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.
Steffi‘s debut LP, Yours & Mine, was the kind of brilliantly pinpointed house record one comes to expect from Berghain’s Ostgut Ton outpost. In the three years since its release, the Berlin-based DJ has somehow managed to salvage some time in the studio, and returns under production duties with Power Of Anonymity on November 24. Judging from the title track, the follow-up hones in on Steffi’s formidable feel for the dancefloor a little more than its predecessor, riffing off electro and IDM tropes with a trademark precision and groove. If the album’s remaining cuts can uncannily invoke Incunabula-era Autechre in the way “Power Of Anonymity” does, we sense that Steffi will have many a happy customer.
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.
Every week, Moritz Gayard rounds up the best new music videos, so you don’t have to.
Looks like 9/9 at 9pm is a pretty prominent date for releasing music videos these days. The hype started with Arcade Fire, who dropped two boring videos for their dated music. Then there was Eminem trying to promote his album and video during a NFL halftime show. But this epic fail was not the end of the 9/9 drama. Also there’s new material from Terry Richardson. The lolitographer directed the new Miley video, which you’ll find in my list below. Also to explore: Iggy Azelia, Nicki Minaj, Tricky and the wonderful new band Oceaán. Have fun.
#1 Rainer – “Girls”, directed by Rainer
A perfect match of music and image. Fresh new sounds from London duo Rainer (Rebekah Raa and producer Casually Here) taken from their debut double A-side single ‘Money/ Girls’, which is out today via ASL Records.
#2 The Hics – “Tangle”
Some weeks ago, I stumbled over the refreshing beats from South Londoners The Hics. Now their very first video is out for the mesmerizing title-track, “Tangle” from their new EP.
#3 Tricky feat. The Antlers – “Parenthesis”, directed by Tricky
#4 Oceaán – “Neéd U”, directed by Oceaán and Luca Rudlin
Out of Manchester, this mysterious producer Oliver Caen, aka Oceaán, is one of my favorites of the year. Stay tuned for much more to come.
#5 Kobosil – “Aggregate”, dir. the29novENCORE
Released by Ostgut Ton’s sub label Unterton here’s the unofficial video for “Aggregate”. Turn up the bass.
#6 J. Krawietz – “Litost”, directed by Alby Álamo
The inspiring Decoder Magazine unveiled this nice, little video for spanish producer Javier Krawietz track “Litost”.
#7 Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball”, directed by Terry Richardson
Man, I love Miley but I do think that the Richardson-aesthetic is somewhat dated.
#8 Aleph – “Fourth Way”, directed by Gero Doll
Canadian record label collective King Deluxe dropped a new video for Aleph’s track “Fourth Way”. And if you haven’t heard about him, take it easy—he hails from Siberia.
#9 Iggy Azalea ft. T.I. – “Change Your Life”, directed by Jonas and Francois
Australia’s rap queen Iggy is back with a lil vieo for her T.I. collaboration. Iggy, I am with you.
#10 Nicki Minaj – “I Don’t Give A”
Here’s the stunning one minute tour clip for Nicki Minajs verve Modanonna’s “I Don’t Give A”, taken from the official MDNA Tour DVD.~
The author on Twitter: Follow @LLGMG
Dutch-born DJ and producer Steffi has been a resident of Berlin’s Panorama Bar for the past six years, gaining a cult following for her ability to connect the dots between classic house and contemporary techno. In between running two record labels (Klakson and Dolly) and banging out mind-altering Sunday sets, she recently mixed the Panorama Bar 05 CD. We gave her 100 euros and this is what she bought. Interview: Max Dax. Photo: Lisa Swarna Khanna.
Record: € 9.99
Incunabula by Autechre.
Clone Records, Mauritsweg 60, 3012 JX Rotterdam, The Netherlands, clone.nl
Autechre’s first LP for Warp is one I’ve bought countless times because I have a habit of giving it away to friends. If somebody is at my place and we’re talking about music and they tell me they haven’t heard Incunabula, I go straight to my collection and pull out a copy for them. This is a record that changed my life and by far had the biggest influence on me as a DJ. I must have done this at least ten times in the last two years, as giving it away is the only way I know they’re going to listen to it. I practically force the record onto people now, it’s that important to me. Autechre’s later work has lacked the song structure and the sense of melancholy that I’m so drawn to on Incunabula—though I always say it must be impossible to write an album with the same intensity twenty years later with this debut. It’s an absolutely perfect electronic music album. Period.
Tickets for a gig: It’s Bigger Than event. €75 donation.
It’s Bigger Than is a Berlin-based collective that throws parties with high profile DJs to raise money for various causes—focused currently on Mercy Corps emergency response support for Syrian families who’ve fled the country because of the civil war. This kind of event is crucial in an atmosphere of over-commercialization—something that has contributed to a new generation having little connection to the notion of charity. In the eighties it was a bigger topic, with Live Aid and similar large-scale events, but now we feel less connected to what’s going on outside our own lives, even if we’re more connected with what’s going on around the world. Berlin is the place people come to escape: to spend money in clubs and experience the liberty of the city. Why not introduce some social awareness too—beyond our first-world fulfillment?
Lesson: An hour of Pilates
€15 per group lesson. songuel.com
I’ve had health problems in the past because of all the traveling I do and I actually slipped a disc from carrying my vinyl. It was so bad that I thought I’d have to switch to digital, which was something I wanted to avoid. But luckily I found a Pilates school that really helped me. It’s tempting to spend your money on objects, clothing, and random stuff while forgetting to do something at least once a week that involves your mind and body—something that makes you both feel good and healthy. Pilates has a lot to do with body awareness, and it’s great for relieving stress. It’s also an excellent way of getting to know your body, which is the only thing we have to carry us through life. ~