9 New Labels Shaping Frankfurt’s Quirky Minimal Tech-House Sound
There’s something going on in Frankfurt. Once considered the German capital of nightlife in the 1990s, the west German city never quite recovered from the closure of its techno temple, Omen. Many of the region’s most famous exports—Sven Väth, Ricardo Villalobos, Roman Flügel—have since moved to other cities. But in recent years a new wave of impressive talent with a distinctive sound has positioned the Frankfurt area as a hotspot for exciting house and techno permutations. This upcoming generation seems to exhibit the influence not of Omen, but more of its successor as the most important club in the region: Robert Johnson, which we featured here.
One of our favorite clubs in Germany outside Berlin, the artistically designed venue became associated with a deep, detailed and psychedelic style of minimal house. Its hallmarks—such as clipped, precise drum programming, groovy basslines and meticulous sound design—have seeped into the musical DNA of the young locals, who over the past few years have launched record labels and crews of their own. Frankfurt distributers Oval and DBH have fostered some local and like-minded labels, and the record store GOSU—a successor to the now-closed Freebase—have also contributed by making and peddling the musicians’ physical wares and hosting live DJ steams from local artists with the streaming platform L’Oreille Offenbach. A new club, our Telekom Electronic Beats Clubnight partner Galerie Kurzweil, has also opened up in the nearby city of Darmstadt. (Our next event there will take place on September 30 with Avalon Emerson. Find more information here.)
These various labels, crews and musicians have formed a contemporary and distinct offspring of the minimalist mindset that incorporates elements of electro, breaks and an utterly modern tendency toward zany sonics. It often finds common ground with Italian and German labels like Yay and Seekers, new-school deep house minimalists like Slow Life and Libertine (both of whom were featured on our list of our favorite parties in Berlin), those under the Parisian yydistribution banner and even Romanian minimal. Although this fresh take and blend of various genres would be hard to identify as a purely Frankfurt or Offenbach phenomenon, it seems the region is an important location in this axis. We’ve compiled a crash course on the key young labels in this movement, all of which have launched since 2012.
Hardworksoftdrink is possibly the seed responsible for creating, advancing or shaping any kind of current “Frankfurt sound” in dance music. The collective coalesced a few years ago from a group of friends, some of whom lived together in an Offenbach loft and all of whom partied together. “It was always the same circle of friends with the same attitude towards and understanding of music,” co-founders Cédric Dekowski and Felix Reifenberg told Meoko in 2015. That approach to sound manifests in the label’s recurring motifs of depth, mood and—of course—crisp, minimal percussion. We think of HWSD as a seed for the current milieu in the Frankfurt area because many of the other imprints on this list were spawned by HWSD members and/or include contributions from them. The crew also includes graphic designers and, in the case of Max Vaahs, a resident DJ at Robert Johnson.
Traffic Records Frankfurt
Alongside Hardworksoftdrink, Traffic Records Frankfurt seems like one of the core entities responsible for a distinctive local take on dance music. Led by a team of lads native to Frankfurt and the surrounding region—Jacob, Bodin, Martyné and Patrick Klein—the crew hosts a regular night at Offenbach’s famous club Robert Johnson and make and release the truly creative music that appears on the record label. The Traffic sound propels Robert Johnson’s legacy of sophisticated minimal tech-house into a modern permutation with infusions of electro, breaks and 2-step as well as their own zany twist. In some way their work embodies the spirit of Frankfurt’s contemporary club producers at large: bold, unique and often breaky approaches to tech-house.
After the beloved Freebase Records shop (which launched its own record label) closed last year, two former affiliates got straight to work with a new endeavor. Manuel Schatz and Phil Evans soon opened a new store, GOSU, and within months had inaugurated its eponymous in-house record label. Its five releases so far have explored often chiller shades of house, minimal and electro and finds common ground with Traffic—especially considering that one of the founders, Bodin, released a record with GOSU earlier this year. The shop itself also plays a key role in fostering the local clubbing community by regularly hosting mixes broadcast on the live-streaming DJ mix series L’Oreille Offenbach and hosting nights at Robert Johnson.
Sensual’s catalog to date should give some indication of how interconnected Frankfurt’s current batch of record label proprietors are, as it includes releases from Traffic’s Patrick Klein, GOSU’s Phil Evans and Pager’s Markus Sommer. However, it has also reached beyond the borders of city and country to welcome the likes of Slovenian minimalist Vid Vai and French house darling Malin Genie to its ranks. The label’s A&R displays a taste for crisp drum programming and alert but meditative depth.
Before Phil Evans co-founded GOSU, he launched a record label with local producer Markus Sommer. Titled Pager, their joint imprint has put out a series of twitchy beats populated by blips, bleeps, bloops, zips, zaps and squeaks. Minimal/electro/tech-house with a cute and zany streak.
Full disclosure: LMML claims Amsterdam, Berlin and Frankfurt as home bases. So although it’s not a pure-bred Frankfurt label, the music in its catalog fits in well with the spry, bouncy vibes we’ve come to associate with the area. The artists involved come from different countries around the world, including Italian golden boy And.rea, who helmed what is probably the label’s biggest hit to date: Less Talking More Walking.
Although several Frankfurt labels have released minimal records from Romanian artists, perhaps no local outlet has shown as much interest in the “rominimal” sound as Pressure Traxx. Manned by Frost and local hero Einzelkind, Pressure Traxx’s catalog are in some ways more traditional and less quirky than labels like Traffic and GOSU—as are Einzelkind’s DJ sets. But this clearly pays off, as releases on Pressure Traxx and Einzelkind’s other label, La Peña, generally reach the top of the charts on minimal-minded online record shops like Deejay.de.
The most recent release from the 87 stable is titled OF2DA, or From Offenbach To Darmstadt. That alone speaks to the hometown vibes at the heart of this label, which launched in 2012 with a split release from Amsterdam’s San Proper and the Frankfurt duo largely responsible for the outpost, Jacuzzi Boys. It has given a platform for a number of artists from Mannheim, Frankfurt, Offenbach, Darmstadt and more, including a relatively early and bassy release from Traffic’s Martyné and Patrick Klein.
Unless you pay a lot of attention to the wares on offer at Small Black Dots, yydistribution or Deejay.de, you may have missed the launch of Understate:ment. The inaugural 12-inch was a who’s who of local heroes that included Traffic bosses Bodin & Jacob, La Peña contributor Fabe and 87 alumni Sedee. Founder Tolga Top is based in Berlin but identifies the label’s mission as “supporting artists from our hometowns —Mannheim, Frankfurt & Berlin.” So although those involved aren’t all based in the greater Frankfurt area, it feels pretty safe to classify it as a contributor the musical movement there.
Telekom Electronic Beats is hosting regular Clubnights in the Frankfurt area at Galerie Kurzweil in Darmstadt. Find more information about our upcoming lineup, including our September 30 gig with Avalon Emerson, here.