Amanda and Filip Sandström Beijer are sitting on the Neukölln sofa familiar to fans of their weekly podcast, Playful, reminiscing about their first joint trip to Berlin back in 2015. “I remember I wrote in my diary, ‘Maybe one day we’ll move here’,” recalls Amanda. Eight years later, the pair head up a fast-growing kink ‘n’ techno media empire, chronicling Berlin’s world of sex parties and all-nighters through their online magazine and podcast, both named Playful. Want to know how it feels to have five “slaves” at your disposal or where to find Berlin’s thriving pup play scene? Tune in as Amanda interviews DJs, Berlin icons and what she endearingly calls “kinksters”, in a Swedish accent so comforting it may qualify as ASMR.
I remember there was this gynaecologist chair with two men having sex in it. It was just beautiful.
Despite only launching their pod last November, Playful already qualifies as a wild success in Berlin: video recordings of their episodes have clocked up over 200,000 views on YouTube alone, with tens of thousands more tuning in on various other platforms or reading Playful online. It’s clear they’ve tapped into a rich stream of content, and it all started (like so many great Berlin romances) at the KitKatClub on that very first trip to the Hauptstadt from small-town Sweden.
“We came to Berlin because of the underground scene and the kink scene,” says Filip, who produces and publicises the show. “We were really curious about it. For me, it was always an interest, but taboo.” “I remember there was this gynaecologist chair with two men having sex in it, and people watching. It was just beautiful,” Amanda says. “I’d seen sex theatre before but this was the first time I thought, this is the real deal. It was pure passion, inclusive and beautiful.”
“There was no shame around it,” Filip adds. “Like, no shame,” Amanda says. “When I was young, photos of me were leaked on the internet, the kind of stuff that is really, really scary for teenagers. When I was in [KitKatClub] I thought okay, it’s just a body. All these people, they own their own bodies. And I can also own my own body.”
After several return visits (plus a wedding) the pair moved to Berlin in 2019 for what was intended to be a “year of fun”: a bit of copywriting, a bit of journalism, good food, lots of nightlife. But just six months into their proposed year of hedonism, on a dusty Monday morning after a great weekend, the couple started talking about putting together a print magazine showcasing not just the people they were meeting, but the city that made it all possible. “What we heard from all these artists and DJs was that they only found their creative voice in Berlin, which we thought was really interesting,” says Amanda. The magazine, whose name is a play on Playboy, was a kind of travel guide informed by Berlin’s underground that also sought to work out what exactly it was about Berlin that inspired people.
“It feels like this is a city that says, ‘Do what your heart says. Fuck it. Just try it’,” says Filip. “I mean, here we were, just arrived in Berlin, saying, ‘We’re going to portray the underground.’ Like, who are we to do that? But we were greeted with open arms.” The city’s latex-lined underbelly may have been welcoming, but world events were less so. Just days after the launch party for their second issue, the pandemic hit. Lockdown seemed like a death sentence for a print magazine centred around going out, but with a €33,000 loan hanging over their heads and iconic DJ and producer Ellen Allien already secured for the cover of the third issue, the pair took to social media and started hustling.
“The pandemic turned out to be quite good for us. People had more time on their hands, so we grew much faster on Instagram than we would have done if everyone was trying to keep up with their normal life as well as social media,” Filip points out. “All the Berlin-based DJs were suddenly home, which gave us a bank of people to interview, while for readers, these stories about DJs took them back to real life.”
Real life crashed into their business yet again last year, when the war in Ukraine pushed the prices of paper exorbitantly high, doubling their printing invoice overnight. Time for another pivot. Photographer (and Berghain bouncer) Sven Marquardt had already shot the suddenly-stratospheric musicians Brutalismus 3000 for the next cover, so Filip and Amanda decided to press ahead with publication. Somewhat spontaneously, they decided to film the interview and release it as a podcast. The magazine hit the shelves in November 2022, but it was to be the last print run: that podcast, featuring Brutalismus 3000, has now been watched more than 105,000 times on YouTube alone, and less than a year on from its release, the show has garnered 100,000 listeners across all platforms. “It was incredible,” Filip says simply. “We could see immediately that we’d reached so many more people.”
Asked for the secret of their success, the pair point to the fact they already had a brand and a network, which means they can get interesting guests. Filip’s years at the coalface of SEO-optimised journalism helped too. “When it comes to kink and sex positivity, it can be tricky because you get banned everywhere, but if you package it the right way, everyone is looking for it. We all have dirty minds,” he says with a laugh. While listeners might come for the kink, the real secret sauce behind Playful’s audio success is Amanda herself. Whether talking to a sugar baby, a dominatrix or a hardcore techno legend, she taps into people’s stories with a warmth and nuance inaccessible to those outside the scene. “I love it,” she says simply. “I love meeting people. I love hearing their stories. That’s what I burn for.”
Originally, both she and Filip presumed the podcast would be headed up by Filip, who’d already hosted a podcast back in Sweden. “I was always the one pushing for a Playful podcast,” says Filip. “While I wasn’t interested…” says Amanda. She looks over to him. “You want to talk about this?” “I’m an open book,” he replies, and begins to describe the massive social anxiety and panic attacks that plagued him when he moved to Berlin. “I got so locked in I couldn’t do what I was trying to do,” he says. When one of Filip’s interviews suddenly became a live event, panic took over and Amanda stepped in at the last minute and smashed it.
“I think I could have done a good job,” says Filip, who has since done therapy. “But actually, it was fate that put you up to this because you’re so fucking good at it.” “Now you don’t have the same social anxiety at all,” says Amanda. “And there’s so many things we can do under the Playful umbrella that you’ll own.” Filip looks thoughtful. “With YouTube, it’s almost like you have your own TV channel, so yeah, maybe there’s something I’ll want to do.” Given their track record so far, “maybe” may be the wrong word to use.