Permanent Rotation: Cinthie

By in Features





Permanent Rotation is a series in which producers, DJs, and musicians go deep on the albums that have inspired them.

Berlin-based DJ, producer, record label boss and record store owner Cinthie is one of the most respected names in modern house music. She’s a hard-grafting veteran who’s earned her stripes over more than two decades of DJing and producing music—including a debut LP on Aus Music and a DJ-Kicks mix in recent years—that showcases her love of classic Chicago house. She recreates its sound and spirit so skilfully and reverently that she’s been supported and celebrated by many of the Chicago OGs, including her greatest influence of all.

Cinthie’s first encounter with the late Paul Johnson was “a bit embarrassing,” she says. It was in Berlin eight or nine years ago; he was playing Watergate on a weeknight. She didn’t want to interrupt him during his set but when she left the club and stopped at a nearby food truck, “there he was, Paul fucking Johnson sitting there eating a kebab!” she recalls. “I was like, ‘This is my chance,’ so I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey Paul, I’m Cinthie, I’m a super big fan!’ He said, ‘Hey girl, cool, but can I eat my food now? And I said, ‘Oh yeah, of course!’”

A friend was there to sing Cinthie’s praises as a talented producer and DJ in her own right, however, something that Johnson acknowledged later when they both remixed Jesse Saunders’ “On and On” in 2019. “He wrote to me like, ‘Wow, girl. This is really like the Chicago style,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’” she laughs.

Read more: Remembering Chicago house legend Paul Johnson

Cinthie had been a fan of Johnson’s ever since she started working in a record store in Saarbrücken, aged 16. It was the mid-‘90s—Chicago house was still in its heyday—and Cinthie lived for the US imports that arrived in the shop from the likes of Johnson, Kerri Chandler, Armando, Eddie “Flashin’” Fowlkes and Steve Poindexter. “Of course, we also had German people doing house, it was also very nice,” Cinthie says. “But the Black house from the US had this rawness and sexiness.”

She learned to DJ around the same time and released her first productions in 2002 as Vinyl Princess, but that electro/D&B moniker was relatively short-lived. Since the early ‘10s, Cinthie has forged a name as one of the best house producers and DJs on the planet and one clearly guided by leading lights such as Johnson.

“He [Johnson] really became my role model, especially when I started producing my own stuff,” she says. “Even though his tracks were kind of simple, it was always so sexy and jacking and you could really move your body, and I was like, ‘Ah, I want to do that too!’”

A friend taught her a production trick he’d gleaned from listening to Johnson records. “He said all they did was use a drum machine then crank up the gain so you get this very distorted Dance Mania sound,” says Cinthie. “And I was like, ‘Ahhh, that’s how Paul Johnson did it!’ You can also do it a bit more elegantly so you have a bit more control with a simple saturator that you can add and tweak so it’s not too much,” she says. “Sometimes when you add too much [gain] it can sound pretty harsh on good speakers.”

Cinthie nearly chose Johnson’s 1997 album Second Coming as the album that influenced her most, mainly due to the track “And Rewind.” “He plays a record backwards, but then puts the kick forward, so it gives a really nice effect,” she says. But The Other Side Of Me, released in 1996, is the album she’s listened to most, she says. She especially appreciates its stylistic diversity, something she tried to replicate in her 2020 debut LP, Skylines – Citylights.

paul johnson the other side of me

“When I produced my album, I wanted to show all the varieties of house and I think [Johnson’s] album is also like that,” says Cinthie. “It’s got disco influences, it’s got the raw Chicago stuff, the deep stuff and a bit of uplifting stuff and that really resonated with me.”

Her favourite tracks on the record are “Mothafucka”—“classic Paul Johnson”, she says—and “Love is Free”, which features a record spin trick similar to that heard on “And Rewind” alongside sultry bursts of sax.

Cinthie’s favourite place to play Paul Johnson tracks is at Panorama Bar, where the dancers always embrace his raw, sexy sound. “You play a track by him like “Give Me Ecstasy” and the crowd’s already loose because they’ve already been there for like 24 hours and the shutters are going up and it always creates a really nice vibe,” she says.

Cinthie played with Johnson a couple of times, most memorably, at a gig in the Netherlands a few years ago. Johnson filmed Cinthie’s set from the side of the stage and posted it to his Instagram. “He was saying, ‘She’s killing it! She’s so cool!” Cinthie recalls, beaming. “I remember it like it was yesterday, it was so nice.”

She regularly chatted with Johnson on social media and when he commented on photos of her impressive studio setup, she suggested that they build something next time she was in Chicago, “with a desk that he could move up and down so it was more comfortable for him.” But the pandemic hit and the coronavirus tragically took Johnson’s life before she had a chance to visit. “It was a very big loss,” she says. “We were always writing jokes to each other or shit-talking, and every time I saw him, it was always nice and always fun.”

Words by Annabel Ross

Cinthie’s latest EP, Musique for Discothèques, is on Heist Recordings.