"I actually never planned a career as a DJ..."

Tama Sumo has forged a solid reputation for herself over the course of her illustrious career.

She first began playing records in early 90s Berlin, at a time when techno was, and to some degree still is, the dominant sound emanating from many a club. Bucking this trend, Tama brought her own stylistic endeavours to the table with a bag full of soulful, vocal house, earning herself a residency at Drama in Kreuzberg, one of the first bars to programme DJs at the weekend.

Residencies at Globus/Tresor and Berghain/Pamorama Bar swiftly followed. Now an international touring DJ, Tama Sumo, real name Kerstin Egert, plays at some of the world’s most renowned clubbing institutions and festivals, including Freerotation, Houghton, Printworks, Electric Pickle in Miami and Claire in Amsterdam.

Behind the decks, she exudes a quiet passion, intuitively weaving a variety of genres into her sets, and often playing alongside her wife, Lakuti.

Ahead of her appearance at Terminal V in Edinburgh this weekend, where Mr.G, Derrick Carter, Mall Grab, Jennifer Cardini and Objekt are all billed to play, she tells Clash what it’s like to tour with her wife and how she’s managed to remain level headed in such a high-pressured environment.

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Hey Tama! You recently played at the Soup Kitchen in Manchester alongside your wife Lakuti. How was that?

End of last year, Soup Kitchen asked me if I would be interested in programming four nights in 2019, and that felt like a great and fun thing to do. I very much like Soup Kitchen, its size, the crowd as well as the people who work there.

It was wonderful to do the first night alongside Lakuti. We always have fun playing together and I very much rate her DJing too. The night turned out to be great - an up for it and musically open crowd. A night is always perfect if there is a good connection on many levels between the crowd and the DJs and I feel that this was the case on this night. 

You and Lakuti actually play together quite regularly. Is it easy to mix music with home life? What are the most enjoyable and also the most difficult thing about playing gigs and touring with your other half?

I actually feel really blessed to have a partner with whom I share the same passion. It’s such a privilege to have the opportunity to travel the world and discover so many wonderful places together and meet so many lovely people.

To do this with your partner is definitely one of the most enjoyable and humbling experiences. The fact that we know each other quite well musically also makes it really fun to share the booth. The challenge (and this is definitely a plus as well) is that we both always try to bring different aspects musically, to complement each other and not repeat each other.

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A night is always perfect if there is a good connection on many levels between the crowd and the DJs...

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On the difficult side - touring can be very stressful in terms of too little sleep, nervousness etc., which can make you a bit edgy sometimes. It is very important to then deal with that carefully and to draw a clear line between job and relationship related moods.

You’re on the bill for Terminal V festival up in Scotland. Have you played in Scotland before? What are you most looking forward to about playing and visiting there?

I did play in Scotland a few times – mostly in Glasgow and also once in Edinburgh and once in Dundee. There will not be much time for exploring the city this time as I am playing in Ljubljana later that day.

But I visited Prosumer in Edinburgh a few times before and got a great introduction to this beautiful city already via him. At my previous gigs in Scotland I found the Scots to be very friendly and musically very open, so I look forward to going on a fun journey again with them.

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You’re known for your genre-transcending sets. Do you think it’s important for DJs to mix it up, or better to get to know one genre and hone their craft that way, and why?

In my opinion it is important to do what you feel as a DJ and tell your story, no matter if it includes different genres or not. I personally need variety in terms of genres, moods, tempo, atmospheres etc. – that’s the reason why I try to keep my sets open.

You started out DJing with some residencies at pretty legendary Berlin venues. How has the scene changed out there?

Berlin has gone through some demographic changes over years plus you have much more people travelling and both of that of course is also reflected in nightlife. People with different backgrounds from diverse countries are more prominent in the clubs and parties than back in the days when I started out. As long as nightlife tries to be inclusive, in my opinion this is an amazing opportunity for cultural exchange, for getting other perspectives.

The whole techno and house scene was still pretty new back when I started DJing, and events were much more improvised. After the wall came down, you had so many opportunities to find empty spaces that you could quite easily use for events. This had its own charm and that is missing a bit nowadays where everything is much more official and settled.

We still very much need much more diversity in club programming in Berlin though in terms of music and supporting DJs and artists from the POC community and other marginalised communities.

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I actually feel really blessed to have a partner with whom I share the same passion...

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How have you managed to have a career with such longevity and how do you protect yourself against burning out?

I actually never planned a career as a DJ. When I started in 1993, to become a DJ was not really a career option and it was only after about 15 years of DJing that I decided to give it a go and try to live from it. Keeping my feet firmly on the ground and not getting swept up by all the hype and fanfare helps me stay rooted.

Trying to have a balance in terms of lifestyle helps too. My (chosen) family and their support and also their ability to raise concerns if they see them, helps to keep me grounded. Taking a weekend off once in a while to have time for your loved ones helps too. It is also important to listen to your body, to learn what feels good and what doesn’t. Respecting your own energy limits is extremely important. 

Tell us about Süd Electronic, the label that you co-ran with Portable and Lakuti. Can we expect any more releases at all?

I worked on the last record with Portable and Lakuti on Süd Electronic and that was a great experience. I also enjoyed doing the remix. This was it I am afraid with the label as Lakuti is more focused on Uzuri Recordings and we are all busy with various other things.

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It is also important to listen to your body, to learn what feels good and what doesn’t...

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You’ve produced a handful of tracks alongside Prosumer in the past. Do you have any plans to work alongside him again or to produce at all? Why did your production take a backseat to the DJing?

Production did not really take a backseat to the DJing – it was always at the backseat. Throughout the years I have seen myself much more as a DJ than as a producer. Time limitations are a factor as well.

Prosumer and I don’t have any plans to produce together so far, especially since we are not living in the same city any more. Lakuti and I often plot about hitting the studio together when we have time. Let’s see what the future brings.

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Terminal V takes place in Edinburgh on April 20th - tickets.

Words: Jennifer Wallis
Photo Credit: Sven Marquardt

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