Event series, record label, and mastering studio run by artists Ahmet Sisman and Almedin Alibegovic (VNNN), based in Essen, Germany
Interview: Elena Savlokhova
Get 'The Third Room - Fundraiser Compilation' - here.
What excites you the most in what you do?
VNNN: The thing that excites me the most is to come together with other people who share the same passion as us, whether it is the passionate raver at our events at Mischanlage, the music lover who buys our music (e.g. The Third Room Fundraiser Compilation) or other promoters and artists with whom you exchange ideas.
Ahmet: Being able to have control over my creative process and the energy I am investing in. That is one of the main reasons to be self-employed. Creating your own working ethics to achieve your goals and realizing your vision of what you want to do with your life in general. The music industry itself is not just a business for me, it has become an essential part of my lifestyle.
What are your personal stories? How did you get involved with electronic music?
VNNN: I would say it is the typical story of someone who starts to make electronic music. You get infected by the music on your first rave. My first rave was in the autonomous centre of my former hometown Mülheim (next to Essen) and I was pretty young. Maybe a bit too young to go to a rave legally.
Ahmet: Like every teenager in the mid-’00s through record shops, clubs, and listening to music on the radio. When I first visited a club and saw that energy a DJ can create, it was clear to me to become a part of this. It filled up a dark hole in me with light, gave me purpose and that fire is still burning. I wanted to go the whole way as an artist, promoter, label owner, and now sound engineer as well. It was also one of the main reasons that I didn’t go back to my hometown Istanbul after finishing my studies here in Essen because back then Germany was the leading country for electronic dance music.
How did ‘The Third Room’ come to life and how did your paths cross?
VNNN: We met each other because Ahmet was looking for a driver to one of his gigs. I saw his post on Facebook. I’ve never been at this location in Krefeld (called ‘Schlachthof’) before and till now I love to discover locations I haven’t visited yet. So, I hooked him up and we drove to the party together. After that night, we stayed in contact. I think that was in 2015. One year later Ahmet offered me a residency at his former event series called ‘Bunkernacht’ at Goethebunker where we started to talk about this whole label idea for the first time. One year later The Third Room was founded.
Ahmet: For five years I was the in-house booker of the Goethebunker party series called Bunkernacht and resident as well. Besides producing music and DJing around the world, I’ve always felt the need to build up a strong collective. The year 2017 was the right time to do something new and especially combing the disciplines, party, label, and studio under one brand. And logically for a collective, I needed some fresh blood, different perspectives, and also someone from a younger generation than myself. I have also become the booker of another club called Studio in Essen which has closed its doors in 2019. This venue was the birthplace of The Third Room. Right now we are focusing on extraordinary venues such as the Mischanlage in Essen which is a UNESCO World Heritage.
The concept of The Third Room is inspired by Homi K. Bhabha’s ‘The Third Space’ theory, which you described as ‘a place where different cultures can exist, mix and transform into hybrids’. Do you feel like you’ve achieved what you initially envisioned with the project in terms of its philosophy?
VNNN: Definitely. Since we started in 2017 with our event series till now, we met so many people from different countries. Especially at our events at Mischanlage, the ravers are coming from all over Europe. And of course, everybody is welcome. Even I if you’re not interested in electronic music. We had people at our events who just came to have a good time and to check out a rave in the most astonishing locations at the Ruhr Area like Mischanlage or Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. Of course, our room has no place for racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other kind of hate.
Acceptance is important, both for people and for music. Without that approach, different cultures can’t transform into hybrids.
Ahmet: First of all, most of us who are involved in the project do have different cultural backgrounds. So, everyone brings their experience with it. Secondly, I have written a diploma thesis about migrants in Germany and how they express themselves through the medium of music. At that time during my research, I came across the theory of “The Third Space” by Homi K. Bhabha. It explained a concept that was totally new to Germany because I couldn’t find any literature about that in those days. It simply explains that neither the major culture nor the culture of origin is in conflict with each other. You don’t have to choose just one. They can transform into hybrids and create something new, something exciting which hasn’t existed before. You can basically adapt this approach to every kind of creative process but also as a general guideline for yourself. Especially in Germany, you are confronted with those topics in daily life and I believe this is an appropriate way to deal with it.
And yes, I do believe we have achieved this philosophy by, for example, giving, industrial venues which are relicts of the past a new purpose: filling them with music, people and creative concepts. This is an ever-evolving process, it keeps things interesting. Even our music production or studio is built up this way – a hybrid approach to create a fusion of different disciplines and influences.
What is the most challenging thing in your work and how do you try to overcome these challenges?
Ahmet: My most challenging aspect is to deal with people, to deal with different thoughts, egos, and motivations. Let me give you an example from my experiences regarding the understanding of techno as a culture: we have these beautiful, impressive, and unused industrial venues which are literally made for an intense rave experience. I mean look at the Mischanlage in Essen [ed. note – see photo below.], it is maybe the most aesthetically-techno place I‘ve ever seen. Even the crew from Berghain says it, with whom we are doing regular Ostgut Ton showcases.
It took my years to convince the local authorities to do regular basis events there and the success speaks for itself. You know, you need a place to grow. In those places our music culture makes sense, the context is important. We are still struggling to explain to those decision-makers that electronic dance music is as much important as any other cultural field such as classic music, opera, or ballet. It is definitely the biggest industry for dance events. The birth of Kraftwerk just happened 35km far away from here in Düsseldorf. But we are still discussing the cultural relevance of Techno and House. You can see this nowadays due to the corona crisis. This sector has been left alone by the state to deal with its misery.
What are some of the most bizarre or crazy memories you have so far with The Third Room?
VNNN: We are doing this for a long time now. Ahmet even longer. I couldn’t give any example, to be honest. But if I had to choose one memory, I would say the event with Jeff Mills. It’s a once in a lifetime chance to see the wizard. It was an honor that he was our guest. I felt a bit like a groupie on that day.
And of course, our debut as a label and mastering studio with our massive compilation.
Ahmet: Seeing Sigha patching up his massive modular system for 2hrs and doing 1h soundcheck to a 1h live performance. And it was great. That is what you call “passion”. Or giving dead spaces a life, I think our open-air rave at Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord was quite special because the industrial ambiance is one of a kind.
One bizarre moment might be, that it took me nearly three years to book Jeff Mills and I couldn’t have a proper chat with him because there was no opportunity. That is something I might regret.
Building our studio for nearly one month was also a crazy experience. That needed a lot of patience and effort.
What is the best gig or party you’ve attended as part of an audience and how would you describe the experiences?
VNNN: I think it was on one of my first raves. We were in this small room; it was super-hot inside. We all had to take off our shirts. The DJ was playing a massive Jungle and DnB set. Till now, I love to look back to this night and it was definitely one of the most influential moments in my life. After that, I started to make music on my own.
Ahmet: I have visited a lot of clubs, as a guest or DJ but I must say that when I went to Berghain, it was another level. Everything else felt like a kindergarten compared to that club. I think also the Arma17 parties and its crew in Moscow are something special.
What recent trend annoys or upsets you, either on a global or minor scale, or both?
VNNN: I don’t have any problems with that. Trends are changing so fast nowadays. Sometimes you didn’t even notice a new trend. But everybody should do what they like.
Ahmet: If you can call social media a trend, then this definitely annoys me.
Crafting your skills and talent meant something back in the days to call you an artist. Nowadays most people care more about the person than the music itself. The cult of personality and its medial production favors the egocentric narcissists. Unfortunately, you can’t ignore it, it is nearly everywhere. This makes me sometimes ask: do I still want to be a part of this scene?
It shows us clearly that we are in a popularity contest right now, our music has become a part of the pop industry. And where the money is, corruption is not far away. I wished people would see this simple yet effective strategy and look behind the curtain. Because usually there is nothing special and interesting about it if you look closer.
You’re kicking off The Third Room label with a fundraiser compilation with contributions from a great specter of artists. What was the process like and how do you feel when you look at the final product?
VNNN: It starts with the cancellation of our The Third Room x Bassiani Night at Mischanlage due to the Corona pandemic. After some of the biggest clubs in Germany shut their doors, we also made the decision to cancel the event even before the City of Essen announced an official ban. That was three days before the event. Most bills were paid but there was no party anymore. So, we were in a bad situation because we had to refund all the tickets. And we were overwhelmed what happened next. Most of the ticket buyers waived their refunds to support us financially. We thought music is the best way to say, ‘Thank you’. Ahmet came up with the idea of a compilation. Both of us reached out to artists. In the beginning, I couldn’t even imagine that we will have such a big compilation. But it shows that people stay together when they share the same passion. Especially in such a difficult time.
Ahmet: Yeah it shows once more that music unites us in these hard times. I’m thankful that so many artists have contributed to our Fundraiser Compilation. Especially the supportive reaction from our crowd showed me when you do something with your heart, you will get some love back. Crises are also an opportunity to reflect on those things that make our scene so special. Sometimes I do forget that.
‘The Third Room‘ will celebrate its 3rd anniversary in the fall. What have you discovered about yourselves through this project?
VNNN: You have to keep a balance between your personal taste and the current zeitgeist. This is also a type of tolerance. You can’t run a music label/event series if you are like an old grumpy man who points the finger at the younger generations. That’s one of the reasons why trends don’t annoy me. It’s a part of our philosophy. But like I said, trends are changing fast. So, you always have to be up to date.
I would say not to try to force things which aren’t meant to be. Some things need to evolve naturally. Stay always true to yourself, don’t let your ego make the decisions and understand that you can achieves big things only together when everyone feels that they are a part of the collective and process.
What do you realize as you get older?
VNNN: I realized that it is important for your mental health to take off the throttle from time to time. With all the hustle, you forget to relax. But you should always plan some private time. Go to dinner with your love, meet friends, go on holiday.
I realized to keep the negative energy as much as possible away from myself. Select your personal surrounding carefully because not everyone deserves your trust and dedication. And mostly the first thoughts are the right ones. Trust your guts, listen to your instincts.
What would your advice be on where to go and what to do in Essen for someone who has never been there before?
VNNN: There are a lot of beautiful places. Not only in Essen but all around the Ruhr Area. Top three: Zeche Zollverein/Mischanlage (of course in combination with one of our events), Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, and the Folkwang Museum. If you want to check out clubs: Goethebunker, Hotel Shanghai (Essen), Schumacher (Bochum), and Tresor.West (Dortmund).
How do you want The Third Room to echo in the culture and do you have a certain goal in mind you want to achieve?
VNNN: I would say we are already on a good way. We are doing events in unique locations. People are coming from everywhere to take part in these events. We had features on Resident Advisor, Groove, Mixmag. But for now, we have to overcome these difficult times.
That’s another reason why we released this compilation. On one hand to overcome the financial crisis and on the other hand to react on the missing perspective. Politics ban events right at the beginning of the Corona pandemic and I’m pretty sure they will be the last ones allowed to start again.
But we are thinking in small steps. The next steps are to schedule the future releases, to establish our mastering studio (e.g. Ahmet did a great job on the compilation) and to have a look at the situation. Of course, we are already planning events for 2021. But like I said, step-by-step.
Ahmet: I hope that the brand will stand out for the region to become a melting pot for creative people. We are achieving this step by step. Of course, the core of the team is set but we are open for new innovative minds. In the end, we are the ones who are defining and shaping the cultural activities in our region. We are not in Berlin, Amsterdam, or London where people go with the flow. We need to create that flow on our own and challenge the status quo. I hope that one day people will value the idea and philosophy behind the brand, that they will trust and follow us as a cultural influencer for this region and beyond.
What are some personal realizations you came to during the pandemic reality? What changes do you expect or would like to see in the world?
VNNN: In my opinion, there won’t be something like a complete restart. The politics will make it step by step. I think we will get back to more local line-ups and definitely smaller events. But nobody knows.
Ahmet: There won’t be a return to the normality we once knew. At least it shouldn’t be. The lifestyle we kept going on is the major reason for this pandemic. This isn’t a coincidence or a bad joke from mother nature. This is human-made. We should realize that the neoliberal principle of growth will destroy our planet. The corona crisis showed us how fragile the capitalist system is. We need to ask the right questions and do need to find the right answers. This goes hand in hand with our music industry: bigger, faster, and stronger can’t be the philosophy anymore. There are many more important things in life than money. That is the wrong motivation in general.
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would you answer?
VNNN: I’m often asking myself, ‘Do you think this is something you want to do your entire life?’.
The answer is pretty easy. Once you taste the nectar, it is hard to live a life without it. Music is our nectar.