Ben Klock interviewed by Rory MacLean
Berlin-born Ben Klock, a startlingly attractive and athletic man with strong jaw and easy smile, is without a doubt one of the most influential players in contemporary techno. A long-time resident at Berghain, as well as a producer and label owner, his hypnotic sets and tracks – with their irresistible beat, moving narrative and signature ecstatic crescendos – have marked the European electronic music scene. His debut album One, released earlier this year on the Ostgut Ton label, is probably the best-reviewed techno album of the year. He has been voted a top DJ of 2009 by Resident Advisor, the independent online music magazine. And it all began with jazz. ‘I grew up wanting to be a jazz pianist,’ he said with a laugh.
Techno was born in Detroit in the 1980s through the marriage of European synthesizer and African-American music. Funk, Chicago house and electric jazz were combined - and classic tracks reworked - to create a sound that was speedy, futuristic and rebellious. Performers and audiences alike surrendered themselves to the pulsating, disassembled spirit of the techno beat.
In 1989 at the end of the Cold War, the genre swept through the newly opened gaps in the Berlin Wall. Underground parties took possession of abandoned buildings in the eastern half of the city, flitting from venue to venue, drawing together young people from both sides of the divide. On the dance floors of UFO, SO36 and Tresor, techno became a major force in reestablishing social connections between East and West Germany.
‘For me the 1980s had been epitomised by pop and superficial music in general,’ said Klock. ‘But after the 'Wende' -reunification - I realised how exciting Berlin really was; two different worlds co-existing in one city. I loved how things became more serious, how all stops were pulled out, as the music became more intense and physical.’
Klock played his first gigs at Cookies, WMF, Delicious Doughnuts and Tresor. In the beginning he tended to spin house, but after a time his sets became more raw and powerful. When Electroclash dominated the music scene he lost interest but his passion was re-ignited in 2004 with the opening of Berghain.
‘The architecture, the sound - that was how this music was meant to be presented,’ he enthused. ‘Everything finally fell into place.’
Berghain – on the border between west Berlin’s KreuzBERG and east Berlin’s FriedrichsHAIN – is today ‘the world capital of techno’, according to commentators. The club occupies an enormous former power plant with an eighteen-metre high ceiling soaring above the main dance floor. Here once a month – in between his appearances at venues around Europe – Klock unleashes his hypnotic, pulsating music and video shows on 1,500 gyrating guests.
‘My development as a DJ in the last two years has been dominated by playing two-hour sets, which are pretty much the standard in clubs all over the world,’ he said. ‘I’ve learned how to play shorter, compact sets keeping the energy up throughout.’
Berghain has grown so popular that many young Europeans now 'easyjet' in to Berlin for a raving weekend.
‘There used to be only regulars at the club but now it’s mixed,’ Klock notes. ‘There will always be people complaining that there are “too many tourists” but, hey, what’s wrong with that? As long as the people at the door do their job and don’t let in a busload of them, this mix is going to work out great for the vibes.’
Over the last weeks Klock has also appeared at the Blå Club in Oslo, Warsaw’s M25, Milan’s Amnesia, Redrum in Helsinki and the Sub Club in Glasgow. Last month at the Goethe-Institut in London he played an unforgettable set which ranged from Mark Pritchard’s deeply atmospheric ‘?’ to perfectly paced tracks from Planetary Assault Systems. Together we danced. We swayed. We developed calluses and popped blisters. And overnight this humble reviewer became a devotee of the Berlin techno-beat.
‘My hope is to add a few colours to the world of music, that’s all,’ Klock told me, revealing a humbleness in spite of his fame. ‘I think everything is already there; we do not really create anything new, we just put together or combine the elements in our own unique and certain way. My colour is definitely a deeper and darker one but always with a certain sexiness. I’m not very interested in trends. For me what’s important is finding your own voice and what you really feel you want to do. It makes me happy when I see that I can inspire others to find their own way.’
I asked him what the future holds for his work.
‘I really don’t know yet,’ he replied. ‘I’ve been doing a lot of remixes recently. So since the album was released I haven’t been able to really work on my own stuff. The next thing that I will be working on is a mix compilation for Ostgut Ton. But I’m planning on working on new ideas in 2010, maybe also starting an album again, maybe a bit more conceptual and even less for the dance floor than One.’
He paused to take a breath.
‘I want to create something very atmospheric. I also really would love to work with Elif Bicer again, the singer who appeared on two tracks of my first album. Also Marcel (Dettmann) and I really would love to collaborate again for some new Dettmann/Klock material.’
Ben’s unforgettable creations and arrangements ooze with high spirits, dark sexiness and that irresistible, pulsating beat. Pure bliss. Or, as they cry out on the dance floor, it’s a sure shot.