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The life cycle of a good party is brief. So for Herrensauna, the legendary Berlin affair masterminded by Nicolas Endlicher and Cem Dukkha, reaching its sixth birthday through a once-in-a-generation nightlife drought was a milestone — all but affirming its status as a bedrock among the techno capital’s party pantheon.
How does it make the duo at its center feel? “Old,” sighs Dukkha.
Their creative partnership began almost as a necessity. As burgeoning nightlife enthusiasts in Vienna, both felt stifled by the lack of community their “very small” hometown scene had to offer. “We missed kindred spirits, people to really connect with,” recalls Endlicher. Dukkha, who was heavily involved in the city’s hardcore punk scene, concurs: “It was very political, but there was no queer or gay representation at all. I was the only gay boy in there. And at one point it felt like I didn’t belong anymore.”
But even the (comparatively) rudimentary party culture of Vienna gave them invaluable experience in event organizing and DJing. “We were given the opportunities,” Endlicher says. “I was close friends with someone who was managing a nightclub, and he always liked my taste in music. He gave me the first opportunities to start experimenting. I basically learned DJing through him.”
As they cut their teeth throwing various parties, with Endlicher and Dukkha DJing respectively as MCMLXXXV and CEM, they began to make in-roads towards the great electronic music hub to the North, booking different Berlin-based artists and DJs and establishing important connections in the scene, including being booked themselves. By 2015, they had both relocated full time to the city to study, but they were still hesitant to dive into the infinitely larger world of Berlin nightlife.
“I actually didn't plan to do an event or to DJ so much,” recalls Endlicher. “I literally just wanted to leave Vienna and wanted to explore something else. And because the city was so oversaturated with electronic music and DJs and events, I didn't think of myself as someone who could be playing a role in that context.”
The scene, however, had other plans for them. “We had this one friend that was also involved in the beginning,” explains Dukkha. “He saw me play many times in Vienna, and he moved to Berlin around the same time as Nicolas did. He started working in a club, and he actually approached us, like, ‘Why don't you guys throw a party here?’”
It came together quickly, and on Halloween of that year came the very first Herrensauna party. They “had the audience,” and they had the venue – Bertram’s, a musty basement which became a sweaty terrarium when packed to the gills (“I remember people trying to light their cigarettes and not being able to because there was not enough oxygen left,” Dukkha laughs). As for their goal? Well, to throw a great fucking party, one that exudes their ethos of hedonist freedom, but also, as Dukkha notes, to “create a space for us and our friends to feel comfortable and listen to music we felt was not really represented in the big clubs, and to go away from this…”
“Police-y, gatekeeping nightclub mentality,” Endlicher interrupts, seamlessly finishing his partner’s thought. “We just wanted to do something more genuine. It’s what we’re still doing.”
Suffice to say, it was an instant smash, an “overwhelming” success. “We didn't expect the turn out,” says Dukkha. “And already we formed relationships with the people that we invited to play, with the people we worked with. That was a huge part of why it got popular, the people around really wanted to be involved. It was a very intimate environment.”
Since its inception, Herrensauna has always felt a cut above the rest in terms of its passionate community. It attracts what may be the best, most diverse representation of Berlin’s colorful party scene, welcoming attendees of all sexual persuasions and gender identities (unlike, say, the notoriously male-biased door policy of a certain Berghain). The music, a hurricane of hard techno, is always excellent, and most guests come intending to do some serious dancing. The fashion on display – a bountiful feast of sportswear, leather, and chains – skews toward the intense, and yet despite the harshness, playfulness is always encouraged. Case in point? For my first Herrensauna, I chose to go all in on the name (literally, “men’s sauna” in German, a “super outdated, old-fashioned word that nobody uses anymore,” Endlicher chuckles) and wear a terry cloth bathrobe with a towel wrapped around my head - a look that garnered a great deal of curiosity without a whiff of derision.
It is also, somewhat notoriously, quite a sexual party, but not to the extent of a sex party per se. “You definitely have this hyper-sexual vibe, but you also have the super flamboyant, queer vibe that is so gender fluid,” explains Dukkha. “You really have both constantly. I also never really wanted to say out loud that we're sex positive. Because I didn't just want it to be all about sex. I didn't want to sell the party as a place where you could come to fuck or hunt. It’s an ‘everything can happen, but nothing must’ kind of attitude.”
Herrensauna’s elements combine to instill a sense of unbridled freedom for each one of its attendees, and it’s why earlier this year, on a warm September night that marked their first proper event since before the pandemic, a hoard of 5,000 people swarmed Berlin’s Funkhaus, queuing for upwards of three hours to get back on their dancefloor. With the door staff overwhelmed by the turnout, Endlicher and Dukkha were stationed outside for the majority of the evening, greeting each guest personally like society dames of old. As far as grand returns go, it couldn’t have been more fitting.
Their big blowout was indicative of both Herrensauna’s staying power and the fact that the duo are perhaps stronger than ever. During the long stretch of lockdown they worked diligently, launching and running their own record label (which now hosts an array of releases from their roster of DJs and collaborators) and expanding into the art and fashion worlds. They have begun making clothes, including original latex pieces with Berlin’s SAR and a capsule collection with Carhartt on the horizon, and their parties are now decorated with original paintings, stretched across enveloping canvases behind the turntables.
Like the city they now call home, Herrensauna is evolving at warp speed, blossoming into wholly unexpected directions with aplomb. “It means a lot to be still around after six years in a scene that's ever changing,” Dukkha reflects. “There're always new faces coming in, always a new party. So it's cool to still be around and be in the midst of a community. Especially in the last year, we got to know so many more new kids who just came to Berlin. It feels so much more diverse.”
“You really see a shift in the city's changes, all this energy that is coming in,” continues Endlicher. “And we have the ability to incorporate so many new people, to let them get involved. We see you. We recognize your talent, your potential, your energy, and we want to work with you. We want to hang out with you!”
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