For those in the know, the name Jennifer Cardini ought to ring some bells. Not only has the French born DJ been carving out an impressive career for herself across the globe over the last two decades, but she is also the force behind two record labels – Correspondant, and the more recently launched Dischi Autunno – each of which have their own distinct musical tilt.
Now based in Berlin – like so many of her contemporaries – Jennifer took the time to speak to us ahead of her performance at dance music behemoth Tomorrowland this weekend as part of Maceo Plex's Mosaic stage, reflecting on her early forays into electronic music in the South of France, and touching on what it meant to be invited to curate Lyon festival/institution Nuits Sonores earlier this year.
Hey Jennifer, how's it going?
Good thank you. It's very hot here.
Are you in Berlin?
Yeah I'm in Berlin and we're all melting. It keep getting hotter and hotter.
It's the same in London, it's been crazy. How's work going otherwise? I saw you've been putting togehter the next Correspondant compilation recently...
Yeah it's going to be released in September. I determined the tracklist a few weeks ago and I really like it. It's a bit more dancefloor than the other ones, there are fewer downtempo tracks on it.
The lineup features Red Axes, Marvin & Guy, Rina; Perel is new to the compliation, so is Fabrizio Marmarella. Black Merlin is featured too, as well as Simple Symmetry.
It's 16 different tracks and it's coming out as a double LP, including digitals, because we could not fit everything in. So yeah I'm really excited to have people listen to it now.
Yeah I'm looking forward to hearing it. Is it something you enjoy, putting together compilations like this? It seems like it could be a lot of fun...
Yeah totally. I mean everybody complains a bit at the office because I really take my time to do the tracklist. I try to put myself in the position of the listener, and as it isn't mixed I want the order of the tracklist to make sense if they listen to it all at once, say if they listen on a car journey or something. So I drive everybody mental because I'm changing it all the time. [laughs]
But yeah I love to do that, I get a lot of pleasure from preparing stuff and knowing that people are going to enjoy listening to it.
And is that something you've always done - as a kid did you make mixtapes and all that sort of thing?
Yeah a little bit, but not like how it's written in the biography of all the DJs: "he made mixtapes from the age of 5" [laughs]. Not like this, I did it from time to time.
I was listening to something called Radio DeeJay, which was an Italian station, but we could still sometimes get it because I was living close to the Italian border when I was young and discovering electronic music.
They had shows with all these DJs, playing stuff like the early 90s trance, and house, and techno. I would record the full shows, and then make a compilation of the songs that I preferred in the hour show. Because I obviously didn't like everything, so I would make a kind of 'Best Of' of the stuff I heard there.
What sort of stuff would have been on those?
Ummm.. well the music that was playing at that time was like deep Italian house, like Leo Mas and Francesco Farfa. But also trance and Belgian techno, and also Underground Resistance. Quite a lot of acid-house.
It was '91 to '92 or '93, so everything from around that time really; from rave to trance, they were playing a little bit of everything.
And would you say that shaped your style? Because it's not all that easy to put you into a specific genre or style...
[Laughs] Yeah probably. The thing is... OK, so I come from the South of France. And we were really lucky because we have a really big Italian community, but also an English community. Especially around Cannes, Antibes and Juan Les-Pins.
So really early on they started to bring parties that were famous in the UK – like Satellite or Pyramid parties – they started to do the same thing in the South of France. It was like gay, acid house parties where they were playing Trax Records or Underground Resistance.
So yeah this happened at a time when I think you only really had one or maybe two venues in Paris playing this kind of music. The South of France somehow, because of its international community, was a little bit more in advance.
So definitely this, and Radio DeeJay, and going to some of those Italian DJ's nights, that totally shaped my taste. At least for melodies for sure, I love melodies. But it was more this ItaloHouse you know, a little bit like the compilation that Young Marco did, it was very melodic.
So on one side you had this, on the other the British acid house, and then later came a party called Limelight and they invited Laurent Garnier and Carl Craig; so then Detroit came and Chicago came. So I got really influenced by different things, which is maybe why I can't really choose when I play [laughs]
How would you say you tastes have changed over the years, or have they not?
I don't know if I could say that my tastes have changed. I have the feeling that they've always had the same grounding you know, and this is what we just described – I like when it's playful and acid, and also when it's dark, I like melodies. And also the influence of what I listened to before, stuff like Depeche Mode also in the mix.
In my opinion, you evolve but you don't really change - know what I mean?
For sure yeah
Because the music you listen to all throughout your life is part of who you are...
Of course, it forms the basis for what comes next...
Yeah exactly, and for example when I started I was going to a [record] store and the guy was only keeping the very cool records from Detroit and stuff for the famous local DJ. So I got to buy a lot of trance, for example, because that's all he was giving to me.
Which was not my first choice as a DJ, but he was giving me quite cool stuff like Cafe del Mar. I've always liked trance, and even now when I play techno or house there is always something a little bit trancey as well.
I only really played trance for a very short time, but it still had an impact. I feel like I'm a sponge when I listen to music. I listen to something, I like it, and I kind of integrate it in my musical journey.
I think that's a really good way to put it: like a sponge...
Well I'm very receptive to music, I mean obviously, but that was always the case. If it gets to me then it becomes part of me. It's also like that with what my parents were listening to - like more disco, and probably very bad Italo-disco as well... [laughs]
What do you think the teenage you would say if they could see where you are today, and what you're doing?
Oh I don't know... the teenage me was very shy, not very happy, and very complex. So I think the teenage me would probably be really scared and say "oh my God, you're doing what?". I was not a very happy teenager to be honest, but I'm way more happy now!
Well that's good to hear. You mentioned how important the South of France was, and is, to you. How did it feel to be invited to help curate Nuits Sonores this year?
Oh that was one of the highlights of my DJ life. I was very touched and moved by that. Especially by how the people welcomed me when I got on stage, I didn't really know where to look. It was really sweet.
Yeah I wasn't there myself but I read reports that said it really felt like a homecoming with the response that the crowd gave you...
Yeah, and it was a great honour that all the great people I asked to join me on that day said yes. Especially D.A.F., that was really special.
How did that one happen?
Well there were a couple of big names on my dream list, and Nuits Sonores told me "let's just try and see what happens".
So we tried, and it got a bit complicated at first because they [D.A.F.] were not sure they wanted to play that day - not because of anything to do with me or Nuits Sonores, but they had family obligations and stuff.
And then over time Nuits Sonores talked to them, and one of my dear friends Thomas Venker who is a German journalist who has done documentaries, and movies and articles, also talked to them. He discussed with them the idea of talking about counterculture and where that is today, after the concert, and they liked that idea so they eventually decided to join us.
Which for me was really important because I see D.A.F as the bridge between... well it's the beginning of techno for me. It has the same energy, the same drive, the punk attitude that I really still love.
So it was very special, and everybody was just smiling to me constantly. I mean I was really high after - I don't drink or anything - I was just high on the extraordinary vibe of that day.
I guess experiences like that must make the hard work and all the touring seem worth it right?
Yes, and also now that I live in Germany I have sometimes felt a little bit far from France you know, since I moved ten years ago. So it was really special to be honoured that way, it really was an honour.
Looking ahead to another famous festival - albeit a very different one in style to Nuits Sonores - how are you feeling about playing Tomorrowland?
Well I've been invited by Maceo Plex; Eric is a good friend and I'm very fond of him as an artist so for me it was not even a question to say no. I've been to Tomorrowland before already, a couple of times, playing for Kompakt.
And yeah it's a huge festival, it's very different, but I'm a DJ and that's my job. For me the lineup of that stage is great, and it's completely normal that I'm joining them.
For me the Mosaic stage does stand out across all the stages and both weekends – to have Peggy Gou, Kiasmos, Maceo Plex, yourself and Stephan Bodzin all on one lineup is impressive.
Eric has great taste and he always puts together a great lineup. I've played a couple of Mosaic parties with him and it's always great so I'm happy to join. To be honest the last time I played Tomorrowland it was a lot of fun.
Did that come as a surprise at all? The crowd's response to you and vice versa...
I think that the people that go to that festival, some definitely go for the other acts, and some really do go for what is offered on the smaller stages. So you have both.
And it's also nice to think that some people might not have come for you or the music you play, but they might enjoy it and discover new things which is a big part of my job as well.
And how do you approach representing a 'brand' like Mosaic at a festival that is maybe not so focused on those sorts of sounds? Does it alter how you approach it, or is more or less the same as everywhere else?
I'm just going to be honest and do my thing, you know? Yeah maybe I'll play a little harder because on a bigger stage you always need to play a little bit harder - especially in that lineup - but I'm not going to play something that doesn't match my tastes. But I have a wide range and I can adapt.
I mean I do specific playlists for all of my gigs, so I always try to think about how it is going to be and then use that playlist to try to make sure that we get along - me and the people there in front of me - so that we all have a good time.
How far in advance does that process happen, getting things ready before a festival show, or any set really?
Umm.. for Tomorrowland it will be on the Wednesday before, I think. When you play a lot you get a lot of ideas all the time from gigs you've played before, and at the moment I play at least three or four times a week so it's like training.
Presumably things like how long your set is, and what time you are playing, all have an effect that process?
Yeah sure, for example if I'm playing on a beach in the afternoon it's not going to be the same thing I'd be playing from 5am-7am in a huge club.
Of course. I've seen that you've played all-night sets before, and obviosuly there are also a lot of shorter ones. Is there a length of set that you'd say is ideal for you?
I think I like 2.5 or 3 hours best. Because I think I'm quite energetic; the stuff I play keeps the tension and I like it to be quite direct if that makes sense?
Yeah it does - because some people you see will play 6 or 8 hours and maybe that makes more sense for them...
Yeah because they build it up over a long time. Which I do also quite like to do, especially when I'm doing the warmup. If I do the warmup then I can play 5 or 6 hours and really enjoy it. But in clubs I'd say 2.5 or 3 hours is good for me because I like to keep the tension up.
Beyond that, what does the rest of the year hold for Jennifer Cardini?
Well I'm going to America after Tomorrowland - playing in New York at MoMA PS1, in San Francisco and LA with Lights Down Low: a really cute promoter that I really like, and also in Washington.
Then I'm back in Europe for a weekend and then back out to the US for Burning Man.
Wow, are you getting any time off?
Yeah I'm getting time off in October, when it's a bit more quiet. Not the DJ schedule, but all of the nice holiday places [laughs].
Sounds good to me. And musically what's coming next, other than the Correspondant 006 compilation we discussed...
We also have Correspondant 68 - a release from TERR, who is a young woman based in Barcelona. The EP is really good and we asked Krystal Klear to do a remix, and he did a kind of cosmic/Italo/Depeche Mode-esque crazy remix which is so good.
It's one of my favourite releases; I've been playing the Krystal Klear remix since the beginning of summer and I'm completely in love with it. After that the compilation, then an EP from Kiwi.
And we have another label called Dischi Autunno where we release more album projects. So we have Curses, who is releasing his first album, and there'll be an EP coming out in September which is an extract of the album. That's also very beautiful, there's a track featuring Perel and remixes from Chinaski and a couple of others.
The schedule is all pretty booked up for until the beginning of next year, which I'm really happy about.
Jennifer Cardini plays Maceo Plex’s Mosaic stage at Tomorrowland on 29th July. See the full timetable on our guide.
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