By Conor Bulkeley-Krane
CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)
On November 9th, 1989, Techno Music transformed a divided Berlin into the cultural epicenter that it is today.
During the mid 80’s, electronic music began to seep in through the wall on both sides. In both the East and the West, the youth began listening to acid house, a new, gritty form of electronic music that they imported from Chicago . In the west, kids began mixing dance music in decrepit basements, honing the skills that would soon prove invaluably useful.
In the Soviet East, teens religiously listened to radio shows coming over the wall, and paid smugglers from the West to smuggle Chicago House EP’s over the border. These EP’s had a distinctive soulful sound, often featuring spoken word vocals. When the border came down, the teenagers found that despite their time apart, they had similar interests.
As electronic music became more popular in Berlin, the German techno sound gained it’s own character. The music often had a sci-fi feel, featuring futuristic and alien sounds that transport the listener. Also, unlike Chicago House’s distinctive grooviness, Berlin Techno induces trance-like feelings through monotonous, driving drum beats.
All of these features contribute to the themes of escapism which permeate techno and made the music so appealing to the teens of Berlin. These ideas of otherworldliness are also reflected in the venues techno music was played. The clubs were often in basements of old industrial centers and featured haphazard lighting rigs that created an extraterrestrial mood. Furthermore, two of the hottest techno clubs in the early 90’s were even called UFO, and Planet. In Der Klang der Familie, an oral history of Berlin’s techno scene, Alexandra Droener, a pillar of the 90’s techno community describes a club experience: “You knew you were underground, in a vault, surrounded by steel walls—it was the greatest. It was a hell of a thrill to be dancing in the ruins of this bank.”
Furthermore, throughout Berlin’s history, a plethora of different races have lived and brought their native languages to Berlin’s culture. Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Serbian and Croatian are frequently heard in the western part, due to the large Middle Eastern and former-Yugoslavian communities; Vietnamese, Russian and Polish have more native speakers in eastern Berlin. These regional language differences never posed a real problem to the unity of Berlin, but after 12 years of division, the youths of Berlin faced a language barrier that made intermingling difficult.
Local band concerts highlighted this barrier, because the young people did not always speak the language that was being sung. Thus, as teenagers began developing techno and playing it live, it offered a new form of entertainment that the entire community could enjoy, regardless of the language that they spoke.
Berlin has continued this trend, and is now the mecca for techno and house music. Below you can listen to some modern Techno hits, and see how it has evolved:
Photo Credit: CatlinSpeak