“Lost and Sound“: A Book about Berlin’s Techno Scene – Music critic Tobias Rapp wrote a book about the new face of Berlin’s club scene, its makers and club-goers. Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno and the Easyjetset takes readers on a trip to the city’s new techno clubs right by the Spree river – and explains how Internet forums and budget airlines have turned Berlin’s music culture into an international phenomenon.
Mr. Rapp, do young people around the world see techno as a synonym for German culture?
Yes, I believe so. There may not be much of a case for a national type of pop culture; that just doesn’t exist anymore. But, for many people around the world, techno constitutes German music. The history behind this perception starts with the Krautrock band Can through Kraftwerk and right up to DAF into the nineties. One of the main reasons, however, why the world has come to equate techno with music in Germany, today, is obviously because Berlin has become the epicenter for this type of music. That wasn’t the case in the nineties, where the scene was more polycentric. It was all over the place: in Sheffield, Manchester and London in the UK, in Chicago and Detroit in the US. In Germany, cities like Cologne and Frankfurt were also more important. (…)
Why is Berlin of such central importance for house and techno today?
The fact that the city is still so appealing has more to do with historical coincidences. Economically, Berlin never really fully recovered from the fall of the Wall. None of the greater expectations of the early nineties turned out the way they were meant to. The city hasn’t become a center of commerce with Eastern Europe. And instead of increasing, the population is actually declining. In terms of subculture, the opportunities afforded the city after the fall of the Wall – free space widely available, cheap rent – are still being taken advantage of. You can still live for less in Berlin and open clubs without the hassle you get anywhere else.
Berlin’s club scene is an international scene. How does it communicate?
The lingua franca of Berlin’s techno scene is English. German isn’t necessarily needed for communicating. Nevertheless, it never fails to surprise how many visitors actually speak German. The day before yesterday at Panorama Bar, I met a Swedish author currently working on a novel set in Berlin’s techno scene. She moved to Berlin to do the research and speaks excellent German. The greatest influx is from Scandinavia, England and southwest Europe; that is, France, Italy and Spain. By contrast, Eastern Europe is hardly represented.
How do the deregulation of flight traffic and the Internet play into this success story?
I think Berlin’s techno scene illustrates quite clearly how you can build a European, if not a global, scene. On the one hand, that has to do with the opportunities provided by the Internet, for example, through portals that create a forum for specific cultural segments. They cover everything that’s going on in the scene: which clubs to go to, DJs that are hot, track recommendations, and so on… It really is quite amazing to follow the level of detail and precision of information available online. Budget airlines, on the other hand, let users create a local reference. Things that start as virtual contributions can turn into a real form of participation in this scene. Berlin’s new club strip by the river Spree is embattled terrain. The citizens, subculture and investors with a stake in the area all have diverging interests.
The area of the Spree between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg is a no-man’s land, colonized to a certain extent by clubs, but with plans to be developed by investors. It has already come to a showdown, with a petition for referendum, where the majority of stakeholders in the constituency have stated clearly that they don’t want the area to be developed by investors. At first glance this conflict resembles a battle between good and evil, between the subculture and investors. In reality, however, this template doesn’t quite apply, because club owners are also miniature entrepreneurs. Public domain for everybody would mean no bouncers – anywhere. But the promoters behind the Bar 25, for example, as radical propagators of the old leftist value of self-determination demand that the banks of the Spree should be available to all. But not from Friday until Sunday, when the club takes over.
Is there a link between the success of the techno scene and the fact that there is still widespread consensus in the Federal Republic that space is needed for culture to develop autonomously?
In the whole of the western world, the narrative has been the same for a while: public domain, free to all, is shrinking in size, investors are robbing us of space, things aren’t as good as they used to be. It’s all going downhill! In my opinion, that simply isn’t the case in Berlin’s club scene. Even though the makers, the people who shape the scene, may be very idealistic, they are also quite realistic at the same time. That applies to the doers, the club-goers and also to those responsible in city hall. These sorts of circumstances are both unique and fortunate.