Dr. Rubinstein is in her element
“People always try to figure me out,” Marina Rubinstein claims with a glint in her eye as we stroll through Berlin’s Boxhagener Platz neighbourhood on an overcast autumn day. “I play hard, but I do it with a smile. It’s like a game; you think you know me, but you don’t.”
The sky hangs low, shrouding Berlin in a mass of grey clouds. A downpour seems imminent and, as we take refuge inside a quaint Japanese restaurant, I notice the neon blue mascara that illuminates Rubinstein’s eyes, radiating the same warmth as her playful personality. “It’s a little touch,” she explains when I mention it. “You don’t always notice it, but sometimes when the light catches the eye, you see it for what it really is.”
In the last eight years, Rubinstein – under the guise of Dr. Rubinstein – has become a mainstay in the European club circuit and a celebrated addition to line-ups in North and South America, as well as parts of Asia and Australia. Although she’s based in Berlin, she spends her weekends playing for crowds across the globe after single-handedly building a career without the press and promotion that most artists require to gain such velocity.
Unusually, Rubinstein has found success through her skill as a selector and doesn’t really do the whole interview thing, nor does she try to get gigs actively. “I’m an incredibly reserved person. Speaking from the heart is always hard for me. You can’t tell because I’m so chatty and smile a lot. But deep inside, I’m actually this kid who’s like, ‘Don’t hug me I’m scared,’” she admits over sushi.
© Julian Maehrlein
Marina Rubinstein spent her entire adolescence feeling out of place. Born in Russia, she grew up between Kaliningrad and Ashkelon, Israel, a small town so close to the Gaza Strip that the sound of detonating bombs could be heard as war swept the region. Her mother envisioned a career in economics for her, and although Rubinstein willingly completed the diploma, she never used it. “I grew up in a conservative environment. No one ever told me that I could do what I want and be who I want. The response I got was, ‘With that attitude, no one will want to marry you.’”
Upon graduating from business school in Jerusalem, she found her attention drawn elsewhere. “I moved to Tel Aviv to party. Not really. Well, actually yeah, that was why,” she laughs. In the 90s and early 00s dance music was embedded in pop culture, but Rubinstein didn’t really feel a part of it until 2005, when she attended her first warehouse rave in the industrial quarter of Tel Aviv. “That was the moment I discovered the party scene and thought, ‘Can this be my life?’”
Historic clubs like The Block and the now-defunct Barzilay Club became home for Rubinstein and her friends. They’d rock up, check if the music was any good, and if not, move on to the next spot. Though, having lived in Berlin since 2012, she no longer feels the same connection to the scene. “My Tel Aviv doesn’t exist anymore. It’s now all new places, new people,” she notes with a hint of nostalgia.
Rubinstein contemplated becoming a DJ for three years before acting on it. When a friend who was the manager at Salon Berlin – a bar in Tel Aviv – asked her to fill the Monday night slot, she enthusiastically accepted. Back then she didn’t have money for records, nor did she know how to mix them, let alone own the equipment to do so. She ended up playing tunes off her laptop for the 20 people who were at the bar that night. “At one point I just noticed that everyone was dancing, nobody was sitting anymore. I was speechless, how was this even possible?”
© Julian Maehrlein
Along with two other friends, Rubinstein started an event series called Deep Sessions. The trio would design and print flyers for the Wednesday night party and each play a set in a tiny bar. The event ran three times before Rubinstein visited Berlin in 2011. Like so many, she was drawn in by the city’s unique sense of freedom; what she experienced on the dance floors at ://about blank, Watergate and Golden Gate surpassed any feeling that she’d ever experienced in her entire life. “I’d finally found my home, and it was on the dancefloor,” she says. “I grew up in an extremely unhealthy environment and was bullied a lot at school. When you’re growing up and there is literally no place where you feel safe and secure, you feel as though you don’t belong anywhere. Then when I came to Berlin and went to these parties that seemed to go on forever, I would stay out for three days straight. I didn’t want to leave.”
In 2012 Rubinstein decided to stay in Berlin permanently. Soon after the move, she returned once again to ://about blank, but this time as a selector armed with vinyl. “Back then I had so few records, and sometimes I had to play two sides of the same record,” she remembers. Someone from the club heard the set and invited her back to play the New Year’s Eve party that would close out 2012. “The last tune I played was We Control the Beat by DJ Bone. During that eight-minute-long track, I experienced a feeling of pure joy. That was one of the best moments of my life.”
It’s fair to say that when Rubinstein sets her mind to something, she commits herself fully. “[I have] an all or nothing attitude, which to be honest is a bit extreme. It puts a lot of pressure on you,” she admits. When she was still living in Tel Aviv she got into film. She would force herself to watch one film a day, viewing of every single Ingmar Bergman, Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch film – these were her icons of the film world. “I wanted to be a director and used to sneak into lectures and classes in the film and TV faculty to try and learn as much as possible,” she remembers.
Her disciplined approach to learning about movies was not dissimilar to her approach to crate-digging. When she first moved to Berlin, Rubinstein didn’t have a job and would spend hours at Spacehall in Kreuzberg, digging for special tunes. Her record collection grew very slowly, by only two or three records each time. Back then, there wasn’t much money left over after paying rent and bills. “I couldn’t even afford train tickets, I was running from the BVG controllers in this bright pink neon coat like, ‘See you never!’”
For Rubinstein, pouring hours into refining her DJ skills was paramount to account for the fact that she didn’t produce her own music. “I needed to educate myself somehow and learn about music, so I would just go to record stores, take the whole crate of a certain label and listen one by one. I would listen to everything. That’s how you learn and discover things.”
© Julian Maehrlein
The commitment paid off, and her ear for rarities is present in every set she plays. Her acid-heavy sets oscillate between hypnotising old school bangers and ravey newcomer jams, leaning into breakbeat and electro when the time is right. “I only play records that make me dance,” she says, straight-faced. Pushing the limits of herself and the crowd is not something that Rubinstein shies away from, and if that means dishing out tunes containing five acid basslines, piled on top of each other, building into an unexpected harmonic melody that will engulf any room, so be it. “I like too much,” she adds. “That’s my thing.”
I’m surprised that I’ve been able to track Dr. Rubinstein down between her back-to-back touring schedule. The weekend after we meet she is set to play a show in the Netherlands before heading off on a tour of the US. Unlike other DJs, when Rubinstein has a gig-free weekend you can still find her in the club, but not dancing behind the booth or hanging backstage. Instead, she spends her Sunday afternoons enjoying the Berlin summer in the garden of Griessmuehle at CockTail d’Amore, moving onto Klubnacht at Berghain later in the evening. “I party a lot for a touring DJ,” she confesses. “Dancing helps me let go of all my thoughts and lose myself in the music. I find a lot of inspiration in seeing and meeting powerful women too, like Aurora Halal, Eris Drew and Helena Hauff.”
Dr. Rubinstein will always be first and foremost a raver. Eight years ago, she found her home on Berlin’s dancefloors, and that’s where she plans to stay. “I’m here for the music and the party. I’m dedicated to that and not trying to chase anything else. Certainly not any type of fame.”
With regard to the future, she mentions: “I can’t tell you what will happen in five years. I say now that I will party forever, but who knows.” If she decides to leave music, she assures me that the future will still include an element of the doctor – for real this time. “I want to study chemistry. By that point, there will be so many new discoveries in the world, and I want to be the one to explore those.”
Photography: Julian Maehrlein