Electronic dance

“No established nightclub would have played this music”: 30 years of the legendary Berlin club Tresor | Dance music


For fans of electronic music, the Berlin Tresor has long been considered the Valhalla of the illustrious German club circuit. In March 1991, a few months after the official dismantling of the Berlin Wall, Tresor, the city’s first techno club, opened near Potsdamer Platz. In a short time, the club’s avant-garde of DJs, eccentrics, punks, goths and artists gave birth to a new subculture of Teutonic dance music that united youth movements. from East and West on the dance floor.

To commemorate the club’s 30th anniversary, Tresor Records is releasing Tresor 30, a 12-disc box set of classic and new techno artists from its in-house label. It spans the gamut from Detroit techno (the 1991 sci-fi epic of Underground Resistance, The Final Frontier; Jeff Mills’ Late Night) to ambient techno (the scholar function) and post-techno musicians. third generation (Afrodeutsche, Sophia Saze, Grand River), demonstrating the trademark of Tresor, the big tent approach to electronic dance music.

DJ Marshall Jefferson performed at Tresor’s 10th anniversary celebrations in 2001. Photograph: Jim Dyson / Getty Images

Three decades after its founding, Tresor’s story may sound like a fairy tale. It all started with the move of music student Dimitri Hegemann from rural Westphalia to West Berlin where, in the early 1980s, nightclubs such as SO36, Risiko and Sound, as well as underground celebrities Blixa Bargeld, Nick Cave and Christiane F, defined the glamor of the divided city. punk aesthetic. While attending the Free University of Berlin, Hegemann organized the first of many Atonal festivals with the experimental groups Einstürzende Neubauten, Psychic TV and Clock DVA, and in 1988 opened the Dada-inspired gallery Fischbüro in the remains. from a shoe store in Kreuzberg.

“The Fischbüro was a place where creatives met,” he says. “I was tired of standing in line at concert halls, paying 10 deutschmarks and going home alone.” Fischbüro’s distinguished visitors included Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson; his most peculiar activities included hacking the Moscow Pravda newspaper with a telex and meditating in front of an industrial-sized electric shoe polisher that resembled a UFO.

Ufo became the name of the small Hegemann club opened in 1988, specializing in new acid house sounds from Chicago via Great Britain. It was accessible by a ladder through a trap door in the ground of Fischbüro and contained less than 100 people. His roster of talent included emerging DJ-tastemakers Tanith, Rok, Jonzon, Kid Paul and Dr Motte, future organizer of the city’s famous Love Parade.

“As soon as I heard acid, I knew it was the sound of the future,” says Tanith, whose Wednesday night Cyberspace event mixed acid, house, hip-hop and Detroit techno. “[Ufo] was far from perfect, but it was a good learning ground for all of us. Although the club closed in the late 1990s, Hegemann believes the energy of these early gatherings – “unfinished, trashy, anarchist and radical” – foreshadowed the explosion of techno culture in the months that followed. reunification.

“After the fall of the wall, everything was different,” continues Hegemann, comparing the atmosphere of Berlin to that of Paris after World War II, when Miles Davis introduced cool jazz to the left bank. “People were ready for something new… [There was] no curfew, no police, plenty of space available – all this added to a special preparation that is only felt during great social upheavals.

Tresor founder Dimitri Hegemann with manager Regina Baer in 1992
Tresor founder Dimitri Hegemann with manager Regina Baer in 1992

As waves of Osis (the nickname for East Berliners) immediately poured into the west for new opportunities and entertainment, young Wessis (West Berliners) went in the opposite direction. , looking to the east for its abandoned housing stock and illegal squats. During one of these trips to Leipziger Strasse, near the infamous Todesstreifen (the “death strip” along the wall), Hegemann and several friends came across a storefront with a sealed underpass – the one of the thousands of bunkers and tunnels that meandered below the city’s surface. It turned out to be a bank safe for the Wilhelmina-era Wertheim department store, one of the largest on the continent before it was destroyed in the Allied bombing campaigns. They immediately determined that it would be a perfect space for a new club, although there is no electricity, running water or gas. After raising the 1,600 Deutschmarks needed for a provisional lease on the property, Hegemann and his partners spent three months on repairs; they also installed a powerful sound system, strobe lights and a makeshift bar, where drinks were passed through the iron bars of the vault.

One of the first visitors described the experience of descending into the Treasury as being buried with Nazi architect Albert Speer. With its meter-thick walls and intense heat, the room had a permanent layer of moisture that trickled from the ceiling and warped the record cases, while its distinctive scent clung to everything: “Like the 40-year-old look who had never left the building, [with] mushrooms between the walls, seasoned with fog, cigarettes and spilled drinks, ”recalls Tanith.

Equally threatening was the club’s spartan environment. “There was no public lighting, no public transport,” recalls Regina Baer, ​​commercial director of Tresor. “No one knew where the club was – except for the brave people who went to get it. We wanted to maintain this relative anonymity as long as possible – and so did our guests. “

“From the opening of Tresor, it was clear where [the music] was leading, ”Tanith continues. “In this cellar, even ambient [music] sounded like a symphony of drones! Tanith was one of the club’s first resident DJs and perhaps the most influential in the development of his hardcore sound, in more than one sense: he tested the sound system by standing in the center of the room. play and cranking up the bass until his jeans legs started pounding, and remembers all hell broke out on the club floor when he played the T99 hit Anasthasia or Sonic Destroyer from X-101, which became the club’s unofficial anthem.

Soon, Tresor’s reputation for frenzied multi-day parties fueled by ecstasy and a harsh Detroit soundtrack spread across the united city and produced a new model for Berlin’s 24-hour nightlife. . “No established nightclub would have played [this] music, ”says Baer.

“[The] the old clubs gave up – they couldn’t or wouldn’t change their content. [They were] outside. Here we go, ”agrees Hegemann.

A DJ behind the bars of the Tresor
A club night in 2013. Photography: Camille Blake

A few months after opening Tresor, Hegemann launched the in-house label, which first served as a foreign imprint for Detroit DJs such as Jeff Mills, Mike Banks and Blake Baxter, who traveled to Berlin to perform in residence at the club. Tresor Records ‘release of Underground Resistance’s X-101 project, Baxter’s Dream Sequence, and Mills’ Waveform Transmission Vol 1 cemented a Detroit / Berlin alliance that continued for the next three decades. Of equal importance were such compilation series as The Techno Sound of Berlin and the single Der Klang Der Familie, which featured heavily in the 1992 edition of the Love Parade and became one of the first German techno hits.

Berlin not only had its first dedicated techno club, but also a record company devoted exclusively to the city’s new soundtrack. Tresor’s strategy of success was quickly matched by neighboring clubs such as WMF, Planet, E-Werk and Bunker, who also took advantage of the industrial ruins of former East Berlin and provisional usage rules to organize their own house and techno evenings. While dozens of these clubs came and went over the years, many specializing in more hip electronic music subgenres or more celebrity-focused promotions, Tresor has remained a staple in the city, synonymous with the invention of the Berlin sound. After moving to a new location at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2007, the club took on an expanded curatorial role, relaunched the annual Atonal festival and sponsored numerous multimedia events and art exhibitions with the neighboring OHM gallery.

“Like all clubs with such a long lifespan, Tresor has had its ups and downs, but has always found ways to stay relevant,” insists Tanith. Indeed, in a city that has worn the mantle of the dance capital of the world for 30 years, Hegemann’s simple slogan continues to fuel a revolution: “Treasure never sleeps”.

Tresor 30 is now available from Tresor Records.

This article was modified on October 5, 2021 to correct a photo caption. DJ Marshall Jefferson is from Chicago, not Detroit as previously stated.


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