Lorenzo Senni is no longer the sole property of the underground. The Italian composer’s early releases appeared in 2008 on Simon Scott’s Kesh imprint and then on his own Presto!?, and his detailed, effervescent electronic music rapidly gained the respect of abstract computer music fans. However, he didn’t remain a secret for long. His profile reached new heights with the release of his “pointillistic trance” albums Quantum Jelly (2012) and Superimpositions (2014), and after his appearances at the avant garde music and festivals Unsound and CTM, Senni’s name was on many lips.
Senni’s trance works marry the analytic precision of the likes of Florian Hecker with the wide-eyed euphoria of ‘90s hardstyle, allowing the genre’s beatless moments to disperse in seemingly endless sequences. Senni was perhaps the number-one breakout artist at the Unsound Festival in Krakow last fall, and I met him in Berlin shortly after another standout performance at CTM, where he presented new piece titled Advanced Abstract Trance. The project, which had only been performed as a studio version until CTM, dissects the genre’s aggressive drops and presents them in a sterile yet overwhelming display, punctuated by obscene carbon dioxide cannon explosions. Though the performance is certainly puzzling, it’s also enticingly playful and optimisitic—much like Senni himself.
Laurie Tompkins: Tell me about Advanced Abstract Trance.
Lorenzo Senni: Before Superimpositions and Quantum Jelly I did a record of abstract computer music called Dunno. I wanted to go back in that direction and use the sonic material that currently interests me. Quantum Jelly was born because I was interested in the build-up of trance tracks. I went through thousands of tracks and analyzed build-ups to see what was going on. I used the same method on Advanced Abstract Trance, but I was looking for breakdowns and studying what was going on with the falling bass and the moments that follow the drop, when the producers need to keep the tension high but provide a sense of release. I put together a display of these moments. It can be a stressful and frustrating listen sometimes because it seems to give false starts.
Yesterday, a friend asked me, “Why don’t you layer it?” The answer is, because it’s supposed to be a display that wants to be a composition, rather than a composition in itself. I hope it will develop every time I do it. There were already bits written by [computer music trio] Evol in this performance. Friends who I really respect are slowly joining the project, which will become a collaboration.
Superimpositions is completely beatless, and the moments between the beats of a standard trance track are really stretched out. AAT is all attacks, but because you’re hearing these isolated explosions one after the other it defeats itself, it refuses to build up.
Exactly. Neither are supposed to build up. Everyone has an idea of how this material develops in a usual track. When you give just a few seconds and then another one, the brain wants it to go somewhere over time, but instead, I’m giving another strong impulse for the sequence to restart. This material is made to climax, and it’s very precise. If you don’t have time to make it explode, and you have another strong input, you begin again.
Do the carbon dioxide cannons give people a proper drop within the context of these stunted moments?
They raise the hope that there will be a drop. Usually, carbon dioxide cannons go off and everyone goes wild. In AAT it’s a bit mutilated, but at the end it’s a real drop with this long CO2 emission until the gas finishes. When the cannons are winding down, the pressure increases and it sounds like a trance build-up. It’s a cold breeze that’s acoustic, loud, and very precise.
So, essentially, you’re bringing club dirtiness into the concert space.
Exactly—or, more than exactly. It’s circumscribed euphoria.
What’s the attraction of reimagining trance? With the title Superimpositions, for instance, there’s a sense that the super saw waves in your Roland JP-800 are piling up, but also the idea that if you could go back to early hardcore afresh you could rewrite its history.
We have a different point of view and different technology now compared to when trance was first made, but it’s also important to me that we have an emotional link with it. These tracks are highly structured and dry, and without at least a bit of emotion they’re uninteresting.
A title like “Elegant and Never Tiring” from Superimpositions really evokes that feel of infinity in your music. To me, infinity embodies the optimism of the never-ending party, but it also taps into this contemporary reality of an endlessly overbearing social life.
For me, it’s just a display. I really like the idea that people have to make an effort with the music. With AAT, I give short inputs and the audience has to develop it into a longer idea. With Quantum Jelly, it’s an inverse process. For a period, I was very into early Plastikman, before Consumed. When you get the archives box you also get the studio takes. You’ll have an 11 minute track with a 50 minute studio version, which is super precise with the filter moving in a very minimal way. I have this little section of a longer build because I like the idea of really learning from something.
Trance, like many ’90s dance styles, is highly accelerated. Zooming in on a small section of the build up is, to me, political. Perhaps the music urges us to slow down, concentrate wholly and re-evaluate?
I was looking at this musical structure seated in my studio, and not trying to make club tracks. I wasn’t looking at where the track could go but something very different. So in that sense, yes—but I’ve also had very diverse reactions. Sometimes it was very confrontational, and sometimes people were really happy even though it was 4 in the morning and they expected beats. I’m very open to the reaction, and honestly I’m not interested in being challenging just for myself. It’s for an audience.
Your stuff is certainly provocative in a different way to Florian Hecker. There’s less aggression in your music, it lures you in.
Maybe I could play loud or play a track for 15 minutes, but I’m more interested in leaving a bit of space for people to get involved. If it’s not enjoyable because of its length, at least you can pick up on its melodies. I’m interested in seducing people into a territory where they feel comfortable, but if they look around, they’re like, “Where am I?” When I’m in the studio I fight to be not too much one way or the other. If I go too much into routine trance then I’ve failed, and if I go too much into abstraction and lose the emotion, I’ve also failed. It should be just on the precipice.
There’s so much cheese with trance that if you don’t play it just right, there’s a risk you really could make something rubbish.
It’s very risky and that’s important. It’s interesting in that it takes you into the mainstream, and you have to deal with things outside the closed circle. I like playing with fire and keeping things moving.
Quantum Jelly was released on Editions Mego, which puts it in a crucial context of abstract computer music, despite the trance influence. When you work on something, are you creating with a specific imprint in mind?
I’ve always liked Mego, and when I was nearly finished I only sent one demo out and it was to Peter [Rehberg]. I said, “I’m not used to sending out demos, but you should listen to this.” He wrote back to me in 30 minutes saying “Let’s do it. Track 06 should be twice as long.” I wasn’t really thinking about the label, but I wanted Peter to hear it. With this new material, I got a lot of propositions from some unexpected labels, but I had to ask them to let me go deeper before I committed. I want to be free of their expectations, and totally proud of what I’m presenting. People around me are making a lot of records, like maybe three every year, but I want to come back every few years with something condensed and strong.
It must be a struggle to be that disciplined.
I like that you used the word “struggle.” I was reading this interview with an artist really respect, and I was a little disappointed in him saying how much fun it was to make a record. Even if I can understand what he means for himself, I can’t accept the word “fun” from an insider’s perspective. It’s fun when I’m here with you, drinking, and when I get to play and meet people through music, but being in the studio trying to make something good is really a struggle.
Maybe there’s the context of dance music, and the function of these things being party fuel?
Do you think that if you talked to Robert Hood or Plastikman, or Carl Craig doing their good stuff they’d say it’s fun? I just can’t see it.
I was reading some of the sculptor Richard Serra’s writings recently and he was saying that the quality of work is in the effort that’s gone into it. Even if you end up with a minimal final piece, you can somehow feel the hours that contribute to something really strong.
Exactly. Friends always kid with me like “It’s easy for you, you just open the filter,” but it’s a real struggle.
Last week, we kicked off CTM 2015 by asking the festival’s musical curator, Michail Stangl, to walk us through the must-see performances of the coming week.
This week, composer and regular EB contributor Laurie Tompkins reflects on the opening of the Un Tune exhibition, what it says about CTM, and the exciting audio-visual installations to come.
The CTM/Transmediale Festival’s sprawling 10-day program of exploratory visual and sonic arts launched this past Friday with Un Tune, an exhibit at the Kunstraum Bethanian in Kreuzberg that’s named after this year’s unifying theme. The inaugural presentation provides a vital focal point, as it playfully distills the core principles of the Un Tune theme. Its opening served as an intriguing display of visual work as well as an amuse-bouche for the heavyweight performances coming this week.
The most immediate pieces on display at the Kunstraum are those that deal with sound as a weapon. Entrants are advised at the door to don a pair of heavy-duty ear protectors to guard against Mario De Vega’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” a civil protection alarm algorithmically programmed to erupt once a day at a random time. The threat of a burst eardrum wages a sonic war on its audience, a notion Nik Nowak reframes in “Booster 2.13,” in which a military vehicle armed with speakers appears to have shattered a wall of soundproofing with pulsing waves of imposing sub-bass. Emptyset’s “Imprint 1-3” continues the obsession with sheer low-end force by pummelling three stainless steel sheets with low frequencies harmful to the human body, leaving them warped and crumpled.
The pieces’ aggressive brutality has an unexpected side-effect: it makes them strangely seductive. De Vega’s alarm only goes off once, and although you’d like to be there for the action, you know it would hurt. The bell’s lurid red paint is a warning, but it’s also sensual, enticing and unnerving to arriving visitors like a ticking bomb. Likewise, it’s tempting to touch Nowak’s slick speaker panzer and Emptyset’s glistening metallic casts, to bear witness to sound at its most potent and destructive.
Tonight, The Bug will tap further into the appealing elements of sonic warfare by combining a home-built sound system with Berghain’s infamous Funktion One to unleash an enfilade of sirens, foghorns, and bass drones. But CTM’s ideals extend all the way from the gallery to the club, and the collision of avant-grime producers Mumdance, Logos, and techno provocateur Shapednoise at the festival’s closing night successfully sees through the siren trope in a more rhythmic setting.
While the attraction of sound-as-weapon stimulates individual desires, several pieces demonstrate audio’s capacity to “untune” the human psyche from social norms and create new collective consciousnesses. Graw Böckler’s Bethanien exhibit “Speaking Synchronously” depicts two women reading from slightly different texts and striving to coordinate their speech, suggesting that sound can unite potentially disparate viewpoints and bypass cerebral disputes to create an abstracted but potent social power. The video’s sheer optimism speaks sympathetically to Zorka Wollny’s neighboring film Songs Of Resistance, which portrays an improvised vocal performance by a handful of students in a crowded square in Istanbul. The performers exchange quiet sounds which subtly morph, maintaining the intimacy of private conversation despite their public arena. It’s not so tenuous to read Songs Of Resistance as an allegory for how CTM’s program creates a public, collective space for underground music, and further how collective musical experience can fuel wider social emancipation.
Derek Holzer’s “Delilah Too,” on the other hand, projects a more conflicted collision between private and public social spheres. Participants can enter two booths set up on either side of a large room and transmit secrets to one another through microphones, with an electronic distortion of their speech projected into the main space. “Delilah Too” acts as a potent reminder that our modern sense of connectivity relies upon spying machines, and radically distances us from those close by.
As much as CTM specialises in the spectacular and often in the extreme, many of its most crucial performances are, ostensibly, unassuming. Just as Lucio Capece’s helium balloon installation “Space Drum Machine RX-100” promises understated beauty this coming Tuesday at HAU, so too did my two favorite pieces in the Un Tune exhibition. Anita Ackermann’s “What We See Sees Us” and Anke Eckhardt’s “GROUND” evoke a primal overload of the senses. In “What We See Sees Us,” the beams of torches given to visitors refract from a central hanging mirror object to form flickering constellations on the walls. In Eckhardt’s “GROUND,” the viewer must orient themselves through the sound and vibration of the rubbing concrete strips under their feet, in the absence of any visual reference points. It is Eckhardt’s unflashy sense of “untuning” which I hope to take with me through the festival’s music program, the talisman that will steer me away from superficial performances which ironically reinforce musical norms and guide me to those which liberate us from them.
Berlin throbs with musical (im)pulses, from all-night techno bacchanalias to esoteric aural explorations, so it’s no surprise that such a city would spawn one of the world’s most exciting experimental festivals, CTM. We asked Michail Stangl, one of three curators of the 10-day audio/visual extravaganza’s music program, to give us an insider’s perspective on the can’t-miss highlights.
CTM’s monstrous program can be a bit intimidating, especially for first time-attendees. In addition to an extensive musical lineup that includes over 100 artists whose work ranges from industrial grime to Gregorian chant, there’s also a “sister festival” called Transmediale, which involves a series of exhibitions, conferences, workshops, and screenings dedicated to investigating the cutting edge of art and digital culture. The abundant activities on offer from both CTM and Transmediale are united under this year’s theme, Un Tune, which focuses on showcasing avant-garde music as well as engaging new thought patterns, social issues, identity, and technology. We asked CTM organizer Michail Stangl, who also spearheads the record label and regular Berghain party Leisure System and Boiler Room’s branch in Berlin, to help us navigate the milieu. While we (and surely Stangl) would recommend experiencing as much of the festival as humanly possible, here’s a broad overview of the festival’s program and some insider tips from Michail on some its must-see events and installations.
Michael Stangl: YAAM—formerly Maria am Ostbahnhof—has been home to CTM for nearly a decade. It’s great to return there, particularly with a lineup that includes PC Music‘s SOPHIE and Danny L. Harle. For us, this label’s audio reconceptualizations fit the Un Tune theme in the most literal sense—weird sounds that still captivate as pop songs. Furthermore, not many people have focused on Harle yet, which is interesting because he has a background as a modern classical music composer. It puts the label in a different sort of perspective.
We also have the Berlin Current program, which allows us to support emerging local musicians and producers. OAKE is one of them, and we’re very excited to premiere their new live show following the release of their new LP Auferstehung on Downwards. The new live show is quite complicated, with lots of dancers. It should be quite something.
MS: This is a big one. As much as CTM pushes the boundaries of experimentalism with themes and concepts, we’re also still a festival. We’re still about having a beer in your hand and going wild to a live show, and Electric Wizard are a perfect fit for that sort of vibe. If you talk about doom or stoner metal and how it works with the raw, physical energy of tuned-down guitars, it obviously fits to the theme. But for me, as much as it’s conceptually interesting to have a band like that play, it’s also fucking metal, and that’s awesome.
MS: This night is very special to me, particularly due to Elisabeth Schimana‘s Höllenmaschine performance. It’s basically a monstrous sound machine that’s been developed over decades, played by a classically-trained pianist. Because a synthesizer offers so many opportunities to detune and go into alien frequencies that are normally unreachable, this device is an important part of the festival—but it also puts this music into a historical context, as it’s such an old and complicated instrument.
The same night also features an appearance by The Bug, who’ll be premiering a performance piece called Sirens. If you know The Bug as an artist and how he works with sound as a physical force, then you know this is going to utilize the Berghain sound system in a way that is raw in the extreme—a physically challenging performance that deals with sound system culture.
MS: If you look at the history of digital hardcore, Alec Empire has been pushing so many boundaries for year—that’s the whole meaning behind the name Atari Teenage Riot. Even the concept of their ambient tour album Low On Ice (which is the basis for his and Lyons’ performance) was taken to the extreme by producing it on a glacier in Iceland. Even though it’s an ambient album, it also kind of hurts. It’s probably my favorite album of Empire’s. I heard it even before Atari Teenage Riot. It’s been nearly 20 years since the album was produced and there are still over seven hours of unpublished recordings. I’m thrilled that we can be the ones to host its live world premiere.
MS: Formerly known as Cracksmurf, TCF has since gone into a different direction, which is something like powerful, de-tuned ambient music. He just released the cryptograph-locked album 415C47197F78E811FEEB7862288306EC4137FD4EC3DED8B on Liberation Technologies, and it’s very edgy. A friend of mine once said that if an artist is lazy, he records a drone album. In this case, however, every epic-length track is meticulously crafted from beginning to end. It’s going to be a very interesting sound palette to hear live.
MS: A lot of people don’t realize the way that dub music is embedded so deeply in almost everything we listen to. Dub engineering is established technology and approaches music in a way that makes you think about sound and how it changes in a way unlike many other electronic music technologies. It’s about the physical presence of bass, but also the untuning of original compositions into something completely unique. By melding of grime and industrial, Adrian Sherwood rethought the whole approach to experimental palettes. Pinch has advanced those sounds himself; he’s one of the forces that crafted the sound that would eventually become dubstep. Looking over the last 10 years, it’s obvious that this sound has changed the way we listen to and perceive rhythms in electronic music. It’s very exciting to have their new project premiered in Germany for CTM. I’d say it’s essential.
Also playing that night on the main Berghain floor is Amnesia Scanner. They take the aesthetic of this newer generation of futuristic, hyper-real grime and combine that with a quite radical artistic approach. Amnesia Scanner, to me, sounds like what would happen if Mark Fell did grime tunes. They don’t work with pleasant sounds.
MS: Senyawa is an Indonesian duo that we’ve brought to Berlin before, but it was very important for us to feature them as part of CTM as well. The band is highly experimental, and it involves very traditional Javanese music. From the vocals to the primitive instruments used in strange and modern ways, it fits the Un Tune theme on every level. It’s avant-garde and stays true to a certain cultural heritage of their environment.
MS: Atom TM is a great friend of the festival and has been featured multiple times, but that’s because he’s such an amazing artist. He never stops. If you look at his works, from the ’90s drone stuff he made as Atom Heart to his big-band electrolatina music as Señor Coconut, he always approaches sounds with a very radical outlook. Together with Robin Fox, he’s presenting a sort of multi-sensory overload implementing laser, video projections, and other A/V phenomena. It’s serious, but also tongue-in-cheek. Atom TM always brings a certain kind of smart silliness to his work, which I very much appreciate.
MS: That same night we also have a performance at Berghain from Finland’s Aleksi Perala called Colundi Sequence. He’s known more for his IDM work, but he’s also a highly experimental conceptual artist. Basically, he came up with a completely new musical scale where instead of dividing a keyboard into octaves with semi-tones, he found 128 resonate frequencies through experimentation in trying to find a certain human bio-resonance. It’s a quite complicated concept detailing exactly how they found those frequencies and put that in to music. It’s going to be a six-channel performance on the Berghain sound system. This is the performance that makes all of us drool. It’s a curator’s dream come true.
Another aspect of this night that shouldn’t be missed is our traditional Panorama Bar blowout. As I mentioned, though the festival is about challenging your perceptions of music, it’s also about having a really good time. Knowing that Joe Goddard from Hot Chip and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs are playing, you can rest assured you’ll be dancing for ages. Last year, we closed the Panorama party at 4 p.m. the following day.
MS: Jenny Hval & Susanna’s Meshes of Voice was one of my favorite albums of 2014. It reminds me of Laurie Anderson, or Bjórk, but much more serious and much more mystical. This is the kind of concert I would take my mom to.
MS: The entire lineup here is unmissable. It’s all music where you understand where it comes from and what its reference points are, but it doesn’t sound like what you would expect of harmonies. It questions a lot of what’s thought to be acceptable in specific genres. I like what an eclectic combination this lineup is. In the main room, Egyptian street DJ Islam Chipsy plays right before Yung Lean, a white guy from Scandinavia who crafted his own take on American hip-hop. It’s not just a switch in sound, but in cultural reference.
MS: One of the absolute most important projects at the festival is Emptyset‘s performance Signal. It’s a very complex performance based around the Earth’s ionosphere—radio signals being thrown into the atmosphere, reflected, caught and used as an analog signal chain. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else.
MS: It’s Carter Tutti Void. What should I say? It’s the best of all worlds.
Cosey Fanni Tutti, one-half of Carter Tutti Void, starred in a recent ABC column for Electronic Beats Magazine. To read our review of Atonal, another long-standing experimental music and arts festival in Berlin, click here.
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.
CTM Festival—Berlin’s annual event for adventurous music and partner to the transmediale art festival—have announced Berlin Current: an open call for works from young, Berlin-based music creators for two commissions to be presented at the upcoming CTM.14 edition of their festival, taking place at from Janurary 24-February 2, 2014. The selected projects will be awarded budgets of €2500 each to realize their proposals, plus receive mentoring in their production phase from Stefan Betke, aka Pole. Submissions may take the form of, but are not limited to, a concert, audiovisual performance or installation, but must be new projects or projects in development that have not yet been realized.
The deadline for submissions is September 30th; winners will be decided by a five-member jury, whose selection will be announced on October 10th. Find more details and the submission form on CTM’s website here.
Electronic Beats was a proud sponsor of CTM.13. Find some of the discourse program from that event archived here (The Death of Rave panel discussion) and here (an interview with Uwe Schmidt, aka aka Atom Heart, Atom™, Señor Coconut and more).