Roi Perez makes himself at home
Propped up against a wall in Roi Perez’s apartment, a jet-black slab of tile sits harshly against the warmly retro décor. The otherwise unassuming square is one piece of a vast puzzle, a panel of an 82-foot wide mural that previously adorned the entrance to Berghain.
It’s a piece of Piotr Nathan’s Rituals of Appearance, a black-and-white mural depicting an epic storm. Stretching across the wall of the Berlin club’s entrance, it used to provide the backdrop to worn out club-goers, with sweat from the bodies of those leaning against it slowly eroding some of its details over the years. When it was dismantled and sold in fragments in March, the entire work sold out in minutes. That it was snapped up so quickly makes sense – it’s an artefact of cult club culture practically alive with what it has witnessed over the years. Perez’s piece, as he happily tells me, arrived complete with gum and puke.
Just as the work used to embellish the club, Perez too has become part of its furnishings. The Israeli-born DJ is causing a buzz as Panorama Bar’s latest resident. Having DJd there regularly since 2015, Perez describes the process of becoming a resident as “organic”. When you watch Perez play, he looks at ease in a booth that can sometimes see DJs freeze up a little under the pressure.
He’s become known for his time-stretching, eclectic sets, careening through jacking house, cosmic techno, lustful disco, thick, muggy breakbeat and more. If I were to pick one element that ties his selections together, it would be a mesmerising, seductive pulse. “For me a dancefloor is very often seductive and hypnotic,” Perez tells me over coffee and stroopwafels, “this is the feeling I like as a dancer, so it’s possible that I’m trying to create it in my sets.”
Roi Perez grew up in Ashkelon, a rural area in Southern Israel. As soon as he was old enough to drive he would head out to “gay raves”, which would make a lasting impression. “It was pretty intense and all over the place, very dark, and I would just lose myself there,” he remembers. “We are talking about 17-year-old me, during the years in which I discovered my sexuality. It wasn’t music that I would listen to today, but it was more about the opportunity to just be gay and be part of a greater community. I absorbed the energy around it, I could feel it.” When Perez eventually moved to Tel Aviv, the people he met there opened his eyes to queer clubbing’s vibrant soundtrack. “Being in Tel Aviv was much more free,” he tells me. Indeed, today Tel Aviv is known for its thriving queer party scene with loose, receptive crowds and clubs like The Block which act as a haven from the wider politics in the city. When Perez arrived in 2005, one party in particular caught his attention. A legendary night in Tel Aviv, Perez cites PAG as having a special atmosphere. “It was super fabulous, costumes all around the place, confetti guns, smoke, darkness, all kinds of crazy stage performances, like something you would see at [Glastonbury venue] NYC Downlow.” Bringing international DJs to the city before it was the ‘done thing’, PAG sparked Tel Aviv’s thriving underground electronic music scene.
After getting his first residency at PAG, Perez began to make a name for himself as a DJ. Then, after travelling across the US and Scandinavia for six months in 2013, Berlin was the last stop on his itinerary. Unexpectedly, the city would take a hold of him. Once he arrived, he didn’t want to leave. Perez decided to stay and began playing small bars and clubs as well as gay nightlife institution Schwuz. It was an invitation to play with nd_Baumecker at Berghain’s Snax party that sparked Perez’s ongoing relationship with Panorama Bar.
He may be a familiar face now, but Roi Perez’s introduction to Berghain’s upstairs room was decidedly unexpected. While most DJs will anticipate their set at the club a month or two in advance, Perez was called upon last minute for his first closing slot at Panorama Bar with a few hours’ notice, to patch a hole in the schedule. A fresh face on the scene and relatively new to Berlin, Perez rushed to pack every single record he owned in the city before taking it on. It sounds like he was suitably armed, as his set would unfurl across ten hours, providing plenty of hair-raising moments along the way. “It was magical, I was just dreaming, playing, it was super nice,” he remembers. “It was the same amazing feeling I had when I would go dancing there, but much more intense. I knew that I wanted to play there because absorbing this culture was so meaningful to me. It was beautiful.”
"For me a dancefloor is very often seductive and hypnotic. This is the feeling I like as a dancer, so it’s possible that I’m trying to create it in my sets."
Today, Perez proudly holds his PBar residency alongside a handful of others. As well as an expanding touring schedule that includes regular homecoming slots at The Block, his residencies include Mtkvarze club in Tbilisi, where it’s a pleasure to play for “such a dedicated crowd”, and at the new Blitz Club in Munich – which he describes as “an amazing spaceship of sound”. Perez also sifts through hundreds of records each week to handpick the selection at the small Berlin branch of London’s Phonica records. For his own collection, he tells me he’s constantly inspired by finding under-the-radar house music which sounds classic.
Just as the Rituals mural set a certain tone in Berghain, for Roi Perez his DJ sets are a means of expression, something to be felt and absorbed. “I often hear, from friends and people in general, that you can sense certain moods throughout my sets, as if it was my own mood.” He continues, “At my residencies, I like the feeling that I can explore new tunes every time with a familiar crowd and friends. It gives me a lot and I’m grateful for this opportunity.” After years of being nourished by the intoxicating atmospheres of club culture, now his sets are inviting others to get lost in the push and pull of the tide.
Photography: Sylvie Weber
Roi Perez appears at Simple Things festival, Bristol, 20-22 October