“The quality of Berlin? There’s a real joy about it…” Speaking to the crew behind Herrensauna, it’s impossible not to feel sincerity. Founded in 2015 and skyrocketing since their very first party, Jordan, Cem, Nicolas and Mikka have established a club night on the premises of quality techno, mutual understanding, autonomy, sexuality and—above all—friendship. Coming from various countries, Berlin is what brought the four together and, as a reaction to the city’s thriving but heavily gentrified nightlife, inspired them to organize their first night there in ’15. The turnout was overwhelming, with the queue proving a need to be fulfilled, connecting various disenfranchised scenes. Glamcult and Ari Versluis met the foursome in a studio in Neukölln, exploring the ideals, necessity and symbolism of a sweat-soaked experience.
Much like fashion houses today embrace local roots but have the world watching closely, Herrensauna is unmistakably present on the radar of a global scene. Its strictly controlled visual language—similar to that of fashion brands—includes stark graphic design, exclusive vinyl records reflecting its line-ups, a raw-but-astute presentation of the body and even limited-edition DIY patches sewed to the bombers of its acquaintances. The attitude is instantly recognizable; yet there’s no business model. In fact, the organizers “just wanted to make a nice small party for friends”.
Herrensauna is an intimate occasion, making it impossible to miss your friends on the dancefloor. With 80 per cent of the crowd consisting of regulars (“Mikka knows everyone”), a door policy centred on familiarity allows for Herrensauna’s freedom. Commitment is key, allowing a maximum liberation of mind and body. Quite obviously, Herrensauna is the epitome of queer. The undressed and fetishized body is omnipresent, but sexual liberation was never an end goal. Yet by playing with various states of undress to contrast the role that clothes play in commerce and identity—and the presence of very limited, commoditized fashion—the body is put on a pedestal. In a city where nightlife is big business, Herrensauna poses one question: “What else can you do but say ‘fuck you’ to the establishment as much as you can?” The answer comes in the form of a run-down cellar where it seems like it doesn’t matter what you (do) wear, where the toilets are located in a trailer outside but the crowd cares less, and where DJs don’t play because of their “cool factor” but for their talent and diversity. Herrensauna’s bookings balance acquaintances throughout Europe, emphasize eclectic line-ups and often introduce unknown artists.
So what happens when this ideology gets picked up globally, largely due to social media? “We definitely hope we’re not seen as capitalizing on it!” the friendly four counter. “Techno is a string that connects a lot of people in this city. Because we’re all gay and love techno, we wanted to create something from the community that’s for the community.” The Herrensauna tribe describes itself as “hyperlocal” but won’t be leaving Berlin anytime soon. So if you happen to live somewhere else and feel all the more curious, there’s hope— despite the queue. “That other 20 per cent consists of people that search for us. They find us, they come up to us and they know who’s playing. That 20 per cent makes it interesting.”