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CTM 2015: Once Upon A Berghain
Sophie Zola , January 24th, 2015 10:49

With CTM festival opening in Berlin this weekend, we asked some of the artists playing about their favourite memories of its main venue, Berghain. Featuring Powell, Gazelle Twin, Grebenstein, OAKE and more.

Photo by James Dennes

Most of those who voyage to Berghain return (often 48 hours later) with a beguiling anecdote of sorts. In the run up to this preview alone I've heard plenty, including one particularly excellent one involving Ossian Brown of Cyclobe sitting under a giant photograph of an anus in Panorama Bar drinking from a tea cup. Delve deeper and there's vivid tales of bacchanalian orgies, leather and tupperware boxes. Britney Spears was allegedly once denied entry due to her choice of footwear. Wolfgang Tillmans, whose photos line the interior walls, is rumoured to be one of the founding owners. While many argue it has become something of an Easyjet destination in recent years, Berghain still retains much of its allure and mystery; a techno cathedral for deliquents, safe from the prying eyes of camera phones and disparaging stares, a haven for those reluctant to keep their joyous deviances hidden behind closed doors.

It seemed only fitting in the lead up to this year's CTM, a festival taking place in Berlin this last week of January – predominantly in the bowels of the former power plant, to centre our preview around the venue itself. We spoke to Powell, Gazelle Twin, Grebenstein, OAKE and others about their own experiences at Berghain, and what it means to them in terms of a wider narrative of club culture. Have a read below.

Oscar Powell

Powell plays Berghain on January 30

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

New Year's Eve, probably about seven or eight years ago now I think. We queued for frickin' ages in the cold, and chatted to perfectly normal-looking blokes who, when we eventually got in, stepped out of their normal-looking clothes and into leather leotards and harnesses and stuff. Then they disappeared into the dark — never saw 'em again. 


What place do you feel it plays in electronic music culture at the moment?

It's a magnificent club — and deserves its reputation — but equally with an enhanced reputation comes difficult things: it's assumed a role as the ultimate techno tourist destination — a sort of Mecca. I think this is why it's important that it maintains its door policy etc., because without the culture it's created for itself it would cease to be Berghain. It would become a must-have hashtag for the coffee-table techno generation who queue up so they can take a pic and say they were there. I think the people behind it do a great job of preserving its identity.

Also, it has a sound. Not many clubs in the world can say they have that. Even if it's not totally your bag, you have to respect that.  

What are you going to be doing? Are you nervous? As an artist, what does it offer that other venues may not?

I don't know yet. But it will mostly be stuff no-one's heard before. The drink token policy is extremely well organised at Berghain.

What's your oddest/best memory?   Seeing a bloke up to his elbow in some other chap. 

Eric Sienknech

OAKE play YAAM III on January 24

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

I just moved to Berlin and went to one of Scuba's Sub:Stance nights. I think he was playing a live show and Distance was headlining. I queued up and right in front of me people got rejected at the door. So I was quiet intimidated, since this was something new to me. I was also by myself and just hoped to get in since seeing Scuba and Distance just sounded to good to be rejected and leave the space again. Everything went fine and I walked in, right before the stairs that lead to Berghain I could already sense the deep energy of that massive building and I could feel the lower frequencies entering my body. That was quiet something since I haven't been to a club of this massive measures before. The night went great, I had the feeling that everyone inside was enjoying themselves. A lot of smiles not too many straight faces and a general "head-vibe" let me stay there till the end of the night (it was a Friday, so there was an actual end). I think I didn't miss any other Sub:Stance night

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

Despite the hype it is the leading environment for electronic music, especially for techno but also for more experimental and leftfield sounds. It is great that they are open to host nights like NotEqual and do live concerts as well without leaving their path of uncompromising credibility.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

Besides great line-ups, the architecture and the sound it is a place that allows you to be yourself and loosing your ego. Time is something that doesn't seem to exist in there. No mirrors, no outside light, no rules (except the photo rule). The one part that holds me back of going there more often is that I usually completely lose this sense of time that I mentioned before. It is possible that you enter at Saturday at midnight, because you want to see the opening act, then you meet some friends and realise - it is probably at 8am by now - the next act you need to see will be playing in another hour as well, followed by a short break for a coffee and then new and old friends will be met that drag you into Sunday night. If you are not exhausted, have burning dance-feet or are completely worn out and tired by that point and you decide to stay instead of going to your bed to pick up your well-deserved dose of beauty-sleep, you could still go onto early Monday morning. 

Every week. That's unique.

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

It was probably April in 2013, when we played the first OAKE show, which was also our first OAKE Show ever. The tension and the nerves in the weeks before were horrible. Then we got there, everyone was extreme professional, fitted with an excellent attitude and very kind as well, and we were in that space that we, but especially me personally, always wanted to play in. I think I forgot everything that happened after the show. Most likely I was covered in my own blood by the end of the night and walked my 30 minute walk home.

Alec Empire

Alec Empire plays Berghain on January 28

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

Miss Kittin invited me to her DJ set there. I think this was 10 years ago or something. She played a really cool set, it was that time when that 80s influenced electro sound was on its peak. I'm a huge fan of that era in electronic music, even though I only made one album in that direction. My first reaction was that I liked this experience, but then understood very quickly that the excitement of the 90s in Berlin was probably never coming back. I don't mean the sound, I am talking more about the energy, the buzz. It has more to do with the audiences, something that happens when people come together. Berghain is a very 90s type of location and that makes me automatically switch into that mode. I really remember that night well.

Why is Berghain important for the cultural life of Berlin?

Berghain means different things to different people. Many people don't realize that. The location itself inspires people. It represents an alternative. It's like a castle with thick walls that protect Europe from the dumbed down American EDM. I think it's great that Berghain became also a neutral venue, where you can see a band during the week or some far out experimental thing. Of course there are people who go there for the wrong reasons but it's stupid to blame Berghain for that. It's a huge club and to run it that successfully is a difficult task in these times. Berghain's success is good for everyone, not just in Berlin, but in Europe.

Do you feel it is a rare autonomous space?

As I mentioned above I grew up with places like that. But every month that passes it gets harder in Berlin. Space is important for the creation of music, people forget that in the internet age. A clip on YouTube doesn't inspire anyone to become creative, 10min at Berghain will. That is why I support their policy to shield it off from the social media nonsense.

What's your oddest/best memory?

I met Klaxons there and we spoke briefly about Nu Rave. For a short moment I felt like Han Solo and the Jedi Knights on the Death Star.

Elizabeth Bernholz

Gazelle Twin plays Berghain on January 29

What was your first experience of Berghain?

I played the Panorama bar back in 2011 supporting Planningtorock, I think it was my 2nd ever Gazelle Twin gig, so fairly daunting – the cavernous building itself, the huge corridors, the Funktion-One which made my unsettled stomach feel far worse. Then in my insomniac haze, having not slept all the night before, there was the sight of Planningtorock backstage with her prosthetic nose, looking like something out of Total Recall. Despite all that, I was also struck by how friendly the people who run the place were. They stayed in touch with me afterwards, and to this day. You hear stories of being on the other side, as a rejected punter, facing the bouncers etc, but it couldn't be more different on the inside, well at least from the angle of performing there.

Why do you think Berghain is important for the cultural life of Berlin?

Interestingly I have probably spent more time in that venue than anywhere else in Berlin. CTM will be my third time there. I guess it must be a sort of beacon to the likes of people like me who don't see much daylight and have industrial tendencies… and of course it has this legendary status that's pretty hard to argue with.

Do you feel it is a rare autonomous space? Are you intending to use the space in your set at all? If so how?

Yeah, it certainly seems to exist in its own world. When you're in there you feel cut off from the rest of the city, barricaded in to some degree. I'm not sure how differently I'll use the space for my show at CTM. I think there's a lot of artists performing that day, and I imagine that the stage will be pretty full. My live show is so basic, I’m just very excited to perform UNFLESH there and be able to interact a bit more with the crowd and hear the bass rattle my ribcage. Nice not to feel like a rookie this time too.

What's your oddest/best memory of Berghain?

I guess it's the giant anus photo that was on the wall of the bar, where I spent a few hours rehearsing with Owen and Jonny who were my live band until 2014. We were all pretty overwhelmed by being in this massive, iconic factory-come-club anyway, but the task of performing to a discerning Berlin crowd was sort of overshadowed at that point by this radiating pink, immaculate butthole. Like a rose. Hmmn.

Grebenstein

Grebenstein plays YAAM III on January 24

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

To be honest clubbing is not my biggest love. Sometimes it just stresses me out. The first time I went to Berghain I suspected that it could be too big, too hard, too crazy, I was wondering if I would be able to enjoy this whole "Berghain-happening". When I went in I was totally surprised. It was a Leisure System night with Objekt and Wraetlic among other great artists. It was just amazing. The architecture, the sound, it was massive and I really loved it. Especially the architecture, it matched my personal taste. That's a good basis, to feel comfortable in your surroundings. It maybe sounds strange, but to me this place felt really peaceful and innocent. It seemed like everybody just wanted to have a good time.

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

Actually I'm living in Kassel, but I think Berghain is still one of the most intense places for electronic music in Berlin. Of course there's this hype and mystification but in fact it's just about offering high-quality music and art. Maybe it would help if the hype would decrease a little and the people would focus more on the art happening inside.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

I'm not sure if there's something unique about Berghain. But as I said before, the architecture and the basic feeling inside is really overwhelming and this is something I only feel there. I don't know if it's really an autonomous space away from mainstream. I had some awkward moments in Berghain when i thought: "who are these kids around me?" Freedom and autonomy are great things, but when i see people acting like apes that fell in a pot of acid, there's the wish to give them a punch in the face. Seriously… i'm getting really angry when taking drugs and doing a fashion show is getting more important than listening to the music. So you can find a stereotypic behaviour in the audience that makes this place mainstream somehow. On the other hand there's this great policy of Berghain offering really high quality art and music. The Bug's 'Sirens' at CTM festival for example, I hope I'll make it there, everything i read about it sounds awesome.

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

I think the best moment was at the Leisure System night with Objekt. I was dancing the whole time and there was a moment when a really unique nerdy percussion part appeared, a heavy clicking sound that totally worked against the basic beat. Words can't describe. It was just awesome. That gave me a sense of pleasure for hours.

Phoebe Kiddo

Phoebe Kiddo plays Astra on February 1

What was your first experience of Berghain?

I first visited Berghain 10 years ago during its first year at the current location. A child of club and warehouse techno in my hometown Melbourne I was visiting the most important institutions on my first trip to Europe, at the time that included Berghain, Centre Pompidou and Sonar. We met friends inside on a Sunday at about 10am. The Garden was open because it was mid-summer and it was the day after Christopher Street Day (gay pride march)... My first impression of Berghain was that it was full of super fit topless men with shaved heads and army fatigues, who loved techno. I was fascinated by the idea of darkrooms and was certain I could smell sex in the air everywhere I went.

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

Berghain is an important institution that has expanded beyond it's techno roots to embrace a diverse cultural content while maintaing the legacy that has defined it. In terms of Berghain's impact on music - it remains sacred to all lovers of 4/4 music yet has become home to showcases of avante-garde and experimental music including CTM Festival. Berghain has grown to embrace the fringes of electronic music which has legitimised less functional music in Berlin, that goes a long way toward fostering new musical innovation here.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

Berghain is the mainstream of Berlin in a way. As odd as it sounds the City has been defined by techno and Berghain remains the church for 4/4 music worldwide. What Berghain offers is the ultimate experience of urban hedonism, sexual liberation and community, to a carefully curated soundtrack of slamming 4/4 music. The oppressive warehouse architecture somehow accurately represents Berlin's vibe perfectly and the staff and sound system are proof of the care that has gone into building such a awesome club.

What CTM event at Berghain are you most looking forward to?

I'm looking forward to the night at Berghain with Volte-Face, Gazelle Twin, Amnesia Scanner, Evian Christ, Suicideyear, WE WILL FAIL, Moon Wheel, errorsmith, Sherwood & Pinch, KABLAM, and Rroxymore.

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

Wandering around the club alone I started talking nonsense about what a wonderful place Berghain is to a guy dressed in fetish leathers, he happened to catch me in a total ecstasy stupor and responded to my wonder and naïvety by kissing me and biting my lip, then walking off, hips swinging, like a catwalk supermodel. Not a minute later I was handed a whole bag of MDMA by a complete stranger. I had to fly long haul the next day to L.A. I almost didn't make it.

Born In Flamez

Born In Flamez plays YAAM I on January 31

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

The first experience I had at Berghain, as a lot of others I suspect, was to be body searched. something i don't usually enjoy. it is quite an unfriendly mode of address. I was estranged at first - later on MJ Cole played some supercheesy garage favourites at panorama bar. There were balloons on the dancefloor. I guess I went from hell to heaven.

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

It is a place a lot of others take inspiration from internationally - i just saw a flyer from Sydney that copied the Berghain logos and layout. Inside of Berlin its an institution, a place you can always count on to be surprised by.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

The place is a legend and the space is very unique. The architecture is extremely impressive, but I guess first of all it is famous for its sexual openness and with its no photos policy it contributes to all kinds of wild guesses. These feed the legend. It is always difficult for me to wrap my head around the term "mainstream" - i think the greatness of Berghain relies on the fact that they book super established names as well as offer a forum to strange newcomers. Their Alte Kantine space has hosted some amazing concerts by great, but more experimental artist like Gazelle Twin, Perera Elsewhere or queer icon Le1f.

What CTM event at Berghain are you most looking forward to?

I'm really looking forward to the Nan Goldin Soundwall Collective collaboration, but I guess that ain't happening at Berghain. Also the DJ set of KEPLER my most favourite Berlin based DJ, the live sets of Shaddah Tuum and Evian Christ, rRoxymore and Gazelle Twin. Also to Moon Wheels show and Kablam's and i guess i will be camping at Berghain for a couple nights in a row, they'll have to drag me out to get to my own show on the 31st...

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

My oddest memory is when going with my brother and a lot of his friends and he was mistaken for Richie Hawtin by the bouncers, so all ten of us ended up being escorted in quite gently.

Brandon Rosenbluth and Niko Lefort

Shaddah Tuum play YAAM III on January 24

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

Brandon Rosenbluth: I was an exchange student in Berlin and every other person I'd met had told me I have to go to Panorama Bar. When I finally made it a on a Sunday morning after a few weeks, it was a revelation. Everyone was so friendly, taking care of one another, enjoying each other in every possible way up in Panorama while Berghain was steely and hard with bald muscular men marching and grinding to the pounding techno. Once I had experienced it, I understood techno. 

Niko Lefort: I went on a Friday night for Sub:Stance, the UK dubstep night hosted by Scuba and Surefire, and the power and clarity of the Funktion One system blew me away.

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

NL: It's still the temple, but not only for techno. Last year I went to see a lot of concerts there like Ben Frost, Swans, Haxan Cloak, Arca, a lot of stuff that CTM is organising.

BR: I tend to go mostly on Fridays now for the concerts and showcases like Not:Equal, Leisure System, and Downwards nights since strictly techno music doesn't challenge me so much any more and Fridays are more open and playful. It's one of the only mega clubs in Berlin I would still go to and which remains as untouched as possible by party tourists without a clue.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

BR: It is still a mecca, standing on it's own, literally. The architecture of the former power plant was adapted masterfully to an experience which allows you to forget time, and inhibitions, and encourages the dark, mischievious side in you to come out, surrounded by other beautiful lost souls.

NL: The architecture and the sound system.

What CTM event at Berghain are you most looking forward to?

BR: I saw Powell's live set at Unsound and am looking forward to experience it on the Funktion One's alongside Egyptrixx and Prostitutes. Also The Bug alongside JK Flesh.

NL: Powell live.

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

BR: Besides the few times when I sacrificed myself to the club gods and and was taken on a depraved journey, I'd have to say it was actually when everyone sat down on the floor of Berghain to enjoy William Basinski's concert - something that seems unspectacular, but which I never imagined ever happening in that room. Also seeing Swans play there in 2012 felt like all of the oxygen had been sucked out the room - I was speechless.

NL: Monolake performed with his Monodeck and did some crazy immersive spatialisation in the room which left a huge impression on me.

Jesse Osborne-Lanthier

Jesse Osborne-Lanthier plays YAAM III on January 31

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

My first encounter with Berghain was during a Robert Hood DJ set. It was supernatural, fun, otherworldly, abnormal, thrilling, exhilarating, action-packed, stirring, rousing, stimulating, intoxicating, vague, indistinct, unclear, faint, dim, nebulous, shadowy, blurred, fuzzy, confused, blue, depressing, abysmal.

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

Well, I see it as this monolithic electronic music clubbing institution. It definitely embodies a certain notoriety in regards to various scenes and there’s definitely a need for something like that. There’s a certain understanding of / respect towards presentation of music and performance that is unlike any other venue. It stays important, and people seem to know that.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

Well, everything from the doormen to the sound-system to the size of the space and its dungeons contribute to making it a very unique experience. Berghain has Berghain's energy, and it's a powerful energy.

What CTM event at Berghain are you most looking forward to?

I'm very much into the idea of experiencing acts such as Klara Lewis, Lawrence English, Elisabeth Schimana, JK Flesh, Egyptrixx and Gábor Lázár in a Berghain setting.

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

Feeling supernatural, fun, otherworldly, abnormal, thrilled, exhilarated, action-packed, stirred, roused, stimulated, intoxicated, vague, indistinct, unclear, faint, dim, nebulous, shadowy, blurred, fuzzy, confused, blue, depressed, abysmal.

Sarah Farina

Sarah Farina plays YAAM II on January 31st

What was your first experience of Berghain? How was it?

My first experience was a party by Leisure System in 2011. I saw Africa Hitech live. Their set totally blew me away and inspired me so much. To be honest hearing and seeing them at Berghain changed my view on DJing. It opened up a whole new music horizon to me. I will never forget the vibe and I'm very thankful that I got to be part of this special night. And to experience sounds that were new to me through this soundsystem in this environment made everything extra intense. I felt like I could become one with the music. It was one of the most wonderful music highs I've ever experienced at the time.  

As a Berliner, what place do you feel it plays in the electronic music culture of the city at the moment?

First thing I need to mention in regards to this is, that I'm interested in many different types of bass music alongside techno, but not techno in particular. That being said, Berghain appeared to me as open minded towards many different genres of electronic music, ever since I moved to Berlin seven years ago. They actually brought some of the most impressive events and nights to town such as 10 years Hyperdub, Substance (RIP), Leisure System nights, Ninja Tune, CTM and beyond… It actually shocked me sometimes back then how they manage to get the craziest DJs under the umbrella of dance music culture to play for them on like sunday early midday in Panorama Bar or daytime in the garden during summer. Plus their own label and in-house heavyweights like Ben Klock, Marcel Dettmann, Steffi frequently playing the function one and representing them all over the world, Berghain is Berlin's flagship in terms of club- and electronic music culture. With a changing mayor we all got aware that Berghain isn't just representing Berlin's side of music and club culture but what Berlin stands for nowadays.

What does it offer that other venues don't? Is it the fact that it exists as something of an autonomous space away from the mainstream?

The architecture is impressive and the venue itself is huge, low light, no mirrors, no cameras, the music is loud and the sound is epic - all this creates a special very very vibe like nowhere else. They live for their music and own subculture. They are serious about their stuff and they make sure that you know that if you come to play. For me personally, it's their PA and booking that makes me to go there. It offers space to focus on the music and connect with it and just be and enjoy the moment.

But having lived in Berlin now for a good while I have experienced some of the rapid and radical changes Berlin as a whole has been and still is going through. Many young internationals are moving here every day and on top of that inter-European flights are getting cheaper and cheaper and party tourists are flooding the town every weekend. 

As Ostgut/Berghain has been an essential influencer of Berlin becoming the world's capital of techno and partying I believe they also have to suffer unfortunate consequences. Berghain became one of the Mekkas of the international club culture targeted by a brought spectrum of all types of people nowadays. As it is infamous for it's spirit of freedom, queerness and intimacy which made it world famous, this very spirit seems to leave more and more as Berliners say that have been here longer than I have.

What CTM event at Berghain are you most looking forward to?

I'm really excited to see The Bug's show, Sherwood & Pinch and Evian Christ.

What's your oddest/best memory of going there?

I can't remember anything odd to be honest. I have a couple of good memories, as I mentioned earlier seeing Africa Hitech live but also DJ sets by Mala, The Bug, Kryptic Minds and Special Request are definitely some of my best memories. 

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