When Raving Was Radical

In Der Klang der Familie, the definitive oral history of the birth of Berlin’s techno scene in the wake of German reunification, it is said that the city’s inaugural acid house party, a series called Ufo, began one night in 1988 in an old potato cellar in Köpenicker Straße. The ceiling barely hit seven feet, and plaster chips drifted down onto stacks of records as squelching bass lines shook the building’s foundation. The basement flooded when it rained, and power strips floated around in the muck like inner tubes coasting down a lazy river. A year later, at the very first Love Parade, which became an annual open-air electronic music festival that later typified Berlin’s club milieu’s most commercial leanings, 150 people danced and marched in the streets of West Berlin. They came together under the motto “Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen,” or “Peace, Joy, Pancakes,” a political commitment to disarmament, music as the route to understanding, and fair food distribution.

As one of the founders of the parade, artist Danielle de Picciotti,recalled, this sort of sincere public display wasn’t quite in line with the usual Berliner attitude of the time, especially at the tail end of the punk movement. “At the beginning, everyone was embarrassed,” she remembers. “It was not at all something Berliners usually got behind. In Berlin, you were serious, intellectual, avant-garde. Or at least dramatically addicted to drugs.” With this call for pancakes, cuddle puddles, and peace, a new social form started to arise from the controlled madness of that old potato cellar, one propelled by a relentless desire to experience more mind-bending music with like-minded freaks.

It wasn’t until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 that these early techno raves migrated to a youth hall in the East under the name Tekknozid. With the reunification opening up vast swaths of vacant buildings in the West, techno had plenty of room to expand and mutate. As one early raver remembers, those Tekknozid parties evoked “the sound of mines: down the shaft to hammer stones,” and Wolle DXP, the party’s promoter, says that drugs weren’t even necessary to find transcendence. “People were totally spaced out, beyond good and evil,” he says in Der Klang der Familie. “No one was accessible, but hardly anyone was on drugs. They were on the music and in the music. Some people had to be carried off the pedestals when we stopped around 6 a.m. They were totally gone, time and space forgotten. They’d danced themselves into oblivion.”

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