THE RISE OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC IN HAMBURG
Right at the front from the start
A book telling the history of the Berlin House and Techno scene shortly before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall titled ‘ Der Klang Der Familie (The Sound of the Family) ‘ was published in early 2012 . The book quotes the rather loud mouthed claims of DJ’s such as Westbam or Dr. Motte that the first ever House and Acid parties in Germany took place just next to the Spree in Berlin. But far away from Berlin’s typically self righteous glamorisation in Hamburg, such statements merely give rise to a string of weary smiles. ” For me, in terms of House music, Berlin always seemed to be lagging well behind…” maintains photographer and artist Wolfgang Tillmans. And he himself should know, having he himself spent countless nights in submerged in Hamburg nightlife at the end of the 1980s. In particular in a club called Front, which was the follow up location to Star club which itself rose to fame after the pre-fame Beatles and a bunch of other guest musicians played at the opening and thus went on to establish itself as Hamburg’s most important institutions.
Front was started by Willi Prange and his partner Philip Clarke. From 1983 till 1997 it was situated in the cellar below the Kontorhaus leather factory building in Hammerbrook, Hamburg. Ever since the 1960s this area had been a refuge for unusual clubs ; from 1963 onwards a joint called Danny’s Pan became a mecca for Hamburg’s folk scene and it was here that German singer-songwriters such as Reinhard Mey and Hannes Wader first made their mark. And again it was here ,that 20 years later a new sound that had made its way from England to Germany made it’s mark as was the case with Acid House in 1986 and 1987. It was Residents like Boris Dlugosch, Michael Braune, Michi Lange and above all Klaus Stockhausen from Cologne who ‘s DJ sets had a great influence on the sound of Front club which was taking shape at the time. They were playing a coherent but in no way monotone mix of Boogie, Synthesizer-Pop, Electro, Hi-Energy and Italo. Seamlessly mixing these tracks together created endless and uninterrupted layers of sound designed for the dance floor, something with was a real novelty at the time.
Prior to this, hardly anyone had been mixing tracks and music was often a wild potpourri of varying styles simply thrown together. Typically, Hamburg club culture in the mid 80s was still focused on Mod culture, Northern Soul, Post Punk and Wave in locations like Kir, Trinity, Voilá or Stairways.
The Front achieved became very ‘in’ fairly fast a development that was certainly not harmed by a noticeably large number of of homosexuals within in its patronage. Far from it in fact. On saturdays and wednesdays there was a mixed crowd (men & women) whilst fridays was ‘Men Only’. The Front was certainly the first place in Germany where Acid and House could really be heard in such detail i.e. Deep, Garage, Detroit, Chicago etc.
A very unique underground charm
The years that followed the closure of Front club saw Hamburg’s House music flag being raised proud and high in the face of the raw North Sea winds and firmly holding onto its status alongside Cologne and Berlin as one of the key addresses for electronic music in in Germany. Institutions like the Golden Pudel Club near Fischmarkt in Hamburg were and still are symbolic of Hansestadt Hamburg’s musical heart and incorruptible conscience (and worlds away from anything that resembles a yuppie-fied posh man’s club). A no man’s land between anarchist techno fans and fashionable punks , this is where scenes and artists overlap in a way quite unlike any place else. The Pudel comprises a tiny room and even during the week free-thinking party goers dance to everything from experimental electronica to classic US House.
Having opened in 1994 as successor to the original Pudel which was started by Hamburg punk legends Rocko Shamoni and Schorsch Kamerun ( the latter of whom was a member of the Goldene Zitronen) in 1988, the Golden Pudel and it’s label imprint has long been seen as a central meeting point for the Hamburg scene. Club owner Kamerun once described the programme as follows ‘ ultra modern and with Zeitgeist that recognizes every minuscule within it’s radar before then destroying. Everything is allowed unless we ban it .” It’s very possible you’ll find an old man in a Tyrolean hat standing behind the decks playing mental electronic music. With it’s own very special underground charm, Pudel Club still remains the most eccentric and innovative alternative to the rest of the Hamburg club scene.
Just as influential during the 90s in Hamburg was Mojo Club which opened in 1989 on the Reeperbahn. The club which is synonymous with the circular M logo was seen to build a bridge between the pioneering modern club sounds of London and the continental Europe. Mojo club was seen as the voice of what they themselves called Dance-floor Jazz and was considered a pioneer in terms of Breakbeat oriented sounds and Acid Jazz in Germany. This was enforced through DJ sets and performances by artists such as Gilles Peterson, Massive Attack, Moloko, the Propellerheads, Roni Size, Goldie and Kruder & Dorfmeister. In April 2003 Mojo Club was closed for good and the building itself was finally torn down a number of years later. Three units appeared on the plot that makes up Nr.1 Reeperbahn between 2010 and 2012 : an office space, a hotel and a new Mojo club – the latter of which is still closed but is supposedly due to open in September 2012.
Between upper class and punk
In recent years it’s young labels in particular with their mixture of typically Hamburgian humour, an element of left wing activism and an emphasis on artistry that have contributed to Hamburg’s image as one of the most important cities in terms of House music. Labels like Dial (and it’s sister label Laid) and Smallville Records with a record shop of the same name situated on a small street just off the Reeperbahn have played a key role. Both labels ( both co-run by Peter Kersten alias Lawrence) regularly put on label nights in EGO club in St. Pauli which has a capacity of around 300 guests. Just as integral for Hamburg’s House music sound and scene today is Stefan Kozella aka DJ Koze who’s roots actually lie in Hip Hop. DJ Koze has over the years managed to make his way into the premier league of DJing and releases everything from club hits to electronica on his own label imprint Pampa records. Recent releases include the works of Jena-based German producer Robag Wruhme or James Tamborello akak Dntel from Los Angeles.
Over the years Uebel und Gefährlich (Sick & Dangerous) has established itself as a both a concert and club venue. Clearly seen as a vital part of Hamburg’s music scene, it’s reputation has well spread beyond the borders of the region. Hamburg-born founder Tine Hanekamp published his first novel titled ‘ So Was Von Da’ (Right Here, Right Now) in which the the ficticious main charachter Oskar Wrobel runs a club in a former hospital situated at the end of the Reeperbahn, the references to Hanekamp himself are obvious.
Hamburg thus continues to remain a very significant German city in terms of the House , Techno and much more. There are few other places where a mixture of grumpy humour, a deep understanding of music and a party culture and where upper class and gritty punk charm clash and overlap in such an exciting and productive way. Anyone looking to find out more about history of clubbing and pop culture in Hamburg should take a look at ‘Läden, Schuppen und Kaschemmen: Eine Hamburger Popkulturgeschichte ‘ ( Clubs, Dives and Gin Palaces : The History of Pop Culture in Hamburg ) by Christoph Twicke. This book tells the history of pop culture in Hamburg in 1970s, 80s and 90s through its concert locations, bars and clubs. It gives people who were actually involved the chance to have their say i.e. The musicians, club owners, promoters, DJs, bar staff, bouncers, regulars and guests who collectively managed to cultivate the pop cultural underground of the city. Thereby, the reader gets a profound look at the history of legendary clubs like Front, Mojo and Pudel, the Hamburger Schule as a musical movement, the area known as Schanzenviertel, the autonomous cultural centre Rote Flora, sound clashes and Hamburg Hip Hop culture, all of which, along with the Hamburg’s electronic music scene, have caused a stir far beyond the city’s borders for over 20 years and shall continue to do so.
written by Sascha Uhlig/ translated by Border Movement