Lena Willikens’ Guide to Düsseldorf’s DIY Music Underground
When I first started at Salon Des Amateurs, I was working as a bouncer by night and waitress by day, serving coffee to guests who would stop in after visiting the Kunsthalle museum in the same building. The venue opens as a café in the afternoon, then morphs into a bar and club in the evening. Daytime duties also included overseeing the music, so I started bringing in my records. That led to some DJ slots, and I began hosting regular Friday nights. Normally, the Salon invites a maximum of two guests to play, and there are no fixed set times. The focus is on sharing good music all night long and, of course, showing off (in an amateurish way) what great records you found recently.
Rather than falling back on the usual—“Salon des Amateurs is a place for musical freedom, blah blah blah”—I’ve simply assembled some of the great stuff produced by friends affiliated with the Salon scene, all of whom continue to influence me and each other.
Tolouse Low Trax
Detlef Weinrich AKA Tolouse Low Trax is a co-founder of Salon des Amateurs and has been a resident since the beginning. He has one of the most anarchic approaches to music in the Salon scene, not to mention a remarkable avant-garde attitude. After one of his outstanding live sets, I said to him, “Your beat is like a picture puzzle; I never know where the 1 is!” And he replied, “Yeah, because it’s my 1! I always put it where I want it, not where you expect it to be.”
Vladimir Ivkovic, who has been a resident at Salon des Amateurs since its early days, just founded a new label called Offen Music. In January it will release the debut LP from Toresch, the collaboration between Detlef Weinrich and Viktoria Wehrmeister. I’m thrilled to be able to show you Toresch’s brand-new video for “Quedarte,” which was created by Jan Wagner from footage shot during a concert at Salon.
Themes for Great Cities
Themes for Great Cities (TFGC) was founded in 2009 by Arne Bunjes. The label’s discography mirrors the musical diversity and eclecticism of Salon des Amateurs nights—from Krautrock and acid to new wave, Afrobeat, proto-house, leftfield disco, psychedelic, synth-pop and more.
Jan Schulte is a man of many aliases. He started DJing under a name that I’m not allowed to divulge here, but nowadays, he operates as Wolf Müller, Bufiman and Montezumas Rache together with Christian Pannenborg [who runs Berlin’s Record Loft]. He also plays with Amsterdam’s Young Marco as Young Wolf. Jan is a master of edits—he produces tons for his sets and, of course, for sharing with us. Drumming and more drumming is the trick to his tribal sound, and his productions are always unique, twisted and catchy. I can’t even count how many times I’ve dropped his Balztanz EP on TFGC.
Lucas Croon’s collaboration with Carsten Dämbkes is a good example of how the protagonists of the Düsseldorf scene interact creatively. “Ecke Rolandstrasse” was born out of just one joint studio session between the pair. It’s a funky, acidic track that I’ve played a lot in the past, and still work into my sets. It came out on the third Mogul compilation on TFGC. Croon is also involved in several other noteworthy projects, like Stabile Elite and BAR, a joint project with Christina Irrgang. They released their debut album last year on Italic, a German label that works closely with many Düsseldorf artists, and their sound is influenced by ‘80s new wave and synth pop.
All members of this band became regular guests at Salon Des Amateurs while still in their teens. I was overwhelmed when I saw these guys play the first time—I knew them as the wild teenage kids on the Salon dance floor, where they came to dance every fucking weekend. “Gold” is one of the first tracks they released. The video, which was made by Kira Bunse, shows Düsseldorf at its best!
Drohgebärden is one of the most underrated recordings to come out of Düsseldorf’s younger music scene. It was released back in 2011 as a cooperation between TFGC and Slowboy, a local printing factory, record store and label also responsible for the Kingii compilation. That compilation also included my first track, “High Holes.” Both labels were quite new at the time of its release, but the album is worth a revisit now. Pure psych-kraut!
Diskant was founded by Stefan Schwander (AKA Harmonious Thelonious), Marc Matter (AKA Voiceover) and Florian Meyer (AKA Don’t DJ)—the same trio behind the The Durian Brothers. Matter was an early Salon des Amateurs resident, and in addition to hosting parties, he also curated concerts and organized lectures during the week. When Diskant was founded in 2009, the team asked me to design the logo and the layout of their first release, which I did with pleasure due to the laid-back clients and my instant connection to the music. It was probably one of the most easygoing graphic design jobs I’ve ever had. Diskant is responsible for fine, sophisticated output and hosts regular label nights at Salon. The Durian Brothers have also played there countless times, so let’s listen to one of my favorite tracks: “Giri Giri,” from the EP Cubs.
Diskant co-founder Stefan Schwander describes his own productions as a combination of American minimalism, African drumming and European sequencing, which fits perfectly into Diskant’s style profile. Harmonious Thelonious’ material is some of the label’s most impulsive and danceable. The track “Angewandte Musik” winkingly refers to the world of science.
Gordon Pohl runs Kunstkopf Records, all of which are worth checking out. It’s not easy to get your hands on them because they’re only released on vinyl and are limited to 100 hand-numbered copies, and the sound files are hard to find online. These exclusive, one-sided 12”s all come with artwork by Suse Giering, a visual artist and regular guest at Salon of course!
Pohl’s also involved in a number of production projects, including 3rd Wave with Ralf Beck (one half of Die Wilde Jagd) and Musiccargo with Gerhard Michel. The Schlager-esq titled “Ich Geh Den Weg Mit Dir” (“I walk this journey by your side”) is one of the ultimate anthems of Salon des Amateurs’ early days. Pohl also operates as Karamika with George Thompson (AKA Black Merlin). In my recent sets, I’ve loved playing “Ton 03,” which is taken from their eponymous album on ESP Institute.
Die Wilde Jagd / Der Räuber und der Prinz
Die Wilde Jagd are Ralf Beck and Sebastian Lee Philipp (one half of Noblesse Oblige), who previously released two EPs as Der Räuber und der Prinz. The name referred to a song by Düsseldorf legends D.A.F. I have to ask them why they changed it, actually—I liked the old one better! I continue to play “Wah Wah Wallenstein” (and this one too) up and down. Beck is the man behind Unit 4 and the massive hit “Bodydub,” which was first released on his own Amontillado label in 2003. He probably has one of the best ear’s of any producer I know, and a super well-equipped studio in Düsseldorf as well.
Edits des Amateurs
This track was taken from the mysterious 7” and 10” series called Edits des Amateurs. All are unofficial releases from unknown artists. Take a guess at who this one comes from…
It’s so hard for me to come to an end, because there’s plenty more music I could show you and many great Düsseldorf artists who I didn’t name here. If you manage to hear one of the Salon’s rare live recordings, you can literally hear the bar morphing into a club—one of Vladimir’s special treatments. This set is a bit like traveling back in time to Salon Des Amateurs in 2006. Enjoy!