Ben Klock is the foremost bastion of the culture he’s created. And when your culture incorporates the most iconic nightclub on the planet, there is a definite prestige involved when presenting it on foreign soil.
Crack is in the sweatiest room of the new Warehouse Project location in Manchester and Ben Klock is going in hard for the meagre hour and a half he’s been afforded. This is clubbing as it was intended; bruising, sweaty, disorientating and hot. For a man whose sets have been known to number in the double figures of hours, there is really no time to adventure into anything too removed from the sound for which he has become most associated with; dark, driving techno.
Ben Klock’s worldwide recognition as a DJ and producer has run in conjunction with two things. Firstly, the proliferation of Berlin as the premier capital of underground and liberal European nightlife, but more importantly the rise in notoriety and popularity of Berghain, the club where Klock has held a residency since 2003.
Berghain and Klock are intrinsically entwined. He plays there once a month and nowhere else in Berlin, he’s penned numerous releases on the accompanying Ostgut Ton label, and his legacy at the club, often referenced by his appearances with fellow Berghain cohort and friend Marcel Dettmann, is the stuff of German techno folklore. When a promoter books Ben Klock, they’re looking to transfer some of that magic into their own night.
The towering old power station that forms the shell of the club is perhaps the most revered electronic music nightspot of them all. As the playpen of the opulent, the techno purists and the hip, the club boasts a roster of residents, a carefully programmed credibility and a music policy in the Berghain main room that reflects the uncompromising nature of the club from top to bottom. The notorious scattergun rejection door policy governed by the facially tattooed, mythical bouncer Sven is one example, the opening hours are another, with most Sunday morning parties rolling over into Monday morning parties and beyond and then there’s the stories of sexual deviancy in the many labyrinthine passages. While much of these facets of the club are open to gross over-exaggeration and hyperbole, one uncompromising strand that remains wholly true is the music championed by Ben Klock and his Ostgut labelmates, who provide the dark, brooding soundtrack to the relative madness taking place on the inside. These sets are now perhaps even more celebrated with the threat from GEMA (a German society for musical performance and copyright) who are looking to charge Berghain more money for the use of the space and are posing a genuine threat to the club’s future.
Despite illness, Klock answers Crack’s questions with a sincerity born from pushing a sound which he truly believes in. Yet there is more to Klock’s musical demeanour than pulsating Berghain techno. Much of his production work during the 2008/09 period when he released his debut album One showcases an artist with a firm grasp of melody, structure and, most notably tension. Far from being a one trick ‘bang it out’ merchant, Klock’s fascination with the darker end of the techno spectrum is by no coincidence best brought to the fore within Berghain, usually during marathon sets, something of which he is acutely aware. It’s therefore with a certain amount of irony that the sound employed on his latest effort, his addition to the Fabric compilation series, is perhaps his most rounded to date. Tracks from Burial, Octave One, Mathew Jonson and Floorplan offers depth and progression, while others from Klock himself, Truncate, Dettmann and DVS1 anchor the mix in the sound you’d expect to hear come rattling from Berghain’s dark expanse. It was this that provided a convenient starting point for our conversation.
How did the Fabric mix CD come about, and why did it seem like a good idea at this point?
A couple of weeks before they asked me, I was thinking about the next bigger thing I’d like to do. I’d decided I wouldn’t do an Ostgut mix CD in the next few years, so I thought about which others are interesting to me, and the Fabric mix series was one I’d love to do. Three weeks later they came to me and asked me, which was great. It has a good reputation and every DJ tries to deliver something special.
The mix sees you playing a little differently to the sound people best associate you with, perhaps a bit softer, a bit more melodic and more varied. Was this a conscious decision?
My approach was to create a mix that you’d want to listen to more than one or two times. A straightforward dancefloor mix is less interesting as a CD. It can be really nice to have a hypnotic flow that remains constant throughout the CD. I think Levon Vincent’s Fabric CD was more like that and it’s great. The other approach is to show a bit more variation and a story that goes up and down.
Do you think your background in played music and piano means you are more drawn to melody in techno than perhaps some of the other Ostgut guys or Berghain residents? Is that visible on the CD?
I think you can say that. I came from more of a piano and guitar background. I was always into minimal melodies. The way Robert Hood does it or even Steve Reich. Little melodies that change over time always fascinate me.
You seem more than ever to be the one that flies the flag for German techno around the world. Why do you think that you more than others are chosen to represent this sound around the world?
I think I got my reputation for longer Berghain sets, taking the last slot and doing ten/eleven hour sets and going into deeper moments. My approach is always to try and create some magic. Maybe this is the reason why I became quite big. Sometimes at Berghain those sets are just magical.
Is it difficult to straddle the transition between playing Berghain for X amount of time because the club shuts when it feels like shutting, and then coming over and playing Warehouse Project, for example, when you’re only on for an hour and half?
Manchester was one and a half hours of hard, hard, sweaty banging techno. The place was so hot and wet. It’s different yes. It’s also different when I play one-hour sets at huge festivals. I can never deliver what I can deliver in a long set at Berghain.
How do you assess the current threat to Berghain from GEMA and to the rest of German club culture? How is the feeling at Berghain from the GEMA proposals?
We are aware of the threat and we have a meeting once a month or so to assess it. I’m not too concerned right now that something really bad is going to happen. We’re doing our best at the moment to get hold of the right people and speak to politicians. I still have hope GEMA will change their mind or something because what they want is just so ridiculous. I’m quite sure that if a city like Berlin sees Berghain just close down, they won’t allow it. It’s a cultural institution. I’m quite positive that we will go on.
Crack loves a trip to Berlin and loves the club culture, so we naturally feel a bit concerned when some Berliners say it isn’t what it used to be there due to the presence of too many foreigners. What do you think?
It definitely changed a lot, but I also have to say I don’t go out a lot because I always play. I play Berghain once a month and that’s it. What we have seen in the last couple of years is bars, cafes and clubs that have English as the common language and no one speaks German any more. Especially for Berghain, a few years ago people were like ‘it used to better’ and now I have the feeling that there’s a second wave of such amazing parties there. So it doesn’t matter if people are from outside or inside Berlin, as long as the vibe is right. But it’s still important that there are enough people who come regularly, that’s important for any club. There has to be regulars, but we have a great mixture and the vibe is amazing.
Do you think Berghain is actively trying to protect the culture with the aggressive door policy, so it’s a special experience each time you go?
I think so, yeah. Berghain has always followed its own path. No matter how much hype there is around the club, they still go their own way. This is very important for the club. Though I can understand that if you’ve flown to Berlin from another country, saved up to go to Berghain and then you stand in line for three hours and you get told ‘no’, that must suck. But on the other hand, you can’t just let everyone in for capacity, and it’s important to protect the vibe inside. Sometimes people are like, ‘well this time I didn’t get in, hopefully I will next time.’ Then you get the haters who say ‘fuck it, never again am I going to go there.’ Once you are inside, you drop all the bad energy and have a good time in there. If the door staff didn’t have their policy, in a year from now it wouldn’t be what it is any more.
What were your first experiences of techno and what were your first experiences of discovering the techno you play?
My first experience of techno was in the late 80s with acid house. ’88, maybe, I don’t really remember. Then in the early 90s after acid house I was going back to other music. I got back into techno around ’94. I met Marcel (Dettmann) after a couple of times I played at the beginning of my residency in Berghain.
Your partnership with Marcel has become one of the strongest collaborative efforts in techno? How did it start?
He played after me. It was 2003/04. We have a great base here and a strong community doing our own thing. Everything around at that point when we met each other was minimal tech-house and stuff. We felt like we were the only ones doing that kind of techno at that time and we had the freedom to push it in whatever way we wanted. It was a strong relationship with the club and the owners.
We’ve read that at this point you felt musically quite lost. What was it about music at this time that didn’t resonate with you?
I almost felt like giving up DJing because I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Some clubs where I played changed at that time. As soon as I didn’t play any electroclash melodies or cheesy, poppy, electro melodies, people would leave the dancefloor. I had my best times when I played in the old Tresor and just went for it, you know. There were fewer options to play in clubs like that and what eventually kicked my ass again was the thought of playing at Berghain, or at the old Ostgut.
Is your passion for furthering the culture that you’ve helped create as strong as ever? Do you still manage to devote as much time as you need to stay on top of the game and discover new records?
Yes I do. I spend a lot of time discovering new music and going through demos. As soon as I realise that I might get tired of what I’m playing, I have to dig for new music or else I couldn’t do this job anymore. Of course, I could just say ‘I’ll do it as long as I can and take the money’, but that doesn’t work. I have to feel the passion and discover new music. The problem is I don’t have as much time as I’d like to work in the studio and this kind of sucks.
Can we expect some original Ben Klock work in the next six months or so? What is your plan?
I definitely want to go back in the studio to do some of my own stuff. I have to reject so many remixes at the moment, else I’d just go on doing remixes forever without making my own productions. I would love to do a second album at some point, but right now I’m not sure how I’m going to find time for that. The next goal is to make a new 12”.
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Fabric 66 Mixed by Ben Klock is available now. Go to fabriclondon.com/crackmagazine to win fabric membership, t-shirts and a signed copy of the Ben Klock mix.
Words: Thomas Frost
Photo: Andolph Quan