You are from West-Berlin. When were you born and where did you grow up?
Shir Khan: I was born in 1979 in Berlin-Schöneberg and grew up in Berlin-Reinickendorf.
What district of Berlin are you currently living in and why?
Shir Khan: I’ve been living in Prenzlauer Berg for the last 10 years, although I actually think that West-Berlin is more attractive right now. I’m just reluctant to move though. All the records, you know…
As someone hailing from Berlin, have you ever considered moving away and why? Or if you haven’t, why not?
Shir Khan: I’ve thought about it time and again. I’ve always wanted to spend a longer period of time in London, Barcelona, or New York. But something always held me back and now I’m happy that I’ve stayed true to Berlin in the end. Since then it has become the hub of the world – this is where the entire international creative scene meets. I can’t think of another place to live in. Well, if I’d stop DJing, I think that’s the time when I have to get out of the city.
Have you ever lived outside of Berlin for a longer period of time? Where and why? Or if you haven’t, why not?
Shir Khan: No, not really. I lived for two years in Düsseldorf, but I was four years old at the time. That doesn’t really count.
Since when have you been DJing for a live audience?
Shir Khan: Actually, for quite a while: for 14 years now. Everything started with private parties and at small clubs like Fischlabor, Heinrichs Tanzbar or Gartenhaus, which is behind Tacheles.
Why did you become a DJ? Something like calling? Can you remember a key event that forever spoiled you for a more middle-class career?
Shir Khan: I used to be totally into hip hop and always wanted to be an MC. But I was way too self-conscious for it. I could rap all right but I only ever performed in front of an audience on three occasions. At least in the beginning, as a DJ you could always hide behind your tables and still dish out your own sound to the people. I believe that’s why I became a DJ.
Why did you pick the name Shir Khan? What’s the story behind it?
Shir Khan: Shir Khan used to be my tag. My skater and writer friends thought the name was too long for tagging and that the police would be able to catch me sooner because of it, but I didn’t care. What I mainly wanted was an exotic name that represented the urban jungle of Berlin. So, for me that could only be the tiger Shir Khan from “Djungelbook”. I was a pretty bad writer by the way, but a lot of people at my school and from my skating buddies knew my tag. They’d always call me “Shir Khan” with a big grin on their faces, because they knew that I wasn’t a good writer. I always used to be a good skater, though.
You wore a tiger mask for your first publicity shots. Why the mask and why don’t we see you wearing it anymore?
Shir Khan: I think those shots were a big mistake. It still makes me want to throw up every time a foreign party promoter proudly shows me a flyer that has a picture of a tiger with my name underneath on it. I know, it’s a nice thing to exploit this whole tiger image but for me it’s just a name, not an image. It was my own fault to get these pictures made. Since then they’ve been circling around the net and people like to use them, some of them even believe that I DJ with the mask on. They’re always really disappointed when there’s no tiger on stage.
Where and when did you have your first DJ gig, and how did it go?
Shir Khan: My first DJ gig was at my own birthday party. It was a non-public thing at a private residence I was throwing together with a friend. The turntables where set up in a sauna room and when everybody was drunk someone eventually turned on the sauna oven and all the records started to melt. Luckily it weren’t my records but those of my buddy, who of course started to scream.
What’s cool and what’s uncool about being a professional DJ?
Shir Khan: The long waits at airports are uncool. Everything to do with travelling is, really: delayed flights, late trains, hotels that don’t do late checkouts are horror, but the worst bit is to go on travelling without having slept at all. The great thing about travelling though is the adventure aspect. You’re here one day, there the next. And another beauty of the job is when the old teen idols of your days of yore suddenly turn into mentors or even friends because they appreciate what you’re doing.
Your best and your worst experience with a DJ set are?
Shir Khan: At a gig in Toronto, the technician drank so much whiskey that he wasn’t able to rig everything up properly. The problem was, I was drunk too and when I wanted to start, it was deadly silent instead. The dance floor emptied pretty quickly, but I managed in the end.
Then again, the best experience was at the I Love Neon Party in Montreal. I rarely had an audience going so crazy.
You owe your fame to the enormous success of your mix tapes, which were downloaded more than 100.000 times worldwide. How did you do that?
Shir Khan: Well, I was pretty early on the Internet as a DJ, long before the big blogging wave started, at around 2002. Back then, people used to put their mixes in forums and distributed them through mailing lists like Netaudio. There were a few e-zines like Earplug that hyped some of my mixes and since this entire Bloghouse culture didn’t really exist yet, high download counts came quickly. There was also no competition to talk of, since most DJs simple didn’t put their sets online. There was always the issue of legality to consider too. What as illegal, what not? Nowadays, nobody’s bothered by that question anymore. My first bookings abroad came about because I illegally published my DJ sets online. It’s still like this today.
What do you prefer, vinyl, sound files, turntables or laptop? And why?
Shir Khan: I love vinyl and I’m still buying it out of passion as well as for my radio show. When I’m working in clubs, about 95% of my music tends to be on CD. The main reason is that it’s just more comfortable to travel with CDs. I always used to travel with excess luggage – sometimes I was lugging around up to 60 kilos (3 bags) from airport to airport – that was sheer craziness and many promoters didn’t want to book me anymore because of the high fees an excess luggage. I think I still have a bad back from my heavy bags. Playing CDs I burn myself gives me the opportunity to be up-to-date at all times. I also play a lot of music that artist friends send to me. Best of all, the hauling times are over. Despite all this, I still find it important that people buy music – even when you can get it everywhere for free, as in blogs for example.
Your trademark is the no-holds-barred mash-up mix. Why did you choose this particular style which requires lots of DJing skills?
Shir Khan: I hail from a hip hop background that has always been about skills. I wasn’t the best scratcher ever, but I had a rather large, diverse record collection early on, and so my first attempt was to work all my influences into one single DJ set. In the meantime I tend to be a little more straightforward – even if some people say it’s all hodgepodge. I have become very selective about what I end up putting on. In the 90s music was more strongly categorised into subgenres, and now a lot of things seem to be merging together. Nowadays hip hop is mixed with electronic music and rock ’n’ roll with techno. The mash-up culture is everywhere.
What is the most important thing about a DJ set?
Shir Khan: To build suspense and then to break in order to build it up again. Breaks are important in a DJ set, they take the human factor back into DJing which has become very focussed on technology today. Daring to be humorous is never a bad thing. Beeing too deep is uncool, then again being too cheeky is silly too. A good mix of both dynamics and humour is always best.
Is it going to be DJ forever or have you planned for anything else?
Shir Khan: We’ll see. I don’t think it’s going to be DJ forever, but you never know…
What would you do if your DJ career were suddenly over?
Shir Khan I think I’d go on a very long holiday, take out some time to think things over, and then I would probably do something that isn’t trendy at all… like moving to the country and working in an unexciting job.
Is DJ your only profession or do you have other jobs on the side? If so, what kind of jobs?
Shir Khan: I also run my own record label, Exploited, I host a DJ radio show on Fritz, I organise parties under the name Berlin Battery & Jack had a Groove, and every now and then I blog for Berlin Battery.
Where do you see yourself in 10 to 20 years?
Shir Khan: Well, as long as I’m still a DJ at the time – in Berlin…
Your Internet platform/homepage/label/DJ residence/booking agency?
DJ residences: WMF, Picknick, Vice parties (Berlin)_
Since when have you been doing your own radio show on Fritz? What are the name and the concept of the show and at when is it aired?
Shir Khan: Since 2008 we have been airing a weekly every Tuesday from 8 pm to 10 show called “Soundgarden” on Fritz. It’s a pure DJ show with many international guests like Major Lazer, Amanda Blank, Aeroplane, Jesse Rose or Modeselektor. Somehow everybody’s been on it already…
Since when have you been running your own label, Exploited, and why did you pick this name for it?
Shir Khan: The label started in 2007 and I have been releasing limited edition vinyl EPs in irregular intervals on it. A label compilation, on which some of the most glorious moments have been preserved for all eternity on CD, is going to follow in the near future. For me the name Exploited stands in the tradition of the sampling culture which is a part of my work: to make new material from already existing one. Not to put to fine a point on it, the label’s name stands for the exploitation of pop culture, for a sound that creates new musical contexts and doesn’t take itself all too seriously. I like to play with clichés – musically as well as visually.
You tend to attach great importance to the cover artwork of your label’s releases. Just as with your mash up DJ mixes well-known pop covers are eclectically altered and stamped with the Exploited trademark. In the case of your latest cover you took the much debated oil painting of a vagina by painter Gustave Courbet from 1866 photographed it through a kaleidoscope and draped it with plastic vampire teeth. Why this particular motif and this particular alteration? What’s the idea behind it? Is it just meant as provocation or is there more to it?
Shir Khan: It’s got nothing to do with being provocative. It’s all about the citation. Exploited vinyl covers aren’t aimed at anything else but at the mutilation of popular icons and branding it with the Exploited trademark. It’s something like a collage – creating new content from old stuff. For the CD I wanted to get another take on the idea of the pop cover. So we took the scandalous 1866 painting by Gustave Courbet and mashed it up in this particular way. The painting has the suggestive title “The Origin of the World“: the vagina is seen as both sexual object and the point of birth. For me the cover is a metaphor for repetitive reproduction. If you interpret it in the light of the painting over of well-known pop covers and keep in mind that everything is possible at Exploited in terms of music, whether it’s electro funk, Italo disco, rave, hip hop, baile funk, techno, house or tropical, then you have the essence of the label. It’s about reproduction: The only option to create something new is to mix and mash already existing contents and hope that something new will come off it – musically as well as graphically.
Your latest compilation is still somewhat of a secret tip in Germany. Yet the British music press is already in jubilation about the new double CD. How do you explain this success in the UK and do you think that the prophet doesn’t count as much in his own country?
Shir Khan: It’s always been like this with me. Usually, I first get noticed abroad and not in my own country. It still hasn’t changed and it doesn’t bother me at all. Germany certainly has a good club culture, but whenever new music is involved, Germany is often behind everyone else.
Is it still worth the effort to physically release an album or EP?
Shir Khan: Well, especially vinyl is more and more becoming a thing for aficionados. The techno fraction still swears by vinyl and I won’t stop doing it either, but I’m only going to press small limited editions with the bonus tracks being available as downloads later on. But it’s a fact that a label today can only survive through digital sales and licensing. Vinyl has become a luxury item.
What’s your musical vision?
Shir Khan: DJing on iPhone. Honestly that’s a vision of horror.
Give us your opinion on the Berlin nightlife. What makes it so special? What is good about it? What is bad about it and why?
Shir Khan: _I still think Berlin has the best nightlife in the whole wide world: It’s diverse and offers something for every taste… and it’s voracious and knows no closing hour… It’s sexy, real, and it offers a lot of room. Currently, I find it really exciting.
The bad thing is that many of the Berlin clubs don’t know how to tune their PAs properly._
What are your favourite clubs in Berlin and why?
Shir Khan: _Cookies, Picknick, WMF, Club der Visonäre, Horst X-Berg, Bar Tausend…
I have to say that I still like to go to Cookies after all these years. Serious clubbing and fun go together very well there.
During the summer I like to go to Picknick: The open-air dance floor has this informal feeling about it in the early hours of the morning.
I haven’t been to Horst X-Berg yet – but I believe I might like it. Of late I had to rely on the tips of party travellers: Horst X-Berg is always top of the list. WMF has the potential to become the club of the city once again: good PA, good drinks, cool location, great audience… all of us are probably just waiting for it to start running as a regular club. I also like to go to for longdrinks to Club der Visionäre, Bar Tausend, Wohnzimmerbar, or Klub der Republik._
Your motto for music and life?
Shir Khan: NO SLEEP TIL BERLIN.
What is the concept behind the series of party events called Jack Had A Groove? What did you intend to do better or differently than other Berlin party organisers?
Shir Khan: I wanted something else apart from the Berlin Battery parties, which we used to have at Scala. Berlin Battery was musically more aimed at fun and in terms of music focussed somewhat retro. With Jack had a Groove I consistently want to push a new sound: house music – but with a modern face! With a low-end bass like dubstep, paired off with brass fanfares and African conga rhythms. The representatives of this movement are people like Solo, Mowgli, Riva Starr, Renaissance Man, Jesse Rose, Zombie Disco Squad, Mastiksoul, and Afrojack. We already feature a few of them. The parties take place in irregular intervals at WMF and other locations. I don’t really want to improve anything… just push a certain sound, some call it tropical house, which isn’t very big around here yet.