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Veedelclub | Photo: Daniel Koch
Veedelclub | Photo: Daniel Koch

The beats of the world

created by Lennard Itzler | |   music

Cologne’s electronic club scene embraces the city’s diversity

A younger scene has reimagined the “sound of Cologne”

What does the “sound of Cologne” actually sound like? For a long time, the answer was simple: it has a straight-up bass drum and can be heard in Cologne’s techno and house clubs. But in the last few years, a new scene has emerged in Cologne that has its ear to the global beats of the world.

Acephale | Photo: David KilagoezAcephale next to Cologne-South train station could be described as something like the living room of the scene. In the last two years new owner Dima Oboukhov has shifted the focus onto the music in this former student bar. Concerts regularly take place here and Acephale encourages its DJs to play a wide spectrum of tunes. The weekend begins on Thursday night: “Siamo Sempre Insieme” by the two DJs Alex Tackenberg and Martin Simonis is eclectic, wild and timeless. Most of their music dates from 1975 to 1995. From German-speaking wave to Italian proto-disco and exotica, partygoers can dance to fun tracks that are rarely heard in other clubs. And the pair often invites one or two DJs from Cologne or its local surroundings to join them.

The rest of the weekend continues in much the same way. DJs from the Salon des Amateurs club in Düsseldorf are welcome guests at Acephale, where they spin disco-house, obscure or ambient techno, but sometimes also dub or dancehall. It’s all about being open here: guests from the Benelux countries or Austria add variety and a midnight jam or live set could be included in the line-up at any time. The crowd is always ready to dance, friendly and up for a great night. This has a lot to do with the great mix of all age brackets and professions. At Acephale, you’ll see silver-haired academics dancing next to sixth formers.

Just a hundred metres away, at the Veedelclub, genre boundaries are also blurred. Out of all the club’s many party nights, Sgubhu really stands out. Sgubhu is Zulu for “drum”: the eponymous party is Cologne’s only afro-house club night and a new addition to the city’s clubbing scene. In the Veedelclub’s modern-looking wood and concrete interior, the atmosphere at Sgubhu quickly reaches fever pitch. Pop by Ed Sheeran and Drake is played along with pop music from Africa, but the main aim of Sgubhu is to celebrate original South African dance styles: Kwaito, a kind of electro from the townships around Johannesburg and Gqom, a dark, minimalistic variation of deep house, which is currently conquering the world from Durban. The organiser of the Sgubhu night is Jonny Mtsamay and you’ll also see him behind the decks. Perfection isn’t the most important element of his mixes, he’s more interested in whipping the crowd up into a frenzy. Far from übertrendy and standoffish, expats and people with an African and South American background in particular seem to gravitate to this event. Despite this, the Sgubhu party isn’t just trying to replicate the South African pop music vibe in Cologne but has managed to remain authentic —despite there being thousands of kilometres between Germany and the former apartheid state.

Closing hours in Cologne are pretty lax

Roxy | Photo: Marcel WurmWhile Sgubhu is a new recruit to the Cologne club scene, Roxy is an integral part of the history of its nightlife. Closing hours in Cologne are pretty lax. Officially, parties should end between five and six o’clock in the morning, but if a night spot wants to stay open for longer, they can usually manage to persuade the authorities. But up until the nineties, that wasn’t the case: most clubs and bars had to close at one or three o’clock in the morning. One of the few exceptions was Roxy, which first opened its doors in 1983 — on Aachener Strasse, right next to Rudolfplatz. For years this was the preferred hangout of night owls who weren’t ready to go home (or perhaps had no home to go to): the bar counted (petty) criminals, drunks and lonely hearts among its regulars. The music was mediocre, the air always stifling. Most of these things have meanwhile changed, but the air inside continues to be just as stuffy as it always was — especially on the SKRT nights. Once a month in the newly renovated Roxy, five guys from the hip-hop scene come together to celebrate one of the hottest dates on Cologne’s clubbing calendar. SKRT is a well-known adlib from the cloud rap and trap scene and it is precisely these two hip-hop genres that make up the DJ sets by Lil’ Chungy, WinneOneTwo, Adey, Cortez and Almighty. The night attracts a young crowd with under-20s being the average age group. SKRT feels a bit like a high school party from Hollywood movies where no one takes themselves too seriously. Here it’s all about having fun. The boundaries between DJ and live set are often blurred and there’s always time for some spontaneous rapping. Guest DJs are always welcome, such as Austrian DJ and producer Wandl.

Just like the city itself, the “sound of Cologne” is constantly changing. Cologne is one of the most multicultural cities in Germany — and its electronic music scene truly has its ear to the global beats of the world.

Acephale, Luxemburger Str. 46, 50674 Cologne

Veedelclub, Luxemburger Str. 37, 50674 Cologne

Roxy, Aachener Str. 2, 50674 Cologne

(by Lennard Itzler)