In Depth: Berlin

In Depth: Berlin | Soundspace

“People want to escape from the real world, you know? From the reality. It’s like a therapy. They want to enter this door and want to find a world they really like. They want to feel protected from this pressure. They can’t stand this pressure. So they get lost.” – Dimtri Hesemann, Tresor.

Berlin is a city with a complicated past. Historic moments are embedded in its tough fabric, still visible as you roam the streets. Berliners know that they don’t have the most beautiful city in the world, but that’s why people fall in love with it.

The raw, industrial aura that is stamped on Europe’s creative hub is one that walks hand in hand with its techno heritage. It’s a complex and diverse ecosystem. In the wake of the falling of the Berlin Wall the city’s natives where tasked with making whole what was once two, and they did that through techno, riding the wave of punk’s anarchist spirit.

Berlin’s Love Parade had a huge influence on electronic music. It began in 1989; huge sound systems followed by thousands of dancers roamed the city streets, celebrating equality. The clubs of Berlin almost symbolise temples or guilds, each maintaining their own identity through sound put out through their in-house labels.

The sound that the city is known for remains as hard as the rubble found at the grave of the wall. The rise of Berlin is a wonderful tale.

Techno was founded over four thousand miles away in Detroit and arrived in West Germany in the late 80’s after the fall of the last reminder of a brutal Cold War. The Berlin Wall fell on November 9th 1989, an event that is referred to as ‘Die Wende’, which translates to ‘the turning point’.

It truly was a turning point. Abandoned buildings now lay empty and unused, which led to the blossoming of an illegal party scene. What began as a micro-scene in West Germany had now spread to the opposite side of the city, uniting with the East in a wave of celebratory freedom.

“For the first three years there was no control from authorities, so we could do what we wanted to do”, says Dimitri in Resident Advisor’s Real Scenes: Berlin short film. Environments where you would once have been killed evolved into the setting for huge kick drums and lots of sweaty hugging.

“I think it’s clear that since the early days of the likes of Bowie and Iggy Pop living here, the artist communes and squats”, explains HALLION as I question him on the creative appeal of Berlin. Squatting was a vital part of the city’s care free attitude. Berliners had one thing in common, they where all looking for a party.

Even when squatting was stopped the attitude remained. If you fast forward now to the present day, a lot has changed, yet that same care free, escape craving aesthetic can be found everywhere, though today it maintains a professional appearance. Techno has become serious. Those that spearheaded the early illegal scene now make a living out of what they love; institutions such as Tresor and Berghain provide the setting for the sounds of !K7 Records, Ostgut Ton and Killekill.

Berlin is a beacon of sonic architecture. !K7 Records has been going since 1985 and are responsible for the famous DJ-Kicks compilation series. BPitch Control, founded by Ellen Allien, has put out some of the finest and most diverse electronic music to date, encouraging creativity and individualism at every turn.

“Around 2001, everybody was smelling a change in the air. Something had to change, something was about to change. Exactly then, BPitch came with a new strong sound! And the message was: Don´t follow, create. I think that´s what happened”, says BPitch’s Kiki as he explains to me the impact the label has made on modern dance music in Berlin.

Kiki, originally from Helsinki, Finland, explains that he has noticed huge changes since his relocation to the city in 1994.

“When I moved to Berlin, there was E-Werk and Tresor, that were kinda like Watergate and Berghain now. BUT: There were millions of clubs, that did amazing job, but were empty. nowadays, ALL the clubs in Berlin are full and going crazy. That was NOT happening in the 90´s. The hype and the tourism is doing good things for the city in my humble opinion. It was very different back then!”

One thing that has definitely changed is the sound. No longer just a one trick pony, Berlin has evolved into a mecca for forward thinking dance music, leading to the creation of imprints like Perlon, a label that re-located from its home in Frankfurt. It’s run by Zip and Markus Nikolai and adopts a sound different to the harsh tones of East Berlin, favouring minimalistic patterns and featuring vocals from the likes of Ricardo Villalobos and Baby Ford. The label also run their own monthly event in Berghain called ‘Get Perlonized!’.

If you are in any way interested in dance music you will know of the industrial fame of Berghain. The club opened in 2004 in what was formerly an abandoned power plant. The name is a concoction of the last part of its neighbourhood name, Friedrichshain, and it’s twin on the opposite side of where the wall once stood, Kreuzberg.

Berghain actually began as a gay sex party called Snax. This was the idea of Michael Teatele and Norbert Thormann who, in 1999, opened Osgut, a club situated in an old train repair depot. A techno appeal was installed and two years later Panorama Bar was born, a space which acted as a retreat upstairs where house and a brand of techno that was easier on the ears was dished out.

Ostgut closed in 2003 and year later Berghain, a shrine to techno, was born. Within the frightening beauty of its massive structure lies a dystopian utopia. The sex is also notorious. Dark rooms are filled with gay and straight people touching each other. If you can find a decent review amongst the over exaggerated bullshit you’ll actually notice that, according to the veterans, the sexual nature of Berghain has been slightly tamed.

A review in The New Yorker explains that the arrival of tourists is the reason for this. “The black-leather homosexuals are gone”, states a frequent visitor.

Berghain has welcomed the likes of Bicep, Marcel Dettmann, The Black Madonna, Jackmaster, Ellen Allien, Heidi and Ben Klock to compose. “It’s like making love with your ears”, explains HALLION. Last year Berlin was awarded the title of high culture, not only thanks to its techno exploits, but for becoming the backdrop to ballet exhibitions, classical events, fashion shows and art installations. The club itself could even be considered as a project; a kind of forgotten experiment that has been abandoned and left to breed.

There is a brand of techno that is traditional to that of the city, and it can always be found here, though other forms do exist and are beginning to thrive. East Berlin originally maintained a harder sound that abandoned the use of vocals, and this is a sound that South London Analogue Material affiliate Ossian can relate with.

Originally from London, but now residing in Berlin, Ossain maintains a harder sound than that of traditional Berlin, just check his work alongside Ansome. “I don’t really like what people would call ‘Berlin’ techno. The harder more distorted sound is slowly getting bigger here I hope but time will tell.”

It certainly is. Killekill is a Berlin based label that have been massively influential in the heavier techno community. They have released work from the likes of Max Cooper, Bas Mooy, Alan Fitzpatrick and Sunil Sharpe, focusing on distinctive artwork and experimental live performances that push the boundaries of what techno can do. Here, they merge the old with the new to create something entirely their own. Belfast outfit DSNT are heading out to Berlin as part of Killekill: Summercamp, bringing Myler, Fran Hartnett, Dublin’s Techno & Cans, Nez & Dallas and HALLION with them, which should give you an idea of just how energetic that party will be.

Rodhad has emerged from a dark East Berlin, channelling inspiration from the post industrial era, an inspiration that can be distinguished through the journey enabling music he puts out on his Dystopian label. Tale of Us have also relocated from Milan to Berlin, bringing with them their hypnotic, often melodic interpretation of techno. Recondite is yet another melodically inspired artist that has re-located to the city, distributing haunting and emotionally stirring compositions.

It isn’t just techno artists either. South Korean DJ/producer Peggy Gou has joined Berlin’s creative community, representing a completely alternative sound to anything regarded as techno. A nostalgic groove only adds to the incredible diversity that engulfs Berlin.

Berlin now possesses one of the most diverse soundscapes in the world. Anything from lairy dubstep to minimal house can be found; even techno itself has evolved into a variety of sub-genres, each with their own distinctive elements, and that makes me wonder how things might have turned out had Tresor not been discovered.

“We found this old vault, the Tresor club, in the heart of the city. We discovered it in 1991. We came in and it was untouched for almost forty five years. When we discovered it, it was like opening a pyramid, it was a big adventure, and I felt it immediately. It was dedicated for something special. We could transform this space, and it became a symbol for the re-union of kids from East and West Berlin. It was a perfect space for this new adventure called techno.”

Tresor began its life as UFO and enjoyed a highly regarded reputation throughout Europe before its closure in 1991. Tresor opened later that year, and just last year celebrated its 25th anniversary. As Dimitri Hesemann says above, the venue was a symbol of togetherness, reuniting the youths of East and West. Tresor Records opened a month after the venue and has since released music from techno’s finest such as The Zenker Brothers and DJ Hell. It’s set the standard for electronic music since ’91 with its compilation series receiving mass plaudits. It’s sound is credited with symbolising the sophisticated form of techno, a form drenched in darkness and melancholy which still maintains a ferocious euphoria.

A special bond between the worlds of Detroit and Berlin was created. Modern day legends such as Juan Atkins and Jeff Mills have conducted sets in the 1920’s vault. It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. With each great project comes an even greater struggle. The venue has suffered raids in the past and the old site was demolished in 2005. Tresor lives on in Kraftwerk Berlin; twenty five years on and the symbol of freedom and celebration it illustrates shows no sign of fading.

Techno has soared in popularity, and such is the frenzy for the modern day ‘sesh’ amongst a genuine thirst for quality music the genre has almost evolved into a form of tourism. When something starts to get popular, the government get interested and start wanting to promote it. In other words, they want to sell the city. This is fine, as long as club culture does not suffer. As we’ve already seen in cities like London, when big money arrives in a city it’s usually our culture that is sent to an early grave.

Defiance comes in many different forms. One is the cropping up of new and exciting projects that contribute to keeping underground music alive. Concepts such as Ismus Berlin, an event series that has named each outing as a different form – Organism, Brutalism, Miniaturism, Eroticism, Anarchism, Surrealism, Futurism, Revivalism and Mutualism. The first took place in 2015 and featured noise specialists Ansome and Defekt.

://about blank was formerly an illegal club based in Friedrichshain. Now the venue focuses on house and techno within a gritty atmosphere, offering a less intimidating alternative to Berghain. Gay night Homopatik is presided over by Mr Ties and STAUB, a concept focusing on “raw, mystical and vast techno” describes itself as “a party where line ups are a thing of the past and techno is left to its own devices narrating a musical journey.” The city is no longer as grey as it once was.

The creative community in Berlin is buzzing at the moment, and it’s illustrated in the vast amount of solid work that is being released from those residing in the city. These low key, hidden gems are what is keeping the scene from being swamped by the mainstream. AMOX Tapes is a tape label that specialises in hard techno, clocking releases from the likes of Drvg Cvltvre and Ancient Methods. A nostalgic project that aids the future of the city.

The finest example of DIY culture within modern day Berlin is a venue called Wilde Renate. It was also featured in Resident Advisor’s Real Scenes: Berlin documentary and showed the event founders touring what was once a residential building. Everything has been left completely untouched. Tiny rooms symbolise little bubbles of conversation as you float from one to the other along a wonderfully intimate vibe.

Festivals also symbolise how musically diverse and creative the city has become. They don’t really come more influential than Atonal, a festival that began it’s life way back in November 1982. It became the epicentre for new ways of experience music with the experimentation of White Russia and Spring aus den Wolfes.

Atonal closed in 1990 due to the fall of the Wall, but re-opened and is now cemented as one of Europe’s finest electronic music and visual arts festivals in the world. A more recent concept is Krake Festival, an idea developed by the minds behind Killekill.

“Krake means Octopus and the festival is organised in a comparable way, reaching out to selected locations during one week presenting the best electronic music, whatever style it is. Bring back the focus on artists who are to step off the beaten tracks.”

As I mentioned before, the rise of Berlin is a wonderful tale. From the heave of political oppression it has dusted itself down and flourished. A city once drenched in black and white now has an element of colour. Much has been said about Berlin’s rise in popularity. Stories of millennials re-locating there has provoked articles on publications such as VICE, asking the question – Is Berlin still cool?

It’s a silly question. Berlin will always be cool. The atmosphere, the progressive attitudes and rich diversity of everything from music to art cements my opinion. As long as the creative community prospers there can be no end to the forward thinking ideas that surface.