Now is the Time:
Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock interviewed
It’s been over a decade since Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann released their first record together, and they’ve been friends for just as long. As frequent back-to-back DJ partners, their marathon sets have gone down as the stuff of clubbing legend. In fact, the duo play together so well and so regularly that people like to suggest that they can read each other’s minds on stage.
As I put this idea to them as they sit side-by-side at the Ostgut Ton office in Berlin, they glance at each other before Dettmann laughs a laugh that fills the room. “Read each other’s minds? I wouldn’t go that far…” Klock, on the other hand, entertains the theory: “Well, maybe sometimes.” Dettmann laughs again.
It didn’t take long for Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann to become two of the best-known names in techno — but clearly they take it all in their stride. Klock and Dettmann have been producers and DJs in their own right since the nineties, releasing driving techno cuts on their respective self-made labels as well as the likes of BPitch Control, WMF Records, Memo, 50Weapons, and most notably, Ostgut Ton. Ostgut was founded in 2005 as an off-shoot of the iconic Berghain/ Panorama Bar club, where both Dettmann and Klock are resident DJs. The label had been putting out mix CDs before debuting their first vinyl release in 2006: an EP by Klock and Dettmann. “At the time, Ostgut had no plans to release any EPs,” Dettmann explains. “Maybe they were just waiting for this moment when somebody comes up and offers them music!”
That first EP, a two-tracker, entitled Dawning/Dead Man Watches The Clock, is still a banger; cleverly built techno that’s permanently stowed in many record bags. The record set a precedent for the dozens of Ostgut records that followed — not so much in sound, but in quality. These days, Ostgut Ton is a frontrunner in contemporary electronic music, with artists like Steffi, Planetary Assault Systems, Tobias Freund, Function, Virginia, Barker & Baumecker and Nick Höppner under their wing. Dettmann and Klock’s latest joint effort, Phantom Studies, promises to be just as valuable as their first; it seems fitting that the pair would be asked to produce the label’s 100th 12″ release. Phantom Studies is a dark piece buzzing with an opium hum that includes club anthems and home listening in equal measure. It’s their first in-studio collaboration in a decade. “We always wanted to get back in the studio together,” Klock says, “but we never really found the time. Now for the 100th, it was kind of like, ‘now is the time.’”
Produced in January of 2016, the EP was made during a month off from touring. Although it had been years since they’d shared the studio, the duo had no trouble picking the rhythm back up. What was different, however, was their approach to production. Ditching production software for a Roland TR-909 synth, some effects, a Space Echo and a modular set up, Klock and Dettmann each had gear to play with, feeding off each other’s sounds and energies. “The way we made Phantom Studies is a bit more intuitive,” Klock explains. “You can’t really say from the result if this better, but the process was definitely much more fun.”
“It might be a dark sound, but the mood on this record is much darker than the mood we had when we were producing it,” Dettmann says, before Klock interjects: “We were laughing all the time, even with the vocals, it wasn’t like lyrics, more like speaking some bullshit into the microphone.” Dettmann jumps in again: “For hours Ben would be talking in the microphone while I laughed in the back the whole time. I’d leave to go run an errand, smoke a cigarette, come back and he was still talking into the microphone!”
“With cheesy music — it’s easy, you get it, it’s there. But with techno, it makes you think more, explore more, experience more” – Ben Klock
When I ask what story they hope to convey with this release, their answer builds on that same “mood.” Music is a tool for creating energies on the dancefloor, of course, but where making music is concerned, their interest is in challenging their listeners. Phantom Studies’ Prophet Man, for example, is a favorite of the pair. “It takes so much time to get into your mind,” Dettmann explains. “It’s a trip. The Room is its total opposite, it’s harsher, darker, more evil, scary…” There’s a pause, before Dettmann laughs, “I’m a big fan of our music, actually!” The challenge in creating adventurous music is what keeps them going. Klock sums it up: “I can’t listen to happy music to make me happy. With cheesy music — it’s easy, you get it, it’s there. But with techno, it makes you think more, explore more, experience more.”
The pair’s relationship to techno has been a love affair from the very beginning. On New Year’s Day 1999, OstGut (the original club from which the label takes its name) opened its doors for the first time, and Klock and Dettmann fell quickly in love with the venue, the sound, and the crowd’s openness. “We had heard about this new club. At the time we were going to E-Werk and Tresor, and OstGut was a similar venue with high ceilings and stuff. We went there once and already, I really, really liked it,” Dettmann explains. Dettmann became an OstGut resident early on, while Klock was a frequent guest. “I was kind of ready to give up DJing at that point. I’d been playing in clubs in Mitte, Tresor, Cookies, stuff like that, and I was really looking for my home,” he explains. “When I went to OstGut, I remember thinking, ‘Playing here in this place, that would be the only challenge, the only thing that would give me the fire again.” When OstGut shut in 2003 and re-opened in a new location as Berghain the following year, Klock says it was a once in a lifetime chance for him, one that saved him from giving up DJing altogether.
Techno first made its way over to Europe from Detroit the previous decade, but by the early 2000s, it seemed like that wave of techno was fading out. The buzz in the city, Klock and Dettmann say, was palpable, as people waited for new venues, new homes for a new type of techno. “Everyone was waiting for it,” Dettmann explains when I ask what the reaction was to Berghain’s opening in 2004. “I always had the feeling that we’re part of something big,” Klock continues. “Everything, from the heart of it, every little thing felt right at that time. I knew that this aura would just grow and grow, and that more and more people would feel the same.”
“After OstGut closed, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Dettmann says, his tone somewhat somber. “I worked at Hard Wax, so that kept me alive but… I was worried. So when they invited me to play at Berghain, I was really happy.” Dettmann was DJing at the new Berghain from the very beginning, helping to induct the club’s more house-orientated upstairs room, Panorama Bar. Klock had his first gig in the downstairs behemoth, Berghain, in the venue’s early days, closing the club out on a Sunday — a set time that remains a staple for him even today. “The last slot on Sunday used to start at seven in the morning and went until noon,” Klock remembers. “It seems short now, actually! The vibe was similar back then, the only difference was that it was a bit more local, a bit smaller. I enjoyed that first set so much, I had been anticipating it for so long that when I finally played I was like, ‘This is what I want!’”
"Berghain is a homecoming” – Marcel Dettmann
It’s thanks to Berghain that Dettmann and Klock met at all, having been introduced for the first time when they were billed one after the other. They’ve played at Berghain so regularly over the past 12 years, sometimes together, sometimes solo, that I wonder aloud if the feeling of being behind the decks has lost some of its appeal. “Not at all. It’s amazing actually, that after all these years, every time I walk up the stairs at Berghain, I have a certain thrill,” Klock says. “A kind of nervous excitement, I don’t know… This vibration. The way I feel about Berghain hasn’t changed at all. When I look at the crowd and I hear the music, I’m still always thinking, ‘Wow, this is why Berghain is Berghain.’” Dettmann agrees, thinking back to the rush of his first gig at the club: “If I think about that first time [when] I arrived for my set and I walked up the stairs, it’s still the exact same feeling I have today. Sometimes you have a weekend that doesn’t fit perfectly, but you come to play here and everything’s fine again. It’s a homecoming.”
If Klock and Dettmann sound sentimental, it’s not misplaced. For many, a night at Berghain can be a spiritual experience. There’s a freedom in that space that is somehow more tangible than anywhere else. “I think some people don’t even know that they need a home like this before they come here,” Klock concludes. “Lately I’ve been thinking more and more that it’s such a privilege to have something like Berghain still. People come here and they’re like, ‘Oh, right, this is how clubbing should feel.’ You can come here for hours and forget about everything, do what you want without being judged. It’s so good that we’re able to do this. I think we’re pretty lucky.”
Phantom Studies is out now via Ostgut Ton.
Marcel Dettmann appears at Field Day, London, 3 June