LWE Interviews Hard Wax

hardwax

As the record buying experience continues to shift from brick and mortar shops to online retailers, some treasured relationships between store clerks and patrons are becoming a thing of the past. But for many fans of underground dance music, there’s at least one store whose carefully selected offerings comes close to filling the gap: Hard Wax. Berlin’s most venerable record store was founded in 1989 by Mark Ernestus (later of Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound fame), and for a few years it was the city’s only dispensary of techno and house vinyl. Its founder’s role in the Basic Channel, Maurizio, and Chain Reaction labels reinforced the shop’s focus on quality and value over gimmicks and ornamentation. Shoppers know not to expect garish sales or hyperbole-filled descriptions — a “TIP!” is the closest most records get to unrestrained praise. It’s a must-visit institution for locals and dance music pilgrims alike, a place where you can find rare cuts, the latest crop of hand stamped white labels, and any number of top DJs and producers, from Marcel Dettmann and Achim Brandenburg (Prosumer) to René Pawlowitz (Shed) and Cassy, behind the store’s counter or restocking the shelves. And if you can’t make it to the Kreuzberg area, the Hard Wax web shop is a worthy substitute whose new release list keeps readers ahead of the curve. If that’s not enough, Hard Wax also distributes a handful of essential labels, like Pawlowitz’s WAX/EQUALIZED/Soloaction imprints and the much sought after Workshop records.

In anticipation of Hard Wax’s 20th anniversary (an occasion marked by a show of truly epic proportions, see flyer below), LWE talked with Torsten Pröfrock, one of Hard Wax’s buyers and a renowned if tight-lipped producer, about the changes Hard Wax has seen over 20 years, the shop’s larger impact, and a tip for getting space on its hallowed shelves.

How long have you been working for Hard Wax? How did you get the job?

I’m working at Hard Wax for 15 years now. It started as a student job in the first place.

What is the full scope of Hard Wax’s distribution? Who decides what Hard Wax distributes?

Hard Wax is mainly a shop and not a distributor. Hard Wax-distributed titles are coming from regular costumers, employees and friends — people who are in any kind of “real” and social relation to the shop. Hardly any release needs to be turned down. There is no single decider upon these issues, it’s rather a group thing.

What has been the most popular record this year with Hard Wax’s staff? What about its customers?

Probably these WAX, EQUALIZED & SUBSOLO releases are the ones that are worshiped throughout the staff as well as by many customers. We’ve sold almost 200 copies of the second EQUALIZED just in the shop, keeping it offline for almost two months.

Hard Wax is decidedly picky about the records you sell. How are they chosen?

That question is difficult to answer, because what’s behind it is the question: what’s a good tune? We’re buying what’s available and see[ing] how it goes.
20020big1

2009 has seen an explosion in stamped white labels, following Hard Wax-distributed labels such as Workshop and Marcel Dettmann Records and more recently the Wax and Equalized records. What is it about this aesthetic that the store adores?

Stamped white labels are the artwork of the small edition. Since more small editions are done these days this low-profile artwork is more on use. It’s definitely nothing new and wide spread in the DIY-music scene since its founding days. What’s coming along with that is the taste of the hand made craft work, the aura of the artifact, the illusion of the rare item. I guess Hard Wax isn’t that special in liking such editions.

Who writes the descriptions on the site? What makes a record deserving of a “tip”? What turns you off most?

The descriptions are made by us, mainly the buying persons. A “good” record deserves a “tip.” Lack of originality is the most annoying thing in this job.

What has changed the most for Hard Wax in its 20 years?

It’s obviously the flow of information through the Internet that reshaped our world in a way. On the one hand way more people have unlimited access to in-depth information about music, its artists and sources. On the other hand it’s exactly the same amount of seemingly infinite information floods that’s turning people off and establishes the need for a “filter.” Over the last few years we were becoming more aware of our function as a filter.

Do you have any tips for producers/labels hoping to get a record or white label on Hard Wax’s shelves?

I guess the social relation is the most important thing here. One doesn’t have to be a friend, but at least a frequent costumer. These people usually are coming up with something that fits into the program.

With so many great “finds” that have exposed customers to new sounds, where do you see Hard Wax’s role in shaping dance music tastes?

Possibly Hard Wax is helpful for people who are in a certain niche of house and techno. In a greater context of dance music you’d hardly find people adoring us as there are almost none of the bigger projects or names really happening in the shop.

harpomarx42  on December 4, 2009 at 6:46 PM

What exactly do they mean by ‘tip’?

Ahoyskin  on December 4, 2009 at 8:30 PM

My first visit to Hardwax was last summer. I had purchased several of Torsten’s records, but had no idea I was talking to him. He was very friendly and exceptionally helpful, as were the rest of the staff. No attitude, great selection, and people who truly believe in what they’re doing. Nice interview.

Joe H  on December 4, 2009 at 9:34 PM

They’re “tipping you off” or letting you know.

andrew  on December 5, 2009 at 5:14 AM

Main Entry: atip
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): tipped; tip·ping
Date: 1883

1 : to impart a piece of information or advice about or to —often used with off
2 chiefly British : to mention as a likely candidate, prospective winner, or profitable investment : tout 4

Björn  on December 5, 2009 at 11:54 AM

Interestingly, the vinyl-bastion Hardwax will be offering downloads soon. In a recent article in Groove magazine, Mark Ernestus stressed that there will be “no separate download shop though, which was important for us.”. Ernestus said that “although we are coming from a vinyl-fundamentalist side, as a shop it would be wrong to ignore digital formats.” One might add that Ernestus himself likes to deejay with both vinyl/laptop.

AO  on December 7, 2009 at 1:05 PM

Nice interview, nice insight to the shop, thanks!

@harpomarx42 they write “tip” on the record sleeve if it’s a particularly good one.

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