In 2019, global problems found their way into the German scene: Climate crisis, displacement from inner cities, Israeli-Palestinian conflict – it seemed as if the club culture was no longer the hedonistic playground it was meant to be. However, the year’s musical trends put a stop to that.
By Cristina Plett
Now it’s over, the year 2019. Some may say, “Thank goodness!” Things got shaky not only in the socio-political situation in Germany, but in Germany’s club culture. Clubs and the event industry began to be troubling. In other areas, what has always characterised club culture – questioning existing norms – continued. And there was no lack of nostalgia. Thirty years of techno and thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall commemorated the reunification era in a big way (especially in Berlin).
The photo exhibition No Photos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989 — Today at the C/O in Berlin deserves special mention. Few exhibition openings see as many visitors as this one did. Curated by Heiko Hoffmann, scene encyclopaedist and former editor-in-chief of the electronic music magazine Groove, it offered a well-informed look at the development of clubs and party culture in Berlin since 1989. There were black and white pictures from East Berlin of the early nineties, flyers from thirty years of club history and photos of clubs that have long closed alongside ones that still exist. The emphasis is on “still” because this was another issue that occupied the scene: club deaths.
Clubs in Germany’s city centres are at risk
It may sound dramatic, but actually quite a few clubs closed this year in Germany: Chalet, St. George and Arena in Berlin, in Munich the MMA (planned for temporary use) and Bob Beaman, in Dresden the TBA Club, Dr. Seltsam in Leipzig. The locations of other clubs, like the more than 25 year old Distillery in Leipzig or the RAW-Gelände and KitKat, are threatened, others are expected to close or relocate next year (such as the Loft in Ludwigshafen). There are not enough new club openings to compensate for the loss. The reasons are usually not due to just one cause, but displacement processes often play a role. These include rising rents – a problem not only for clubs – and disturbed residents. Even if the club may have been there first, noise protection is given priority. To counteract the latter, the Clubcommission, advocacy group of the Berlin clubs, initiated a noise protection fund late last year. This demonstrated initial effects this year, for example Berlin’s IPSE was able to install an efficient sound system. The Clubcommission also published a study in autumn that underpinned the economic relevance of nightlife in Berlin.
It had an effect: The Bundestag factions of the Left and the Greens promptly submitted motions to combat club deaths. Among other things, they called for clubs to be equated with opera houses and theatres in terms of construction law. In addition, financial support programmes are being set up to help clubs with soundproofing and other measures.
But even without politicians, there was encouraging news in the same direction. In Dortmund, Tresor.West opened in November, a pet project by Dimitri Hegemann, operator of Berlin’s Tresor. In Düsseldorf the musically experimental Salon des Amateurs reopened after extensive renovations, in Cologne the new Club Jaki celebrated its opening in October. And the Golden Pudel Club in Hamburg added a new space for concerts and workshops.
The Israel-Palestine conflict reaches the scene
Last year, the Golden Pudel was caught in the eye of a storm that has divided the music industry worldwide not only since this year: the controversy surrounding the BDS movement. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and calls for boycotting Israel in support of Palestine. It also applies to culture: for example, for DJs to refrain from playing in Israel. Internationally, the BDS has prominent supporters. In Germany the movement is considered to have anti-Semitic tendencies. The Golden Pudel and ://about blank in Berlin as well as Conne Island in Leipzig – all three of them clubs that explicitly regard themselves as politically leftist – have increasingly spoken out against the BDS campaign and have disinvited some artists who support the BDS. It, in turn, called for a boycott of the clubs.
This is just one example of the presence of global issues in local scenes. The climate policy discourse also widely entered the scene. It seems as if every big festival announced what they were doing to get greener. But it was rarely more than returnable drinking cups and compost toilets; a drop in the bucket, especially considering that festivals are an extremely unsustainable affair. An entire infrastructure for several thousand people is erected and used for three to five days. DJs are flown in from all over the world for an appearance lasting one to five hours. On top of that, festivals are increasingly fierce competition for small clubs, which is socially unsustainable.
An oversaturated festival market
At the same time, this year we could observe that the increasing “festivalisation” of the scene has reached a preliminary high: the market is oversaturated; some festivals were dropped. Plötzlich am Meer and Spain’s Into the Valley Festival were cancelled, the company behind the German festivals Her Damit and 7001 filed for bankruptcy and had not paid many of their staff for several years. At the Portuguese Forte festival, similar things came to light. The competition is also relying on smaller festivals: Contrary to its political stance, the Fuchsbau Festival in Lehrte was dependent on the support of sponsors. The Nachtdigital festival in Saxony celebrated its last production after 22 years.
Speaking of festivals, in May, one of the biggest festivals in Germany, the alt-left Fusion in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, found its way onto the agenda of the German mass media for the first time. It had turned to the press after its security concept had surprisingly not been approved. Unlike in previous years, the police wanted to assert a strong presence on the festival grounds. The organising collective (Kulturkosmos) thought this would threaten the spirit of the festival – freedom and “holiday communism.” Massive avowals of solidarity and a debate about the right to police-free spaces ensued. After revising their security concept, however, Fusion was eventually held (as usual) with minimal police presence that was only deployed outside the actual festival grounds.
Music for big stages
Of course, the festivalisation tendency was reflected in the music. Big festival stages need tracks that create an ambience even over long distances. So it’s not surprising that trance and breakbeat combined with pounding techno were the trends of the year. Extensive melodies and boldly whipping bass can be found, for example, in one of the year’s hits, Kisloty People by the Danish producer Schacke. Released on Kulør, the label of Courtesy residing in Berlin, they and the artists in their environment gained a strong popularity boost.
How important labels, crews and collectives have become can be seen from the fact that newcomers who suddenly appear on the scene often come from such a tightly knit network. The Berlin collective No Shade, for example, has only existed for two years, yet it was represented with Kikelomo and an eclectic mix of music at the celebrations at Brandenburg Gate for the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The group organises DJ workshops to bring more women, trans and non-binary people into the scene. It appears to be working when you look at other newcomers: DJ Gigola is part of the Berlin-based collective Live from Earth Klub. She toured clubs all over Germany with her catchy and energetic sets. Or:la, an Irish native based in Berlin, plays a lot of breakbeat, bass and electro. She has taken the step from newcomer to label maker this year and offers unknown producers a platform on her label Céad. Fadi Mohem, a young producer from Berlin is also noteworthy. His records on the labels of Ben Klock and Modeselektor demonstrated bone-dry, coherently implemented techno.
Musically speaking, 2019 was by no means a bad year, although many of the dance-floor-oriented publications quote the nineties. However, a forward-looking change is looming in the DJ booth proper: streaming instead of playing MP3 files or records. Beatport, the big online MP3 shop, launched a streaming service in May, which, in partnership with the leading DJ technology manufacturers, enabled its music library to be streamed on the equipment for the first time. Purchasing music will become superfluous. This raises questions: Can labels make any money at all with this? How are producers going to make a living? Does electronic music become functional and transitory when it disappears from the streaming playlist after a handful of DJ gigs? We’ll find out in the next decade.