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Electronic Music 2018
Nostalgia and Visions of the Future

The room on the Love Parade at the Nineties exhibition in Berlin
The room on the Love Parade at the Nineties exhibition in Berlin | Photo (detail): © nineties berlin, Berlin 2018

Almost 30 years of Techno – and even this year the historical processing of club culture seems to have swamped the scene totally. In 2018, however, the Techno community also inspired people to take to the streets for political protest and took a clear committed stance on tolerance and more awareness of the spirit of the times. Nevertheless, having to say goodbye to some old acquaintances was painful.

By Laura Aha

In contrast to the chaos of world politics, the year 2018, at least musically, got off to a flying start. In the middle of a cold January in Berlin, the world premiere of Italo Disco Legacy in Berghain had people dreaming of the upcoming summer of the century. The documentary by Pietro Anton and Janis Nowacki, who runs the Private Records label in Berlin, finally gave the often ridiculed genre the right treatment. Even though the 80s disco hype has been around for years with labels like Dark Entries, in 2018 Italo fever seemed to have finally blown everyone away – with festivals, parties and numerous Aperol-Spritz events that nobody was able to escape this summer.

The right soundtrack was provided by the Irishman, Krystal Klear, with Neutron Dance, his first release on the Running Back label in Italo-style. Label boss, Gerd Janson, also released the most beautiful nostalgia compilation of the year with the mastermix Front By Klaus Stockhausen & Boris Dlugosch. It pays homage to the gay club FRONT, which was opened in 1983 in Hamburg, where Stockhausen and Dlugosch were residents and is considered to be Germany’s first house club. Although Stockhausen ended his DJ career in 1991, in September he performed with Dlugosch in the Panorama Bar. The crowd, aged somewhere between 18 and late 50s, proved that electronic music has become a cross-generational project, in which, alongside skin colour and sexual orientation, age does not matter anymore, either.

In love with the past

2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Love Parade – and even this year, in 2018, the enthusiasm for a historical reappraisal of Techno remained unbroken. In the Alte Münze centre in Berlin the exhibition Nineties Berlin turned the decade into a multimedia experience. In Frankfurt Alex Azary, head of the Offenbach label Electrolux, held the first press conference on the Museum of Modern Electronic Music, whose opening date has not yet been fixed. Jürgen “JL” Laarmann, founder of the first German-speaking Techno magazine Frontpage, reappeared on the scene. His podcast 1000 Tage Techno (1000 Days of Techno) joined the ranks of other podcasts like Berlin: Then & Now by Crack Magazine and Berlin Zwanzig by the Red Bull Music Academy. In 2018 the Academy returned to its place of origin in Berlin’s Funkhaus for its 20th anniversary and in addition to showcasing some great artists, it also earned a lot of negative press. In an interview in 2016 Group CEO, Dietrich Mateschitz, expressed some right-wing populist views in an interview, which resulted in a critical medial confrontation both with the group and the Academy that is financed by it. Nevertheless, the Academy’s S3kt0r UFO – 30 Years of Techno party has to be mentioned with such high-calibre players as Underground Resistance, Nina Kraviz, DJ Hell, Gudrun Gut and others.

One of the most interesting newcomers of the year was also from the ranks of the Red Bull Academy. DJ and producer Annegret Fiedler, aka Perel, from Saxony, was the first German ever to make it onto the New York avant-garde label DFA Records with her debut album Hermetica. She also lent her voice to Berlin-based Curses for his debut Romantic Fiction. Speaking of newcomers – no way should we overlook Peggy Gou in this context. The Berlin-based Korean is the shooting star of the House scene, the playful bell-chimes of her hit It Makes You Forget (Itgehane) tinkled at every open-air concert and in the summer she played up to 20 gigs a month. With her multi-faceted sets and extravagant looks, Instagram favourite Peggy Gou is the long-missing splash of colour in the bleak mainstream mishmash of Techno.

We dance together, we fight together

In 2018 there was no overlooking the political potential of the dance floor. The fact that this has to be fought for over again and again became clear in April, when heavily armed police raided the Georgian nightclubs Bassiani and Café Gallery. Officially, they wanted to prevent drug trafficking in the clubs. The club owners and the Georgian scene, however, suspected political motives behind the disproportionately violent raids. The queer-friendly club is a thorn in the side of the right-wing conservative government, said Mikhail Stangl, head of the Boiler Room techno platform in Germany, in an interview with the Die Welt daily newspaper. Thousands gathered for a protest rave in front of the Georgian government building, at which, among others, the German DJs Ateq, Sa Pa and DJ Dustin from the realm of the Weimar Giegling label performed. Stangl described the international expressions of solidarity under the hashtag #WeDanceTogetherWeFightTogether as possibly the “most important moment that electronic music culture has ever experienced”. In repressive states, clubs are particularly important as safe spaces.

Techno, however, also inspired people to take to the streets in Germany. Wegbassen (Base it away) was a counterdemonstration in Berlin against Germany’s right-wing AfD party, at which between 25,000 and 70,000 people danced against right-wing populism. Organised by more than 70 Berlin clubs and party collectives, the scene proved that it was anything but apolitical. Colourful ravers on June 17th street were not only visually reminiscent of the Love Parade, but they also turned their basic idea of an idealistic, alternative lifestyle into a possible reality for a few hours.

For tolerance and more awareness

In addition, the 40th anniversary of Christopher Street Day was celebrated under the motto My Body – My Identity – My Life in Berlin. The legacy of the colourful parade, which has fought for the visibility and acceptance of the queer community since its beginnings, could be clearly seen in 2018. At commercial festivals like MELT! artists such as Fisherspooner and Fever Ray performed. Before their show on the main stage, the Berlin drag queen Pansy and her troop delivered a Voguing performance in vulva costumes to the sounds of Pussy Riot’s hit Straight Outta Vagina. Transgender woman Honey Dijon played one of the closing sets on the Big Wheel Stage alongside queer DJ The Black Madonna.

The Techno scene defends its attitude against discrimination of any kind and this was clearly showed in the way the sexism debate about DJ Konstantin developed. In 2017 he had made a derogatory comment about female DJs in the Techno-magazine Groove, thereby triggering an internationally acclaimed discussion on sexism in the scene. As a result at the 2018 Fusion Festival people demanded a boycott of his planned DJ set, which, as it happened, had to be prematurely terminated due to a bottle being thrown at him from the audience. When Konstantin was booked for three gigs at the Amsterdam Dance Event in October 2018, a protest movement was formed with the slogan ADE – do not welcome sexism, remove Konstantin from the line-ups, which was also supported by numerous DJs. As a result, Konstantin published a long-awaited statement in which he apologised for his statements.

A change of approach also took place in the area of mental health in 2018 – the death of the EDM superstar Avicii led to a serious discourse on the subject for the first time. Back in 2016, the British NGO Help Musicians UK had published a study entitled Can Music Make You Sick?. In 2018, the important issue was discussed by a broader public at festivals and conferences (for example, at the LOOP Conference, Crossroads Festival, Music Pool and Most Wanted: Music). Berlin-based DJ and producer Emika released Falling in Love with Sadness deliberately on October 10th, Mental Health Day, and donated part of the proceeds to the Music
Minds Matter
initiative.

New techniques come – old acquaintances have to go

New technical possibilities such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality are also finding their way into the music world. With her new project Spawn, Artist Holly Herndon tried to teach an artificial intelligence unit how to sing. Conversely, “real musicians” started performing in virtual space. In the June edition of the GTA After Hours online game, players can run a club – and book real DJs like Dixon, The Black Madonna, Solomun or Tale Of Us. The animated “live sets” that were then “streamed” via Facebook by Resident Advisor, not only blurred the lines between reality and fiction, but turned them upside down.

And Techno also made it once again onto the silver screen. With the series Beat, the second German in-house production from the Prime Video Amazon service, director Marc Kreuzpaintner had a try at a club thriller with a soundtrack by Marcel Dettmann and Ben Lukas Boysen. For his artistic documentary Symphony of Now, Johannes Schaff decided on a reinterpretation of the classic Berlin: Die Sinfonie einer Großstadt (Berlin: The Symphony of a Big City) that was released in 1927. He managed to convince such all-time greats as Frank Wiedemann, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Thomas Fehlmann, Gudrun Gut and Modeselektor to join the project.

Unfortunately, when new technologies move in, old ones often have to step aside. After the German pop magazine Intro had to discontinue its print edition in April, the two magazines that had shaped German-language pop discourse over the past four decades, Spex and Groove will be going down the same road at the end of the year. Founded in 1989, Groove, which has accompanied the scene since its inception, will luckily (as well as Spex) still be available as a pure online magazine. And if there is one thing that has been learnt over the last 30 years, then surely that the Techno scene can deal with upheavals – whether they are social, political or medial.

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