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‘Berlin is a symphony of noises as soon as I walk out that door.’

Gems in this

Photo>>>Noah Slee


Explore Playbook

Gems in
this story

Feature by Paige Reynolds

New places and new faces have always been the backbone of Noah Slee’s musical inspiration. From teen stardom to leaving his hometown in New Zealand, Noah has now found his creative community in Berlin.

After a regional battle of the bands led him to tour the world as a teen, Noah took some time out until a seemingly fleeting visit to Berlin opened an enticing new door for the young musician. Immediately drawn to the city’s chaotic energy and thriving art scene, he made the move permanent. The deep connections he’s fostered since, with the city’s community of artists and musicians, form the basis of his latest release it takes a village. We chat with Noah about the power of community, getting out of your comfort zone, and his top tips across the dance capital in his Berlin Travel Playbook.


On discovering music in New Zealand

Growing up in New Zealand, music was always present in our house, whether it be through cultural singing, church or even at school. Coming from a family of eight kids, my parents also needed a tactic to wake us up. So they’d put on funk records. Then, when I was around five years old, my parents had a Polynesian Floor Show. We would perform at corporate events and family events, and it was then that my parents noticed that there was something there with my voice. Most of my siblings sing, but even at a really young age, I was kind of holding it down in terms of certain notes that I would hit. I'm really grateful that they nurtured that and just gave me the space to lean into music.

On teen stardom to now

In high school, I was in a band called the Spacifix. We entered a regional music competition called Smokefree Pacifica Beats [in 2003], won the competition, and then we actually got signed. My parents let us rehearse in the garage, they even bought instruments. They were like second parents to everyone in the band, it was really beautiful actually. It kind of popped off really quick. We got to travel the world touring and I even lived in LA, it was crazy. That was my life for about eight years. It was a weird experience to be in my teens and also have to become an adult overnight. After a while we broke up and I just needed time for myself. Eventually I started my own project under my name Noah Slee and found myself in Berlin. I was signed to a record label here and I’ve just been doing my thing since.

On traveling as a powerful creative tool

For myself, I plan trips to be inspired and focus on music. Even when I was recording before the pandemic, I would prefer to go somewhere where there were no distractions and I could just focus on my music. It wasn't about fancy studio spaces, it's more about the environment. Oftentimes I'll just travel somewhere, get an Airbnb, and just set it up with my friends and just finish the record. I think traveling allows your mind to see things, experience things, smell things, hear different languages and feel different energies, and that's all so inspiring to me. It lights a switch in my brain. I think it's amazing that I can just travel with a mic and my laptop and that's all I need. I’ve been in the game since I was 16, when you couldn't record unless you went to a studio. Now you can have everything in your backpack.

It may be known as Europe’s techno capital but these days, Berlin is a multifaceted city where artists of all genres can find a home. NoahSlee’s 2022 album it takes a village is a bold and vibrant celebration of the power of community, documenting the struggles and joys that bind us, crafted with some of Berlin’s foremost soul and R&B artists. First and second images of Noah in Berlin courtesy of Noah Slee; second row middle image by Marie Bellando and right image by Jay Wennington; row three by Mateo Krossler; row four courtesy of Noah Slee.

On moving to Berlin

It's funny, actually, I have a good friend who was working in Berlin and he just told me to visit. So I planned a trip to travel around Europe to also see other friends, but I fell in love with Berlin so I never went on the rest of the trip. I wasn't really thinking about doing music here but I found myself in certain circles that leaned more towards music creation. In Berlin, I was just so inspired by the music, the nightlife, the energy, the pace — it couldn’t be more opposite to New Zealand. It’s known as the techno and house capital of the world and my music is neo-soul and R&B, I didn't want to change but whether it be my approach to production and storytelling, the artwork, or even just being in the space and hearing different sounds, it’s inspired me in different ways.

‘Berlin is filled with creators from all over the world… It's quite a young city, so we don't have that older generation looking out for us — we create that for ourselves.’

On finding a musical community in Berlin

Moving to Berlin and finding a family away from home was one of the greatest experiences of being here. The city is filled with creators from all over the world so we're all in a similar boat. It's quite a young city, so we don't have that older generation looking out for us — we create that for ourselves. I even have that nurturing relationship with some of the younger folks that I work with. It's really beautiful and takes me back to the villages in the Pacific, where my parents are from, and how everyone's always looking out for one another emotionally and building something together. In many ways, that's what we are doing here too. Berlin is not really known for soul music or R&B. When I first moved here venues weren't even allowing us in the spaces and it's been really exciting to see how that’s changed. For me, the album [it takes a village] is a snapshot of my Berlin experience and something that I'm really proud of. I'll look back one day and be able to say, ‘I was in Berlin and made a record with all my friends’. It’s just really representative of my bubble of soul music here — every featured artist is from the city, most of the producers and instrumentalists too.

On Berlin’s impact on your creativity and how that’s evolved

The way Berlin has inspired me creatively isn't necessarily the music that I do, although in the community there's this beautiful kind of healthy competition, we’re all kind of leveling up together. I'm inspired more by the art scene, the dance world, and the nightlife. I think those things play a role in my music and also in my visuals. I directed all of the videos to my latest album and I worked with a whole bunch of Berlin creatives to make it work. I’m inspired a lot by the vogue scene and its dancers, and that’s really present in my work. People's commitment to their craft forces me to really work on my art too. A lot of my friends are dancers and they honestly make me feel so lazy — it’s like a sport and here I am just taking my time, having my coffee. I love watching how they move and how dedicated they are. And then my friends that are artists are just pushing creativity to another limit and creating beautiful art. What's really inspiring about living in Berlin is the strong sense of art in all forms.

Noah’s collaborative approach expands beyond just song features. For Noah, artistic collaboration happens not just in the recording process but also in the visuals and live aspect of the work. His love for the city’s dancers and their physical commitment to their craft in particular shines through. All images courtesy of Noah Slee.

On showing a friend around Berlin for the day

We're gonna kick it off at 19grams, which is amazing because it's also just downstairs. We'll pick up a flat white with oat milk and maybe a croissant. They kill it. Then we'll go to HHV, a record store. They always have a nice selection and have amazing hip-hop records, which take me back to my childhood. I love having tangible records from hip-hop legends. What's amazing is that they also sell kicks, so we’ll check out some shoes too. That’s in Friedrichshain, then we’ll cross over to Kreuzberg and pick up a pizza for lunch at ZOLA. They are really tasty and they also always kill it. Then after lunch, maybe we’ll take a stroll through Görli [Görlitzer] Park. There's always something going down there, whether it be buskers or just someone reading poetry. It’s after lunch so it’s about beer o'clock. The great thing about Berlin is you can drink pretty much everywhere. So we'll definitely pick up a beer from the späti [convenience store] and kick it in the park and drink a beer. After that, we’ll come back to my place, drop off the shoes and then head over to the Museum für Naturkunde, which is also by my house and pretty awesome. After that, if like today it's a Thursday, we'll come back to my house, get changed and go find the Berlin Sessions. It’s an awesome jazz, funk and soul session at THE REED. We’ll grab a bite there and listen to some live music. Quite a busy day!


‘There's a party called Cassette Heads in this basement that's like a DVD store. Anyone can get up and have a sing or rap. It’s a really motivating crowd.’

On Berlin off the beaten track

Probably Heideglühen. It's a monthly party, which is crazy because they have a venue, and I also help out with some of their bookings there. It's a bit of a trek outside of the city and you’d just never guess that it's there. It is kind of typical Berlin but it's still really special, and the way they've kitted out the whole space feels like Mad Max meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The dance floor is right in the middle and then it’s got this really crazy balcony. The music is house and disco, which is kind of cute as there’s not much disco happening in Berlin. That’s another cool thing, people know what they’re coming for with this particular party — it’s really upbeat, everyone’s really chirpy. I just love it.

On the best place to find local talent

There's a party called Cassette Head in this basement that's like a DVD store. It happens every Wednesday, they kind of flip it into a jam and they record everything to cassette. The band is amazing. They always open up with one artist, might be a singer or an emcee, and then it just opens up into a jam so anyone can get up and have a sing or rap. It’s a really motivating crowd. Everyone's always cheering whoever's on and it's a small space so it feels like you're also at a house party. It’s really good vibes.

A day in Berlin with Noah is a busy one. When he’s not collaborating with the artistic family he’s fostered, or watching the city’s new talent rise, he’ll be buying records or sneakers at HHV (bottom picture). First and third rows courtesy of Noah Slee; second row courtesy of Visit Berlin; final row courtesy of HHV.

On best place to eat

Right now I love Asian food. Growing up in New Zealand there were a lot of Asian immigrants, so the Asian food in New Zealand is fire. Over the last few years in Berlin there’s been some new Asian restaurants pop up but Lei's Küche in Wedding is one of my favorites. They have everything, but they make mainly authentic Chinese food. I love going there and also having a cold beer. You can eat outside, all the dishes are amazing and there's a huge menu so you can always try different things.

On the best bar

For me, I like going to Möbel Olfe which is in Kottbusser Tor. It's a queer bar and it's always fun there. It’s a small bar but there's always a DJ, which is really dedicated. Expect to be laughing, the environment there is just always a lot of fun.

‘I just went to a vogue ball this weekend and it was next level. They have regular balls in Berlin and if you've never been to one, it's definitely a welcoming environment.’

On the best place to get some peace and quiet

A nice day trip to get some peace and quiet is Teufelsberg. It's a little bit out of Berlin, but the walk up to the top of the hill is beautiful. It used to be a spy tower during the war, and it's kind of been taken over by graffiti artists so the whole thing is like a gallery. You can climb up to the top and just see the whole city from the tower. It's a small 30-minute hike, but it's really green. You might see some wild boars on the way. If that happens, stop and walk the other direction!


On vogueing in Berlin

I just went to a vogue ball this weekend and it was next level. It’s a wild time and takes a lot of courage because you're also battling other dancers. Something about the improvisation of the battle means people just push each other to another level. They have regular balls in Berlin and if you've never been to one, it's definitely a welcoming environment. If you are in town, you’ve got to check out my friend Andrea, aka Ambrosia [@so.ambrosia]. They have amazing balls in the city. 

Noah is no stranger to Berlin’s thriving food and drink scene. 19grams (pictured top two rows, courtesy of 19grams Chaussee) has been serving Berlin residents their morning brews since 2002 while a wood-fired pizza on a buzzing terrace is what ZOLA does best (pictured bottom two rows, courtesy of ZOLA).

On describing your relationship with Berlin and how that’s evolved

Berlin is a home away from home now. I think it's about the energy of the city that's captivating. What keeps me here is the scene and the community that I'm a part of — it really feels like we're building something, and you can see the growth in the city and how it's kind of moving alongside what we are doing creatively. Berlin is also a bubble in many ways, so I think it's also important to leave at times and experience the outside world because it's not as free-thinking as Berlin. Leaving allows me to appreciate what I have here. I love Berlin for the art and I also love Berlin for the music, and just the day-to-day. It’s this kind of symphony of noises as soon as I walk out that door. There's always something unexpected that might happen, which might be overstimulating for some people, but I really love that kind of chaos. Berlin is Berlin.

On a window or an aisle seat

That is an awesome question. I would say window because you can lean on the wall if you want to sleep and that's way more comfortable. In the aisle, you’re kind of just keeping your head up straight and then maybe low-key always leaning on the middle person. If it's a long flight, you're probably definitely gonna dribble on them and that's not what you need. For anyone’s sake

On a song that best represents Berlin

It’s a bit of a throwback, but there's actually a song called ‘Berlin’ by RY X. It's a beautiful folk, atmospheric song. He wrote the song while he was in Berlin, and it just takes me back to when I first moved here and it was winter. At the time I was enjoying it because I'd never really experienced a winter like that. Fast forward to now, and I'm always trying to leave Berlin during the winter, but the first one, I was in my feels and this was definitely the vibe.

On Berlin in one word


For sure.


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