Interview: David Tinning & Cashmere Radio

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David Tinning – Photo courtesy of David Tinning

Opening David Tinning’s Soundcloud on a weekday morning over coffee throws you into an imaginary savannah adventure, where you suddenly run into a group of friends having the ultimate DJ experience on a mixer installed in a tree log while looking at wild animals passing by.

A couple of Sundays ago, the same group of friends celebrated the first birthday of an innovative and inspired music hub, Cashmere Radio, based in Berlin’s Lichtenberg district. Tinning is quickly becoming one of the pillars of the “Cashmere Family,” as he calls it, and had a bit to say on the idea of a musical community and the concept of community radio.

Born in Britain, Tinning first moved to Berlin in 2006 after spending six years in Cambodia, where he worked for a charity organization and put together shows in his free time. His musical taste developed around John Peel’s radio shows in the early 90s, where things like Japanese hardcore, Jamaican dub, and new electronic music were played. While attending university in, Manchester he got to know the Electric Chair, something which he describes as a milestone in his musical development.

“At the Electric Chair ,it was only 300 people, out of their mind, listening to the best music you’d ever heard,” Tinning said. “That was a fundamental moment for me, but I only started DJing later; at the time, I’d never thought it would become the focus of my life.”

After arriving in Berlin, Tinning worked for Native Instruments,and collaborated with the radio station and agency Sweatlodge.

“So, me and my friend Simon Parrott had a DJ partnership, around 2009. He had an English tearoom in Prenzlauer Berg with an amazing basement, kind of soundproof. We would do our radio show on Sunday nights for Sweatlodge, and it was real fun, though it was often only me and him playing our favorite records,” he recalled. “There was no pressure to do a house-techno show; we could do whatever we wanted. Also, we were usually the last show of the evening, and that meant we could play for up to five hours, with Afro, dub, funk… That was how I got into the idea of radio back then.”

Cashmere Radio seems to have brought this scenario to a higher level. Active since mid-2015, it provides quality music shows than lean in multiple directions. The project was assembled by some highly motivated and knowledgeable former students of the UdK Berlin who turned the back of an apartment in Lichtenberg into a cozy but professional music room and bar, from which the shows are streamed.

“Everyone that does a show there is not simply out to promote themselves,” Tinning said of Cashmere Radio. “There is a sense that you’re joining something and that you want to assist it in becoming whatever it is. The thing about Cashmere is that it’s so open and so democratic, but it’s not about the main sounds of the city, and it’s not about having some big DJ coming in, either. It’s about people presenting music they really love, however weird and experimental that is. This is really  refreshing. To build something you love, you need to have that kind of freedom—for the DJs, for the people who work there, and for those who come and listen.”

Weird and Experimental…

In addition to working with Cashmere Radio, Tinning is one of the founders of Santuri Safari, a project aimed at empowering musicians, DJs, and producers across East Africa. The idea came from a collaboration with the Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar a few years ago, when it was becoming clear that music in that region of Africa had a lot more to offer than just bands.

“The idea of Santuri Safari is that we build pop-up studios alongside festivals, invite artists that are going to the festival to come and record, and we put them together with electronic music producers from all over—South Africa, London, Berlin,” Tinning explained. “And what comes out are co-creation sessions, where people interact and learn different ways to make music and different ways to present what they do to different audiences. Some styles or instruments are never going to get radio coverage in Kenya or Tanzania, for example. They’re going to stay in the ‘world music’ context—which I am really against as a marketing term. I find it damaging. But when these same people are put together with a producer who makes straight-up techno stuff but is sensitive to music traditions, then you get something really interesting that you can present in a club or at festivals. The potential becomes much greater for these artists to find audiences, to tour, and [to] make a living.”

When Santuri (which means vinyl in Swahili) kicked off, Tinning found a certain widespread reluctance in the East African scene to accept that DJs could play an important part in spreading new sounds and being the tastemakers. This is obviously not the case in Berlin. Still, people like Tinning and the other collaborators at Cashmere Radio see it as an important mission to foster what’s already there.

When he moved back from Tanzania in January this year, Tinning was convinced by Ross Alexander to have a look at the Cashmere headquarters in Lichtenberg.

“I went there, and the first time you go there, you just realize what an amazing space it is, and what a great open and welcoming and knowledgeable team and community they are,” he shared. “It’s instantly home. So people looking for gigs or searching for me on the Internet can listen to the radio shows, and they enjoy them. This is a great way for me to share the music from Santuri and my new interest in more experimental, African, and global sounds. And there is a community there that gets this.”

In Tinning’s mind, all this is not about channeling the sound of Berlin. In this sense, Cashmere Radio doesn’t want to be the community radio, but rather one specific kind of community radio.

“What I noticed moving back to Berlin after a few years is that there has been some sort of growth in terms of artistic freedom; people are just making weirder music. This wasn’t the case five years ago, for example,” he said. “I see that in people like Ross [Alexander]. He is a good example: when he first moved to Berlin, he was doing club-focused electronic music, and now he is doing live, experimental jams… It’s really refreshing to see that the underground scene is much more diverse than I think it was a few years ago. The narrative is that Berlin is losing it, you know, it used to be better, and so on. But that’s not always the case. There’s a new sense of diversity in the club culture—the idea that one can play slow, psychedelic music in a rave context, and it works. The same happens at Cashmere: I listened to some shows where I didn’t know one single track or artist, but then I did research, and that’s really important; it aggregates very diverse influences and focal points.”

What’s happening at Cashmere Radio is in fact multifaceted, and the benefit to the community around it lies in more than the streaming service it provides. In fact, a lot of the musical magic happens in the interaction between musicians/DJs and the audience during the live shows.

“This is so different to what I used to do, meaning me and my friend in a room, playing for each other, whoever was listening out there,” Tinning said.

Cashmere Radio will soon become an association, and it hopes to broaden the limits of the circle around it, in terms of contributing artists and followers. There will be a small, yearly contribution to be part of the association and attend the shows—which will also keep being streamed, for the joy of the global audience.

-Cecilia Butini

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