If you’ve been blues dancing long enough to have attended a festival somewhere, you’ll likely have been swept off your feet by the wonderful Annette Kühnle: blues dance teacher and DJ from Heidelberg, Germany.
I first met Annette in a dance class where I was bowled over by her incredible energy and ability to coax the maximum amount of blues from each and every single participant. (Including me!)
Later I saw her on the DJ decks, playing the most wonderful music and captivating a whole room of dancers.
A few months later I heard she was in London so I booked a private lesson with her. This was where our friendship began. Whenever we’re together we talk about many things, but one subject we always come back to is our love of blues music.
Annette encouraged me to trust my instincts as a DJ when I was first started out. Her unwavering confidence in me helped me gain confidence in myself.
At EBI (European Blues Invasion) London, June 2015 we co-presented a Blues DJ skills share together which was so much fun that we repeated it as a workshop at Octoblues in Heidelberg later that year.
Me: How did you come to fall in love with the blues?
Annette: The first blues workshop I attended was in Switzerland in 2009. The teacher was great and there was lots of time for hanging out. The atmosphere was amazing. The music was maybe around 30% blues. The rest of the songs were ballads, tango, indie music.
Following that workshop I started to look for music to dance to in my own life. I realised the music from the weekend didn’t really match what I found.
‘But when this new music made me want to dance, and I started to listen to it everyday, all the time, that’s when I knew I’d found something I loved.’
Me: What song do you currently have on repeat?
Annette: I’ve got something I’m listening to all the time right now!
Blues ain’t Nothing but a Woman by Helen Humes and a whole bunch of awesome bluesmen. It’s an old-style line-up from the American Folk Blues Festival from 1962. It could be an advertisement for the festival – I’m not sure.
‘The best thing is, it starts off with Helen introducing each of the musicians as they walk onto the stage. Then she sings and they all have a chance to shine.’
Then it starts to be a little ‘Twist’ song. Everyone starts dancing and they have a little party. It’s so 1960s.
Me: Do you remember your first blues DJ gig?
Annette: In Heidelberg there were originally only two dancers with any blues music on their computer. That was Kris and me. Kris had more music than me as she’d been listening to blues since she was a little child. I had maybe 30 songs.
We wanted to build a scene so we started a weekly blues party and there were only the two of us who could DJ. So my first DJing happened in Heidelberg, with only a handful of songs and a well meaning crowd.
When I started travelling to teach blues dance I started playing at the workshop parties too. That’s how I got into DJing outside of our own events.
Me: Whose music inspires you?
Annette: Other DJs inspire me all the time. Whenever a set has a flow and I’m dancing and I realise that the music has changed almost without me noticing – that’s when I look over to see who is playing.
Me: What are the most useful skills you have learned as a DJ?
Annette: Categorising my music into different styles. This means I have a stock of music that allows me to stay in a style for a while. It helped me to identify different styles of music through having to decide what makes it fit in that category and maybe also another one.
Something else that has definitely worked for me is the art of preparation.
‘A relaxed DJ is a better DJ.’
Preparing a folder of music that might work for the situation has proven invaluable for me and if the songs don’t fit after all I am still able to abandon it.
I have a few ‘pocket sets’ of maybe five songs that follow each other well. They have been lifesavers for me at various times.
Me: What is your favourite DJing memory?
Annette: One of my favourite moments was a few years ago when I was DJing at a late night party. I’d been listening and dancing all evening and enjoying the energy and complex rhythms of the music that was being played.
When the band finished there was an extended ‘thank you’ speech that also included a few announcements. At the end, people wanted to dance but seemed tired. I thought about what they wanted and realised it was something sweet and smooth and mellow and beautiful. I started my set and for the first half hour I just played beautiful music. People thanked me for playing the music everyone wanted to dance to and I had a lovely time dancing in the DJ booth.
Me: How do you feel the European blues dance culture has changed?
Annette: When I first started out everyone wanted to know about dancing in connection. Now I feel it has changed from a focus on partnership and connection to an interest in how to express themselves dancing to all styles of blues from fast to slow, sparse to complex.
Me: How do you feel your DJing has evolved?
Annette: I have a lot more music! I started with a narrow idea of the blues in terms of style but I’ve broadened my horizons. I’ve tried to find music from different styles to draw people in.
I’m more relaxed about DJing. I’m a perfectionist at heart. I used to want to get everyone in the room dancing but I’ve realised that’s not possible. Sometimes people aren’t in the mood or just want to chat, or whatever.
I think I’m more versatile overall. Back in the days when I started out I needed to know everything so I could prepare. Now I feel that you could put me in a room anywhere and I’d make it work.
Thank you so much for sharing.
(We know we’re lucky to have you spreading the joy of blues all over Europe…and beyond!)