Q+A: Five minutes with Cormac

It’s early morning, but it feels like last night never ended. Fresh sunlight has begun to filter through the slats of the blinds lining the immense windows of the Panorama Bar, still swarming with the dewy bodies of club kids draped in the finery of two nights ago. Click-clacking fans under now straining neon lights, they cavort ceaselessly to the beat of what sounds like the best Italo house number you’ve ever heard. It’s being spun expertly at the booth by a louche, platinum blonde who looks like he walked straight out of a Tom Of Finland drawing. You’ve just started to consider the fact that it’s a Monday when suddenly, the blinds fly open and flood the room with light, just long enough for you to gasp in awe at the perfect chaos surrounding you. The blinds snap shut again like a clam shell, and you’re left reeling from a moment that feels like the closest thing to magic that you’ve ever experienced. If you’ve ever had the privilege of catching one of Berlin DJ Cormac’s infamous closing sets at Berghain’s temple of house Panorama Bar, this anecdote probably feels personal. For a while, Cormac has been as enigmatic and aloof as the underground spaces he’s become synonymous with. But recently, he’s started gaining recognition as “one of dance music’s best kept secrets.” His energetic sets have touted him for mixes for BBC Radio One and Hör, while the establishment of his label (or rather, chosen family) Polari two years ago has thrust Cormac into the collective consciousness. With a mission statement to protect and promote places of safety for the queer community, and spaces of opportunity for queer artists, Polari is a deeply personal labour of love for Cormac that extends beyond the dancefloor. We caught up with him fresh off the release of Polari’s latest compilation, No Tears In The Backroom Vol. 1, to speak about the journey so far, and about where it’s taking him next. 


Download and stream No Tears In The Backroom Vol. 1 here


Cormac, welcome to The Playground! It’s a pleasure to speak with you.

Thanks, it’s nice for me too.


Set the tone for us, where did your journey in music begin?

My journey with music began when I was a child. I grew up in quite a musical household. My brothers were listening to punk and synthetic electronic music, so I was surrounded by stuff like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, but also Prince, New Order, Psychedelic Furs, and the Cocteau Twins. My parents listened to traditional Irish music, so music’s always been in the mix. I discovered rave culture in my mid-teens, and I’ve kinda been in the club since then.


You’ve seen some great successes recently, from your residency at Rinse to your Radio One Essential mix. What are some of the goals you wish to achieve in the coming years?

I love DJing. I’d like to continue bringing good music to people and to continue providing a steady platform for new and established artists with Polari records. I think that clubs provide a very sacred space for LGBTQ+ people. We occupy and use those spaces like a sanctuary.  Moving forward, I’d like to create Polari events in selected venues, and I’d like to become more active in the issues that affect us as a community on and off the dance-floor. I’m launching a podcast in 2023 where I’m chatting with friends and fellow DJs on topics affecting the queer community.


We recently caught one of your famous closing sets at Panorama Bar. Could you tell us what it’s been like to have established that venue as a home for yourself?

Well, so much has already been said about Panorama Bar. My personal relationship to it is that it’s been a place of inspiration and fantasy, a place of romance, learning and excitement. I’ve been a dancer on that floor since the club opened, heard so many sets, and dreamed many dreams. To be able to play there on a regular basis is a great privilege. It’s where I feel most comfortable and most relaxed, and to date I think it is probably still one of the places where I play the best.


You’re also pretty active behind the scenes of the industry. Could you tell us more about Polari?

Polari records launched in 2020. I wanted to provide a platform that is reliable, trustworthy and solid in terms of quality and to incorporate interesting and inspiring artwork into the mix, because that’s been a big part of my early connection to music. The name comes from the queer slang language used by misfits, sex workers, queers and outcasts. I also wanted to provide a fast track to encourage and support upcoming LGBTQIA+ talents. We are vastly under represented in all fields, and although the label is not exclusively queer talent it seeks to support it. 2022 has been a very strong year with a release almost every month.


What sort of culture does the label promote for artists? You’ve mentioned the notion of ‘chosen family,’ how does this concept drive the space you create at Polari?

I think ‘chosen family’ is quite a common concept for many LGBTQIA+ people. It is often a reality that queer people are minorities within their own families, and while that can that can be inconsequential, I think it often has detrimental effects like loneliness or alienation. Creating a family, finding people to rely on who really understand you is something that queer people have always had to do. I’m lucky as I found my queer family all over the world, and like any family I work through my issues with them. We laugh together, we cry together, we celebrate together and we learn to support each other and work through our difficulties together. There’s a parallel of this coming together of kindred spirits that also happens on dancefloors. Music and dancefloors are all part of the the queer chosen family cocktail. If some music from the Polari label is soundtracking these moments, then I’m very happy.


The label’s upcoming compilation ‘No Tears In The Backroom Vol. 1’ is a special one as it features some newcomers to the Polari family. What can we expect to hear from them?

It just came out on Tuesday (Nov 15), and I’ve been sitting working a little bit on the promo for it today. Some of the tracks I’ve been sitting on for a very long time, and were featured in my very first Hör Radio set at the start of the pandemic, so I’ve had them for a while. All of the tracks are unique and different, but they’re all really quality to my ear. They range from kind of a newer sounding Italo house, but also you know, there’s a REES track on there which is such a beautiful homage to Patrick Cowley’s Porn soundtracks. ROTCIV provides a glitchy machine driven hip-hop sequencer track, while the Davis Brynjolflor and Sean Den tracks are quite uplifting. I’m very happy to have Budino on there, she’s an amazing DJ and great producer. And of course, Hard-ton are very steady in their output and provide one of the best high energy vocals and sensibilities in the business. The Timothy Clerkin track is really my kind of Italo techno, sleazy and sexy. 


Would you consider yourself a bit of a mentor or house mother to the acts that you sign?

As I get older I’m interested in becoming a good elder for my community. I think we certainly lack great elders, having lost many to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, so I think having exemplary elders out there showing that it’s possible to lead a happy queer life is important. I am doing my best to be that person for myself also, so if I can mentor or help upcoming artists that would certainly be a plus.


What do you look for when signing new artists?

I’m very instinctive. My first reaction to the track is usually the reaction that I trust. Above all else, I’m looking for quality. It’s important to me that the artist seems like a genuine person, too. We are kinda ambassadors for each other, so it’s important.


Have there been any big lessons from the journey that you’ll carry with you going forward?

Don’t take it personally.

If it’s not a clear yes, it’s a no.

Don’t overthink things, don’t try and convince someone of your worth.

Practice gratitude, it makes your day better.

Stay in your own lane.

Take time to rest.

Trust your instinct.


What can we expect from Polari in the coming months, are you able to share the news?

More music next year! The schedule has filled up nicely already, and there will be some more releases from myself as well.


Famous last words?

Last words? I’m just getting started! 


Preview No Tears In The Backroom Vol. 1 below. 

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