Monika Werkstatt artists live at Cafe Oto

Hosted by the UK’s rapidly growing Omnii Collective, a quartet of top talent from the Monika Enterprise label came to Cafe Oto from Germany to talk about their new Monika Werkstatt album and to play live, creating one of the most exciting electronic music nights in memory. Four brilliant and established artists - Gudrun Gut, Pilocka Krach, Sonae and Barbara Morgenstern, ably supported by new British talent La Leif, plus a surprise, non-performing appearance from Electric Indigo, co-founder of female:pressure along with Gudrun.

Making the Monica Werkstatt album

The night started with a fantastic Q&A full of insight, humour, and inspiration. The Monika group featured three artists from Berlin and one from Cologne, though the album includes a wider geographical spread of musicians.

The story of the making of the album was fascinating, and it turned out to be not just a voyage of creativity but also of self-discovery.

Label founder Gudrun Gut said she set out some principles and a framework for the music-making. She didn’t want a run of the mill compilation album to celebrate 20 years of the Monika label, and over 60 releases, but to do something fresh and challenging.

So she invited a group of ten artists from Monika and also her Moabit label - all solo artists who hadn’t met before - to a countryside studio close to Berlin, with their music equipment for a three day ‘Werkstatt’ (Workshop). There they played solo and together, and recorded the results.

Barbara Morgenstern, Pilocka Krach, Gudrun Gut, Sonae

An album with ten female producers

They ate together, stayed together, played music together, with no outside distractions. Video footage that accompanied their live performance gave a flavour of the enterprise, a kind of idyllic but powerful electronic house party complete with games on the lawn.

Gudrun admitted it was a bold move, but the results were exciting. “I hate improvisation, and the artists are not like that, it was interesting, how would they connect? I was worried in case there was diva behaviour, but it was fantastic!”

Barbara said, “It was super interesting, we were all setting up and no-one knew what was going to happen. We just started to play. It’s a perfect way of making music, you don’t think too much, it just worked. I was never into female music before and it was quite a surprise to realise it’s different and it’s really fun! I think there is no other album with ten female producers on it.”

Pilocka added, “We were creating an atmosphere, a feeling, not a composition.”

The final release though is far more crafted than a pure improvisation or jam, and serves up a broad and powerful sweep of electronic sounds and styles from the artists.

Gudrun says she didn’t want a session record and everyone took away a track or two to produce.

We think the resulting album is incredible.

The artist experience

Omnii steered the questions towards the experience of women in music - a subject that often generates little enlightenment or action at so many music event panels. This one was different, the responses both incisive and firm.

Gudrun said, “I like male energy too but I think there’s a little bit too much in the music industry, on the radio, in clubs, at festivals - it should change. I want to hear the female voice and it doesn’t have to be different or better, it has to be equal, our culture equal.”

The group spoke about hating being the only woman performing at a festival and people thinking they are a promoter not an artist. Nothing has changed since the 80s and so they are starting to speak out.

Electric Indigo had the facts at her fingertips, festival statistics showed an increase in female artists from 10% to 17%. “If we were a political party that would be awesome, but we are not, so it’s disappointing.”

Omnii asked what female artists in London could do to be pro-active.

“The crucial thing is spaces and venues. The internet is helpful, but connecting face to face strengthens things and if you can establish a venue where you can do regular things, that’s helpful.”

And tips for individual artists? “It’s so important to practise, to improve, stay motivated and play out,” she replied.

That was reinforced by Gudrun, “the most important thing is to play live, it’s part of the visibility of what we do”.

Pilocka Krach

Live performance

It was a great introduction to Omnii member the hotly-tipped La Leif, who played a powerful bass-heavy set that set the bar bottles rattling like anarchic extra percussion, and got a fantastic reception from the audience.

Barbara Morgenstern began the Monika session with an uplifting melodic track which centred on her velvety live vocals and synths, and was the perfect introduction to the visiting team. Then Sonae, based in Cologne, upped the tempo with a more driving urban feel and string accents and sparkling bell-like percussion which gave compelling depth and suspense.

Pilocka - who had earlier described her performances as “I jump on tables and make a kind of a show”, got busy with mic and beats to unleash her special brand of techno - funky, fun, dirty and hard in just the right places.

Label founder and album architect Gudrun Gut’s solo set was a dream - hypnotic almost dubby beats, live vocals and also a dash of post punk - she was once in Einstürzende Neubauten, and a founding member of Mania D and Malaria!

As the four artists seamlessly joined together, the music reached new heights, playing off each other with power and also care rather than mindless competitiveness, intensify the strong sensuality. They finished with the fun tune ‘Who’s Afraid of Justin Bieber’.

Then a realisation. I have never seen a group of top of their game female electronic artists making music together. Ever. And it came as a shock. But the shock of why that should be so, was tempered by the incredible music.

Barbara Morgenstern, Pilocka Krach, Gudrun Gut, Sonae

The feeling in the room was magical. Something huge happened that night, with a lasting take home effect. The merch table was cleared of the Monika Werkstatt album as people queued to buy it. Come back soon said the crowd.

  • The Monika Werkstatt album is available on vinyl, CD or download from Bandcamp, along with a remix album.