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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