Berlin Put “Oontz Oontz” Music on the Map Before It Was Cool

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2022 in music will be known as the year that underground club culture bubbled to the surface of the mainstream. While it’s easy to credit this global moment to Beyoncé and Drake’s tentative dance projects that dropped this summer; for one city across the Atlantic, unaffected by superstar experimentations, a club renaissance wasn’t necessary. On this side, the pervasive sound of electronic dance music isn’t news, it’s the rule. I’m talking about Berlin, of course, and its legendary after-hours scene.

Speaking of her latest studio album, Renaissance, Beyoncé shared: “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.” For the free-spirited partygoers and creatives who’ve made the pilgrimage, Bey’s statement evokes Berlin’s dancefloors more than anything else. And it’s not a stretch – not only does Renaissance boast production credits from longtime Berlin resident, DJ/producer Honey Dijon, but on his own dance record Honestly, Nevermind, Drake also tapped into the city’s rich music scene with production credits by Keinemusik members (and Berlin residents) &ME and Rampa.

The German capital is a bizarre powerhouse. To the South, Frankfurt is the financial hub, Munich sells tech, and Stuttgart produces cars, but Berlin, with no notable industry to its name, sells one thing better than the rest: freedom. You can’t party like this anywhere else in the world. And with this critical conversation happening around electronic music, it’s important to hear Berlin out, loud and clear.

“For sure, the freedom you feel in general in Berlin is different and very inspiring. I think the not-many-fucks-given vibe here is a key element of the artistic freedom and the music that results [from it],” Rampa, co-founder of the DJ/producer collective and label Keinemusik tells Highsnobiety. It’s true – there’s a revelatory quality to Berlin’s nightlife and its music scene that continues to push its own boundaries… literally.

Techno in particular made its way to the city amidst Germany’s reunification in the late ‘80s. A formerly divided Berlin drew heavily on the escapist sound coming out of Detroit, where queer and African-American innovators created utopian, industrial music out of their own struggles. In Europe, the techno movement found a home in the relentless underground drive of Berlin’s post-Soviet youth. Nightclubs began to pop up in abandoned factories, power plants, and residences, transforming the city. Techno became the soundtrack of the times.

The German metropolis quickly developed a dirtier and more ominous sound than Detroit, pushing rhythm and structure past its conventional limits. Homegrown acts like Keinemusik, Ellen Allien, Apparat, Amotik, Paul Kalkbrenner, Boys Noize, and Peggy Gou (the list goes on) have had a huge impact on electronic club culture around the world. And Berlin has become the playground for subgenres like IDM, electro- and deep house, glitch, trance, and dub techno. No other city has invested so relentlessly in electronic music’s past present, and future, which has helped it earn the reputation as a hedonistic, uninhibited party destination.

Berlin is one of the few cities where the electronic scene is mainstream. Every year, 5 million party tourists indulge in the over 400 nightclubs and countless DJs the city has to offer – contributing approximately $1.5 billion to the local economy. And just last year, in a ground-breaking parliament decision, clubs were reclassified from entertainment venues to “cultural sites.” They now rank alongside museums and theaters. This recognition proves just how essential club culture, and the freedom associated with its dance floors has bled into the town’s fashion, art, and overall carefree lifestyle. “The club culture in Berlin is not only happening inside the clubs,” says Rampa. “It’s the whole organism that makes the magic.”

So when partying came to an abrupt stop in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that magic was under threat. Strict lockdown measures meant many of Berlin’s hallowed party clubs had to shut down for good. But the city’s bold techno spirit persisted. This time it didn’t occupy deserted power plants and basements, it took over our homes. Online platforms like HÖR and Ellen Allien’s Balcony Sets kept Berlin nightlife alive, meanwhile, initiatives like Oroko Radio exported it to the rest of the world.

And it’s precisely this uncertain atmosphere which primed the world for a timely club revival. Listen to the eclectic ventures into dance music by several international rappers, singers, and pop stars – or have a glance at the production credits of said projects – and it becomes clear that the world’s been bitten by the Berlin bug. This new era of hybrid club music might be stylistically less dystopian than the sounds you’ll hear blasting out of Berghain’s gargantuan sound system, but the energy and creativity are largely indebted to the talents and partygoers of the techno city. And as global listeners’ palettes evolve, it’s important that Berlin’s beloved club scene gets its flowers for putting “oontz oontz” on the map before the rest of the world thought it was cool. There’s no stopping the party now.

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