“Leaving heroin and melancholia behind” Danielle de Picciotto on the Love Parade
Since she moved from New York to Berlin in 1987, Danielle de Picciotto has been an iconic figure in Berlin’s art and club scene, involved in numerous projects as curator, singer, musician, painter, author, fashion designer and artist. Together with Matthias Roeingh aka Dr. Motte she co-founded the Love Parade in 1989 and coined its trademark fashion style. In this monologue—part of a series in which artists and other key cultural figures speak about their artistic experience in the city—de Picciotto remembers the genesis of Berlin’s most successful outdoor event. The Love Parade started with one hundred and fifty people marching on West Berlin’s shopping mile in the rain and grew within a decade into an event with around 1.5 million attendees.
The Love Parade was at the vanguard of the cultural schism which marked the end of the Berlin-typical existentialism of the eighties. It was about leaving depression, heroin abuse and melancholia behind in order to start celebrating life again. In conversations with Dr. Motte, the subject of the Carnival in Rio came up again and again, we thought it was great that people dressed up to celebrate music and life. Eccentric party people had always been part of the Berlin disco scene, at one of the regular seventies parties, Motte glued a piece of curly carpet to his chest to mimic the hairy chested Motown music scene we were dancing to. The clubs of the eighties in Berlin were still inspired by the seventies disco sound and that was also true for Motte’s club, Die Turbine, where I worked the bar. In contrast to the two other main party locations, the Ex’n’Pop and the Risiko, here was a place for more innocent hedonism. It was all about fun, dancing and having a party. Die Turbine wasn’t about drugs, which was exceptional, since drugs featured pretty much everywhere else in Berlin.
On our first trip to London—Motte’s very first journey on a plane—he and I experienced our very first rave. Motte had been sent some acid house records before, but after the London adventure, he decided to start doing these kinds of parties at his own venue. It was the next logical step. Techno had the same sort of life-affirming spirit we liked, just with a soundtrack that was a little more elaborate—and a lot of fog machines. At some point, Motte complained that he’d had enough of cellar-dwelling and that he would love to play in the open. At that time the first outdoor raves were just about to happen in Berlin and one evening, Motte said to Westbam, “Why don’t we organize a parade?”
Love Parade 1990, prominently featuring Danielle’s b&w fashion collection
Love Parade was registered as a political demonstration, but I thought it just as important to dress up and to make sure everybody could see that it was a party. There was a distinct sense of style at Love Parade from the outset. I asked fashion designers and people from costume and wardrobe departments in Berlin to join the parade and wear crazy outfits. Fiona Bennett sported one of her hat designs and Christa Raspe, a metalworking jewelry designer, came clad in an armature she had made for a music video. I designed crinolines with rose patterns and gave them to assorted friends to wear. It was a very colorful parade although not as colorful as it would become in the following years—most of the people were still hesitant to go all out. Of course everything was self-financed except for a hundred Deutschmarks donated by an optician and two other tiny sponsorships. The parade was eventually made up of about one hundred and fifty people dancing down Ku’damm, indeed outnumbered by the police presence. It rained, but it was an intense vibe and everyone was very happy.
Techno fashion, if you will, just as techno music, didn’t define itself until a bit later. Even the Tresor didn’t start out as a pure techno venue. In the early days of Tresor, Dimitri Hegemann invited me to perform with my hip-hop band Space Cowboys in a room adjacent to the main floor. At Tresor every room was dedicated to a different style of music, just as the early parade was about having many different styles coexist in peace and equality.
The evolving techno look owed a lot to the practicalities of techno raves. Complicated designs that were uncomfortable to dance in didn’t make a lot of sense. In the early years, I would still design corsages and crinolines with cosmic hats, but from the second parade on, I started to switch to streetwear designs advertising contemporary techno clubs. I made stretch pants with unusual ornamentation and leather jackets with techno club names on their backs. Techno fashion soon turned into unisex streetwear. Soon, companies from London started to move into the market with techno streetwear labels. From then on, the industry gained more and more influence over every aspect of the techno scene.
This is why I gradually withdrew from the Love Parade. The techno phenomenon, however, continued to interest and fascinate me because it was continuously developing. I still worked at many clubs up until 1995: I was on the door at E-Werk and I organized the weekly Ocean Club at Tresor with Gudrun Gut and Dimitri Hegemann. All those people are still my friends today. Later on, I organized two art events with Motte which we also incorporated into the Love Parade.
When Love Parade turned into a mass event in the mid-nineties and people who were motivated by money alone gained more and more influence, I was happy for my friends who earned money from it. It was good to see a self-sustaining scene evolve that provided for a new circle of professionals. But it was suddenly all too predictable. People started to participate as living billboards—money changes everything and superficiality prevailed. I think the Love Parade idea eventually consumed itself, a victim of its own success. For me, it was time to move on. ~
Read our evolving archive of Berlin’s musical history by visiting our Berlin Experiment page.
Published June 20, 2014. Words by robertdefcon.