Interview | Ben Klock
The Berghain resident talks about his club upbringing and the Mecca he calls "techno church."
by Joshua P Ferguson
Transcribing it this afternoon, this is an interview I'm ashamed to say I've sat on for so long. I chatted with amicable Berlin techno superstar Ben Klock almost a year ago now, at the 2011 Detroit Movement festival, with the throbbing bass of Ricardo Villalobos bellowing in the background and the wind of a blustery late-spring day whipping around us. Though there was a nip in the air, Klock as all warmth—a personality trait that, while not at all surprising, is somewhat odds with the cold, steely techno he's known for.
We talked for only a short time, but managed to cover a lot of ground: his early (and short lived) drum 'n' bass days, his love for Berlin superclub Berghain and, most fascinatingly, his coming of age in Berlin after the fall of the wall, when things were, as he points out, quite lawless. I've been hanging on to the tape of our session, waiting for just the right opportunity, and I've found it in his return appearance to Chicago this weekend, where he takes to the DJ booth at Smart Bar this Saturday 14.
Here's the full transcript:
Given its role in the music’s history, German techno DJs often hold Detroit in considerably high regard. Did you come up with that same sort of reverence?
I came a little bit from a different angle because when I started playing in 1995 I actually started for a short period with drum ‘n’ bass. That was my initial thing, but after a half-year or so I already I thought, I don’t know, techno is more fun. My first heroes were Green Velvet and this Tyree record [“Nuthin Wrong”] from Chicago that I put in my last DJ mix for Ostgut Ton. This was one of my first ever techno-house records. This was how I slowly grew into techno.
As out of character as drum 'n' bass, I saw you also put out some early records with the Jazzanova camp?
I did do one record, which was on a sub-label of Jazzanova, but we went in completely different directions.
Yeah, they seem a bit, well, jazzy for your tastes.
[Laughs] Just slightly.
I think you have an interesting perspective on techno, what was it about the music that sucked you in?
The first experiences were the club scene in the ‘90s in Berlin, which was amazing. I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to experience that period. It’s changed so much over the last 20 years, so to see this whole development from when the wall came down and all these empty buildings and all these places where you could throw parties. All that concrete was the perfect surrounding for techno. My initial thing like that was in the late ‘80s, at the first ever acid house party in Berlin. I was really young, and really hit by this loud bass and the strobe lights and stuff like this. I thought is this for human beings? I found out afterwards that the DJ was even way younger than me. I was really impressed by this young dude.
Talking to people about that time in Berlin, was it really anything goes?
I was never a promoter but the people I knew would just throw parties and no one really cared. It was kind of almost anarchy in a way. The east side of Berlin, all the laws and new rules had to be invented. That time was special.
With what you’re doing now, do you have any personal philosophies on your sound and what you’re bringing to techno?
Yeah sure, we do. But on the other hand, we don’t want to stick to that Berghain brand, or what people think is the Berghain sound. We try to always come up with something new or at least try to; to keep it fresh. I think we do have that certain sound, but some of the stuff that is labeled Berghain techno is not really interesting for me. I think we have a big variety that we play in the club that goes from dark, heavy techno to Chicago house or even deep house.
When I saw Marcel Dettmann play for the first time, that was one of the things that surprised me.
I love to play sometimes deeper. I always say, I’m a techno DJ. Even when I play house I play house as a techno DJ, but I sometimes love to play more deeper, groovy, sexy stuff, which is still techno. It doesn’t always have to be hammering the bass drum and that’s it. Sometimes I love the sound of a heavy kick drum and that’s it. But I love a variety.
You would have to when you’re playing, what, eight or nine hours?
Sometimes up to 11 hours. It’s really weird about that place. It’s really special. Sometimes I play two hours in a club elsewhere and after that I’m like, ok, that’s it for tonight. But at Berghain, the vibe there is so epic I can play there and I don’t really get tired.
And you’ve been there from the start?
From the opening. They had another club called Ostgut before, like the label. And when they opened the new club, Berghain, I’ve been there since then—six and a half years or so.
I’ve never been, but I’ve seen pictures. I can’t lie, that huge cement compound, it looks like a prison.
I wouldn’t say it looks like a prison actually, but it definitely has a Metropolis type of feeling. I’d say it looks beautiful. It has that old factory style but it’s really nicely renovated. Ah, from the outside you say it looks like a prison? That’s true. Inside it’s really beautiful. It’s like a cathedral for us, like techno church.
Was there ever a point that you thought you wouldn’t pursue this professionally?
I worked as a graphic designer, but I finished my album in 2008 and that’s when I stopped working as a graphic designer. I had to start focusing on one thing and music was much more important.
Touring the states, have you ever found something comparable to Berghain?
It is kind of the Mecca. There are lots of great other clubs where I love to play, but I couldn’t compare another club to Berghain. Every good club has its own unique vibe in a way and Berghain definitely has something very unique. I didn’t find something like Berghain somewhere else, but that shouldn’t mean I don’t like other clubs. Sometimes I love these short sets where they have the closing time 2:30am, so they come at 1am and party for one and a half hours like crazy. I love that and you’ll never get that vibe at Berghain because its way more long and epic. I love both, but there’s not other club like Berghain.