Never compromising with the rigid money-driven institutions and commercialized music industry, Gudrun Gut has always been in the forefront of what underground stands for: freedom of creative expression, individuality and excitement. A music producer, DJ, and presenter, she is the founder of the labels Monika Enterprise and Moabit Musik and a co-founder of the female electronic musicians network female:pressure.
To celebrate the 20th birthday of Monika Enterprise Gudrun invites her fellow artists to create Monika Werkstatt (2017), a collaborative album that resulted from the series of workshops and live performances. Monika members – AGF, Beate Bartel, Lucrecia Dalt, Danielle De Picciotto, Islaja, Barbara Morgenstern, Sonae, Pilocka Krach – achieved their goal to create and record without any of the usual pressures and distractions that you’d anticipate in a group context. Radiating with energy and confidence, Gudrun discusses the blessings and pitfalls of electronic music and the special place of a female artist in this culture.
Mariana Berezovska: Looking back at your artistic career it becomes clear that you were always very flexible, always moving towards fresh and unexplored territories. But the majority of the interviews you give are always focused on the past. So let’s start with the present! Tell us about Monika Werkstatt, the 90th album on Monika Enterprise, the label you founded in 1997 in Berlin.
Gudrun Gut: Monika Werkstatt is the most interesting project I am working on at the moment. It is a different approach to making electronic music. Nowadays most people in the electronic music scene are solo artists. Monika Werkstatt is a very interesting collaboration, because it is about making music together and learning from each other. We recorded this album last year in Uckermark where we had nine different artists playing together, who did not know each other. I knew all of them and I was a little bit worried that they might not get on, because everybody brought such different personalities to collective. And it turned out to be really cool: the way they interacted with each other and exchanged experiences. They were all female artists, most of who play at festivals where they are the only female artists. So it was nice for them to see how it can be really totally normal to work with other female artists. All the invited artists had to do with Monika Enterprise or Moabit: Danielle De Picciotto and Beate Bartel released on Moabit [a label founded by Gudrun Gut in 1990, releasing bands such as Malaria!, Matador and Gudrun’s records with Myra Davies] and the rest on Monika [AGF, Lucrecia Dalt, Islaja, Barbara Morgenstern, Sonae, Pilocka Krach, Natalie Beridze].
MB: How did you decide which artists to invite to collaborate on this album?
GG: Over the last two years we did four or six Monika live shows together with talks. I was getting a bit sick of hearing that music is worth nothing, female artists are not seen. I just wanted to have a different approach to the whole process. We had talks about how we work as artists to open up and tell the audience that we actually work. After that we had a showcase where each of us played a solo piece and then we played together. Finally we decided that it would be great to record it like this. It was a development.
MB: Monika Werkstatt is not just a record release but also a celebration of the 20th birthday of Monika Enterprise. So could you share a few stories about the label started?
GG: I started the label in 1997 when a lot of other electronic indie labels were also starting in Germany – there must have been something in the air. I already had a distributor for my Moabit records, Indigo, and they wanted to jump in it too, and then slowly but surely we got the label going.
MB: What interested you musically at that time?
GG: There was a kind of after-techno, post-techno thing going on in Berlin. There were lots of DJs at that time but I also knew a lot of producers. And nobody cared about them anymore because the scene was more DJ-oriented, and I thought that a DJ had to put a record on to be able to do their job. A friend of mine, Jovanka, gave me her demo and asked for help [from 1995 until 2004, Jovanka von Wilsdorf and Niels Lorenz were an electro-duo, Quarks]. And I tried to find a label for her but I could not because most of the labels were interested in stadium rock. So I thought I would do it myself.
MB: You are saying that this was the time of “post-techno”. Wasn’t it “The” time of techno?
GG: Techno started in the early 90’s, so it was already there when I started the label. Monika was releasing albums that combined songrighting and electronic music but it was never really a techno label. I did a lot of remixes because I thought it would be good to have the music played in the clubs. But the original work had nothing to do with techno.
MB: And in that time in Berlin, how do you feel techno was perceived?
GG: Not many people did it, and I thought somebody had to do it. There was also a scene in Berlin called Wohnzimmer [Eng. living room] scene, the occupied house living room scene where I met many artists. These were the empty houses and people had a big apartment for a short time where they would organize concerts. There was no stage for them anywhere else so they developed their own scene. It got so popular that people were queueing up two streets away to see a performance. At some point it became too much, because a Wohnzimmer is still a Wohnzimmer. So eventually it went to the normal live stages.
MB: You also released some of the artists who were playing at these living room concerts.
GG: The actual Wohnzimmer evenings got really popular. People loved them, and press loved them. I did this Wohnzimmer compilation with a lot of acts in it [Musik Fürs Wohnzimmer, 1998]. The message was ‘quiet is the new loud.’
MB: And was it all electronic music they were playing at Wohnzimmer?
G: Yes, also with guitars and little rhythm boxes. I saw Barbara Morgenstern at a Wohnzimmer concert playing a mono organ, a drum machine and vocals, and it was so cool. For me it was a great thing to see because she was a woman and she just did it totally naturally.
MB: So you were surprised that a woman was playing there. Was it because the scene was predominantly male at that time?
GG: Yes, absolutely!
MB: With Monika Enterprise, you want to open space for female artists (who don’t necessarily want to be DJs, they just want to make music). Do you believe it’s true for many DJs today that if they don’t produce music they don’t get booked.
GG: Being a DJ doesn’t necessarily mean you are a good producer and vice-versa. Sometimes the two ends just don’t meet and it can be purely a marketing plus to create music rather than just mix it. I used to DJ in the 80’s just for an extra income; because it was for sure better than a bar job.
MB: Did you ever just want to produce music, without DJing?
GG: Earlier in life I produced music as part of a band. DJing was for income because it was difficult to live solely as an artist. At the time my girlfriend worked behind a bar and I DJ’ed because it was better paid and after trying, I realised behind that side of the bar wasn’t something I could do well; the other side I enjoyed though.
MB: Looking at your experience starting from the 70’s and 80’s, it feels like you were always involved in the underground culture, and even when some form of underground was becoming more conventional and controlled, you would move on. Like when punk and industrial became too male and too drunk, and techno became too institutionalized, you would move onto the next movement.
GG: Some people tell me that I don’t stick to my roots, and I say that my roots are in exciting music. People come from all over the world to spend a weekend in Berlin and get totally wasted. They don’t really care what kind of music they hear.
MB: What are the most memorable moments and releases with Monika Enterprise for you? Something that influenced your perspective on music or turned you in a different direction?
GG: At the very beginning, gluing a cover on a single and stamping it was nice. Barbara Morgenstern had a really big influence on me, she did eight albums for Monika Werkstatt [Vermona ET6-1, 1998; Fjorden, 2000; Nichts Muss, 2003; The Grass Is Always Greener, 2006; BM, 2008; Fan No. 2, 2010; Sweet Silence, 2012; Doppelstern, 2015]. When I saw her playing I thought I should do it too. She gave me the courage to do it.
At some point it got really cozy at Monika and then I signed Cobra Killer who were completely different, real drama queens. I saw them in Australia where they supported Peaches. They released 2 albums on Monika Enterprise [76/77, 2004; Uppers & Downers, 2009]. I really like Michaela Melián who did three albums for me and they are really timeless [Monaco, 2013; Los Angeles, 2007; Baden-Baden, 2004]. I also did an album with AGF aka Antye Greie [as Greie Gut Fraktion, Baustelle, 2010], this was fantastic.
MB: What do you think the main factor preventing female artists from being more visible nowadays is?
GG: I think it’s currently changing but what is preventing them is that the music industry is filled with boys. More often than not women are just in more menial roles unfortunately. Festivals are very important for exposure and the female artists have to be booked more often. Years ago I had lengthy discussions with the people at Tresor and then they finally started booking female acts. They were all assigned to open, the support act. Great! Why? When some of them were better than the main act.
In music, there is magic, there is a secret language in it. You get it over emotion. So if it is a love song, why would you have only a male view on it? So, please, let women show their work! But you have to remember that in some countries women are not even allowed to ride a bicycle. So there is this very old fear of the power of a woman. It is really strange.
MB: The gender discussion in the electronic music scene is bringing good results already. But many festivals and clubs are still ignoring the fact that the scene is greatly male dominated.
GG: Every year female pressure prepares a F.A.C.T.S survey in which the development of gender quota’s in the festival line-ups is analyzed. A lot of festivals don’t take it seriously. Although there are also positive developments. For example, we had a female pressure discussion with the Transmediale festival, and now in the last year they had a 50% quota for women. Some reviews of Monika Werkstatt say clearly that this is a political statement because it is a female collective.