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Music

'Electronic music didn't start in Berlin'

While Germany is famous for its techno scene, it's been a long time in the making. Author Jürgen Teipel tells DW about the past decade of techno - from heavy cases of vinyls to the advent of the DJane.

DW: Mr. Teipel, your new book "Mehr als laut: DJs erzählen" (More Than Loud: DJs' Tell Their Stories) is based on interviews you conducted with 20 famous German DJs more than 10 years ago. Why are these conversations only being published now?

Jürgen Teipel: I originally conducted these interviews while researching for another book, which is called "Ich weiss nicht" (I Don't Know), but I didn't end up using the interviews because the book took another direction. So I had the idea of publishing a book with just these interviews, because they were simply too good to be dropped.

But the problem was that the conversations I had with these DJs were very personal and intimate and so it quickly became apparent that it wouldn't be so easy to just publish them. Some of the DJs were really shocked when I told them about my idea. DJane Acid Maria, for instance, was totally flabbergasted and said, "Are you crazy, you can't do that!" and so I put the project on ice, because I had become friends with the people.

Jürgen Teipel, Copyright: Alessandra Schellnegger/Suhrkamp

Teipel knows the electronic music scene in Germany inside and out

But five years down the road I realized I had to ask them again because the stories were just too good not to be told. And after five years it was a different time, a lot had changed and so people warmed up to the idea of having their stories published.

In your book you describe the everyday life of DJs in Germany a decade ago. How has it changed since then?

Oh, it has completely changed. Some of the DJs I talked to told me hilarious stories about how they were going to clubs with one or maybe two large cases full of their vinyls. Hardly anyone does that anymore these days. Most of the DJs use laptops now rather than spinning vinyls. But 10 years ago, DJs were struggling to carry all of their vinyls and were trying to come up with the perfect system, which, as I describe in my book, turned out to be an old shopping bag on wheels that typically only grandmas used.

Something else that has changed in the last decade is the hype surrounding electronic music. It seems that all of a sudden everyone is flocking to Berlin to get into the famous Berghain night club. How can we picture the electronic music scene in the early days?

I've personally never experienced this current hype. Now I am 52 years old and I don't really go clubbing anymore (laughs). But the name Berghain is being dropped more and more these days and I can understand why people that have always loved this kind of music or the club culture surrounding it are pissed off about the sudden hype.

Swanky Tunes DJs at a show, Copyright. Swanky Tunes

Teipel: 'Techno parties 10 years ago were simple, now everything has to be bigger and better'

Electronic music has been commercial for a while now, but it was different when it started. Dirk Mantei, one of the early club owners in the city of Mannheim, told me how much he liked the fact that vinyls used to only have a simple stamp rather than a fancy cover and people still bought them, because they were simply interested in the music. It didn't have to be perfect.

The first techno parties were simple as well. Hans Nieswandt, who organized some of the first electronic parties in Cologne, told me how they would simply buy some blue lights and whatever else they could find and then put up a folding table, because they didn't have a real bar.

That's all they needed and the people were still happy. There still is a subculture today, there are still people who are devoted to the music and who are not in it for the money. But there also is a huge commercial interest - everything has to be bigger and better.

Nowadays most people associate electronic music with Berlin and vice versa. But in your book there is only one chapter that focuses on Berlin, the so-called capital of electronic music. Why is that?

Bookcover, Mehr als laut by Jürgen Teipel, Copyright: Suhrkamp

Teipel's book is a look back over the past decade

I don't think it would have been right to base everything in Berlin, because that simply wouldn't have been the truth. There was a huge enthusiasm for electronic music especially in small cities and so I thought it's much more interesting to look for stories there. It's not true that electronic music started in Berlin, as so many people think. Different people in very different places all over the world came to the same conclusion at almost the same time - that electro, techno, or Acid House, as it used to be called back then, has to happen. But it started in Chicago and Detroit just as much as it started in Germany.

A large part of your book addresses the difficulties women had in the electronic music world, which was - or still is to some extent - dominated by men. How did you become interested in that side of the electronic music business?

DJane Acid Maria really fascinated me and inspired me to explore this inequality more. In my book she talks about how she was fed up that whenever she was in the DJ booth it wasn't about the music anymore but about the fact that she is a woman. I can really understand that she was deeply hurt to hear sentences like, "You're a woman, why are you putting the records on? Did your boyfriend tell you which vinyls to play? Shouldn't you be behind the bar handing out beers instead of pretending to be a DJ?"

Acid Maria, CC-BY-SA.2.0/lookcloser

Acid Maria struggled for years to be taken seriously as a female DJ

I realized that many of the women I interviewed for my book felt the need to talk about this discrimination. That's why perceived gender roles are a big topic in my book. Let's face it, there is a large disparity. How is it possible that 51 percent of our population is women, but 10 years ago only about five percent of the DJs were female?

Now the ratio is slightly better, but that was a tough struggle. The network Female Pressure, which Acid Maria co-founded and which connects female artists worldwide, has played a huge role in that. Now maybe 20 percent of all DJs are women. But there's still a lot to be done to reach equality.

Jürgen Teipel is a German author who is best known for his German Punk and New Wave docu-novel "Verschwende deine Jugend" (Waste Your Youth). As a former concert promoter, DJ, and recording studio owner, all three of his books focus on the music scene, from punk to new wave to techno. His most recent book "Mehr als laut: DJs erzählen" was published in November 2013 by Suhrkamp.

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