Berghain’s most stylish resident
The Detroit native celebrates ten years of living and DJing in Berlin. He knows exactly how to connect with people through music and shows this every other week as a resident in Berghain. He also knows how to dress smart and is not afraid to show it. Moving away from the stereotypical “all black DJ style”, he questions the preconceived notions of what a techno DJ should look like.
We met Ryan Elliott on a sunny Tuesday afternoon (on a DJs weekend) in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Over coffee we spoke about pursuing artistry, hard door policies in clubs and learning German.
Julia Deutsch Judging from your Instagram, you like techno, fashion, bouldering and golf?
Ryan Elliott Yes. What was the third one again?
JD It’s called bouldering. You know like climbing?
RE haha, oh I did that once. It was fun but I can’t speak to bouldering because I just did it the one time
JD okay. You also play golf on your Instagram. Do you do that regularly?
RE about once a summer. when I was younger I was a very good golfer. I also worked at a golf course during my high school years.
JD What was your occupation?
RE I just worked at the shop but when I went on to university I didn’t have enough time to pursue that anymore. So now I try to do it once a summer.
JD You went to university for finance, is that correct?
RE I was a financial analyst before.
JD before techno?
RE Yeah but I’m not interested in that anymore.
JD So coming from a finance background, can you tell me a bit about your artistic journey after that?
RE I grew up in a small town about 30 miles outside of Detroit. Detroit has a rich music history and it’s basically where techno comes from. We had Detroit radio and TV so there I would hear all the different techno mixes. They broadcasted a show called “the new dance show”, where they played new music and people just danced to it on TV. It was techno music and it was unique to Detroit. I would watch that after school sometimes.
JD Was there a DJ?
RE No, there was just a host that would explain the song and then people would dance to it, like in a fake night club.
JD That sounds interesting.
RE What I didn’t know back then was that they played all the crazy underground hits – it was on regular TV in the afternoon. When I went back to Detroit after university to start working, I started to go clubbing a lot. I fell in love with the music and then all happened pretty quickly. I wanted to know where I could buy that music, that was before iTunes or Shazam. So I asked around, went to record stores and bought the vinyl. My roommate and I bought turntables and from that moment on we were just obsessed with it. I came home during my lunch breaks and I would practice. After one year of practising I played my first gig.
JD How did that feel like?
RE I was super excited
JD Did you feel capable at that time?
RE Yes I did feel capable because I practiced all the time. After months of bothering this promoter who I would always see at the record stores, I think he finally got tired of me. He let me play just to shut me up.
JD That’s how it works, haha.
RE I was super nervous but it was enough to let me know that this was what I wanted to do. So I started playing around in Detroit and did that for about ten years. I was kind of at a place with my job in finance where I didn’t dislike it but I wasn’t in love with it either. I was in love with Djing. I was coming to Europe once a month to do a full weekend of shows and went back on Sunday in order to work on Monday. There was a chance that if I moved to Europe I would make it there. At the time I thought it was so crazy what I did – my parents thought I was insane, but I quit.
JD That was in 2009?
RE Right. I quit my really good job in finance and moved to Berlin to pursue Djing.
JD I mean you have to follow your heart right?
RE you do!
JD or your gut, or something.
RE You do! And actually my dad who – it completely surprised me because my parents paid for my university – he said to me “look Ryan, finance isn’t going anywhere. If you fail you can always come back to finance”.
JD Especially in 2009 the financial sector wasn’t the greatest.
RE Yeah right, he said “if you don’t try you’ll never know.”, so I did it and I lived here for about 8 months and then I became a resident at Berghain.
JD how did that fall into place?
RE I was playing there about twice a year anyway and they kept buzzing me back. I was also friends with Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann who supported me for the first show. So then in 2010 I became a resident.
JD And then you decided you won’t leave Berlin.
RE no, no, no, no. I love Berlin. It definitely has changed a lot since I first moved here but guess what – so have I. The quality of life is great here and you would have to spend so much more money on living costs in Paris or London.
JD It’s your ten-year-anniversary actually, will you have a party or something like that?
RE I don’t have any party plans. I experience enough parties on the weekend.
JD Most people enjoy their free time while you work. What do you do in your free time to enjoy yourself?
RE I don’t go to clubs during the week. I’m a runner as well, I run a lot. I spend time with my wife or I’ll shop for clothes and records.
JD you are very stylish indeed.
RE I mean that’s one of my main stress relievers – why not right? I usually only have like Monday to Thursday off so I try to run and find new music, relax. Just relax…
JD In one interview you said that most of your clothes are black but that doesn’t seem to be true?
RE I said that some time ago. Times change.
JD Berlin people dress very black in general – too black for my taste. How was your transition into a more colorful wardrobe?
RE You know I go through phases with my taste. Even before I moved here I went through that phase, where I though it was really cool to wear all black. I also had a Rick Owens phase.
JD Of course, haha.
RE but that didn’t last too long.
JD How would you describe your current phase?
RE My phase now – I don’t think it’s a phase anymore really, I kind of just went back to dressing the way I dressed as a kid and as a young-adult. I like sailor stripes and I dress smarter, I guess. I mean it’s just what I feel most comfortable in. Also I would like to say that I do it a little bit now because I want to challenge people’s preconceived notions of what a techno DJ should look like or does look like. I’ll even say this on the record: Most DJs either dress like they are twelve years old or they look like they just went out of bed or something like that. I just want to show people that just because I dress a certain way, doesn’t mean that I’m not a techno DJ.
JD It’s a fresh approach, I like that.
RE Right. Our scene claims to be so open to everyone, right? but I noticed that if you’re dressed normally, people think either one: you’re an asshole or two: you don’t know music or three: you’re going to make trouble in the club. I get that stereotype, because stereotypes can exist for a reason but I dress this way because I like it and maybe a little to try to question what people think of DJs.
I know if I like a song within like three seconds of listening to it – I have always known
JD It’s also what I wanted to speak to you about, because the techno or rave scene talks about being open, welcoming and inviting to everybody. But especially the door policy or the general vibe is very exclusive. That doesn’t really align. What do you think?
RE Like at the club that I’m a resident now?
JD It’s not for everyone at all. It’s kind of elitist.
RE Yes that can be. I think door policies were started for a good reason because a lot of times it can be pretty easy to pick who should be in a club. You don’t want guys to grab a girls butt or you don’t want a 25 person bachelor party in a club. I get that and I respect that but yes, you’re right. Now a lot of music heads are getting turned away because they don’t dress according to how you think they should. Music heads are all kinds of different people who dress all kinds of different ways. I completely agree with what you are saying but in the Berghain case I think they need their strict policy just because they are so famous and that would mean too much trouble. It would be full with tourists, not techno tourists but people who would just go there to say that they were in.
JD Just serving the hype.
RE I know what you mean by that and I agree with it but some places just have to have a door policy. I wouldn’t do it in a typical way but I don’t own a club so I don’t know. It’s a clubs decision to do that.
JD So much exclusive! Do you want to tell me a bit about the magic around shopping for vinyls? Do you still do it regularly?
RE I do it every week. I do it every Thursday because that’s a little nerdy tip: usually on Wednesday is when the new stuff comes out and the shops get it on Wednesday afternoons or evenings. So it’s in the shop on Thursdays and the good stuff sells out fast.
JD When shopping, are you guided by experience? Or do you listen to recommendations?
RE No, I actually never take recommendations from people working at shops because I have done it for so long and I don’t really need it. If I had just started, of course I would. I pick music and I know if I like a song within like three seconds of listening to it – I have always known.
JD That’s a quick decision.
RE It just means that I like it, it doesn’t mean it’s good or bad.
JD No but you know what works for you.
RE I’ve been doing this so long, I know exactly what works for me in the club. Usually you can depend on certain record labels to release good music – of course that’s not always the case.
JD Do you speak German actually?
RE No I don’t, I’m American – and that’s not an excuse!
JD Oh of course.
RE Most Americans don’t know a second language and it’s been ten years now and my wife’s German and I don’t speak it. I took a class about two years after I moved to Berlin. It was on Monday evenings, which is a bad time for a DJ to use brainpower. And yes, it didn’t work basically. The short answer is: no I don’t. I would love to. One day.
JD Any favourite words or phrases you like in German though?
RE My very favourite word in German is ‘Auftrieb’
JD It’s a good word. It’s strong, it evokes emotions
RE Yes. That’s my favourite word and ‘windig’ is my second favourite.