Berlin’s rich nightlife has been old news for a long time now. The hardcore party scene is internationally renowned and has become a major source of tourism for the city. But while good parties can be had all over the world, nowhere else has a techno scene quite like Berlin’s.
Most aficionados trace the musical roots of techno back to the revolutionary German electro band ‘Kraftwerk,’ who themselves were inspired by the Jewish American composer Steve Reich. However, if you want to find the origins of dark sweaty clubs, smoke machines and strobe light fetishists you will have to travel back to the ‘deep-house’ scene of 1980s Detroit and Chicago. It was to be another 10 years before electro music in the U.S. could leave its Michigan base and beat its way into the mainstream. In the meantime, many of the U.S. pioneers packed up their speakers and headed off onto the then burgeoning dance circuit in Europe. In particular the UK, Holland and Germany provided safe and lucrative refuge for North American DJs.
The rise after the fall
The fall of the Berlin wall marked the rise of the techno party as punk culture was pushed to the fringe of underground youth expression. The newly united city provided the perfect playground for illicit parties with its unique warrens of abandoned buildings, factories and the surplus of open space on the eastern side of the city. A huge wave of young artists and musicians started to make a name for themselves with this new-fangled sound – German techno. This novel and, at the beginning at least, quite uncommercial scene was centered on three clubs. Only one of which, Tresor, is still welcoming revelers with its unique atmosphere and intact aesthetic to this day.
The notorious men only club ‘Ostgut’ came on the scene some years later only to close its doors after five years in 2003. However, it reopened one year later as the male and now female-friendly “Berghain,” which remains at the core of Berlin’s techno scene today.
Techno is produced using instruments such as drum machines, synthesizers and samplers, but the fundamental philosophy is more important than the equipment. It’s all about carving and discovering new sounds. Even though these sounds had previously existed in theory, they hadn’t been produced by humans before. In this sense, techno is futuristic, and beyond that philosophical.
Another essential element of techno is the consistent presence of a repetitive minimalist pattern. You won’t be distracted by a female or male voice shrieking up and down the scales and there are no guitar solos, it’s all about a reductive minimalist repetition.
From mixers to masters
Like every sub-culture, the techno scene has its heroes. One of the biggest has to be Berghain resident DJ Ben Klock. Ben grew up in Berlin and had been a star in Berghain back at the very start. He now runs his own label ‘Klockworks’ and organizes a showcase night at the club every six months. These nights are considered a ‘must’ for all true technophiles.
But Klock is not only famous in Berlin. Every club in the world with a reputation to protect has tried to book him, whatever the cost. Despite his success, Klock’s feet have remained firmly on the ground. He regularly updates his Facebook page, sharing his experiences of nights with the fans, pictures of him breakfasting colleagues after a long night, and sometimes even sneak peeks of him and his girlfriend Nina Kravitz, a famous DJ in her own right.
Another popular face within the local techno scene is ‘Rodhad.’ Also born and raised in Berlin, Rodhad earned his reputation as a musician and DJ in smaller parties until, together with some partners, he launched the ‘Dystopian’ collective and label. Dystopian is considered by techno fans to be the label releasing the most interesting music in the genre.
The music’s growing popularity has created a thirst for more ventures and parties within the scene. A monthly party called ‘Grounded Theory,’ held in ‘Stadtbad Wedding,’ an old public swimming pool, is bringing major techno artists to an alternative space and to a new generation.
Another party series called ‘Moments’ at the Humboldthain Club gives stage time to up and coming DJs. One of the organizers and main residents from Moments is Marina Rubinstein who moved to Berlin from Israel a year and a half ago to fulfill her dream of becoming a major techno DJ. Here she can work with DJs who have already made a name for themselves on the hallowed decks of Berghain’s techno temple.
“We always try to create this very intense atmosphere, and you really can feel that it‘s all about the music,” she explained when we discussed the ‘Moments’ party series. “For me, techno is tribal music, it‘s repetitive and monotone, very powerful and hypnotic. It not only hits your mind but your body too, you can really feel the music in a physical way. There is a lot of energy involved. When done right you can lose yourself completely. Then nothing else matters.”
The soundtrack of self-discovery
Marina also plays the clubs ‘Raum,’ ‘About: Blank,’ and ‘Tresor,’ and it doesn’t look like she is going to hang up her headphones anytime soon.
Marina Rubinstein a.k.a. Dr. Rubinstein
Take Yossi for example. He visited Berghain for the first time three years ago, got caught up in the culture and music and decided, after a few short visits, to move to Berlin. During the day he takes German courses and works as a translator; at the weekends he goes out, most of the time for more than a day straight.
Yossi is not his real name. He asked us not to reveal it. He knows the first association many uninitiated make when they think of techno clubs and music is with drugs. He prefers that people not involved in the scene won’t recognize and judge him for how he chooses to spend his free time.
“I think the clubbing scene here made the city fun and easy going. When it comes to clubbing, no one in the world does it as well and as unreservedly as Berlin. Add to that the fact that this scene has a very strong gay connection, and the fact that I’m gay, you can definitely say Berlin is a kind of heaven for me.”
The Israeli-Berlin techno connection is not merely geographical though. Frequent visits from electronic musicians, party promoters and electronic music lovers from Israel to Berlin exposed them to the genre and the scene around it, many were simply swept away. What was considered to be an aggressive and radical sound in the Tel Aviv’s nightlife suddenly became popular and new monthly parties have been springing up everywhere.
An Israeli duo of electronic musicians called Deep’a & Biri are about to release their techno-inspired debut album at ‘International DeeJay Gigolo Records,’ a Berlin-based label owned by the well known German performer DJ Hell.
But perhaps the strong connection between young Israelis and techno has deeper roots. Techno is seen by many as a way for people to abandon obsolete codes and symbolizes the birth of a new era. It is a way for young Israelis to leave conservative traditions behind and connect to a more international experience. This younger generation is longing to be considered part of the European contemporary music scene and, at the moment, techno is the most tangible and radical embodiment of that.
Or perhaps, techno merely provides the soundtrack for another important function – to help us escape our daily lives. For most earnest clubbers, the scene offers an opportunity, for a few hours at least, to leave all political and social problems at the door and lose themselves in a cacophony of minimalist musical manna.