For Nick Höppner, the relentless stream of four-to-the-floor kick drums heard ubiquitously in his native Berlin is a sign of creative opportunity, rather than an exhaustion of ideas. After countless hours behind the decks at Panorama Bar and Berghain, Höppner still feels the magic of the seamless transition (a style that stands in stark contrast to the last Played Out subject, KABLAM). Folk, his new album for Ostgut Ton, is a paean to the enduring vitality of house and techno in the German capital’s clubbing community. Here, he puts a recent set at Berghain under the microscope.
PLACE: BERGHAIN, BERLIN / TIME: 10:30 P.M. SUNDAY (PEAK TIME)
1. Gunnar Haslam – “Ataxia No Logos”
The true peak time at Berghain is when Sunday night moves into Monday morning. I usually play upstairs at Panorama Bar, so playing downstairs can be a little intimidating because the atmosphere is completely different. At this point of the night the crowd is highly energized and expecting hard, relentless techno. I like to challenge myself and the dance floor with more experimental flare, hence the choice of this acidic burner from Gunnar Haslam. “Ataxia No Logos” is one of my favorite techno jams from recent times. It was released last year on the Dutch label Delsin and shows how Haslam has developed a more functional, yet equally intriguing style since his early releases on New York labels like L.I.E.S. and Mister Saturday Night.
These first two tracks have similar melodic moods, so I’ll make a long, smooth transition to highlight their common traits.
2. Surgeon – “Untitled” (from the Backwards Man EP)
This is an all-time favorite from one of the dons of Birmingham techno. The Backwards Man EP came out on Downwards in 2006, more than a decade after the Magneze 12-inch established Surgeon as a pioneering voice in ’90s techno. “Untitled” is super crunchy and bangs hard, yet Surgeon’s approach feels totally open-minded. To my ears, it recalls the uninhibited explorations of free jazz. The melody is pretty atonal, but it makes an abstracted sort of sense that perfectly complements the acid line in the Haslam track. It remains a mystery to me how Surgeon comes up with these crazy sequences and patterns.
Both tunes have bizarre melodic sequences, so a long blend creates a sense of continuity.
3. Dave Tarrida – “Asinine”
This track continues the wild, free jazz theme with its unpredictable modulations. It feels a bit like an update of the Surgeon record. In fact, they both hail from the UK and have released music on the Tresor label, so perhaps there’s something in that connection. Tarrida’s hypermodern sound design has that lazer focus where every element has its own space to move, and that pinpoint accuracy sounds pretty spectacular on the Berghain system. On “Asinine” he’s achieved a dynamic sense of space that feels alternately cavernous and claustrophobic. It starts out with a choppy, broken beat, which I think might have confused a few people on the dance floor. I like to throw in a few rhythmic curveballs to break up the barrage of kick drums. Change-ups can be the icing on the cake during a pounding techno set.
Another screwed-up atonal melody is up next, so maybe you can take a guess as to how to mix them.
4. Alex Under – “-7”
Despite having another discordant refrain, “-7” is less jazzy than the preceding tracks thanks to its austere aesthetic. Alex Under became popular during the second wave of minimal techno in the mid-noughties. The Spaniard has released records through some pretty big labels, like Richie Hawtin’s Plus 8 and Riley Reinhold’s Trapez. The highly focused sound is crystal clear and fits the atmosphere of the Dave Tarrida record like a glove. It’s aged quite well for a minimal techno track and really connects the dots in the mix.
They’re boring to read about, but long mixes really make a lot of sense to me…
Oliver Ho – “The Approach”
Oliver Ho, aka Raudive, has a huge talent for sound design. “The Approach” was released in 1998, ten years before “-7,” yet they gel together perfectly. In fact, it’s pretty amazing how well this holds up to today’s sound standards. As much as being in a club is about community, I also think it’s about the inner journey, and the four-to-the-floor kick is such a perfect and versatile carrier for musical ideas. Sometimes it seems like people just want to be bludgeoned into submission by 100 percent in-your-face techno, but I’m confident that the genre’s subtleties will prevail in the long run.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine.
Published April 21, 2015.