Until fairly recently, the issue of sexuality and space, in which theories of sexuality are reread in architectural terms and architecture is reread in sexual terms, was a glaring absence in architectural theory. The symposium and publication Sexuality and Space organized by Beatriz Colomina at the Princeton University School of Architecture in the early ’90s was one of the first initiatives to correct this omission. Soon after, Stud: Architectures of Masculinity, edited by Joel Sanders for the Princeton Architectural Press in 1996, focused on the role of architecture in the formation of queerness and the architectonics of gay male sexuality. In his introduction, Sanders writes: “Architecture and masculinity, two apparently unrelated discursive practices, are seen to operate reciprocally.”
Undeniably, the essays, images and graphic design of the recent book Berghain | Kunst im Klub call our attention to the structure of a homoerotic look transacted through space. The architecture of queer visibility, which this book covers in detail, troubles the heterosexist perspective by overturning the social rules forbidding male spectacle within public space. Indeed, there are no better “introductions” than Sexuality and Space and especially Stud: Architectures of Masculinity to understand the sexual implications of the architecture and art of Berghain. Berghain | Kunst im Klub, designed by Yusuf Etiman and conceptualized by Kathrin Hain, tells us as much.
The book’s cover is entirely devoid of text, with only the spine featuring the title—a smart and courageous gesture by the publisher Hatje Cantz. All we get is the club’s logo superimposed on an image of one of the club’s raw industrial walls. It functions as a bio-political self-representation of the clubbers, the heavy beats and yes, in contrast to what many say and think, the open atmosphere of Berghain. Or as Berghain regular and photographer Wolfgang Tillmans put it: “The atmosphere in a (good) club is like art is supposed to be: it’s totally open and doesn’t tell you what to think.” Had I therefore also seen on and in Etiman’s cover an abstract rendering of the male anus in Wolfgang Tillmans’ Phillip, close-up III from 1996, which once adorned the Panorama Bar, and which is reproduced in full glory twice in the book?
This and the other plates of Tillmans are a perfect introduction to the rest of the book. The interview with Tillmans is intelligent and enlightening, as are most of the other carefully edited interviews. Tillmans ends his interview: “I find the most interesting visual medium at Berghain to be the flyers.” These exquisite flyers are placed at the very end of the book, and I have to admit, they are often more memorable than most of the art, which the book generously and thoroughly documents. That said, there is a fascinating common theme in almost all the contributions featured in Berghain | Kunst im Klub, gleamed not only from reading between the lines. All contributors appear to show and tell of fractals and fractality, fluids and fluidity, darkness and lightness. It makes sense when seeing photographs documenting the art, as for once all the lights are on! Suddenly we see the borders of borderless Berghain. Even photographer and legendary doorman Sven Marquardt discusses the importance of daylight.
As far as fluids are concerned, Sarah Schönfeld’s Hero’s Journey (Lamp) from 2014, an illuminated glass case filled with a thousand liters of urine she collected and preserved in the club’s toilets, is one of the most poignant works on view. The urine shines like the gold in a Byzantine church. It is an image of salvation. Elsewhere he pigeon droppings and dust particles that appear as fractals in the photographs of Friederike von Rauch create the same kind of “otherness”. As argued in the scholarly publications mentioned above, it reminds us that there is no such thing as queer space; there are only spaces used by queers or put to queer use. This book explains exactly that. And it does it so well.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. Click here to read more from the magazine. All images appear in Berghain | Kunst im Klub / Art in the Club, published in 2015 by Hatje Cantz. Cover photo: Wolfgang Tillmans, Mundhöhle, 2012. © Wolfgang Tillmans. The work, which translates into English as “oral cavity”, hangs at the Panorama Bar.
Without giving in to hyperbole, it’s fair to say that Marcel Dettmann has played a defining role in contemporary techno through his work as a DJ, producer, and label chief. The Berghain resident’s eponymous imprint, MDR, is home to a privileged inner circle of producers he also counts as friends, including Answer Code Request (AKA Patrick Gräser) and Kobosil. Gräser and Dettmann’s history goes back to when both were teenagers with skateboards in their hometown outside Berlin, where fellow MDR artists and Berghain DJs Norman Nodge and Marcel Fengler also got their start (apparently there’s something in the water). Kobosil, on the other hand, represents a generation of young Berlin-bred producers for whom Dettmann’s marathon sets provided early inspiration. Following the release of a varied and muscular MDR compilation last month, we sat down with Dettmann, Gräser, and Kobosil to find out what it’s like having Dettmann as a mentor, and what Dettmann himself is looking for when grooming talent for the label.
Marcel Dettmann: Patrick [Answer Code Request] and I have known each other for almost 20 years now. I remember the first time we caught up with each other, when a mutual friend had told me about him. Back in the day, we were both skaters. I was 16 or 17, and a skate park had opened in our city.
Answer Code Request: It wasn’t really a skate park—it was more like a parking lot with a ramp.
MD: That was where the cool people hung out—mostly hip-hop people with baggy pants. We were more into techno and drum ‘n’ bass. At that time I also had a party in our hometown, and Patrick joined me sometimes. He’d come to the place and start DJing.
ACR: He sold records at his mom’s place, actually. He told me, “Hey, if you need some records, or you’re interested in house or techno, you can come to me.” So I started going to his house every week, because he was always getting packages.
MD: I got two big packages every week, because there wasn’t really a store for this kind of electronic dance/techno/house scene. I opened a little record distribution company in my own room, and then Norman Nodge and Patrick and some other friends came to buy records, which I got from distributors in Germany like Hard Wax. That was the hot spot where we all met and had a beer or had a coffee together and talked about music. Once a month, we had a little party in an alternative punk club called Park Club. It was more like a concert venue for punk bands. Patrick and Norman and Marcel Fengler, who’s also a close friend of ours, played there in the late ’90s.
ACR: Since then we’ve been good friends. I was releasing music under my own name around 2008. That was when I really started to produce.
MD: Patrick was coming up with new music for years, and after a while we reached a point where I really got into the vibe he still has, with his broken beat and UK techno-house stuff. So we said, “OK, now it’s time to make a record” and we started the Answer Code Request project.
ACR: People didn’t know who was behind this project. It was really interesting to hear what people said after I revealed my identity one year later.
MD: It kept the focus away from the artist, so we could see how people reacted to the music. If you release on MDR, they have expectations in mind. But if you self-release on a new label, nobody knows what to expect.
MK: And when you start releasing music, nobody thinks to write a biography. I tried to put my first record out without any information.
MD: The guys at Hard Wax gave me Max’s first record, and I was so excited about his sound that I got in touch with him and asked if he would be up for releasing on MDR.
MK: I was at home checking out some tracks on Hard Wax’s website when I received the email from Marcel. I was really happy, because for me, Marcel and the MDR label always had the best sound.
MD: With all the artists on the label, there has to be a special interest in the beginning. It’s not only the music; it’s also their character, which takes a while. With Max, we went through almost a year and 100 tracks before we were happy with the result. Same with Patrick and every other artist. I think it’s really important to let them grow, not to just say, “OK this track is nice, so we’ll do an EP,” and after a year you look back and think, “What were we doing?” It has to be timeless. If you start being pushed by someone or something, it creates a bad chain reaction. That’s the reason I need a lot of time to prepare a new EP with an artist: because we need to do a lot of talking and listening in order to make the best product we can.
MK: Before my EP on MDR, Marcel and I went through—it wasn’t 100 tracks, but it was a lot. I just sent him the new ones, because I thought my old ones were not good enough, but he told me, “Send me everything.”
MD: I want to have the accidents, the crazy stuff. That’s the soul of the artist, and that’s the stuff I like when I make music.
ACR: For me, it was 200 tracks. In the beginning, he would send me all his tracks and ask me what I thought of them. He’s always waiting for something special.
MK: It’s also cool to wait, because then you have a personal connection with every artist. If Marcel had released my music immediately just because he liked my first EP, then maybe we wouldn’t know each other so well.
MD: I also love this kind of interaction. It’s really important to interact with Patrick and Max to see what they’re thinking and doing, in their DJing as well as their productions. When I heard Max playing in Robert Johnson, which is a house club, I felt like I was at Tresor in 1993. There was a really good vibe there.
MK: I played old records from the ’90s, really rough techno. I didn’t care that it was a house club, I just flowed.
MD: He played Terence Fixmer’s “Aktion Mekanik.“ It’s a classic Terence Fixmer track, and I realized we have a connection to the same artists. It’s important to me that the artists on the label have good taste in music. DJ skills are like riding a bike: you can ride fast, you can ride slow, you can jump over mountains, but in the end you’re riding a bike. More important is which kind of bike you’re riding. I don’t like boring DJ sets—linear flat tracks, no bass, no vibe. I want something where you’re standing around and you hear something and think, “What the fuck is this?” and you have to go to the DJ booth and check out the track. All the artists on MDR do that to me.
This is something I really need, or else I get bored. For me, functionality is not as important as the feeling. It’s more about being eclectic. I have so many tracks from each of the artists, but I don’t have the space to release twelve records a year. So for the compilation, I wanted to put a concept together, giving people an idea of the MDR sound. That’s why we all chose the tracks together. It’s a gemeinschafts arbeit.
ACR: A group work. We all worked together on it. It was [Marcel’s] idea.
MD: Yeah, but we had a lot of meetings about it together. I can’t always focus on the tracks anymore, because I love them and I’ve known them for years. Some tracks are really old. Norman’s track is like, six years old.
ACR: And the FBK track, you’ve had that for one or two years.
MD: I think I’ve been collecting tracks from him for four years, but now I think it’s time. I really like him and he’s a great producer, and this track is so strong, so I put it on the compilation. Next time we’ll do an EP. It’s good way to introduce a new artist on the label. We’re getting better at expressing ourselves, and our vision of music.
MK: I told Marcel just today that for me, everything fits together. I don’t need any other label. I have my own label, RK, where I can do crazy things and don’t have to work with anybody, and then I have Ostgut Ton and MDR. That’s all. I can’t understand why some people release on so many labels.
ACR: When you’re only releasing on a few labels, there’s more focus. When you have artists who are everywhere, their identity gets lost.
MD: One thing that I learned really early from the Ostgut and Berghain guys—and also from Hard Wax—is that less is more. Be focused. I did a lot of remixes, and I’m really proud of each of them, but the most important thing is being focused and—
ACR: Doing what you want.
MK: For me, it’s better to belong to a corner, so people recognize me as the guy from MDR or the guy from Ostgut Ton. If I’m releasing too many different places, everyone will have a different idea of who I am or what I do. I decided years ago that this configuration is the best, because I love the philosophy of MDR and the Berghain crew. The book is closed for me. I don’t need any other labels.
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.
One of Berlin’s favorite DJs speaks about his method and the future of his hometown, Detroit.
Ryan Elliott has built a reputation for his stripped-back, sleek, and versatile selections as well as his highly dynamic mixing style. The Michigan native got his start as a resident DJ at the clubs Shelter in Detroit and Goodnight Gracie in Ann Arbor, and in 2009 he resettled in Berlin, where he swiftly secured residencies at both Berghain and Panorama Bar. Although he’s been active as a producer and DJ for over a decade, Elliott’s renown picked up steam in the past year, thanks to his regular sets at Berlin’s most famous club and Panorama Bar 06, his contribution to its esteemed mix series, which includes previous contributions from Nick Höppner and Steffi. Elliott’s was the first to arrive as a digital download package with specially commissioned 12″s rather than as a physical CD. We caught up with Elliott via Skype from Detroit, where he was taking a rare break from an intensive touring schedule that hit parties like Just Jack in Bristol and continues this weekend.
You grew up outside Detroit and held down residencies there when you were just starting out. Detroit is always a common reference point, but there’s an extra amount of discussion and speculation about the city recently because Dimitri Hegemann, the founder of Tresor in Berlin, has been talking to the press about opening a club in the Fisher Body space. Do you have any thoughts on that, given that you’ve lived in both cities?
When I heard about it, I loved the idea. Part of the reason that Berghain works is because—I don’t know how close they are with the city officials—but they’re allowed to be open as long as they want. I know police come in when they want, so it’s more of an open relationship. Berlin really embraces clubbing, they’ve done that for a while now. Now I think they’re doing it more and more because they’re realizing it’s a tourist attraction.
But in Detroit, a club would be open from 10 pm to 4 am at the latest. That’s only six hours, and that’s just someone’s set in Berlin. I’d love to see Hegemann do it. There’s plenty of space for it, there’s plenty of big empty buildings. I just wonder how you would run a business—get enough money, get enough people through a door, sell enough drinks in a night to keep something like that open if you’ve only got six hours to jam it all into. He’s a smart guy, he’s obviously run successful clubs for a long time, so maybe he’s in touch with politicians, maybe they’re going to have it be open more or maybe they’re going to do more daytime-based stuff. Every piece of it is there. It would be pretty affordable for him to open a big crazy building, and Detroit has such a culture with techno that I don’t see any problems with getting people into it. I think people would come from probably all over the US from it, and they would have a crazy couple weeks around the Detroit festival. The only thing is the hours, and its ability to even open would be my hesitation.
We had an email conversation with Brendan Gillen (the founder of Interdimensional Transmissions) recently about this, and he shared a similar reaction—club audiences in Detroit these days don’t come close to the crowds that you might have found at Motor in the late ’90s and early 2000s. However, he did say that, all reservations considered, residents would generally welcome the introduction of a new club or cultural center. Would you say there’s a current demand for a European, industrial-style club space like Tresor or the Kraftwerk?
Detroiters will always surprise you. I think many people would be really curious and interested in a new Tresor opening there. But clubbing for 18 hours or however long usually isn’t even legal, and also it’s not “socially acceptable.” Clubbing in America has never been as culturally ingrained as it is in Europe. That said, I do think people would be happy to see a new club there.
Do you think it would have been possible for you to be as successful and as active as a touring DJ if you had stayed based in the States?
Absolutely not. That was one of the reasons that I moved, because I was at a point where—without having so many releases out—I was coming to Europe quite a bit, but if I were to have stayed in Detroit, that’s where I would have stayed as a DJ. And also I had lived in Detroit my whole life and I wanted to see a little bit of something else.
You moved to Berlin in 2009, landed residencies at Panorama Bar and Berghain, joined the Ostgut roster, and over the summer you released Panorama Bar 06. What kind of response did it receive?
To be honest, I didn’t see too many bad reviews—it seemed like everybody really liked it. At first when they announced that it wouldn’t be in CD format—that it would be online—there were some ho-hums about it, some people were a little confused. But I think after, when they heard the mix and when they saw the total package online on the SoundCloud page with the downloadable art and people could really grasp the whole thing, it was a really positive response.
The mix also marked a kind of seminal moment for the series, namely, the end of the CD format, no licensing fees, and free downloads. Given the number of mixes released digitally and online, what makes the mix, or the Panorama Bar series in general, stand out for you?
I worked really hard on it. I started to get the original tracks from people last February, and I really took the time to try to make it special. Most of the tracks that I used were either new, unreleased things that I really liked, or older records that I knew would stand the test of time, so to me they already seemed timeless. I was trying to build a mix that people couple listen to more than once, listen to it multiple times, maybe even over multiple years. That’s how I feel about my favorite mixes. The Richie Hawtin Decks, EFX & 909 series, Craig Richards’ fabric 01 mix, Josh Wink’s Profound Sounds. I still listen to those even though they were made ten plus years ago.
You specially commissioned a number of exclusive tracks for the mix. How did the selection process work for you? Did you have existing relationships with the artists that you approached?
I kind of knew—hoped—that I would be doing a Panorama Bar mix. Once I joined Ostgut about four years ago, I started to make notes of tracks that I would use or artists that I would ask, because I would find good records and want to remember them. I had a list going for a couple years of artists I like or with whom I had working relationships in the past.
It was a new thing, so I really had to explain to some people how it was going work with exposure, and how it wasn’t going to be the normal royalty payment. Some of the artists were a little hesitant at first, but I guess I used the powers of persuasion, and there was only a couple that I didn’t get that I really wanted. Now it’s out, and it got really well received. The 12″s sold well, and even some of the older records that I used, some of the labels have told me that they sold out of their backstock and might do a repress. So I think everybody on the mix got some good recognition. They didn’t get a licensing fee, say, for one of the tracks, but the flipside of that was they got more exposure, and maybe they got more than they would’ve got on a licensing fee by selling out their backstock of that record. It really was an experiment. Honestly, when our label manager came to me with the idea, even I was a little hesitant at first. But then we got into what it would look like, that it would be mastered, that it would be a .wav download, all of that, he really got me on board fast.
I’ve noticed you make a lot of charts, and you seem pretty religious about updating your music on a weekly basis. Would you take us through your approach to acquiring music? What are listening for, and what’s catching your attention these days?
First on the chart stuff: I have a monthly chart. I’ve done it every month since 2000, I think. I do it because I want to show the labels I like to the people who read my charts. It’s hard enough to survive as a label anyway, so I feel like if I’m playing someone’s record, I owe them that respect.
As to how I pick new music, it’s still record store-based. I check Phonica every week, I check Hard Wax every week, I check Rotation, I’ll go to Space Hall and dig around. I don’t always buy all that stuff on vinyl because if I know I can get a digital file, maybe it’s out of stock. But it’s still based around record shops, because record shops have a buyer, and usually a buyer at a record store gets good things because they need to sell them. Say if I went on Beatport and there’s five zillion tracks, that’s too much information. If you look at a record store and what they’re selling, that narrows it down for you because they don’t buy junk. I have favorite labels that I check for stuff, and favorite artists that keep me updated on what they do. It’s been the same way I’ve done it since the beginning, it’s just an organic thing. It’s never something that I feel like I have to do, it’s something I want to do. I get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, and get on the websites or go to the shops. That’s what I like doing.
Are there any labels or artists you represented on your charts when they were starting out that have since developed bigger profile?
Well there’re these two guys, one of their names is Marcel Dettmann. I bought some of his first records. Ben Klock—I think I charted his first. I remember seeing the first Ostgut 12″, and it was them: Dettmann and Klock. I was blown away by it. That’s how I got to know them. I think somehow I got Ben’s email and we started swapping tracks. It happens all the time. I’m always surprised, especially now with Facebook, how many of the artists who, after I chart their tracks, contact me and say thanks, and then from there we have a relationship already. I want to expose those artists whose music I’m playing. I have a hard time with DJs who don’t do charts because they think they’re showing their hand; they don’t want people to have those records. If it’s a good record, I want to share it with everybody. I can get new stuff if they’re playing one that I had.
Ostgut seems to provide a pretty secure platform, but have you ever thought about starting your own label?
I have yeah, I’ve thought about it a lot—and I think I will. I don’t know if I’ll do it this year, maybe next year. I’m in the position of getting a lot of really good unreleased music from a lot of lesser-known artists, and I feel like now I have the ability to showcase that. There were people that helped me out when I was first starting to DJ, and now I’ve started to feel an obligation to get some of these people out there. So yeah, I think it’s coming.
Ryan Elliott is currently touring in Europe.
This week sees CTM kick off its annual winter residency at the center of Berlin’s cultural world. Among the deluge of events which push at the seams of electronic music and performance, it’s the Berghain blow-out helmed by Marcel Dettmann that promises to be a showstopper. We caught up with the Berghain resident whose marathon sets are the stuff of techno lore to talk excess, anarchy and playing drones to excited tourists.
“For me, it’s Berlin, Berghain and Hard Wax which created me,” explains Marcel Dettmann, speaking in his home studio located in a leafy corner of Prenzlauer Berg. And if those three points can be taken as the trinity of techno, where does that leave Dettmann? As one of the residents of Berlin’s monolithic clubbing institution, Berghain, his unholy communions on Sunday have become notorious, running up to twelve hours straight and powering well into Monday morning. If you can endure it—and the Crossrail sized hole you’ll bore into the following week—it’s as close to redemptive as clubbing gets. But you’ve got to be tough.
Growing up in Fürstenwalde, a suburban town fifty-five kilometers east of Berlin, Dettmann has more than a little East German resolve; he was just twelve when the Wall fell. The tumultuous period that followed was the backdrop for his musical coming of age. It’s not too much of a stretch to see how this period of aggressive upheaval, alongside the aggro EBM which soundtracked his hormone-powered teenage years, has hardened into the concrete foundation of his own productions. While his second album II expanded on the unadulterated techno formula of his 12-inches and unforgiving first record Dettmann, you can still tell a Dettmann record by its savage economy of elements and industrial sweep. When he plays Berlin’s CTM Festival next week, in the relatively alien habitat of Panorama Bar, he’ll be taking on international representatives of 21st century techno. Who’ll be the last man standing? Take a guess.
You’re playing CTM next week, also on the bill is Helena Hauff, Concrete Fence and Dasha Rush so it feels like it’s bringing together some divergent strands of techno being made in 2014. Does it feel like a particularly fertile period for techno for you?
I’m really looking forward to it—I’m looking forward to seeing Actress, Helena who’s from Hamburg and I’m really liking what she’s doing the last couple of years, I’ve got some records from her. It’s a nice mixture of characters in the electronic music scene. It’s gonna be my first time playing at CTM and it’s also special because I don’t often play at Panorama Bar, normally I play at Berghain.
Will you be restricted by how long you’ll get to play, you’re known for your really long sets at Berghain. Or do you sometimes welcome these limitations? Have you got anything planned especially for CTM?
Sometimes, like in this case playing three to four hours—I think it’s good to be restricted. The special thing for CTM is like I said Marcel Dettmann playing in Panorama Bar. And on top, it’s my first gig after my holidays.
Of course, your connection with Berghain goes right back to before it was even Berghain—to its forerunner Ostgut.
I remember when I went there as a young kid for a party, I remember when they opened from ’98 – ’99, it was New Year’s Eve and it was my first time there. It was ninety percent guys and ten percent girls and there was 300 people or something. It really reminded me of E Werk—I really liked that club back in the day. A friend of mine gave the owners a mixtape of mine and they asked me to play there, I was only twenty or something, so really young. It was not my starting point as a DJ because I DJ’d before in my hometown or in other cities in the east part of Germany: Dresden, Leipzig. However, that was the starting point for Marcel Dettmann. Then I got into the Berlin scene.
What was that like, compared to the international scene now?
It was totally different. In the beginning it was really a gay club, and I really loved that, they really wanted to dance and party and you felt there was such a great energy. After a while Panorama Bar came up, and then it became more international, people from New York, people from London, people from everywhere in the world came to this club—fashion people, actors, whatever. It got a more international vibe than. I can’t say that Ostgut was different to Berghain, it was a long time ago and I was much younger. For me though, it’s grown slowly. Nowadays, the New Year’s Eve party or the birthday party was amazing and I just realized again what we have here in Berlin. We wouldn’t have it without Ostgut, it’s the reason we have it now. Without it, the Berghain would have never existed.
In the Slices interview you did for EB you drove back to your hometown of Fürstenwalde and the impression you got was one of an ex-industrial town, with factories and tower blocks shaping the skyline. Did you feel like the atmosphere fed into your musical identity? So much is said about techno in Berlin being closely related to its topography after the wall came down.
It was a special time, I was twelve when the wall came down. How Berlin looked after the wall, with all these old buildings, it looked like the Second World War had just finished. And there was an anarchic feeling because the West police and the East police didn’t know whether they should do something or not. There was some crazy stuff going on in the streets, like fights between punks and Nazis. It was a crazy time actually, really weird, a lot of gang fights. I think that could be a reason, of course. I’m definitely not a flower power guy! It was a rough, tough time and it was tough growing up then—we would hear stories about people dying. It was a rough political system, but I didn’t realize that then. It was in the days after the wall came down when violent change happened. I’m happy that I wasn’t older; when you are sixteen and you’re going to work, to have your company you work for no longer exist. I was at school, I was a kid enjoying my childhood. Around Berlin it was really tough, in Berlin it was worse, in Marzahn for example… Crazy, don’t stay there when it’s dark.
Interesting, then, that a word that comes up a lot when describing your music is “uncompromising”. Often, your records feel so austere, so reduced that if you subtracted one more element the whole track would collapse. It’s not easy music.
It’s difficult to explain. It’s a feeling. It’s inside me. I don’t have any formula. The school of music, of making records and DJing which I come from, is darkwave, EBM, and that is also really uncompromising. It’s really harsh, a really harsh rhythm going on, some people screaming into the mic, like Nitzer Ebb for example, it’s really like, “Wow,” I get goosebumps. When I was much younger, the way we danced was so… testosterone-fuelled. I was thirteen or fourteen, you needed something like this, so that’s where it comes from. Then I started going to clubs in Berlin and getting more into techno and the Hard Wax crew and doing things, like for example, what Basic Channel did, making a couple of records and then saying that’s it, nothing more to say. Yeah, this is my school.
Did growing up in the DDR limit the music you were exposed to or were you too young to be affected by that kind of cultural influence.
I remember this neighbor who lived next door who had this double-deck tape recorder and we recorded our music off the radio, for example Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Madonna, whatever was famous at this time. I remember we recorded a Depeche Mode concert before the wall came down. Then we would make copies, that’s how I started getting into music. I think it was because he was three years older.
How did you go from there to your first techno records? Was it through the same guy?
That was a brother of a friend, he introduced us into EBM and dark wave that was really independent, underground stuff, the kind of music you didn’t get in every record store. He gave me CDs and samplers and tapes and stuff, and then in 1992 he came up with a compilation. I remember it was a trance compilation. I actually found the CD recently. It was called Logic Trance, Logic was the label. I actually listened to it again and thought, “Wow, this is still real good stuff.” When I think about trance now, I think about cheesy music, but trance could be really mental. I love the mental vibes and stuff, it’s not just a physical thing. From there I got deeper into techno. I started going to Tresor where they played more Berlin-Detroit-Chicago kind of stuff.
And Tresor would’ve been the hardest, toughest techno back then, right?
Yeah, but I really liked it. Not only the music, but also the spirit, when you got to the club and saw the people… The first time I was there, I thought the Berlin people were really crazy.
Why did you think the Berliners were crazy?
They were maybe all on drugs but I didn’t know—I was so young! I was like, “Oh, Berlin people are really crazy”. It was weird. Then, after a while I began to buy techno 12-inches, then when I was fourteen I had my Jugendweihe, which is like a religious confirmation but secular because in East Germany we’re not religious. You get money from your family and some people, buy a bike or something like that—I bought a Technics turntable. I had that Technics and I had a turntable without a pitch controller, and I got a mixer from my teacher in the school, without headphone plugs, and then I started mixing. I didn’t know how they did it, I didn’t know that they used headphones to beatmatch and pitch them, I knew none of that. I just mixed the breaks. For me, it was just the greatest thing, mixing my favorite music at home and making mixtapes.
It seems that Berghain, as the locus for techno in Berlin, has really colonized the way that we talk about and understand techno right now. People who have never been there have this idea of what it is; when people discuss it they reach for the ‘Berghain’ descriptor in a way that they wouldn’t with any other club. What’s it like observing all this from the inside?
For me, I’m a resident, I’m playing for the guys for fifteen years now, so of course I have a different view on this. But it’s great that people look forward to something they do not know, but of whom they have heard a lot…
I wonder if it’s wish fulfillment. People have an ideal of Berlin and, by extension, Berghain and they want that ideal to be true. There’s all those mythical stories about Berlin back in the nineties and people have fear of missing out, they need to believe it’s still like that and they’re part of something.
Yeah. And it is really great to play an opening set to see people come into the club and I’m just playing drones, just starting the night, and the people walk in like [throws hands in the air], “YEEAAAHH!” These are people maybe from South America or wherever and they’ve just come to Europe, to Berlin, to see Berghain and theyget in. It’s a great thing for them. That’s the reason you have this special atmosphere there.
Do you think there’s something special about playing the end of the night? It seems that the bond of trust between DJ and crowd is at its strongest. Not that I’ve ever stayed at a Berghain party until “ende”, although I’ve tried.
[laughs] Yeah, it’s special. When you are tired and relaxed, because it was a long weekend—me too! I come from somewhere and then it’s really special, you have time. You can start at any point you want and take the crowd up or bring them back down. Actually, now the nights end Monday morning at 10 a.m. or something, which is so weird. I remember it used to end on Sunday and now it closes to a day later. It’s special but it’s tough sometimes. When you stay there for twelve hours, it’s really tough. When you come home you are tired for two days—really, really tired. But it gives me power to be there. You just realize, when you finish, how tired you are. It’s like a drug, it keeps you alive and then after… You fall into a hole. Mondays never exist. Tuesdays, also.
And you’re just drinking?
Yes. Just drinking.
It’s interesting that you say it finishes a lot later now. Do you think there’s a hunger, a need almost, for more, to test the boundaries of losing yourself? Where does that stop? Are people more excessive now than they were in the nineties?
I think it was always like this in the electronic music scene. People want to escape from their every day lives so they just continue… and keep on going…
You’ve got a two year-old daughter. Did having her change you with regards to the music you make and the hours you keep?
I’m not really sure. She changed me of course because now I have a different focus, it’s the music and my family, of course. Last week I actually had the first three days with my daughter alone cause my wife was away. I really enjoyed it, it was so peaceful. I didn’t think about anything else. But I don’t think it changed my musical taste and musical mind a lot. It still comes from [puts hand on chest] here. ~
Marcel Dettmann plays CTM 2014 with Actress, Concrete Fence, Metaslice, Dasha Rush and Helena Hauff on Friday, 31st January at Berghain/Panorama Bar.