Home > Uncategorized > Ben Klock Interview – Bangin Beats, Berlin & Berghain

Ben Klock Interview – Bangin Beats, Berlin & Berghain

Ben Klock owes a lot to Berlin. Were it not for the German capital’s inextricable relationship with electronic music, it is possible that he would not have become one of the key names in contemporary techno. Klock’s reputation after all, has been built on his marathon DJ sets at the city’s notorious Berghain club, where he has been resident since it opened six years ago.

While Klock’s productions on his Klockworks label and his ‘One’ album for Ostgut have allowed him to win recognition for his dense, repetitive grooves, it is his residency that lets him play  everything from classic Chicago house right through to hard as nails industrial techno.

But before there was Berghain, another Berlin institution helped to mould Ben’s musical tastes.
“There are two points I am connected to in Berlin – Berghain and Hardwax,” he says, after a weekend on the road. “I never worked in Hardwax but I know the people there, they always put away stuff for me. There were times when the store was busier, maybe in the 90s, but now a lot of the music is sold online and the image and reputation of the store is bigger than the shop,” he believes.
In many ways, Hardwax is as representative of an alternative voice in techno as Klock himself. Both are at odds with the digital revolution – Klock is still a vinyl DJ – and both place huge importance on the history and context of house and techno.

It’s no surprise that some of the best techno releases and labels of recent years have come from Hardwax’s small but perfectly formed distribution outlet, with the anonymous hand-stamped vinyl releases on Workshop; Wax/Equalized; Marcel Dettmann’s MDR imprint; Klock’s own Klockworks and Horizontal Ground/Frozen Border all offering individualistic interpretations of classic house and techno. Klock agrees.
“There’s a lot of knowledge and history in Hardwax,” he says. “There is too much music that is just functional now, and what I like about the mentality of Hardwax is that they only distribute a small amount of labels. Every time we want to release a record, we have a ‘team meeting’, and I play my latest tracks to the guys there. If we are all not 100% happy with it, we won’t release it. I’d rather just have one release a year that I was really happy with than a lot of average releases.”

Klock’s seamless mixing skills and deep musical knowledge meant that he was a regular DJ at the old Tresor club and at other well-known Berlin clubs like Cookies and WMF. He used to frequent Ostgut, the precursor to Berghain as a punter, and at the time felt it was a venue he would love to play at. Before it reopened, Ellen Allien from Bpitch put him in contact with the venue’s owners. ‘My first gig there was one of the best I played, and when they asked me to become resident, it was one of those moments in life when you know that you were in the right place at the right time,” he laughs.

One of the other new residents was Marcel Dettmann, who used to work in Hardwax. They became friends and together, shaped the grainy, warehouse techno sound, a mixture of Basic Channel depth, late 90s loopy, Lost-style repetition and Planetary Assault Systems edginess  topped off with subtle nods to early Chicago house and techno that Berghain and almost by default, Berlin has become synonymous with.
Fast forward six years and the club is the most hyped in the world – and with good reason. Housed in a former power station, its Gotham City-style concrete architecture, unparalleled sound system and wild, mixed crowd make it the perfect home for a residents’ roster that also includes Len Faki, Norman Nodge, Marcel Fengler, Cassy, Steffi, Prosumer and Tama Sumo. So what does Ben feel makes it so special?
“It’s the full package, the venue is like a techno cathedral,” he says. “It’s a place to really celebrate this kind of music. Sometimes you have clubs that look like a disco and have bad sound systems, but this is a perfect club. It radiates from the owners – they do a really good job and put all their heart into it. They are really professional and this is the most important thing about the club,” Ben adds.
Part of the challenge for the club’s owners is that Berghain’s international reputation means it is danger of becoming a victim of its own success: everyone who comes to Berlin for a weekend of techno wants to go to the club, but not all of them will get in.

“There has to be a good mixture of people from around the world and people who have been coming for years,” Ben feels. “I can understand when you come from miles away just to go to Berghain and you don’t get in it can be a pain in the ass, but the door staff have to do a good job to make sure it doesn’t become too touristy. If I’m playing abroad and people ask me about it, I just say be normal don’t be too drunk, just act yourself – come on guys you have door policies in other clubs too!

The main issue for Ben is to keep doing what he was doing before the club came under the spotlight.
“There is all this hype, but I’m just keeping my feet on the ground, holding onto the original idea for the club and the label too – I’m just trying to control the hype.”
Modest words from a techno DJ who recently remixed Depeche Mode and whose club residency is now appearing in the tabloid press thanks to a visit from Lady Ga Ga.
 He even seems unfazed by the dark room at Berghain, simply saying that “it’s no Sodom and Gomorrah”, but what he does take seriously is the sense of freedom that Berghain brings. “When you get in there, you can leave your everyday life at the door, you feel you have escaped  – I don’t know what people would do without it.”

Despite its notorious image, Ben feels that its reputation is overstated and is adamant that Berghain is still primarily a music club. The ultra-liberal opening hours also provide its residents with the opportunity to play marathon sets, which for anyone who has witnessed Klock or Dettmann in full flight for eight hours, does a lot to dispense with its status as a temple of jaw-clenchingly intense techno purism.
“You can play techno, house, dubstep, or we play a lot of classics alongside some new stuff, records that haven’t come out yet,” he explains. “It’s very boring when people call our music ‘cold, steel, relentless’ (laughs)… personally, I get very bored after two hours of dark, heard techno.”

Klock’s latest venture, the fourth instalment of the Berghain mix series, successfully provides a distilled version of the various twists and turns his sets follow. From the evocative organ sound of Klockworks signing DVS1 to the hypnotic rework of Junior Boys by Marcel Dettmann and the cold bleeps of STL’s ‘Loop 04’, and the eerie, creaky house of Levon Vincent, Jonas Kopp’s reimagining of Basic Channel’s ‘Phylps Track 2’  to the tripped out dubstep of Kevin Gorman’s ‘7am Stepper’, the timeless Chicago house of Tyree’s ‘Nuthin Wrong’ and Klock’s heavy, rolling take on Brendon Moeller’s ‘Dirt’, ‘Berghain 04’ packs a powerful punch.

Despite this, it is far removed from the relentless Sturm und Drang techno that Klock is portrayed as solely championing. The majority of the tracks on the mix – 14 out of 19 – are exclusive, which came about because Ben wanted to differentiate the CD from the glut of free online mixes.
“My aim for the mix was that people could listen to it without getting stressed out and wouldn’t throw it away,” he laughs. “Sometimes I do play much harder, especially for the international gigs, where I am only playing for two to three hours. I spoke to a lot of friends, colleagues and artists I like and there are so many podcasts and live recordings that a mix CD should offer more. I found it interesting to give people new music and I think that people appreciate that too.”

Clearly, Klock didn’t throw the mix together during a few hours in the studio, and he says that the first track that was agreed for the mix, from Martyn, was cleared a long time ago.
Klock adds that he refused a lot of material and said no to a number of established artists who wanted to appear on it, but, polite and humble as ever, says: “I don’t want to do any namedropping.”
While ‘Berghain 04’ offers a 70-minute synopsis of the Klock’s sets at the club, I put it to him that it must be difficult to export the atmosphere and energy of his DJIing at Berghain to other locations. After all, if he’s not performing in an environment where the party goes on for 24 hours and the crowd consists of the wildest freakshow this side of Hieronymus Bosch’s demented paintings, then is there a danger that he won’t perform as well?

“You saw me play in Dublin a few weeks ago,” he says, “and I could only play for two hours, but because the crowd knows it’s only for two hours, they party so hard in that space of time. It is a bit different from playing in Berghain, but it’s a lot of fun, and I get a night’s sleep! Now it’s the other way around  – I’m doing more and more international gigs and this gives me a fresh perspective on the one gig a month I’m playing in Berghain, when I play a longer set.”

It’s time for Klock to get back to the studio. He has a new Klockworks release to finish and a remix project, which he won’t talk about. As we engage in small talk at the end of the interview, I ask what a ‘longer set’ at Berghain constitutes?

“Well, I can play for up to 10 hours, but the longest I’ve ever done was 18 hours back to back with Marcel. When you’re playing for that long you don’t know that you’re hungry or tired, you’re just pushed a long by a special kind of energy.” Door staff permitting, it’s an energy everyone should experience at least once.

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