growing up in Monte Carlo. When I was a teenager I thought: fuck, this cannot be it. Life can’t be that. I don’t want to become a dentist, drive a Mini and have three kids, that’s not me. I need a rave!
In the mid of the 2000s you released some successful 12inches on Mobilee and Crosstown Rebels that made you famous in the minimal scene back then. Would you say that you were also a minimal DJ at that time?
Jennifer Cardini: The fact that I released on these labels and that I was affiliated to Kompakt – which to me was the early and interesting part of minimal if you look at Studio 1 or Profan – I got this minimal label slapped on my back. I was never a big fan of that “minimal” genre thing as by definition electronic music at that time was minimal. It was a drum machine and one or two synths. I never really played only minimal. I always played electro, I’m a huge Clone and Viewlexx fan, melodic indie-stuff like Superpitcher and all kind of electronic music including U.S. house or what was called Hard House at that time, Green Velvet etc… And I released on Output and Kill The DJ, two labels who are not minimal labels. I don’t think about this label anymore and I think it’s gone now, Correspondant washed it away.
When you started out to DJ there have not been so many female DJs. Do you feel this has changed now?
Jennifer Cardini: Yes, I think it changed a bit, but funnily enough we are still held responsible for the lack of woman in the scene. I still hear things like, “Girls needs to go for it, they need to do this, or that, be more like that …” This has to change, and that change has to come from men who need to interact with more female artists. There are plenty of us! If you take a look at some of your favorite labels you will easily find out that there is only a handful of them who are releasing music from female artist or booking female artists. Most of the key/big labels sadly don’t – they don’t feel the urge to look for female artist or just don’t even realise their full discography is male artist only, which is even sadder. Some of them do though, Matias with Cómeme for example. So it will basically get better when men make an effort. Lately a few young male artists are also making statements about only playing parties if there are women and minorities represented. We need more of that. Some promoter or clubs are also trying to have as many women and men playing, so it’s going in the right direction, but yeah it is still a boys’ club. So we still have to do it by ourselves, the DIY way.
And there are many girls playing now, who all have their own style.
Jennifer Cardini: Yes – look at Lena Willikens. I’ve played with her a lot recently she is such a great DJ, she is always surprising me. I really like Avalon Emerson too, she has her very own style. Courtesy’s techno is killer and Marie Davidson is also bringing something totally fresh to Electro. Girls are awesome! More girls everywhere! I’m sure we will also hear more amazing music from Borusiade and Inga Mauer soon. What I like is that it’s becoming very difficult for men to say, “We wanted to book girls but we could not find any,” which has been the number one excuse for the last 25 years…
I like all kinds of music and if it moves me, or brings me to tears, or makes me laugh, then I will release it.
Would you say your label is managed the DIY way?
Jennifer Cardini: Less now as we are growing so a lot of more people are involved, but when we started yes, we did everything ourselves apart from distribution. I hand stamped all the first releases myself in Kompakt’s warehouse, did the promo myself and even wrote the most boring info-sheet ever until Noura came along.
But lets come back to the music: how did you come up with Correspondant?
Jennifer Cardini: Well firstly: I always wanted to have a label. I did a long time ago but my DJ career kicked off and I had no time to handle both. I started Correspondant shortly after I moved to Cologne. I struggled with addiction, I needed a change in my life. In Cologne I took a step back from the scene and after a few months of healthy living, I started to get back to work and make plans. The label was the first thing on my list. I love the idea of having a place form where music and art could interact, and it’s a bit cheesy but I love the “joy” it brings. The smile on Man Power’s face when we received the finished copy of his first album and the happiness of Uriah went we released his first E.P.
You release on vinyl. Do you play vinyl?
Jennifer Cardini: I still buy vinyl, for sure, I just don’t travel with vinyl anymore. But I love to hang out in record stores – when I travel I visit stores in cities I am in. For me, it’s very important to release on vinyl. I can understand that an artist wants an object. If you just release digital somehow your release is not there, you know what I mean? I also like to think about the artwork. At the beginning we didn’t do that, but since the release of the Man Power album we do. We actually give residencies to artists. We had the photographer Nadine Fraczkowski – her pictures are on the covers for the last year. Each artist who released an EP could choose his or her favorite picture by Nadine Fraczkowski and we used it as the cover. We will do this more in the future – we want to interact between music and art here. I like that. I would love to also do more music for the art world.
When you talk about music: what kind of style is Correspondant representing in your words?
Jennifer Cardini: Oh this is difficult. I don’t think you can say it’s a techno label. It is also not a house label. I would say it’s a dance label. But then, we also have non-dance music. I was always a Warp fan – Warp’s probably one of the biggest influences on me, and it is also a label that is hard to pigeonhole. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to compare Warp with Correspondant, I just like their ethos. A label for me is a platform for artists and like-minded people. I like all kinds of music and if it moves me, or brings me to tears, or music makes me laugh, then I will release it. Anything that I find interesting will eventually get released, regardless of the rhythm, the genre and so on. For me it is important to listen to all kinds of music.
Back in the days you also did music for fashion brands. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Jennifer Cardini: There is not too much to tell: I did the music for Kenzo and then for Peachoo & Krejberg (Roy Krejberg was a designer at Kenzo, we stuck together for a while) catwalks for a long time. That’s it. I chose music from other acts for the catwalks. When we agreed on it, I cut and edited it together so that you have 15 minutes music for a catwalk. That’s it. I was always there at each presentation, as for the last track somebody needs to be there to be spontaneous. That was nice and it happened in big places like Grand Palais. But I stopped doing this around 2005 or so. It was very interesting and I would do it again. I liked the adrenaline of it, it’s was quite intense.
If you would describe your occupation: would you say you are a producer or a DJ or both?
Jennifer Cardini: I am a DJ. That is my main qualification! The work for Kenzo was DJ work too somehow. There is somehow an unwritten rule that if you want to go to the next level you need to produce. I don’t know why. Why can’t we just be DJs? I have a well-equipped studio, maybe I will become a more regular producer in the future. Maybe not… But for just now, I enjoy travelling and releasing other people’s music.
You label is named after a party you did in Paris. Can you tll us a bit about this?
Jennifer Cardini: I think at one point I was the person in France who booked the most German artists. A lot of German artists of my generation had their first time at Rex Club with me back in the days when I was playing for Katapult, a Parisian label. Michael Mayer, Superpitcher, Ellen Allien, LoSoul and many others played that party and later came to play at Pulp or Rex for my party. They would stay at my place and we would enjoy Paris and nice food. I named my party Correspondant as I thought of pen friends visiting each other or of a journalist who gets sent on an assignment. As a DJ this is what you do too: you play in other cities and you see a lot and you bring a lot of what you see home. At the same time, you share a lot with unknown people. The music for sure, but also more things that are beyond words. So somehow I am a correspondent of that scene and that time.
And what is the latest news on Correspondant?
Jennifer Cardini: We will have a new partnership with K7! which will allow us to focus more on A&R and artist development. We are only two people at the label and doing all the label work sometimes kills time to develop artists. Also, we stared a new label with my partner Noura Labbani called Dischi Autunno, which is more for home listening experience. Our first release is an album by the Netherlands-based producer Dollkraut called Holy Ghost People. After that will come another more rock-oriented project from a French artist that used to have a project called Electronicat. He was part of the early Disco B artists’ peer group. The Magic Ray is his new project and it is quite surf, psychedelic.
Did you launch this sub label to look a little bit outside the box?
Jennifer Cardini: Yes it is for that but also Correspondant has the aura of a more club-oriented label, but we had releases from artists like Vox Low or Die Wilde Jagd that goes beyond the usual club sound. Also we get a lot of demos that make no sense to be released on Correspondant. We have a regular rhythm and release 12inches every month. When we released the album by Man Power, we realized: when the next release comes out, the album is over. And as the work for an album is much greater than a 12inch, it’s better to have a sub division that focuses on albums and leaves time for it to exist. Dischi Autunno will not be an EP label. But we also want to do more then just albums. We would love to do also some art projects or soundtracks, ambient or experimental. We see the label also as a project and we have one artist who is designing all the covers and more. And the Correspondant artists, who did more than club music, have now shifted to Dischi Autunno.
You’ve been playing for over 25 years. Do you still love it?
Jennifer Cardini: Absolutely! I love it more now than in the 2000s. I have the feeling that somehow the club music scene had lost its diversity and roots during that time, as it became more “mainstream,” a bit too bourgeois, white and straight. It began to bore me. With the 90s revival the young generation discovered house and somehow what had been forgotten in the early 2000s. The Queer scene is also getting stronger, there is actually a nice article on RA about how the queer scene is changing the club scene is the US and you find more and more women. As a DJ, these are also very thrilling times as the quality of music is very high – there’s a full generation of producers, born with computers and the internet, who are pushing the limits of creativity!
And how you introduce all this music into your sets?
Jennifer Cardini: I like tension, but also melodies and slow stuff. I don’t go peak time all the time. It must be emotional but also go to trippy places. My DJ sets are more of a rollercoaster. I could play two hours straight techno or two hours of house but I like to mix genres – it is more fun! I still dig for music a lot, I think it’s so important. Stay curious.
And there are more and more clubs where you can do that.
Jennifer Cardini: Yes, but it always depends on the crowd. This is why resident DJs, and warm up acts especially, are so important. It changes everything for the “guest” when the audience is open. Even though there are more clubs, it’s not always easy to find places that allow you and the crowd total freedom. A lot of clubs open but I’ve seen a lot of them close too. As we’ve experienced with Fabric, gentrification is also making it difficult for clubs to exist. In France we have so many restrictions when it comes to opening a venue… We need more places like Berghain, De School or Robert Johnson. We need places where you can dance, feel free and lose yourself a bit.
And what do you think about the explosion of festivals around the world?
Jennifer Cardini: To be honest, I don’t really follow them. I’ve played some really nice festivals and enjoyed it very much but I’m more a club person. I still prefer little nasty, dirty clubs – places with a good sound system and where you can find a good mix of people. A lot of festivals are quite pricey as well and happen in places that make it impossible for everybody to join, it also makes the booking situation with smaller clubs a bit challenging as they are unable to book headliners. Hopefully it will force clubs to be creative and help new artists to emerge.
Would you also like to work beyond the club music scene?
Jennifer Cardini: Sure I would love to work more with exhibitions and artists. We do that already with our cover artworks. We also get requests from artists who need music for their installations. I think it is important not to stay only in the music bubble. For our covers we work with artists, like the photographer Nadine Fraczkowski, who is working closely with Anne Imhof, Germany’s representative at the Venice Biennale. We will begin to collaborate with Ramona Deckers, a very talented photographer from Amsterdam. And there is a French artist who I’d like to work with in the future. Maybe out of all this will come a small exhibition or a book, I don’t know. I like photography a lot but we are open to all kind of collaboration.
Will you continue your “Nikotin” parties with Lena Willikens?
Jennifer Cardini: Yes, I hope so! We’ve played Robert Johnson, Jaeger and Kaiku so far. Will it still be a party or maybe just an invisible character? Something that is not a person, that is half Lena and I. We don’t know. We’ve really enjoyed it so far. We mostly start really, really slow and we take our time to let the party grow, which is great. I like that Lena is constantly pushing the limits, it’s very inspiring to me.
And how do you see the new generation of DJ and producers. What is in your eyes the difference to people like you who play more than 20 years?
Jennifer Cardini: It’s so different than when I started, this was never a career plan for us. We were rave kids going from one party to another. Today, they are very organized. Mostly they do not have a big name yet, or haven’t played in club or produced, but they know the game! They already have a manager and tons of followers on Instagram and Facebook. And most of them they are also very clean compared to the party monsters we were. They have a plan and can benefit from the full structure: Booking agencies, management, labels, publishing, etc… That has grown in the last 25 years. It is also interesting to see how young people digest something like techno, which is a relatively new genre. Take a girl like Avalon Emerson and how she interprets house. Take her tune Church Of SoMa which made house so exciting again. For me this is very exciting; the generation that is now 25 is so on point with music. They know so much already!
And finally you now moved to Berlin. How is it?
Jennifer Cardini: In the beginning it was a bit difficult. When I moved to Cologne and I changed to living healthily I needed a routine for my stability. So at the beginning I felt a bit like a cat. New city, no routine and I played so much last summer, that it was not easy to build new habits here in Berlin. So I had also a month when I asked myself: what do I do here? Now I’ve found a healthy routine in which I meet friends and have time for my private life. And I wanted to be careful, as here in Berlin you can get lost easily – people party like hell here! – but I must say I have a great social life compared to Cologne. Many of my colleagues and friends are living here and many people come here to visit, so that is really great.
And do you plan a residency here?
Jennifer Cardini: Well I play a few times a year at Panorama Bar, but I don’t think you can call that a residency. We’ve already done two Correspondant nights there and we will do another one in July when our new compilation comes out. To be honest, if I ever do a new residency here, I would love to do it there. It is still a very special place for me. I like OHM and also Else in summer, but Panorama is special to me. I played there very early on, at the first New Year's Eve just after they had opened in December 2004, I played at Panorama Bar with I-F. So there’s been a deep connection for a long time.
And how do you see you future? Will you DJ for the next 20 years?
Jennifer Cardini: I don’t know, I will try to DJ for as long as possible. Maybe I will start to collaborate with artists I like. I am part of the Xavier Veilhan exhibition at the Biennale in Venice – I’ll be working with André Bratten on this. As I mentioned previously, I’m more and more interested in these projects, and the combination of different forms of art. Maybe, when the time comes, I will shift to something less demanding physically than touring as a DJ. I hope I will still release other people's music too.
And maybe one day you play in Las Vegas…
Jennifer Cardini: Well only if I can open for Celine Dion. (laughs). I’ve never been there but I imagine it’s like being in hell. But you have to be realistic: the music I play is never going to get me there – and I will try to keep it that way…