When the first Unit club opened in Hamburg in 1989, it was embraced as an alternative to other places that ran on tighter curfews and were often in less central locations. Unlike Front, the pioneering club that introduced house music to Germany—and arguably continental dance floors—, the first Unit at Talstrasse was right in the middle of one of one of Europe’s biggest entertainment areas, notorious red light district around Reeperbahn, and because of this its parties could last longer.
At first, the music at Unit was no different to what was played elsewhere around town—a typical post-acid house boom mix. Soon though, the resident DJs like Gary D, Tobias Lampe and Henry, and the booked national and international guest DJs, shifted towards techno and later trance, and Unit became a leading light in establishing and pushing these sounds further alongside other national mainstays in Berlin and Frankfurt.
The first Unit space had to close in 1994 due to increased crime in the area, but it reopened the same year as Unit II in a temporary location also close to Reeperbahn, before Unit III settled in an old factory space in another district. But as the club grew bigger in size and ambition, the crowds did not follow suit, and Unit closed for good in 1999. We asked DJ Tobias Lampe for a list of records that made the first Unit incarnation and his and Henry’s residency, called Pure Energy, such a lasting memory.
A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funki Dredd, “Total Confusion (Heavenly Mix)” (Tam Tam Records 1990)
“This is one of the early anthems at the club, which I think was also already heavily played by the first Unit DJs Pari D and Double UMF. The early years were actually very open minded. They played a mixture of house, hip hop, techno, even downtempo beats and a style called hip house. And it mirrors pretty much how it was working in the UK as well, this period when nobody at the rave had bad feelings about having 808 State, Snap, Frankie Bones, Orbital and Guru Josh all on the same stage.”
Foremost Poets, “Extended Sight Version (Foresight Version)” (Nu Groove 1990)
“I guess I first heard this magic piece when Boris Dlugosch played it at the Front club. Hard to explain why, but it certainly always created this magical, intense atmosphere, both at Front and at Pure Energy on Fridays, where Henry and me played this track nearly every week. Few other tracks can capture the feeling of the time so intensely—back then it was led by house and techno music from London, New York City, Chicago and Detroit. Front club was immensely influential, as well as the Friday shopping trip to the Container Records store, which imported all the music directly. As Boris Dlugosch played less and less techno at Front, we tried to play and represent all facets of it at Pure Energy, and especially techno from Detroit.”
Mental Mayhem, “Joey’s Riot” (Atmosphere Records 1990)
“Particularly in New York City, labels like Nu Groove and others were releasing music that sounded like both house and techno. We celebrated exactly these hybrid sounds and in hindsight this may have been what Hamburg was always about. Always open-minded and somehow in between. We were obviously trying out all kinds of sounds at that time. We played pretty hard banging techno and early trance, but at the core of what we played was always what we called tech-house. This prime goose bump example of the tech-house sound we loved was produced by Joey Beltram, who for us was one of the leading New York producers in this field.”
Format, “Solid Session” (ESP Records 1991)
“This Orlando Voorn one was a what we called a Voll-Brett. Brett means plank, it’s a term used for particularly efficient floor fillers—we adopted this language from the Frankfurt scene. It’s a sure shot that always makes happy faces in the club. It was one of the obvious anthems, at least for our nights.”
The Hypnotist, “Pioneers Of The Warped Groove” (Rising High 1991)
“We organized bus trips from Hamburg to the first Mayday festival and Love Parades. I still remember we spent three days setting up the first Break The Limits Rave at Kasematten/Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, and after we were done partying, we took down everything and then headed towards Berlin for Mayday in a bus packed with Hamburg ravers.
Henry and I were so exhausted that we had to cancel our Pure Energy gig there, and instead we partied on as best as we still could. And then, at some point, The Hypnotist got on stage, and they threw hundreds of green glow sticks into the crowd. The lights and fog did the rest.
The scenery at Halle Weissensee was magical, and then the music came on. It simply blew me away how many musical influences they could bring together. Trance was not a musical term for us then, but if you apply it to a state of mind The Hypnotist probably was the act that nailed it down best, particularly at that gig. Of course, we couldn’t help it, and felt the urge to celebrate these tracks at Unit, ideally from 4 a.m. onwards.”
Ramirez, “La Musika Tremenda (La Tormenta Mix)” (DFC 1991)
“Ramirez produced at least two masterpieces of early tech-trance (which is what we later called this style), and this is one of them. I do not know how to describe it precisely, but the track had this subliminal dirty touch, and when I hear it, I will forever think of sweat-drenched ravers, flickering strobe lights, thick fog and the experience of walking out into broad daylight after partying. This track was always the one to mobilize the last reserves.”
Golden Girls, “Kinetic (Frank De Wulf Remix)” (R&S Records 1992)
“In this list, I’m also trying to illustrate how a lot of different scenes and circles from different parts of the world created this magical universe of sound we enjoyed at that time. This is a perfect example of the influence of the Belgian sound. I still think that Belgian and Dutch music’s influence has always been under rated. This one was a huge and surefire banger at Unit.”
Vainqueur, “Lyot (Maurizio Mix)” (Maurizio 1992)
“This track is emblematic of the influences of Berlin and Detroit to our sound. The Berlin/Detroit axis was in early progress at that time, and we took pilgrimages to Berlin to find this sound at Hard Wax and Delirium. We partied to it at Tresor, Teknozid and Planet, but also at Hamburg’s Front club, before the first Unit opened. For us, Basic Channel’s discography offered the first serious releases from Berlin, even in terms of techno. I think we also believed Maurizio was someone from Detroit. The minimalistic, dubbed out and darker aspects of techno, tinged with some references to EBM, played an important role at Unit. Actually my first night at Unit was on a Wednesday and it was called Tekkno Club, with two k, of course. It was more dedicated to EBM, Dark Wave and Acid, and then it opened up to the influences from over the pond, UK, Berlin and Frankfurt.”
Vapourspace, “Gravitational Arch Of 10” (Plus 8 Records 1993)
“I cannot recall where I first heard this, but I remember how blown away I was. Since then, I wanted to share this feeling, and it was played at least twice a night. I also remember we played around with switching out the lights out and blasting the fog machine before the kick drum came in, and it always led to incredible screams from the dance floor. Not much later, Henry and I promoted the Plus 8 night with Vapourspace live alongside DJ sets by Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva. We were pretty amazed by his analogue live set extravaganza.”
Marmion, “Schöneberg“ (Superstition 1993)
“Henry and I were doing the Pure Energy night every Friday at Unit. We hosted probably all the relevant names at that time, from Derrick May to Sven Väth. It was such a small scene in a few German cities in those days that we all felt a bit like family. Early friends from our rave travels to Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich were, for example, Mijk van Dijk and Marcos Lopez, who gave me this Berlin production as a demo a few days after a gig at Unit. This EP and track actually became one of the milestones of Superstition Recordings, the label I just had founded three releases ago. Especially this fourth release earned the label and both producers a huge international following. And the track is what I call a perfect combination of house and techno elements; it’s a real techno house classic.”
Published November 19, 2019. Words by Finn Johannsen.