Anthems From Front, The Gay Club That Defined Hamburg’s ‘80s Avant-Garde

Willi Prange and his partner, Phillip Clarke, opened the gay club Front in a basement near Hamburg’s Berliner Tor station in 1983. Many nights at Front were not played by guests, but by the resident DJs Klaus Stockhausen and his successor, Boris Dlugosch, who steered the club through the most cutting-edge music that the disco aftermath had to offer. It eventually became one of the first clubs in Europe to embrace house music and the styles that followed suit. The club’s intense nights were built on a wildly hedonistic crowd, a fierce quadrophonic sound system and a secluded DJ booth that stood in opposition to the cult of personality that increasingly surrounded DJs in ensuing years. Front’s musical legacy lasted well beyond its closure in 1997. Here, Boris Dlugosch guides us through some of the tracks that characterized the storied institution’s notorious avant-garde sound.

Shirley Lites, “Heat You Up (Melt You Down)” (West End Records 1983)

This was one of my first lasting musical impressions of the club. Klaus Stockhausen played it nearly every Saturday then—it was more of an after-hours record.

Syncbeat, “Music” (Streetwave 1984)

Klaus played this record when it came out, and when I started as a DJ in 1986 it had a small revival because I rediscovered it for myself. It was one of the most formative records for my musical style. I found it by chance in the club’s record inventory, and one day I got a copy for myself at Hamburg’s store for imported records, which is where I was working at the time. Those bags were sealed and contained 10 records each. I actually flicked through several other bags so that I could have two copies of it.

Connie, “Funky Little Beat” (Sunnyview 1985)

This kind of electro defined the sound at Front from 1983 to 1984. I heard it frequently on old tapes recorded live at the club. When I started going to Front from 1985 onwards, this sound slowly faded away and was replaced by early house music.

Harlequin Four’s, “Set it Off” (Jus Born Records 1985)

This is a quintessential freestyle and electro record for me. Klaus Stockhausen used to play it mostly as a break, often mixed with “Operattack“ by Grace Jones or with space effects records. This—and the Grace Jones album Slave To The Rhythm—were milestones for my musical socialization, and they always worked on the floor.

Adonis, “No Way Back” (Trax Records 1986)

This record and Farley Jackmaster Funk’s “Love Can’t Turn Around“ both came out in 1986, shortly before I started playing at the club myself. At Front club, changes in pace and style over the course of a night happened frequently, and sometimes DJs would make shifts with one quick break, like with this record. House music created a steady, homogenous beat for hours at a time.

KC Flightt, “Let’s Get Jazzy” (TMT Records 1987)

This is a hip house record from New Jersey. All of a sudden it was in record stores, and we listened to it and thought it was good. It was different from the rest of what we were hearing. It’s a very special production.

Annette, “Dream 17” (Deconstruction 1988)

We played the original version of this track, not the remix by Derrick May. I didn’t like the latter quite as much. This was another essential acid house record for me at first—not an early Detroit record, which is how other people might classify it.

Foremost Poets, “Reasons To Be Dismal?” (Nu Groove Records 1990)

This was one of the greatest Front anthems. I heard it first on a Tony Humphries tape, and then I discovered it in a box by a distributor at Tractor Records. That was an incredible moment. I had to wait for a few days before I could play it at the club myself, but, as I expected, the floor went completely wild.

Dream 2 Science, “My Love Turns To Liquid” (Power Move Records 1990)

This track is representative of some of the more diverse genres of music that would be played on any given night, such as hip-hop, reggae, UK soul or other similar sounds. The crowd was very open to these kinds of changes and musical trips.

Break The Limits, “Fire Away” (Break The Limits 1990)

There was a connection to UK sounds due to Hamburg’s proximity to Britain. When this came out I still hadn’t been to London, but Klaus Stockhausen always brought records back from his trips there.

Fila Brazilia, “Mermaids” (Pork Recordings 1994)

A night at Front lasted about seven or eight hours, and the DJs and the crowd would probably have been bored by four-to-the-floor all the way through. We started slowly by welcoming our dancers, and then the styles being played went up and down for hours. I think I got this record as a white label at the Container Record Store in Hamburg. I had absolutely no idea who made it, but I liked it, I played it and the people loved it.

Read more: Hamburg underground—a local’s guide to 7 nightlife favorites