Finn, what memories do you have of your first DJ set?
It was mostly playing records at school and private parties from the mid 80s on, playing a variety of Disco, Soul, Synthpop and Post Punk. I’d like to remember that as eclectic, but probably chaotic would be the more apt description. Actually my memories of my first forays into playing out in public are bit hazy by now. After all, that was nearly 30 years ago. What I vividly remember was a Soul allnighter in a basement club of my hometown of Kiel, in ’86 or ’87. Actually it was a whole Mod Weekender, with several events all across town. My friend Ralf Mehnert, who became a well respected Rare Soul collector and DJ, and me took over the Soul part of the proceedings, playing records for a crowd that consisted of mods and other hip folks, but predominatly drunk scooter boys. Somebody saw them standing outside, mistook them for skinheads, and alerted the most notorious local Turkish street gang. They arrived not much later, crashing the door and storming down the stairs, only to face quite a crowd of completely unimpressed heavy parka-clad folks. Ralf and me ducked away in the DJ booth and things got really messy. About 30 minutes later there was no intruder left and the party continued as if absolutely nothing had happened. There were numerous other similar experiences. Kiel was quite a tough city, probably still is.
Can you re-engineer what influence being a small town boy – born and raised in Kiel, in Northern Germany – had on your musical education?
I did not really feel limitations. There were record stores as Tutti Frutti or Blitz which were very well selected with electronic music of the 80s, Punk, and experimental stuff. And quite a number of second hand stores to choose from, where I mostly bought Soul, Disco and obscure 60s and 70s records. Some of those acquired bigger record collections from Danish libraries and sold each record for 2 Deutschmarks, regardless of format. I purchased the bulk of my Disco collection in those years, for example. You did not have to spend much, so you would explore what you would have otherwise not listened to. I had a lot of friends who were very interested in music, and there was a constant exchange of knowledge, good and bad finds. It was all very social. I made regular record shopping trips to Hamburg, too. There were plenty of excellent record shops there, for everything of interest to me. I always looked for dance music of any kind, and Hamburg had stores that were importing records since the Disco era. They had the contacts and the knowledge.
And as for the clubs?
I did not mind being in a smaller town either. There were quite a few. The DJs mostly did not mix much and played all over the board stylistically. There was a tendency to play music in topical blocks. A 30-minutes block of Disco, followed by a 30-minutes block of New Wave, then Hip Hop, then some Rock, then Soul, then slow songs, then everything all over again. Once a few tunes worked together and on the floor, the DJs tended to rely on the according selection and did not change it for what seemed to be years. That drove me mad, but in retrospect I could hear lots of different music in one single night, and that left a mark on me. You learn about the contexts of what you hear, and how they relate to each other. I still make use of that. I travelled a lot, and I have been to a great number of clubs in my life, but when I moved to Berlin I was already in my early 30s. I spent my formative years up North. I did not move because I had to get out either, I left because the job situation was difficult for me. If I would had found an interesting job at that time, I probably would have stayed. I still go back regularly, I have family and friends there, and I still miss the sea.
You were born into club life by the sets of Klaus Stockhausen at Front Club in Hamburg, when you were dancing the nights away at the age of 18. What made this experience so fundamentally alluring to you?
I started going to clubs in Kiel in the early 80s, 12 or 13 years old, then to Hamburg clubs only a few years later. Most clubs in Hamburg were not as different to Kiel as they maintained to be, but the people had arguably more style and the music was more specialized. You went to certain clubs for a certain kind of music. I had been to some gay clubs in Kiel before, but they seemed to be stuck with a soundtrack that had been tried and tested for years, classic Disco anthems and the occasional Schlager drama excursion, and the scene was not that open. You often felt like the stranger entering the saloon, and the crowd often was more made up by people with a common taste in music and fashion that just happened to be gay. A lot of 80s fops and some sugar daddies. It could be fun, but more often it was not. These people had to live with other prejudices and repressions than just getting beaten up for the style of the subculture you had chosen for yourself, like I did, and you did not belong.
And Front Club was different?
Absolutely. When a friend took me to the Front Club in early 1987 that was dramatically different. The crowd was predominantly gay, but if you were not, like me, nobody seemed to care. I was aware of the major role gay subculture played in the evolution of dance music, mostly by reading features about legendary Disco clubs in magazines, but they were about Bianca on that horse for instance, and not about what was booming from the speakers as she rode in, which was exactly what interested me most. Front was the first club where I could actually experience it, and even be a part of it. And Klaus Stockhausen was the first DJ I ever heard who did not only play records, he mixed them. Like no other I heard ever since. It was not that I did not know any of the music before, but he was transforming the records into something else. And the club itself was incredibly intense, I have never witnessed something like that again either. A dark, gritty basement filled to the brim with extravagant people who completely lost their minds on the floor. And my first visits were coincidentally a good timing, because it was the transitional period between the music played there from 83 on, and House. House was introduced there much earlier, but it still was not ruling the playlist. It was brilliant to hear Stockhausen play favourites I loved from the years before, and more often records I never heard, and then the added early Chicago House sounds that seemed to have swallowed decades of dance music history only to spit them out as this raw, primitive version of it. It fit the club perfectly, and soon I was heading over to Hamburg on weekends as much as I could, because I simply could not get enough of the experience. That lasted until around 1995, and then I took up a residency in Kiel for almost ten years, and it kept me well occupied. But just think of all the incredible music released between 1987 and 1995. It really were the blink and miss years of what we still hear today, and I could be witnessing all crucial developments right on the floor, played by the best DJs, and dancing to it in the best club with the best crowd. Good times.
When did you start collecting records? During those blink and miss years?
No, much earlier. The little money I had I spent on records since I was about 6 years old. My parents gave me a record player, and the Forever Elvis compilation, plus radio and cassette recorder and they were my favourite toys by then. Especially the radio was very important. I spent endless hours recording music from the radio, cursing presenters for talking too much over songs I liked. And the hit music played on the radio in the mid 70s was just great. Chic and Roxy Music were probably my favourite bands. And all those weird and wonderful Glam Rock acts. But luckily enough I had also a chance to catch the music from early on that was not deemed fit for airplay. I had an uncle who had the idea to buy record collections at judicial sales, and he often gave me the records he did not like. Thus I could become the proud owner of Can’s Monster Movie or the first Suicide album and several obscure Soul albums when most of my classmates were still just listening to the charts. I know this sounds terribly made up, but it is the truth. And at a very young age you tend to play your favourite records over and over and over, your relationship to music is very intimate and deep. Soon I felt quite confident in my taste, and I was spending more and more time and money on music. But I actually had not the faintest idea how much great music there really was out there to discover, and I had yet to meet the right people to share my passion for it. That changed as soon as I could sneak my way into clubs. Read the rest of this entry »