Tresor: The Components behind Techno's most Iconic Club

Words by: Stephen Flynn
Posted: 15/11/11 10:02

Dimitri Hegemann: The FounderThere are few clubs as embedded in techno’s history as Berlin’s Tresor. Opened in early 1991 just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it soon became a magnet for those seeking the escapist, futuristic sounds that mirrored the unification of the city.

With a reputation that soon preceded its humble beginnings, the club organically grew; in the process encompassing one of the globe’s most influential techno-oriented record labels.

Over the past two decades the styles and sounds have changed, the BPM’s have slowed down and the club has since switched venue, yet regardless, its legacy and reputation still remains very much intact: a fact portrayed with typical ease on Mike Huckaby’s Tresor Records: 20th Anniversary Mix.

For our latest Access All Areas feature, I-Voice goes behind the scenes with some of Tresor’s most prominent past and present figures, in the process uncovering the story behind one of the world’s most iconic nightspots.....

Dimitri Hegemann:  Founder
How did you first become involved in the dance music industry, and why did you decide to open Tresor?
At the end of the late 80's I was shocked and surprised by the Acid House sounds emitting from Ibiza and the UK. Later on I listened to Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body" and BamBam, two Chicago artists. However, I preferred the harder sounds that were later called techno, the type of which came from Detroit. Together with my friend Achim K I started a record label - with releases by Clock DVA from Sheffield and Final Cut from Detroit - but we couldn't find a stage or indeed a place where people could listen to this new music regularly. That's why we opened a club. First there was the UFO in West Berlin, and after the wall came down we found this incredible and magic space: The Tresor.

Are you still actively involved in the club? If so, what is your role on a day-to-day basis and how has it changed over the years?
Well my role has changed a lot, put it that way. The club is now run by a young team. But I try my best to keep the "true spirit" alive in the club. Today, techno is a serious economic factor in Berlin. There is big competition among a lot of clubs, just like there is in normal business life. The early years are over, but the nights are still exciting. And Berlin is special. Be careful if you enter the Berlin Night: You will like it so much!

The early years are over, but the nights are still exciting. And Berlin is special. Be careful if you enter the Berlin night: You will like it so much!...Much is made of how the club arrived “at the right place at the right time”, just after the collapse of the Berlin wall: at a time when Berliners looked to clubs as an outlet; a place for their own unification if you will. Why do you think clubs such as Tresor resonated with them?
Tresor is the cradle of this movement: when the wall came down, there was a lot of empty space located in the eastern Berlin. The atmosphere surrounding the reunion was one of joy, happiness and historical significance and in the heart of the city we found this vault that was located between the two infamous walls. The Tresor offered a new sound that had never been played before - I mean really new - and the space was magic. This space offered a new quality of celebrating a party. Kids from East-Berlin and West-Berlin came together and danced into a new age of electronic music. The rest, is as they say, history.

What has been the single biggest challenge you've faced in 20 years?
The biggest challenge was the move of the club in 2005.

What do you say to those who say the club “died” when it moved premises in 2005?
They are right in one way. The old location, this great space, when it closed its doors forever the first chapter was over, but the spirit lives on.

What single achievement are you most proud of with Tresor?
I took a chance, hoping to raise attention for the Detroit techno scene when the movement started in 1990. I'm also very proud of keeping Tresor alive after all these years.

What's your take on Berlin's selective door policy? Was it like that when you started out with Tresor?
No, it was far friendly and easier. In fact, I really do not like the selective door policies that have taken over Berlin clubs. If I go into a nice restaurant or to a bar or movies, there in never anybody at the door selecting who enters. In the early 90's we had one guy at the door and he was special. They called him Felsen. One of his many interests was shoes. He just knew who wore what shoes and their owners. An unusual tactic yes, but it worked perfectly!

Could a club like Tresor actually exist outside of Berlin?
Yes, I think The Tresor could exist in all big cities, if the right building - “the magic ruin” - is available. Tresor could exist everywhere because everywhere in the world, young people have a desire to break through and find their own ways in their own world - at least for a few years. It´s all about sharing.

Diana Alagic: The Booking AgentDiana Alagic:  Booking Agent
For how long have you been working with Tresor, and how has your day-to-day job changed in recent times?
I've been involved with the club for 3 years now, but before this I was already working for various other clubs here in Berlin.

In the beginning I was responsible for all the marketing and press relations for Tresor, and it was during this period that my love of electronic music blossomed further.

The more I understood it, the more I appreciated its delicate nature any many unexpected nuances. So more and more I started dedicating my work to booking artists. When my predecessor left in June 2010, I took over the role with my partner Alex, and I haven't looked back since.

Most clubs have a shelf life of between what, two and five years? How difficult is it to stay relevant in a music scene that's constantly in flux?
Well one the main advantages of Tresor is its age. It's one of the oldest techno clubs in the world and Tresor Records is also well known on a global scale.

Every couple of years a new generation of fans enter the scene. For them, it's important to visit the “cradle” of all clubs. Tresor has always stays true to its roots, and I honestly believe that's why it's still so popular.

What are the major challenges in your job? Are these ones that extend to the entire music industry?
The biggest challenge in my job is to balance the madness of my office work with the nightlife culture. It's also important to keep a neutral view on the current music business.

How does a typical day pan out for you?
My days vary, but usually start with the answering of about a hundred emails. Then there are the phone calls and meetings. How an event is organised is crucial to how a club is run. That though, is not the only place where great ideas are conceived. In fact, the best concepts are often created in my private time or at home after a couple of drinks at the bar.

In a techno-obsessed city such as Berlin, how challenging is it to keep your line-ups both fresh and interesting?
We have a clear picture of what shall happen at Tresor. Every club in Berlin has its own, lets say “individual style”, and their own direction and focus. Tresor is no different, but we can't give too much away!

Do you feel a responsibility to the city's clubbers and the club's history at all? Can that weigh on your shoulders occasionally?
I have a strong awareness of the spirit of Berlin club culture and especially for the history of Tresor. Does it weigh on my shoulders? Not so much.

How pivotal is a club's relationship with the Dj's and live acts that play there? How are your residents chosen?
The most important aspect for us is ensuring that all the artists feel comfortable in the club. A respectful and harmonious environment is the source of good event. Resident wise, they have to fit into the club concept and understand what we are trying to achieve – fortunately, they always do.

Does working in the industry affect your enthusiasm of the music and the scene at all?
My passion towards the music and its culture is pivotal to my work. The day I lose my passion is the day I need a new job!

So what do you think you’d be doing were you not involved in the music industry?
I've never actually thought about it. I had always a strong commitment to the music industry.

Carola Stoiber: The Record label and Brand ManagerCarola Stoiber: Record label and Brand Manager
What is it exactly that you do?
I've taken care of Tresor Records for the past 20 years. In that time, I've worked with the best DJs and producers from around the world, releasing their records and working and meeting dedicated and passionate people.

In many ways, the label is as influential as the club. Must the label's bookings reflect what's being played at the club?
There´s no “must” behind it, no. Tresor was the first club in the world that had a record label connected with it from the very beginning, so it all happened very organically. The dancefloor was - and is - right there.

White labels were tested there, whereas nowadays mp3´s are played to check the reactions of the crowd. The label found DJs and producers playing at the club and signed them, and artists signed to the label were invited to play.

It all belongs together. It´s the so called “snowball effect” based on the community of artists, staff and fans that all love the Tresor sound.

Why does a club like Tresor need a foreign agenda?
The electronic scene is international, Berlin is international. Back in the day, it was all about unifying lovers of electronic music. There's no border for techno fans, from Detroit to Berlin via Frankfurt to London and back, they're truly a global force.

For me, there's no difference between "foreign" or resident. All Dj's and producers are important. What's most crucial is the quality of the music.

Do you ever worry such a move could be deemed as “selling out” on a global scale?
No, not at all, and it's an issue that's always been discussed during techno's history. If some Djs, clubs, events or labels went more commercial: people screamed: “sell out, sell out”.

Of course, that´s a normal development in music scenes: regardless of the genre. That created the next underground movement with new sounds, and forced artists to decide what direction they wanted to go in. Overground or Underground? There´s enough space for all.

Can the Tresor vibe ever actually be adequately replicated in a foreign venue?
Tresor in Berlin is unique, but you can certainly transfer the atmosphere (through its unique sound and lights) to other places.

As someone who brings Tresor abroad, what's your own take on tourists in Berlin clubs?
We are all Techno tourists.


TOFA: Lights, Visual and Design ExpertTOFA: Lights, Visual and Design Expert
How did you become involved in design and lighting etc? And how did you merge that with electronic music?
I started crafting visuals for drum and bass parties back in 1999 after I was involved with extreme sports films and urban arts. So one thing came to the other and when I bumped into the lighting Crew at Tresor in 2007, everything just matched. I instantly joined forces with The Core, our in-house lighting, visual and design crew.

Were you involved with the original Tresor, either as a visitor or designer?
As a listener only. Unfortunately I didn´t live in Berlin back then, but I had a couple of old Tresor Records from the 90's – and I still have them!

How similar is the current Tresor to the original? How important was it to create a similar vibe while staying true to the original's legacy?
It’s different, but also somehow the same. There´s a new generation here now, but you can develop on that. They're all still fascinated by the club's industrial look, the old vault etc. The current club is unbelievable, but it's also a bit like comparing your first car with a Ferrari – whatever happens, the Ferrari will always be better.

Has the move benefited you from a design perspective?
The new venue is nearly 70% bigger and is an endless playground for design and visual solutions. When you´re done with one project, you can be sure that the next thing is just waiting to be conquered, so from my own point of view, it's a very dynamic and interesting place to work.

How key do you feel a club's design/layout/lighting structure is?
A clubs´ design and appearance is essential for the trip that you send the audience on. It´s the same with graphic and lighting design. People should experience things that burn instantly on the scratch of their eyes so they instantly and directly know that they're in Tresor.

Like the Dj booth on the same level as the clubbers for instance...
In general, I think people love to admire the artist when they're Dj'ing. As long as the music is kicking, the placement of artists is secondary, but at the same time it's still essential. But it also depends on the artists: namely how much they can embrace the audience by spell-bounding them with their show. I'll say this much though: Stage-diving is wrong!

The club is almost as renowned for its dark décor and uncompromising aesthetic as it is its underground music. Why do you think such a look is now commonplace in the global electronic music scene?
The longer you are involved in the scene, the more important it becomes to stay within your roots. The music industry works in waves, and once you are well-known for a certain style that fits what you're trying to portray, you're best to stick to that formula. Be a leading opinion maker and others will follow, but it's important to remember that there's only one original.

To many, Tresor represents a sort of dark, scary environment, a fact perhaps not helped by its imposing tunnels and aforementioned industrial structure. How do you explain to people (particularly those who aren't that in to clubbing) that it's actually the very antithesis?
We offer a multiple experience to anyone who doesn't believe that something like this can exist. It´s not scary at all: yes, it's raw and industrial, but essentially it's a place you either love or you don´t. It's an outstanding trip on unique level, and one everyone should experience once.

So have you a word of warning to these people who enter Tresor for the first time? Or is it a shock to even the most ardent clubber?
If it's too out of control for you, you'd be better staying home. If you love to experience something special, then this is the place to be.

Tresor 20th Anniversary Mixed by Mike Huckaby Tresor Records 20th Anniversary
Mixed by Mike Huckaby

Tracklist :
01. Surgeon – Remnants Of What Once Was
02. Bam Bam – Where’s Your Child - Dj Rush Remix
03. Robert Hood – Master Builder
04. Mike Huckaby – The Tresor Track
05. Cisco Ferreira – Womans Scent - Hertz Rmx
06. Cristian Vogel – Absolute Time
07. Joey Beltram – Ball Park
08. Joey Beltram – Game Form – Mike Dearborn Remix
09. Joey Beltram – Game Form – Original Mix
10. Joey Beltram – Instant
11. Bam Bam – Give It To Me
12. Bam Bam – Where's Your Child – Original Mix
13. Surgeon – Returning To The Purity Of Current
14. Jeff Mills – Late Night
15. Robert Hood – Minus
16. Robert Hood – The Core
17. Joey Beltram – Instant - Paul Johnson Remix
18. Drexciya – Devil Ray Cove
19. Drexciya – Under Sea Disturbances
20. Drexciya – Digital Tsunami
21. Robert Hood – Chase
22. Surgeon – Black Jackal Throwbacks

Tresor Berlin
Köpenicker Straße 70 10179 Berlin, Germany
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