Stylistic variations of the 1990s The mass phenomenon "Love Parade”

With its 150 participants, the first Love Parade in the summer of 1989 was an insider’s rendezvous of the West Berlin scene.

After the Berlin wall had came down, hundreds of pieces of real estate in East Berlin stood empty and awaiting a new calling. What could be more reasonable than to use them in the interim for spontaneous popular cultural events? Mainly without a license. The sound of these Berlin basement years became techno in its uncompromising, hard as stone variant. Round this new scene arose dozens of productions teams with their own small labels. Figures like DJ Tanith set the tone with camouflage dress and death’s heads.

In 1991 began the breakthrough to mass culture. Dozens of techno pop and Euro dance versions cleaned up the nasty underground tones into music that could played on the radio. With approximately 6,000 participants, the 1991 Love Parade brought together the different big city scenes. Frankfurt and Berlin in particular fell into a popular culture rivalry for the title of the most innovative centre of techno, with figureheads like Mark Spoon, Sven Väth or Westbam. In Berlin, the illegal meeting places became licensed clubs. Tresor opened in the basement of the former department store Wertheim, near the Potsdamer Platz; it soon became a prominent club and later also a label that consistently represented techno and house until its closing in 2005. Gradually, an independent production landscape arose out of the fan and raver scene.

Commercial marketing

The Frankfurt Label Force Inc., founded by Achim Szepanski, brought ultra-fast, hectic break beats into play in Spacecube and Alec Empire. Stylistic differentiation ran parallel to commercial marketing. To the second Mayday in the Cologne Ice Stadium in the summer of 1992 came 10,000 ravers from all over Europe. The art exhibition Documenta presented an extensive electronic music programme, entitled "Documenta Dance”, at the Kassel Factory. While 3phase feat. Dr. Motte had an underground hit with Klang der Familie (i.e., Sound of the Family), U96 aimed at a mainstream public with Das Boot. Producer Alex Christensen supplied Klaus Doldinger’s soundtrack for the eponymous film with corresponding beats and sold over 50,000 records.

In 1994, MTV Europe counted 100,000 ravers at the Love Parade; in following years, the number swelled to over a million. Yet the economic boom proved to be a flash in the pan and record sales of big events like Mayday or the Love Parade already reached their zenith in 1997/98. Both the previously leading magazine Frontpage and Sven Väth’s trance and experimental label Eye Q went bankrupt. After the consumer and media industry had egged on electronic dance with expensive advertising campaigns, its mass popularity suddenly seemed to be exhausted. To all this was added the vehement debate about the widespread use of the designer drug Ecstasy.

De-centralised creative centres

Techno as a commercial youth movement had had its day and musicians became aware again of smaller, flexible units that could flourish without being chart hits like Marusha’s Somewhere over the Rainbow. On the sidelines of the over-wrought techno enthusiasm, there developed de-centralised creative centres. In the mid-1990s, round the Cologne branch shop of the Frankfurt record shop Delirium (later Kompakt), arose a production scene with figures like Mike Ink, Jürgen Pape and Jörg Burger (alias Bionaut, Modernist) that promoted diverse sub-genres like minimal or abstract. The renunciation of absolute danceability allowed manifold stylistic variations.

The label Basic Channel, founded in 1993 by Moritz von Oswald (formerly of Palais Schaumburg) and Marc Ernestus, also found a centre of communication and distribution in the Berlin record shop Hardwax. Their programme brought out above all the abstract techno legacy of the Berlin-Detroit connection and later also dub versions.

Another route was taken by the longstanding Munich DJ and producer Michael Reinboth, whose label Compost was first connected to the groove variant of Acid jazz and later founded a diverse downbeat and fusion scene with projects like Beanfield and Fauna Flash. The Berlin DJ and producer team Jazzanova is connected with Compost through the label JCR.

Helmut Geyer, alias DJ Hell, who with My Definition of House Music had brought out his first maxi, started a similar scene in Munich. His later label International Deejee Gigolos propagated a diverse eclecticism, ranging from stage virtuosos like Zombie Nation to the rebirth of the Munich disco era in the album Munich Machine (1998).

With trance and hard house, Paul van Dyk, who had grown up in the East Germany and experienced the early phase of techno as a fan, became a superstar in, of all place, English clubs, where German popular music has traditionally had a hard time. Even house music, whose traditions are strongly anchored in the U.S.A., underwent an independent interpretation by the Hamburg DJ Boris Dlugosch and the Cologne sound collective Whirlpool Productions. The Frankfurt label Playhouse, founded in 1993 by Ata Macias und Heiko „MSO” Schäfer, also had a hand in this; later they brought out artists like Isolee and Ricardo Villalobos – a team that was, in turn, closely connected with the multifarious producer duo Roman Flügel and Jörn Elling Wuttke (Alter Ego, Acid Jesus, Sensorama).

End of mass rave – back to rock’n’roll?

With these stylistic differentiations, the mass character of the big raves was increasingly lost. Although the traditional Mayday in the Dortmund Westfalenhalle succeeded in integrating new musical tendencies on small dance floors even after 2000, this worked for only a few, selected events. The real innovations had for some time now been celebrated in smaller, more manageable clubs. In July 2003, the internationally copied Berlin Love Parade was organised for the last time by the original team: a temporary end, which was officially explained in 2004 and 2005 as owing to a lack of sponsors.

Yet over the years the substantial basis had also evaporated. Unifying figures, such as those who had held the electronic music scene together in its start phase, were lacking. Even DJ Westbam, who in the mid-1990s had propagated the end of traditional rock music with the slogan "No More Fucking Rock’n’Roll”, presented his late work Do You Believe in The Westworld with a complete band, including drum and guitar. One awaits with interest what signals will be transmitted by the new edition of the Love Pararde in 2006, whose principal sponsor is a fitness studio chain.