To many, Ben Klock is techno. Given his lengthy CV, this is hardly surprising. Resident at the largely undisputed Mecca of techno, part of the stacked roster of the epoch-defining Ostgut Ton, and creator of numerous staples found in many techno jocks’ bags, Klock is a producer and DJ who seems equally at home with both professions. It hasn’t been immediate success for Klock, though, as he’s spent much of his career in the trenches both finding his sound and a receptive audience. As the craving for Klock’s brand of techno grows more and more widespread by the day, so do the number of its imitators. LWE sat down with Klock in New York to talk about the ’90s, the warmth of Berghain techno and his dad’s experience at the club.
How did you first get into techno?
Ben Klock: I guess my first experience with electronic, four-to-the-floor music was in the late ’80s with the first acid house parties that came to Berlin; they blew my mind. That was the first time that I saw strobe lights and loud music; like, really loud music. So this was a phase in the late ’80s, and then I got back into other types of music again. I played piano and guitar and had different interests. Somehow I just got back into techno.
In like the mid-90s or something?
Yeah, like the early to mid-’90s. I was talking earlier today about this Josh Wink thing I remember: “I Am Ready.” [low voice] “I am ready.” I remember hearing that when I was on the dance floor and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s what I really want.’
Tell me a little about your musical training.
I took piano lessons from an early age for quite a few years. At one point in my life I wanted to go to university to study jazz piano, but I realized it’s not my thing to practice eight or nine hours a day, going through scales. I was more interested in composing, using all sorts of sounds. So I totally quit playing piano and I taught myself guitar, but I also quit that at some point. I was really more into exploring new sounds and everything that was going on in the ’90s was new for me.
Your first record was on your own label, Clockworks, which seemed to be a precursor to the current Klockworks. From when you first encountered techno, what made you want to make it and then gave you the push to set up your own label and put something out yourself?
That belonged to the label of Jazzanova. Back then I was a resident DJ at Delicious Donut. They played all kinds of stuff from acid jazz to drum n bass, to house and things like that. I was still kind of looking for what I really wanted, so this was the first attempt at making some music. It’s not really related to what I’m doing now, I think, though maybe it is.
It looked like it was only one release though…
I was just trying out something and I realized that Jazzanova at that time was going into a completely different direction than I wanted to go. It didn’t make sense to work together any more.
Was it after that that you hooked up with BPitch Control?
Maybe a few years after that. I knew all those guys like Sascha Funke and Ellen Alien, they were friends. We were like all these Berlin guys.
That label was sort of your home for a while…
I wouldn’t call it a home. My first real home, where I felt that I have a home label or even a home at all in this scene, was when I got involved with Berghain and Ostgut Ton. I really felt that I wanted to be there, and that’s where I feel at home. I didn’t feel at home anywhere else before, at other clubs or other labels.
Once you found that with Ostgut and Berghain, do you think your music changed?
I guess a little bit. There were other influences, and I kind of had the feeling of “I’m finally there.” It was what I was looking for and it just kind of fit together at that point. When I first played at Berghain and felt the vibe, surely it influences you, the whole architecture there and everything.
How do you decide which releases go on Klockworks and which on Ostgut?
It’s actually quite easy. I have a feeling that certain tracks are more Klockworks tracks and others more Berghain things. My recent Compression Session EP; that A-side is a typical Ostgut release. It wouldn’t make sense on Klockworks because Klockworks has more of a draft feeling; the Klockworks releases are more tracky, in a way. So the more musical or epic stuff I do for Ostgut.
What is your reason for wanting to put your records out without promotion?
I think it just comes naturally; just making music and putting it out. Not caring about the promotional side. Most of us, as artists, don’t want to deal with that stuff. When it’s a small label like Klockworks, a one-man show, I don’t want to do promotion. I mean, I don’t care if I sell a couple of hundred more with promotion; I just don’t believe in promotion that much anymore. I got overwhelmed with so many promotional emails and promo stuff. I really don’t know how to deal with it any more. Maybe it’s also the idea that I don’t want to be one more promo mail out of hundreds of mail outs.
Well, the aesthetic of stamped white labels without promotion is sort of coming back.
Yeah, I mean, even five years ago we had some labels like that, but this style is growing more and more, that’s true. Even that, though, can get to the point where it’s kind of ridiculous. Every label with a stamp on it is like, ‘Wow, it has to be something great because they don’t do promotion. They just do stamps, so it has to be good.’ That’s the attitude sometimes. If it goes into this direction, that everyone just wants to do this, it’s the same bullshit.
When did you become a resident at Berghain?
Berghain is now six years old, and it was the time before that, like seven or eight years ago, with all the electroclash around (that stuff was kind of a sellout if you ask me). I didn’t have any resident club at the time and I wasn’t having a lot of fun. In Berlin, the only place where I really wanted to play was Ostgut, or the new Berghain. I got the chance to play there once. It was one of the best sets I’ve ever done. Then they asked me to be a resident. It was a moment in life when you feel like you’re in the right place at the right moment. It just all came together and made sense. Ellen was actually the one who introduced me to the guys and said, ‘Why don’t you just play there?’
Do you think that the legendary aspect of Berghain hurts the club, or do you think it’s part of what Berghain seeks to do?
I think they just do what they want to. Even when I started to play at the new venue, at Berghain when it opened up, a lot of people said the new Berghain wasn’t what the old Ostgut was. I really liked the old Ostgut, but I thought the new club was even better; and back then I thought we were really doing something special, and that sooner or later this will really spread out. I had the feeling that everything was working, from the inside to the outside. The owners, how they treat the people that work there, the vibe. Everything was exactly how I always thought a club should work. You have the feeling that you’re part of a cultural thing and not just throwing parties; parties where, after you play, you have to look for the promoter to get paid. I really felt that the people behind Berghain are interested in more than just making money and throwing parties; interested in not only techno but other cultural aspects as well. I thought that sooner or later more people will realize that it’s something special. Sure, there’s kind of a hype thing, and hype can be negative after a while, but I think the Berghain crew are aware of this hype and we try to just keep at what we’re doing. I think we’re quite successful; to not pay too much attention to the stories or the hype. We just want to do what we do best, and that’s still our goal. I don’t pay to much attention to the stories.
You mentioned “culture” a lot.
It’s both partying like crazy and the cultural aspect. I think it’s really good that there’s a place where you can just walk in and leave your everyday life behind, because it stays open until forever and it’s a universe of its own. There aren’t many places where you can do that anymore; that vibe was there in the 90′s, and in that sense Berghain captures that. On the musical side, I think we strive for timelessness; we don’t want to follow trends that are around for only one or two years. Most of us, as artists, get our inspiration from the old stuff. Basic Channel is really timeless music. You can still listen to it in 20 or 30 years. Some of the stuff today, however, is for now and only now. You won’t listen to it a year from now. This timeless idea is part of Ostgut, Berghain and Hard Wax.
In New York there have been these Berghain/Panorama Bar nights. There were a couple in Japan and there was talk of something at Ibiza…
Yeah there was one night. I wasn’t there.
Do you think these nights properly capture the spirit of Berghain and Panorama Bar, or do you think it’s even the point?
I get it from some people who say, ‘You bring us the Berghain vibe and usually we don’t have that; we don’t hear that kind of music here!’ That’s what I hear from people, ‘It’s almost like Berghain,’ or something like that. I never try to bring the Berghain vibe anywhere, I just play what I play.
Does it make sense to export the club, and can you?
Surely it’s not the same. Berghain is unique; there is no place like it in the world. It doesn’t mean that it’s better, it’s just unique. You can still play the music you play at Berghain elsewhere and it’s works, it’s fun. Maybe the music captures a bit of the vibe.
As a DJ at Berghain you’re usually playing marathon sets, but increasingly a lot of the Ostgut guys are being invited to play big festivals, where you don’t have much time to play. How do you try and present your style of DJing when you only have an hour or an hour and a half?
Yeah, it’s a challenge; I ask myself that sometimes. Two hours is OK; it’s kind of like the international standard in a club. But when it comes to festivals, where you only have like one or one-and-a-half hours, it’s really different and you can’t capture this vibe. When Ricardo plays these long, never ending things, you can’t do that in one hour; it’s just not possible. It’s a different kind of playing. Last time at Berghain I played alone for 11 hours, which is really epic. You’re right, most people know me or relate me to these long, late sets, which I really like. But when I’m playing elsewhere, sometimes I have a two-hour slot and people come for only two hours and party like crazy. Sometimes I like this compressed, short, completely extreme set; like “boom!” and then it’s over. I still don’t feel very comfortable with these really short sets, they are challenging for me.
Would you say that you can’t really show yourself properly as a DJ in such a short space of time?
I know that I have my best moments during long sets. After three or four hours, suddenly I have two really deep hours where I don’t really think any more. I’m completely in the groove, and that’s when I do my best. There’s no chance that this will happen in a one hour set. Though, it can be fun to play a short, banging set and try to be 100 percent.
What did you like about the album process? Is it something that you want to do again?
It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. Even when I was a child I dreamed of making an album. Back then I thought I would have a band, but I thought that at one point in my life I would make an album, so it was a dream come true. It was clear I wanted to make an album that worked as an album, not only club tracks. When I finished it was kind of a relief; like, ‘Now it’s done and now I’m ready to make a 12″ again.’ But I’m sure there will be another album, maybe I’ll start this year. I think sometimes it takes some time to be inspired again for something like an album. It takes time to build a new basic idea or concept, because it wouldn’t make sense to just collect tracks now and throw out another album and call it Two. I think when the time is right I will feel it; when there is a new idea that wants to come out. I really enjoyed doing something different from what I had done before, to make tracks that don’t have a bass drum or something. I really enjoy that process. Maybe the next album will be even further removed from club music.
Did you feel more satisfaction from the album than from a 12″?
I kind of did. Well, it depends. Everyone works differently. I think Shed said he only worked on his last album for a month or so; that is really different. For me, making an album was like this huge mountain that I didn’t know how to climb. Then it starts forming and developing and you feel like you know which tracks you want to put together, what makes sense. You think about the tracklist and how to combine the songs. In every little process there are so many decisions: how you want to arrange a track, choosing the artwork. I was really satisfied with it; I think I will still like it in ten years. Making a 12″ is not really such a big deal; it’s much faster. Like my last Klockworks, the track on the A-side is like two or three years old.
Your most major recent release was Berghain 04. It sort of goes back to what were saying about having to fit your DJ style into just over an hour, but here obviously you have a lot more control and you can spend a lot of time on it.
Most of the time was spent choosing the tracks, since most of the tracks were exclusive. So, the bulk of the work was talking to people, collecting tracks and choosing the right ones.
Do you think that the CD is a more accurate representation of your DJ sets than your sets at festivals?
I don’t see mix CDs as the way I DJ, it’s just a thing on its own. For this mix CD I wanted people to listen to it at home or in the car. Sometimes if I hear a hard banging techno set then I’m done with it. I don’t want to listen to that stuff every day when I’m sitting in the car. So the idea was to make it softer. Sure, it represents my style in a way, mixing things together, building things, but it’s also something of its own.
There’s a lot of your own tracks on there, as well as all the exclusives. Did you make it more as a producer than as a DJ?
It’s a combination of being a DJ and producer, I think. It’s a perfect combination of the two skills.
Berghain 04 was a very warm CD, where sometimes you guys are described with the words…
“Cold,” “relentless,” “steel.” I never thought these words described us, or myself, accurately. “Cold, relentless, techno.” I think Berghain is really not the place where you only hear this kind of music. There are a lot of productions that are called Berghain techno, and every time I hear that I get bored because that’s not the only thing that I’m interested in. I’m interested in good music, not just dark, monotonous stuff. It can be monotonous and dark and can be great, but it has to be something special. I really like warm stuff. I think the sound at Berghain is that warm bass drum; not this kind of “kxkdk,” but this kind of “boom,” when it has this nice warm belly. This is what I like, that it has some ass and muscles but that it’s also warm. Maybe you could also say there’s a female aspect; it’s not only macho music. Especially with Berghain 04; I made it in the winter and when I finished it I didn’t listen to it anymore. It was only when it came out that I listened to it again. I was driving through the city, the sun was shining, and I realized it’s really a kind of a summer CD. It made perfect sense to release it in the summer. The intro and the first few tracks really have a warm, sunny feeling. I was happy that it had this warm feeling, especially at a time where people always related us to these words “cold, hard, banging techno.” At Berghain we play some house sometimes. It’s not all about the dark stuff.
So you think some of the music that’s called Berghain techno wouldn’t even get played at Berghain?
Yeah, I’m positive about that. I get sent so many promos saying, ‘Here, this is something for you, this is Berghain, you will like it.’ As soon as I read this I know it’s not for me. It just bores me, this so called “Berghain techno.”
What do you have planned next? Where do you see the Berghain sound going?
I’m not sure. Lately Marcel [Dettmann] and I have been talking about that. It’s always challenging to not stay with the same sound forever. Sure, we will never stray too far, but we are always looking for something to open up the concept or new directions to go in. There will definitely be another Dettmann/Klock thing in the future — hopefully 2011. We’re not sure what we’re gonna do yet, we’ll just see what inspires us. For myself, I think I will put some more effort into Klockworks. 2010 had only one release, 2009 had maybe two release. I don’t have a schedule for Klockworks, but there will definitely be another DVS-1 and some other stuff.
Do you want to sort of see Klockworks not only as a vehicle for your own stuff? You put out the one DVS-1 record, but do you want to make Klockwork into its own sort of family?
I’m not planning something like that, but I’m open. It depends on who I meet. Before I met Zak [DVS-1] it was just a platform for my stuff, but when I met him, right away I knew, ‘OK, I need this music, it has to come out.’ So the basic idea changed at that moment. Now I’m open to other artists as well, but I’m really not looking for anything. I’m really, really picky and I really have to like it personally. I’m not looking to build up a big family of artists, I’ll just let it be open.
You said that you guys ignore the hype behind Berghain and keep your eyes down and keep focused on what you’re doing, but I imagine that it’s hard to avoid.
Yeah. Sometimes it’s strange when there are people in front of the DJ booth screaming ‘Berghain!’ and I’m like, ‘Um, yeah, ok, whatever.’ I’m Ben Klock. I’m just doing my thing, and sometimes it’s just a little bit too much with the whole Berghain thing.
Would you say Berghain is a place for purist techno?
I would say it’s a place where you can really experience techno in a very pure way. When people who are not related to this music at all, who think techno is some commercial bullshit, boom-boom-boom thing, who don’t have an idea what techno culture is really about: go on the Berghain floor, be in the middle on the dance floor and stay there for an hour or so. That’s the place where you can really understand what it’s about and in that way I would say it’s pure experience; a way to really feel what techno is about. Even for my father, he recently came to Berghain for the first time at the age of 75. He stayed there for ten hours, didn’t even want to leave, and after that he said, ‘Now I understand what you are doing.’ Because he really experienced it; the sound and the vibe there, the architecture and the idea of playing the music the way we play it. I wouldn’t say it’s only for music lovers or nerds, but it’s experiencing techno in its most pure form without the showing off, “look at me” aspect of some other clubs. I know some people go there just because you can be yourself there, and do what you do. I know some actresses who just want to be there because nobody looks at them and says, ‘You’re this and that.’ You can just be yourself there. And that’s a good thing.
It almost seems like a certain level of hype sort of goes against what Berghain actually stands for, which is what you just said, the idea of going there not to be seen and yet when something get really hyped…
Yeah, that’s a conflict maybe. But they still have their rules and beliefs, like you’re still not allowed to take pictures there, which is good. Everywhere else is all about is about being Youtubed and having your picture taken, so this is different. It’s just the basic idea of being there for the music and being yourself, doing what you want to do without being caught on camera and stuff like that. [chuckles]
I can only assume that I’m guilty of it, but another sort of truth that the media will stick to is describing Berghain music in terms of the gritty architecture. How do you think the architecture plays into the sound?
There is a relation between the room, the surroundings and the music. I think the reason techno got so big in Berlin makes sense; after the wall came down the city looked a certain way, and maybe certain kinds of music belong to certain surroundings. I wouldn’t expect this type of music to be created in a nice, easygoing, sunny place in the south, like on a island. You kind of need this urban feeling and this concrete around you to create these ideas. This kind of, I always forget the title of the movie, it’s old and from the ’20s…
Yeah, it always reminds me of Metropolis. It’s like, when you hear Jeff Mills you have certain pictures, or certain ideas associated with it, and it makes perfect sense that he made this Metropolis thing. In a certain way, the architecture of Berghain connects to the music that we make.
You say that techno is as very urban form…
Yeah I would say so. You have these Goa raves in nature, but that certain kind of techno is really related to Berlin and to urban feeling.
Well, you have the Labyrinth festival in Japan.
Yeah I mean, I played at a festival this year in Japan that was also in the mountains, a completely backpackers thing, together with Autechre and others like that. It was great, it was perfect, but people who create this music, they mostly come from the city. Especially in Detroit, there is a connection between the city and this kind of music.
How do you and Marcel approach the collaborative process? With DJs having very busy schedules, collaboration lately seems to be sending parts back and forth. How do you guys approach that?
We decided not to do that. We have similar tastes in music and we always kind of know what the other one likes and that is very inspiring. When we do the next project it will definitely be different than the first project that we did, because back then Marcel had just started producing. So I don’t know exactly how it would look now, but we’ve already said that if we’re going to do it again we’ll definitely sit together and not send files back and forth. We see each other quite a lot, but it can be hard because of our schedules.
So, where do you head from here?
I’m flying to Minneapolis tomorrow with DVS-1. We’ll have a party at a place that he owns and throws parties at. It’s supposed to have a great sound system because he was into renting sound systems. I’m looking forward to playing there; It’s just going to be a dark box with a good sound system.
It’s funny, because Minneapolis is not a city that would really come to your mind if you were thinking of techno capitals in the States and yet…
And I remember last time when I played there, I was in New York before and people were saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to Minneapolis….’ They were kind of snobby, like ‘I didn’t know there was anything there, so don’t expect much.’ It was a small party, small crowd. It’s a small scene, but they’re completely alive and knowledgeable about the music. Some people told me that Zak is responsible for a lot of that. He threw some parties a few years ago with people like Robert Hood and Derrick May and did a lot for the city, for techno culture there.
Is Berlin the techno capital of Germany?
If you’re from Frankfurt you would say that Frankfurt was always the city. But I’m from Berlin, so I would say Berlin. There was always this connection between Detroit and Berlin, especially with Tresor. So maybe that’s why Berlin became the Mecca of techno. So many artists move to Berlin. I spoke today about it with Function, and he said he was getting more inspiration in one year in Berlin than he got in the last ten years in New York. I think this will change again sometime soon; it will be a different city. I hear so many people saying that Berlin is like New York was back then, and that they’re not sure how long it will stay like this. It will get commercialized everywhere. There are areas where they’ve built these business buildings where there used to be alternative bars and stuff like that, so it’s already changing. But still, it’s a great city for living relatively cheaply and for making art. Sometimes when I hear about all these people moving to Berlin, especially in the electronic music scene, sometimes I think, ‘Why don’t some people just stay where they are?’ because I don’t want Berlin to be the only techno city. I dunno, people used to go to Ibiza, and now they all come to Berlin to party. There are still great parties everywhere in the world, so I think it’s not the case that Berlin will be the only techno city, but it’s certainly the main techno city.
Do you think it’s a German thing?
I wouldn’t really say German culture has much to do with it, but the fact that the wall came down created this special situation in the city. In the East we had all the vacant places, all these buildings that didn’t belong to anyone, and you could just throw parties everywhere, and then just open up next week somewhere else. That was a good vibe for this music. The spirit at that time was a perfect match to the idea of techno.
Any last thought you would like to add?
There is one thing I would like to add. I don’t want to sound snobby. When I say we don’t want to pay attention to all the hype, it’s might seem like we don’t care. But we really do care and I really appreciate everything that is happening. A few years back, I always thought this was going to be big, that more and more people will appreciate what is happening around Ostgut and Berghain. I really believed in it, and I think when you really believe in something it will grow. You have an amount of belief and energy that you put into it and at some point it just has to grow, it’s just natural. But, on the other hand, I never would have expected that the music that we’re doing would get so much attention. I’m always surprised when I see young kids dancing in front of me who are 19 and I play the hardest banging techno from the mid-’90s and they say, ‘Yeeeahh!’ I wonder, ‘How do you appreciate this kind of music? You should be listening to some other crap.’
Well, as long as the music’s timeless…
But still I’m surprised sometimes because I think it takes a little bit of education to get into this music. They didn’t have the chance to grow up with this kind of music for years, so sometimes I’m really surprised that young kids are caught by this kind of intense music. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s nice to see that. There are so many other options, so many easier options, like more commercial, pleasant, catchy stuff that you can fall for. I think we kind of have a kind of mature approach to it. It’s fun to see people enjoying it.