The Berlin – London dynamic is something that seems to have grown stronger and stronger over the last few years. Musically, in Farringdon we are constantly bringing in talent from the German cultural capital whether it’s Marcel Dettmann and his MDR Records coming to Room Two this Saturday or commissioning its residents to lend sound to our mix series with Ben Klock's fabric 66 earlier in the year. The city’s dynamic has undoubtedly nurtured some of the greatest artists around right now, whether they are born there or pulled in from New York or our own UK cities lured by cheap rents and a scene sympathetic to the financial challenges often faced by self-employed artists.
Though, as witnessed in all cities around the world is the permeation of financial success is being driven into creative strongholds. Rents go up, businesses like clubs with a ceiling of what is reasonable to charge being challenged by what landlords can earn and converting the space to flats puts a strain on the music related businesses that thrived in more favourable economic climes. Look to Amsterdam’s squats of the early 90's that were a feature of Steffi's burgeoning career or even London’s Hoxton clubs for further evidence. Oh and GEMA is certainly not helping matters.
A figure who has been outspoken against the issues is Nick Höppner, former editor of Groove Magazine and current A&R and resident DJ for the Ostgut label and club Panoramabar is philosophical about the whole thing – acknowledging why it’s sad to potentially loose what has been built over the last few years but seeing how there is now a place to create something new and fresh. He’s been witness to the development and rise of the techno landscape of Berlin as well as playing his own part of sharing its music with the greater world, this year some of the most memorable releases coming from Barker & Baumecker in their Transsektoral LP wowing with their off kilter beats or Norman Nodge’s impressive Berghain06 to the launch of new imprint Unterton which will work under its own direction – the plans of which Höppner divulges in our interview below.
As well as words from the leading Ostgut agent, we also have been given this exclusive promo mix to share with you ahead of his set in Room Three this Saturday joining Cobblestone Jazz some time collaborator the Mole and Toi Toi’s deftly handed resident Voigtmann.
Hi Nick thanks for speaking to us, how’re you doing today?
Very well, thanks.
What’ve you been up to most recently?
I have been touring quite a bit. When I’m not on the road, I’m either at the office working for the label, or I’m in my studio completing my next 12“ for Ostgut Ton.
What do you think is on the horizon for the club scene in berlin, there have been many discussed issues like gentrification, tourism and the impact of the new GEMA tariffs – how do you think these will have effect in 2013?
Well, this is a very complex issue that I might not be able to discuss in depth as I’m not deeply involved with managing a club or a city like Berlin...but I think it’s safe to say that things have changed drastically over the last decade. Berlin has become a tourist magnet and not just for its nightlife. Also, what was predicted 20 years ago has finally become a reality: the city and its growing economy is attracting a well-trained work force earning good money and coming from much more expensive cities. They are used to a certain level of cost and this is reflected in rising rents and general cost of living. Inner-city Berlin is being developed further and further, almost every abandoned lot in central Berlin is gone and has been turned into either residential or commercial areas.
Finding an affordable space for clubs, galleries etc. is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive and is subject to a completely official administration process. Having said that, Berlin is a pretty big city and if you stray a bit further from the center, you will still find great and cheap conditions for more adventurous endeavours, although it remains to be seen if the crowds one wants to attract will follow, I guess. Although there are things to complain about, I think what’s happening at the moment is pretty exciting. The city’s government has clearly realised the potential of Berlin’s subculture and there are a few modest signs of this having a positive effect on the city’s development where the citizens’ well-being and a certain sustainability outweigh purely economic considerations.
Regarding GEMA, well, that’s a gift that keeps on giving. If they weren’t so serious, you could be excused to consider it a farce. I’m not sure how this will affect clubs next year as the story is still developing.
How does it make you feel that external lobbying and protest from such respectable areas of the music community have been ignored by GEMA in this instance? It’s a punch to the guts. The way they act and argue doesn’t feel anything less than criminal. It is ridiculous.
What would your advice be to clubs who are contemplating how to adapt to these extra costs?
Try to hang in there by all means necessary and find a way to survive until the issue is solved (I know it’s a lot easier said, than done). What GEMA is asking for is so outrageously beyond any reason, I still have hope for them to fail.
The A&R for Ostgut appears to be quite an organic process – from artists who are already part of the DNA of the club – do you influence the booking of the club too which would you say comes first?
I’m not really involved with the club’s booking except for the occasional recommendation now and then. Regarding the label’s history, it’s clear that the club came first, so it all started there. The club is the planet everything else revolves around, if you allow me this cheesy metaphor.
Do you find a new artist and feel you want to have that role to help them develop through both the club and the label? Are there any you’re working with currently?
Well, in the past we haven’t done a lot of A&Ring in a conventional sense. But with our new sub label Unterton that has changed a bit. We have just signed a new project called Manhooker which we’re releasing as Unterton 03 next January. They are also a fantastic live act, so it was a natural decision to book them for a little release party at Panorama Bar.
Are you still planning on having your annual own record release this coming March? Can you let us know when we can look forward to some new production from you?
I have just released some music on Danish label Echocord Colour as well as Kompakt’s sublabel Speicher. And yes, I’m working on a new Ostgut Ton release, but I’m not sure it will be released in March. Definitely before the summer though.
How much does UK music play a role in what you play, Berlin is so strong and there seems to be a lot of talk in the UK about Berlin but I wondered what you felt was strong about London, Glasgow and Bristol for example...
The UK has always been a strong influence for me when it comes to club music. I was a big Jungle and Drum’n’Bass fan in the mid 90s and later on got heavily into UK garage and 2Step. I would travel to London quite often to buy records and go to clubs to see the Full Cycle crew for example (there’s your Bristol reference ;) ), Metalheadz at the Blue Note Café and later the early FWD nights where I’ve seen Benny Ill, Kode 9, Slaughter Mob etc.
Going from writer and editor at Groove, to running Ostgut, being resident DJ and producing – do you have any other ambitions in something you’ve not yet achieved or experienced?
Oh, I’m dreaming about a lot of different thinks when I think about a career after DJing, but at the moment I’m really more concerned with what I’m doing now. I definitely want to learn more about music production and spend more time in the studio.
And can you talk us through this mix you’ve recorded for us, what did you take as your inspiration?
Oh, really simple. My current record bag served as inspiration. There’s a fair bit of rather recent stuff in this mix and I wanted to use vinyl only. Reminiscent of my Panorama Bar mix cd from earlier this year I also had to end the mix with something by Andrés, in this case his wicked remix for Recloose on Rush Hour.