Virginia: Pop Music for Rave Kids
Perched above Panorama Bar sit the meticulous offices of Ostgut Ton, the orderly working space for the officious team behind the club and label. Its clean interiors, opaque walls and purposeful ambiance sit somewhat in contrary to the fury of heathen decadence that occurs beneath its floors on the weekends.
It’s here that I meet DJ, producer and all-round virtuoso Virginia to talk about her first LP on Ostgut Ton, Fierce for the Night; a strong, emotive electro-pop record, with stunning melodies, and deep, visceral overtones. Produced alongside Steffi, Dexter and Martyn – Virginia’s very own supergroup – Fierce for the Night is a foot-tapping, hand-clapping, singalong soul record that leans more towards Sade than it does Shed, or Surgeon, or even Steffi.
FftK itself is a concise summary of Virginia’s journey. Born in Munich to a local big-band leader and Brazilian mother (“there’s more Bavarian than Brazilian in me,” she quips), Virginia’s upbringing was always going to go one way. Later, she would make a name for herself in the local clubbing scene, holding residency at Ultraschall, before becoming part of an internationally recognized dance music contingent. In 2008 she released the wonderfully soulful LP Twisted Mind (as Virginia Nascimento), and went on to tour alongside German pop-heavyweight Nena, eventually finding her footing under Ostgut’s roof. Forever living in the magic space between overground and underground, Virginia enthusiastically looks forward to the year ahead. Catching up, we discuss the singer’s history, and go into detail about the artist behind Berlin’s latest soul-filled record.
Tell me about your musical upbringing.
At home, there was a lot of jazz, classic and even a lot of popular music, because my father was a brass player in Munich. My mother was also singing and my sister worked in publishing. I was supported a lot with piano lessons and all that stuff and I experienced live music from a very young age. My mother would sometimes sing with my father. He would throw these big balls, and big Rio Galas, with all these Brazilian live musicians and a lot of dancers. These were really big events in Munich.
Did you always know that you had an affinity for performance?
Everything I did was performing. In my room, I would sing along to all the music that I loved. I also had a lot of stage clothes, because of my father’s work. When I was really young I was a big Michael Jackson fan. I would learn all the moves, wear this sequenced jacket and add these hair extensions and sing along to the records. There were also bands in school, and I played bass guitar for a while, but this wasn’t so successful [and] at some point this became less interesting for me. I started going out and buying records around 1993-’94; a lot of drum’n’bass, US house, garage, and a lot of good techno.
According to Discogs, the first record you featured on was Tom Novy’s Smoke Dis, back in 1998.
No. The first record I featured on was a record on Kosmo Records before this, I can’t quite remember. There was also Novy vs Eniac Someday > Somehow, and also I Rock, which was quite successful.
And this came about from your relationship with the local scene?
Yes. At this time when I was working with Tom Novy I already had my residency at Tobi Neumann’s Flokati.
When did you first start playing internationally?
The first shows came with the I Rock record. I Rock was in the Billboard and media control charts and because of that we had a UK tour, where I was performing with him, but I also had DJ slots. There was also a US tour with Logic Records, where I performed at The Tunnel. At the same time, all this chart attention made some ‘underground people’ step back from me as an artist. But I had so many good experiences with it, and I wouldn’t change anything.
Did this feedback change the way you approached music?
At this point I didn’t finish my own productions. I was always writing my own lyrics, and vocal lines and doing arrangements, but I didn’t have a studio. I was always working with someone. Tom Novy and I wanted to go on working together after I Rock, but somehow we never did; that was a natural progression, and let’s say, the end of my really commercial direction. Along the way there were some other offers, but I thought that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I just went on DJing, finding myself not ‘underground’ enough and not ‘overground’ enough. You just go on doing things that feel right with yourself. I became so frustrated because I couldn’t really play the records that I loved in the venues that I was getting booked in. I actually thought about quitting.
"...the first album was slower pop stuff, and then my EP for Ostgut was more club orientated – now I wanted to bring these two worlds together"
When did you think about giving it up?
Around 2008/2009, about the time about my first LP was out, Twisted Mind. I was playing a lot of DJ gigs, but the clubs I was playing were way too commercial for me. I would go there and the resident DJ would play something where I would think, ‘oh my fucking God!’ I would play a couple of records, and the promoter would come over and say, ‘could you please play some more uplifting dance music?’ This was the one gig where I came back and thought, I can’t do this anymore. This is not why I started.
I stopped working with the agency and didn’t play too many gigs. Nothing was inspiring me. I went through my old records, as the ones I had just brought didn’t really mean anything to me – this techy, minimal stuff that I didn’t feel related to. Then I got this offer to go on tour with Nena as backing vocalist, which I did for one-and-a-half years. It was then that I met Steffi, and she was actually the one who inspired me to DJ again and to start buying records.
In 2010, she said that I should play all these records that I’ve been collecting. Suddenly I got this feeling back and she then gave me the opportunity to play my own set here at Panorama Bar for her album release party in 2011. She had never heard me DJ before. She said, ‘I trust you, I see the records you have and there’s so much understanding we have about music’. I didn’t disappoint her, or the club – but there were some sleepless nights before then.
Take me back to your first album, how was the process behind this record different?
With Twisted Mind, we toured with keys, guitars, bass, drums and vocals. It was even more live than what we’re doing now, although though we’re only at the beginning. Maybe next year we can add more additions, because it’s really fun to see how this music can come to life.
With FftK, I wanted to write and create something that could work on a dancefloor as well as on a live stage. To have something that combines me as a singing artist, but also me as a DJ. These are songs I would play in my DJ sets, liked Funkert, and Raverd. Funkert has so many great vocals, and with the drums it brings people together and has this really good resonance. It was really important for me to combine those two worlds, because with the first album was slower pop stuff, and then my EP for Ostgut was more club orientated and now I wanted to focus on vocals again and bring these two worlds together.
Was it an intentional process to focus so much on the vocals?
I was just doing what I wanted to do, and at the start it didn’t have so many vocals on it. And then I had the question, ‘why don’t you sing more?’ Just because I am a singer, doesn’t mean I have to sing all the time. But then I thought, why don’t I sing a little bit more; I can then fuse together some of the genres that I really love and challenge myself and try to put something out that works as an LP.
It must be great to communicate this to your band.
To share this feeling with someone on stage is really nice. At the launch party, we played an extended version of Believe In Time, and it was nice to make a cut in this set, to make a nice breakdown with these epic strings. And you could see that somehow people were moving closer to each other. There were people kissing and cuddling. How cool is that? None of us expected this. Because we were playing a concert in Berghain with DJs playing either side of us, we didn’t want to break it down too much. But it shows, if you present music in the right way, it has this effect on you.
Fierce for the Night is out 27 May via Ostgut Ton