Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cabeza de Vaca P001 – Dub techno and Tresor

Welcome back to the show which is available to stream at Scanner FM. Probably the four dub techno tracks building up to the Tresor part of the show don’t need too much introduction here, or if not, some previous posts might carry the information. As for Tresor, there is plenty to say, which is one of the reasons why we turn the spotlight on them this week.

Obviously the emphasis is split in two: half on the label and half on the club itself and by default its existence in the changing landscape of the German scene.

Regarding the label, I mention in the show that it is worth comparing numbers and names with Berghain and Ostgut Ton, perhaps a little scientifically, for what they reveal about the changes in the local scene.

The Tresor label opened its doors back in 1991 with the release of the first eponymous album by X101, the supergroup featuring Jeff Mills, Mad Mike Banks and Robert Hood, which set the scene for a run of Detroit-influenced albums and singles.

Looking at the various interviews and documentaries, the respect at the time between the club and the American producers was very mutual, but retrospectively it still feels something of a surprise to find such a foreign influence on the label despite the club harbouring many German residents. This was pre-internet days after all. Of the first 20 or so releases on the Tresor label, only the “Berlin 1992” compilation and releases by Ingator II, 3 Phase and 3MB (featuring both Moritz von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann) involve German artists, whereas the rest is from Detroit. By comparison, running through the first 20 releases on Ostgut Ton, which kicked off in 2005, and you find Englishman Luke Slater on a compilation, part Caribbean-Austrian Cassy mixing the first Panorama Bar mix and that’s about it. The rest is German. Perhaps the only point of this is to highlight the African American origins of techno, something that should never get watered down, but the open arms with which techno was received as a “world music” and importantly as a liberation music in Berlin at the time. The wall had just come down after all. Obviously, there were more important things to police than clubs and there was still enough cheap real estate to make things possible, something that is only now just changing.

“Everyone from Detroit, when you’d say Berlin, [they’d think] its Tresor, you know. I think they probably think that [Tresor founder] Dmitiri [Hegemann] owns Berlin.”
- Blake Baxter, 2000.

The first Ostgut Ton 12", released by Berghain residents Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock

It is also worth comparing Berghain and Tresor for the important role in which the physicality of the club plays on the music. For example, the epic “Fünf” (fifth i.e. fifth anniversary) box set from Ostgut Ton featured 24 exclusive tracks all of which in some way (some more than less) featured sounds sourced from the structure of the building itself. Nick Höeppner said this several years ago at Resident Advisor 

“[Emika] told me about her last visit to Berghain. It was a regular Sunday morning and she noticed how everything in the building was resonating and vibrating and swinging and humming–she realized that there were lot of sounds coming from the building itself. That led to the idea of doing field recordings within the building while it's not open to the public. She had access to everything, the cooling rooms, storage rooms, the PA rooms... Our in-house technicians helped her mic the lighting rigs, they recorded the strobelight flashing, the fridges humming... They recorded impulse responses in the space of Berghain and built a reverb plug-in from that. It took about two or three weeks, then she took home tons of rough field recordings and edited them down to a library which she organized into different groups: downstairs, cloakroom, toilets, water, glasses, swings... whatever she has recorded...”

Tresor has had the same relationship since its inception. Anyone who was ever at the original site in the basement of the old Wertheim department store will remember and be inspired by the darkness, the smell, the red lights and sweat dripping from the roof, the invisible DJ and shadowy dancers behind bars and the rusted safe deposit boxes. The label itself has turned the scenario into myth, even using the original shape of the old key to unlock it as the symbol of the club. Similarly, over the years, many artists have paid homage to the location in tracks invoking the space like Mike Huckaby’s “Tresor Track” (played on the show), The Advent's “The Vault” and more. The Wire magazine also published a feature article on the subject of architecture in particular relation to Tresor and other Berlin clubs several years ago (sorry, back issues in Australia and cannot check my facts or pin point the issue here).

The old Tresor was called a “Techno bunker” at times and carried a true punk aesthetic that is sometimes missing in today’s world of straight lines and hipster design. But sadly the original venue was to close down in 2005 due to gentrification of the Potsdamer Platz area, a problem that has received a lot of media attention  lately and even lead to the closure of the famous Tacheles squat earlier in September this year, while the Liebig 14 tenement block squat was forcibly shut down in February last year leading to some backlash. The relocation of Tresor also led to the effective cessation of the label for several years, particularly with regards to new music. It is ironic then that Jeff Mills quipped in one early documentary that Tresor was “One of the most consistent and steady labels in Europe”.

Between 2005 and 2007 as the club moved to a new location in a power plant (or Kraftwerk in German (sic)), a long series of perhaps overdue reissues kept the label afloat. It was the sudden emergence of several new 12”s by the likes of Vince Watson (who apparently expressed keen and direct interest in releasing on Tresor), several remixes of Juan Atkins' mythical Infiniti project and other 12”s by the like of former resident Pacou and Sleeparchive that re-launched the label.

There was more to it than that, however. Mike Huckaby mixed together a "20th Anniversary Compilation" last year, featuring mostly old tracks, but also a new one by himself (featured on the show), amongst others. Hot on the heels of this came the release of the recent "SubBerlin" documentary (directed by Tilmann Künzel) which charted the first 20 years of the Tresor club and labels history, cementing the clubs phoenix-like rise from the ashes.

This is not of course the first official documentary of the club. This distinction goes to “Tresor Berlin: The Vault And The Electronic Frontier” directed by Mike Andrawis for which there is no apparent media available on-line. Spanish readers can find more information on the documentary by clicking here.

With regards to the gentrification of Berlin, it is probably a problem that Detroit might like to have. The decline and the problems of Detroit have been well documented in many places recently, including a film by Julien Temple (“Requiem for Detroit”) and also “Detropia”. Mr C may not come from Detroit, but his words perhaps stick with regards to the legacy of techno and what place it has in the social unrest:

 “”Music is only the weapon we fight them with.”

BBC Documentary: Requiem For Detroit from Logan Siegel on Vimeo.

The other issue facing Tresor and the other Berlin clubs is the pressure being put in place by GEMA (Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (Society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights). GEMA is a powerful collections agency in Germany representing some 65,000 artists (probably not many of them techno producers). They have recently stated plans to change the fee system by which all live events are charged. Depending on whom you believe, the big clubs in Berlin like Tresor and Berghain could face extraordinary price increases after 1st January 2013 with the possibility that many will have to shut down. This comes in the wake of the news that the company behind Sven Väth’s Cocoon Club in Frankfurt has gone into administration. The looming crisis provoked by GEMA has caused a great deal of political unrest in the upper levels of club management in Germany, leading to the formation of the Club Commission which represents clubs and some concert organisers who feel slighted that the GEMA, a non-governmental organisation, has unilaterally made plans for reforms without first consulting the different sectors of the entertainment industry. The Club Commission is currently organising demonstrations and awareness companions in order to broker some room for negotiation, claiming that the “Techno tourists” are an important source of revenue for the state. The irony is that, on one hand, it is the techno tourists and hipsters coming to Berlin that are partly driving the increases in property values and creating a cultural backlash, while on the other hand are cited as necessary for the sustainability of the scene.

The conflict is set to play out until the end of the year and probably beyond, but the force of GEMA is not to be taken lightly as they have already played a big role in forcing Youtube to take down copyrighted music videos in Germany  back in April this year.

Strangely, despite the demonstrations and the five minutes of silence at the decks by several clubs, so far there has been no noticeable protest song or solidarity release.

Finally, one last word. As Detroit disintegrates and Berlin grows, so too does its myth in print. Several recent books celebrate the scene and the lengthy and winding history of Berlin and German music.

Back in 2009, the Innervisions label published an English translation of Tobias Rapp’s “Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno and the Easyjetset”, a pioneering account of how Berlin became the techno capital. More recently, Théo Lessour published his book “Berlin sampler: From Cabaret to Techno: 1904-2012, a century of Berlin music" which traces one hundred years of history of the capital’s music. Check out the official website  for some historical videos that highlight the key narrative points of the book.

Some more links of interest:
Official Tresor website

Tresor interview and history at Ibiza Voice

Other documentaries and archival footage on Youtube:

Tresor Club 1991 [German only]

Love Parade 1995 Berlin

Tresor new opening 2007 [German only]

Resident Advisor – Real Scenes [Berlin]

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Esperanza - Living in hope

New program of Cabeza de Vaca should be up tomorrow already so a post later today on that. Meanwhile a signpost to an interview I did way back in June with up and coming Italian group Esperanza. We met back stage of Sonar and had a quick chat which has now been published by Cyclic Defrost in Australia with a brilliant picture by Bianca de Vilar. I was a bit unprepared for the interview and sadly missed their sow as well since I was trapped in the dungeons of work at the time. Sorry guys, but nice to meet you and catch up.

A couple of additional points though.

The video and track to “Jaipur” from their self-titled debut album last year on German label Gomma are wonderful and capture the group’s sense of humour and indie pop side brilliantly. Made by the band themselves, it tells an invented story made from internet-sourced videos.


The relative heaviness of the track is somewhat offset by the more lighter, electro pop sounds of the rest of the album that features collaborations by their good friend Alessio Natalizia under the Banjo or Freakout moniker.


Natalizia is also one half of Kompakt-signed duo Walls with Sam Willis. Eseranza’s proximity to Walls has slowly let them into the fringes of the Kompakt community, where they have exchanged remixes with Walls and had many brushings with Michael Mayer. With any luck they will keep their place and make their mark, especially if they are now recording as they told me during the interview and can capitalise on a bit of momentum.


In the interview the group praise the talents of Italian singer songwriter Lucio Battisti of whom I know very little. A quick trawl through Youtube reveals a plethora of pop styles at his disposal: typical acoustic balladry up to even more electro-disco styled tracks like this:


You can see why he might have a big influence on the work of a group like Esperanza. Despite existing within the heart of pop and at the centre of public attention, Battisti also had an experimental side. In 1970 he had just won the prestigious Festival della canzone italiana di Sanremo song festival for the second time in a row. His label angered him by opting to release a compilation album of hit singles in place of his concept album “Amore e non amore” which was considered too out there for the Italian audiences at the time, although they subsequently released it in 1971. The concept of the album, “love and “not love”, meant that each side had a particular sound, one lighter and the other heavier. The track titles too were winding and labyrinthine elaborations like the final track "Una poltrona, un bicchiere di cognac, un televisore, 35 morti ai confini di Israele e Giordania" (An armchair, a glass of cognac, a television, 35 deaths at the border between Israel and Jordan). Battisti also deserves full praise for the inspired and exploitative nature of the cover art for this album.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cabeza de Vaca P000 – Bienvenidos

As promised, the radio show has gone live! The first pilot/introductory episode is now available on Scanner FM  .

Commentary is in English in the end as it is easier to ad lib and quicker to prepare since time is not always an ally.

I don’t need to add much more commentary for the first show as it is really an intentionally broad selection designed to show the range of where we might go rather than make any particular statement. Of course the inclusion of Pablo Bolivar for the first focus is a way of promoting local artists which will always be of importance, but only if the music is good. I am forever traumatised by the decision of Australian national youth/alternative station JJJ to have a minimum percentage of Australian music. While this policy had good intentions, it also had bad consequences as second rate garage bands which had done nothing more than record a sketchy track received considerable airplay at the expense of the otherwise perfectly good foreign music that they used to play.

Full track listing is at Scanner FM.

Finally, I need/want promos, information, recommendations for up-coming shows. Please send anything of interest to me at floatinghead9[at]

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Viva la crisis!

A post where there shouldn’t have been a post. Some mother fuckers broke into my flat while I was on vacation and stole a lot of things from my flat forcing me to come home early at some additional expense when I was recently told I will be unemployed in the near future. A pestilence on them and their families.

One wonders if it is a sign of things to come? Is it an increase in street crime due to the ongoing crisis and the worsening of the situation in Spain or is it coincidence? It comes on the day before the Spanish government increased the IVA (impuesto de valor añadido; the VAT or GST equivalent in Spain) from 18% to 21% on many things, amongst them the price of tickets to concerts, cinema, theatre as well as many consumer goods like clothes, alcohol, school items, in addition to services like gas and electricity. On Friday, the Spanish government also created what are called “bancos malos”  or “bad banks” to absorb the over supply of devalued land and unfinished developments that are owned by existing banks and are catalysing the catastrophic fall in their value and potential.

The increase in IVA has lead to an interesting situation in which the major Spanish music and entertainment press including, amongst others, GO Mag, Mondo Sonoro, DJ Mag, Time Out Barcelona, Guia de Ocio and Scanner FM, have published a manifesto called “La cultura no es un lujo” (Culture is not a luxury) and called for protests (the Spanish text of the manifesto can be found by clicking here.

Amongst the propositions of the text, the collective have stated that the increase in IVA

“Es el definitivo golpe de gracia para un sector que depende del gasto en ocio para su supervivencia y que ha ido viéndose acorralado progresivamente por las decisiones de nuestros gobernantes… la lista de zancadillas a la iniciativa privada por parte de las Administraciones es interminable: desde la promesa incumplida por parte del anterior Gobierno de considerar los discos y directos como producto cultural y rebajar su IVA al 4%, hasta la prohibición a acceder a una sala de conciertos a los menores de edad, pasando por las periódicas trabas a promotores y hosteleros para impedir que programen música en directo. Especial hincapié merece la nula respuesta que han dado nuestros gobernantes durante la última década al problema de las descargas ilegales, que se ha llevado por delante infinidad de puestos de trabajo en discográficas y distribuidoras”

“It is the final blow to an industry that depends on leisure spending for its survival and has been progressively cornered by the decisions of our leaders ... the list of tripping points for private initiatives by Administrations is endless: from the unfulfilled promise by the previous government to consider physical music sales and live performances as cultural products and lower the VAT to 4%, to the prohibition of access to a concert hall to minors, through the periodic obstacles to developers and some public places [hotels and pubs] to prevent scheduled live music. Special emphasis goes to the lack of response that our leaders have given over the last decade to the problem of illegal downloading, which has wiped out countless jobs at record companies and distributors”

Grim times indeed as so much is done in the music industry these days for free, or at least a promo CD, an entrance ticket etc.

The issue of illegal down loads is a critical one and a divisive one obviously that may well be coming to a head soon. The case of Megaupload drags on, whereas in the last weeks search engine changes  have made it more difficult to find sites offering links for illegal downloads. The sinister side of this is that Google only made the changes so that it could expand its own fledgling music business to rival iTunes. It seems that nothing is ever done until money reaches a critical tipping threshold. Hardly a surprise, but always a bitter truth. Meanwhile, one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, was just arrested  in Cambodia for possible extradition back to Sweden where he was previously sentenced to one year in prison for encouraging copy right violations. This comes on the tail of recent moves by some internet service providers  in the UK, Australia and New Zealand to block access to the site. New Zealand already has a “three strikes” policy  by which people caught downloading pirated material three times are fined. These methods have produced some results, but there is still up to 40% of internet users still illegally download material.

But couple the two processes together in Spain, massive increases to the cost of buying recorded music or concert tickets and a greater prohibition of piracy and you risk creating a cultural vacuum where nobody will be able to have or participate in anything cultural, except the rich and the political class.

Copyright rules are obviously a sticky issue for many. Ask Negativland how they feel, for example. Also, it is worth sticking through the 18 minutes of this fascinating audio documentary (not much to see actually, but don’t let that deter you). What is interesting here is the clear play-off between the “advantages” of the sampling culture (particular for some), whereas the copy right holder and the drummer of the original Amen break has received nothing, with one of them apparently living and dying in squalor at the end of his days.

So in conclusion: the banks steal from the government and the people, the government steals from the people; and the people steal from the people. I am reminded of the words of the Buzzcocks in their song “Breakdown”

“Now I can stand austerity, but it gets a little much
 when there's all these livid things that you never get to touch
 I'm gonna breakdown ...”

The crisis aside, there is still some good news from down on the street. New record store Sub Wax BCN has just christened their new label with the release of their first record, itself a re-release of Icelandic dub techno artist Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson’s debut album “Rhythm of snow” which originally came out on Force Inc in 2002 under his Yagya moniker.

Yagya also has a new new (sic) album out which is more pop orientated album with vocals by several different contributors. The sound is curiously radio friendly, but not always as regrettable as it would seem. However, there must have been some doubts over how it would be received as the album comes as both vocal and instrumental versions.