Binh: Simple Pleasures

© Stephanie Third

WORDS

The scene at Binh’s apartment in Friedrichshain is not quite what I expected from one of Berlin’s most respected DJs, known for his marathon minimal techno sets.

The door swings open to reveal, not Binh himself, but a small child holding a giant foam sword. He moves to stand on guard, legs akimbo, before lunging towards me. Quickly, I pull out my own imaginary sword and we duke it out before the boy’s dad calls him away from across the room. Binh makes his way over to me through a small but boisterous crowd of adults and kids alike. He’s laughing, throwing his arms up in acknowledgement of the commotion, trying to say quick goodbyes while also welcoming me into his home.

The boy with the sword turns out to be Jupiter, the son (and label namesake) of Nicolas Lutz, Binh’s longtime friend and cohort. Binh’s own little one, Noah, is nearby in his wife’s arms, saying goodbye to the toddler-aged daughter of another friend. There’s an uproar from the group as Noah kisses the girl’s cheek; his “first kiss.” It’s a few days past Noah’s six-month birthday, and both Binh and his wife Arianna are glowing.

Binh has lived in Berlin for about a decade, and in that time he’s cultivated an impressive aura. His early “Noon” parties at local hub Club der Visionaere with Margaret Dygas put him on the map in the city’s minimal scene, while his thoughtful productions and compelling DJ sets have kept him there. A frequent collaborator with industry favourites like Lutz, Onur Özer, Vera, Evan Baggs, and the esteemed Perlon crew, Binh is beloved in Berlin — and for good reason.

Before his move to Berlin, Binh grew up a club kid in Düsseldorf, which “had about five record shops when I was living there,” he explains. “There was one shop for progressive, one for tech house, one more underground one where they would import a lot of US records. I started going there in my last years in Düsseldorf. But now, there’s hardly anything left there for record shops. Nowadays, forget Düsseldorf! I don’t know how you survive there. You can’t compare it to Berlin. I mean, nowhere! Nowhere is like Berlin.”

In the early 2000s, Binh was travelling to Berlin for special events like Club der Visionaere’s infamous May Day party. Through his own residency at a club in Essen called Hotel Shanghai, he made connections to Berlin’s already established DJs: artists like Magda, Margaret Dygas, Cassy, and Tobi Neumann were frequent guests. Eventually, Neumann invited Binh to intern at his studio in Berlin and, wanting to give up his job as a chef, Binh happily accepted. “I knew more people in Berlin I really connected with than in Düsseldorf. My friends there weren’t into the music, there were only a few other people buying records. I wanted more.” His first gig at CDV was in April 2008 alongside Neumann and his friends; a 10-hour-long stint that would set the bar for the marathon DJ sets that both the club and Binh himself are now famous for.

As we talk about those early gigs, Arianna walks into the kitchen, holding Noah on one hip while bringing out bowls of snacks for us. The couple’s first flat together was on Heckmannufer, a literal stone’s throw away from CDV. “Some weeks we were going to CDV every day,” Binh laughs. “I think in every city, there’s actually one place that you can find yourself. CDV was that for us. The vibe is so good, especially on a Sunday, you can start pretty chill but eventually it grows… It used to stay open the entire weekend without closing.”

© Stephanie Third

“In the beginning when I moved here, I thought I had to go to every party, especially when friends were playing,” Binh remembers. “I just don’t do it anymore!” With Noah’s birth came the reality of being a parent, and his nights out became less frequent. “It’s not about ‘giving up’ anything, I don’t feel like I’m giving up the party. It was a natural thing. When I started out, going out was important because it helped me figure out the dancefloor, when to or not to play a track, or if someone played a track that I’d forgotten about — that was great, a good reminder! But these days, I go out much less and I don’t ever feel like I’m missing anything.”

Touring, Binh explains, is the toughest part of being a new parent. Leaving for the weekend for a gig, powering through a nightlife schedule and then returning on a Sunday to regular life takes it toll. “But it’s fine,” he insists. “For [Noah], I’ll do it. It’s worth it to come home after a long weekend and when he sees me, he’s smiling and I can really see that he’s so happy I’m back. Even if I’m tired, I don’t feel it.

“I think in every city, there’s one place that you can find yourself. Club der Visionaere in Berlin was that place for me”

“The hardest part for me is really just leaving my wife at home with Noah,” he continues, “I feel some sense of guilt. Our parents don’t live here, so it’s a lot of work for her. I know how hard it is for her to take care of him alone all weekend, so I try to always give her a few hours every day when I’m back, a bit of time for herself.” Of course, the couple has made some adjustments. Binh continues to go record shopping, naturally, but now he rolls up with Noah in a stroller: “He naps while I shop!” He also recently gave up his studio at Schlesisches Tor in favour of a new spot just down the street from their apartment in Friedrichshain — but he hasn’t had a minute in the studio since before Noah was born.

His last studio effort was Noah’s Day, a double LP released on Perlon on 10 October 2016 — Noah’s birthday. It wasn’t planned that way; in fact the record was supposed to drop the week before, but due to a delay in production, it got pushed back and ended up hitting stores the very day Noah was born. “I’m not so good at naming my records, but I was so excited about him coming, I thought to name it after him,” Binh explains. When I ask if Noah’s heard Noah’s Day, Binh’s face lights up. “Of course. We used to play it for him when he was still in the belly! I still take him into the studio with me to listen to the new records I’ve bought, we play him ambient mixes from friends, things like that. He sleeps very well with music.”

I learn that Binh himself didn’t grow up in a musical family, his love of music was something he found and held dear on his own. “It just came from buying music, records, meeting friends, and then getting addicted to gear. Addiction and passion,” Binh says, taking Noah into his lap, “I don’t know if Noah will be interested in music like me. For sure, he’ll inherit my records… We’ll see. For now, I’m not worried. I’m happy.”

Binh appears at Houghton festival, UK, 11-13 August

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