Cologne’s club scene focuses on its selfsufficiency and independence
Even if the epicentre of German club culture lies in Berlin, the Cologne scene doesn’t have to worry about paling in comparison with the techno capital. But Cologne has been licking its wounds ever since the “Berlin drain” that took hold at the end of the 90s and is still having repercussions on the scene’s self-confidence today. However, there’s a whole new generation of DJs and producers in the city who aren’t interested in running off to Berlin at the drop of a hat, proving that Cologne’s club scene really becomes interesting when it refocuses on its self-sufficiency and independence.
And this is exactly the mood represented by the label Kompakt. Since the turn of the millennium, minimal techno has stood for the so-called “Sound of Cologne”, but their portfolio has a lot more facets — from the experimental ambient project GAS by Kompakt’s founder Wolfgang Voigt down to lighter pop offerings. As well as their own label catalogue, as a distributor, Kompakt also manages all kinds of Cologne releases. While their own releases are aimed more at the international market, the Kompakt channel also enables young labels outside of Cologne to gain a foothold in the industry. The label Magazine, for example, has been able to garner a lot of attention with the krautrock- inspired techno by Barnt and is meanwhile a firm fixture on the scene. Dorfjungs, on the other hand, is a fresh consortium of friends from the outskirts of Cologne, where they have been putting their very own twist on the Cologne sound and releasing well-received tracks for almost four years now.
The best place to experience live DJ sets from the Kompakt entourage is at Gewölbe. In the converted arches under the Cologne-West train station, weekly parties are held that alternate stars from the Cologne scene with international bookings. Responsible for this is booker and DJ Shumi. While Kompakt DJ Denis Stockhausen invites stars from the old days, Marcus Worgull, part of the Innervision posse, has returned with his monthly “Deep” club night. And as the name suggests, (deep) house DJs from the underground squad regularly take to the decks here.
In Cologne’s clubs, the focus is on the presence of the DJ rooting around in his record boxes
The “Mash It Up” night at the Subway club, on the other hand, looks more to South and Central America and Africa for its tunes, blending international dance styles like Baille Funk or Gqom with bass music from the UK or the Benelux countries. Branko, co-founder of Buraka Som Sistema from Lisbon, has also manned the decks there, as well as the Italian global bass producer Clap! Clap!
In the last few years, so-called ‘organic grooves’ that go beyond the straight bass drum have been witnessing a real boom. Whether in bar-dancefloor hybrids or classic clubs, the focus is on the presence of the DJ rooting around in his record boxes. And in this climate, stylistic eclecticism prevails. The small Roxy club, for example, is like the living room of the Cologne beatmaker scene. The parties they hold there cover the broad spectrum of hip-hop, trap, funk, house and even MPB (música popular brasileira). And it’s definitely worth dropping by the parties involving the two DJs Hodini and Hade. If you can enjoy good music at the corresponding volume without a dancefloor, you should pay a visit to the Acephale bar. Despite its less-than-ideal location next to the Cologne-South train station, it offers a notable line-up that has seen Christian S. and other names from the Coméme clique take to the decks.
Another trend is emerging in Studio 672, the basement club of Cologne’s Stadtgarten venue. Together with lots of their friends, Cologne-Berlin group Aroma Pitch has created its own niche in Cologne’s nightlife: deeper underground house. Around six years ago, the three of them teamed up with Ki label boss MK Braun to get the “Cologne Sessions” parties off the ground. At the same location where Kompakt’s “Total Confusion” nights used to take place, spontaneously announced raves are drawing in a young audience open to a sound spectrum covering house, EBM and techno. With parties like “Rise & Kickin” and “Isolation”, they’re meanwhile coming together for Fridays at the Studio. But as similar as the parties are, they all have their own individual flavour. And just like the resident DJs, the average age of the partygoers is under 30.
Another two DJs, who come from the same scene but move slightly outside of the classic Cologne techno networks, have been causing quite a sensation for a while now: DJ Brom and Jondo. Both in their mid-20s, they enjoy DJing together and have managed to amass their very own fan community, which has meanwhile gained Jondo his own show on the English internet radio station NTS. There, and also on the decks in clubs, he plays music that oscillates between electro and breakbeat. DJ Brom isn’t just known as an excellent DJ, but also as a booker. Mostly in independent venues, he has worked with changing crews over the last few years to hold DIY parties like “Polar”, “K5” and currently “Good News.”
Cologne reconciles straight-up techno with experimentalism
“Do-it-yourself” is also the approach of Meryem Erkus and Nicole Wegner. They both made a name for themselves at the independently-run venues Baustelle Kalk and Gold+Beton, where they mix concerts with exhibitions, readings and parties, and meanwhile have their own club night at Stadtgarten with the illustrious name “Sounds Wrong, Feels Right”. The aim of the parties and concerts is to bring together two or more musical elements to create new contexts where noise rock meets hip-hop and experimental techno.
And this is how a new “Sound of Cologne” is gradually developing — one that has managed to reconcile straightup techno beats with the city’s more experimental traditions of krautrock, Stockhausen and A-Musik.
(by Lennard Itzler)