Berlin has given the world many iconic DJs. So many, in fact, the very idea of the modern Berlin-based DJ is a meme of sorts. But, every so often, a name emerges that reminds us of this nightlife mecca and harkens back to when its dissident and inclusive nightlifestyle was the template for inclusive electronic music culture. One of these names is Kerstin Egert, better known to global audiences as premiere selector Tama Sumo. On Saturday, October 21st, JETLAGGED welcomes Tama Sumo to the Control Club dancefloor.
The history of Tama Sumo goes back nearly three decades as a young Kerstin rifled through vinyl crates, finely tuning her ears to the soulful strains of New York-style vocal House Music in her native Mühlhausen, a quaint Bavarian town. But Bavaria isn’t Berlin, where a 1990 move proved transformative. With its burgeoning music scene, the city was the perfect backdrop for her nascent interest in DJing. By 1993, she had already started making her mark, securing residencies at venues like Drama and Café Moskau.
The Drama bar in Kreuzberg was more than a venue for Tama Sumo; it was her proving ground. In an era where techno’s thumping beats reigned supreme, Drama was a refuge for house aficionados. Here, she didn’t merely play tracks; she set journies defined by deep, dry, and irresistibly funky beats. While rooted in tradition, her sound was unmistakably unique—a voice that demanded to be heard. And heard it was.
The journey from Drama bar led her to numerous milestones as her talents soon garnered attention from iconic venues. By 1994, her residency at Tresor marked another pivotal period in her career. During this time, she began to diversify her musical style, breaking free from the rigid confines of the techno-house division that had characterized much of her earlier work.
In 2001, she was a regular at OstGut’s Dance With The Aliens parties, an association that opened doors to a coveted residency at Berghain’s Panorama Bar, as well as set the stage for the “Tama Sumo” pseudonym, adopted in 2004. This venue, the global mecca for electronic music enthusiasts, further solidified Tama Sumo’s stature in the music world. While her sets at the Panorama Bar are legendary, Tama Sumo also occasionally descends into the techno realm of Berghain, showcasing her versatility and deep understanding of varied musical genres. As she took her place behind the decks of the imposing venue, it was clear: this wasn’t just another residency. Tama Sumo was home. Here, every set evolved into a ritual, a communion between the DJ and the devout audience. Her affiliation with the illustrious OstGut Ton label further solidified her stature as a DJ and visionary, shaping the future of electronic music.
What’s even more intriguing about Tama Sumo is her conscious minimalism. Unlike many of her contemporaries, her discography is refreshingly sparse. Studio mixes bearing her signature touch are rare (Panorama Bar 02; 2009), and her production output can be counted on one’s fingers. Tama Sumo’s minimal trajectory stands out in an industry where many leverage high-profile releases for incessant social media engagement. Her reputation isn’t built on a plethora of releases but on their quality. These sparse examples include An Ode to Audre on OstGut Ton’s Fünfzehn + 1 compilation and a 2022 remix for Barbie Bertisch’s Fertile Garden (Emerge) on New York’s Love Injection Records.
Speaking of collaborations, two are integral across Tama Sumo’s career. The first is a production partnership with fellow Panorama Bar resident Prosumer. Together, they’ve released a handful of Eps, tracks and remixes that encapsulate the best of both artists, blending their distinct styles into cohesive masterpieces. The 2008 Play Up/Brothers, Sisters EP is a perfect example.
Yet, to reduce Tama Sumo’s journey to clubs and tracks would be an injustice, and this is where her second collaboration shines. Alongside her partner, the equally talented Lakuti, Tama Sumo embarked on a mission to redefine the clubbing experience in Berlin and around the world. Their ‘Your Love’ events broke the mold, launching in 2013. These aren’t just nights but experiences and celebrations. Since 2013, they have championed diversity, ensuring each event was a vibrant mosaic of sounds and souls. Alongside, South African producer Portable, Tama Sumo, and Lakuti also launched Süd Electronic, a label focused on African electronic music. The couple has also launched the anti-racist cultural platform Bring Down the Walls.
For Tama Sumo, the act of DJing transcends mere performance. It’s an intimate dialogue, a non-verbal exchange where she shares her innermost passions and memories. Each track she spins and each transition she crafts speaks of her experiences, joys, and challenges. It’s this vulnerability, this willingness to share, that transforms her sets into emotional odysseys and lands her as a pillar of advocacy. Together with Lakuti, she’s championed causes close to her heart, from promoting inclusivity to battling prejudice. Their collective ethos isn’t just for musical gatherings but movements pushing for a more inclusive, accepting world.
Tama Sumo has an insatiable hunger for music. From her early days, scouring Berlin’s record stores, to her global tours, she’s remained a student, forever seeking that next track and sound that sets her soul alight. This passion, this relentless pursuit of musical excellence, ensures her sets remain fresh, unpredictable, and utterly mesmerizing. A 15,000 record collection doesn’t hurt either. As she continues to shape the electronic music scene, one thing is clear: Tama Sumo’s influence is indelible, and her story is far from over. In short, Tama Sumo is the true DJs DJ.