Berlin’s riverside Watergate club celebrated its 10th birthday last year, and a decade after it opened its doors, it’s still arguably one of the world’s most iconic and beautiful clubs. Starting with the amazing setting; its characteristic LED lighting panels span the entire length of the upstairs main dancefloor, while downstairs you’ll find floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out onto the River Spree, which makes for some spectacular early-morning sunrises. Add in the outdoor terrace during the summer months, and it’s truly one of the world’s most gorgeous clubs.
However, it’s been Watergate’s music policy that has really established it as a world-class space for club culture, week in week out hosting some of house and techno’s most formidable names. Several years ago, Watergate Records was established to reflect the quality of the club’s bookings via a record label.
Starting off as a series of mix compilations headed by the club’s regular DJ heavies like Solomun, Ellen Allien and Tiefschwarz, and supported by some particularly impressive artwork, the label has recently extended its reach to become a platform for its up-and-coming DJ/producer residents like Ruede Hagelstein and La Fleur.
“We’re linking all aspects of Watergate together for the best possible result,” Alex Knoblauch from Watergate Records told I Voice this week. “Having a club like Watergate for a label is an amazing thing, and of course we’re testing our music here, running release parties in the venue and getting feedback to our work that could not be any more direct. At the same time, our agency is booking release tours for the artists we’re working with, and we’re able to include our roster in special events like our parties at Sonar, the open airs in Berlin, and so on”.
Another one of those special ‘radar’ events will be taking place later this week as part of ADE in Amsterdam, when the Watergate X Suol party hits Studio 80 and will see the label showcasing some of its artists along fellow Berlin imprint Suol Records. As the party draws close, I Voice checked in to have a look at the bigger picture of Watergate Records.
It’s been around 5 years since the first release on Watergate Records, the ‘Watergate 01’ compilation from Onur Özer. What’s the story behind the formation of the label?
In 2008 we thought it was about time to reflect what we were doing with a record label. Since Watergate is the source of such fantastic performances from such a big range of DJs and live acts, it was just the next step to take this music to people who might not necessarily go to clubs or be able to visit Watergate.
Now, a few years later, we’re extending the label with releases beyond the compilations. A new series of EPs, with the first to come from Lee Jones, La Fleur and Marco Resmann, plus our first artist albums from 2014 which we’re very excited about!
The Watergate ‘identity’ is something that stretches beyond just the club, and the label is a good example of this. How would you describe the Watergate identity, and how does this carry across to the artists and releases that are showcased on the label?
I think it is difficult to describe your own identity, since this is something that is less so planned, but more so naturally grown. We’re trying to transport a certain musical style within a genre that funnily enough is called EDM these days.
Due to the nature of the club and the label, we’re reflecting our artists and vice versa. The club and label are working hand in hand, and it wouldn’t make sense for us any other way.
It seems there’s three different elements to Watergate; the club, the label and the artist agency. Tell us a little bit about the important players behind the scenes at the label.
The label itself is just run by one person, but of course with the backing and input of all other ‘players’ of the Watergate complex. The booking for both the club and the events outside of the venue, our agency, art directors, artists and of course the head honcho, we team for a very democratic approach to things. That’s at the same time both a blessing and a curse, but in the end the results count, and it’s something we’re very happy; with yet never enough.
The big release for the label last year was ‘Watergate X’, to celebrate the club’s 10th anniversary; and it was a hugely comprehensive collection, in terms of the artists featured. What are some of the challenges in pulling together a release like that?
The Watergate X compilation was by far the biggest project of the label so far. A box set with a complex packaging containing three vinyls, two CDs, a Watergate movie DVD, a photo book and more kept us busy for a fair amount of time.
Speaking to 30 different artists, realizing the Watergate documentary movie, putting together historic photo material for the book, and having everything ready in time, it kept us from sleeping for a couple of weeks, if not months. Keep in mind the basic democratic approach mentioned above!
So far in 2013 the label has released singles and EPs from the likes of Henrik Schwarz, Ruede Hagelstein and Lee Jones; they’re all artists who are regulars at the club. Share with us some of the details of what goes into deciding releases for the label.
We’re only working with artists who have a strong connection to the club, and also identify themselves with Watergate. All of the mentioned above are playing at the club since many years, and can look back to a solid history with Watergate.
For the EPs and compilations we’re trying to keep it balanced between up and coming artists and the established big players of the scene. Our back catalogue showcases artists like Solomun, Ellen Allien, Tiefschwarz, Lee Curtiss, dOP, Sebo K, as well as introducing younger acts like Ruede Hagelstein, Marco Resmann and La Fleur.
Your latest release is from La Fleur, a Berlin DJ who has also recently joined your booking agency. Are there a lot of opportunities for synergy between the club, the agency and the label, in terms of cultivating new talent?
Absolutely. As already mentioned, we’re utilising all of our entities in order to achieve the best possible result for the artist. La Fleur is a good example, since she just joined the agency, became a resident in the club and released her first EP on Watergate Records, which pretty much went through the roof. That’s again helping the agency and all together to lay the cornerstone for an artist’s career. It’s very promising.
Watergate Records has stated that it puts the focus “not only on the music but also on the packaging and design”. Beautiful artwork is definitely a memorable element of many of the Watergate releases; what informs and inspires the artwork?
We’re very happy to work with the Berlin-based illustrator Frank Höhne, and our art director Alexander Seeberg-Elverfed who came up with the original artwork ideas. The feedback to these covers was immense, so we kept the style but developed it further and further with each new release. A few releases ago we changed the motives of the covers from birds, to underwater animals, which is giving us again a huge choice of creatures that we can use for upcoming releases. It’s a strong identity that we’re also using for the release parties and tours, as well as online and for branding in the club, merchandise and otherwise.
Watergate Records began operating in a music industry that had been well and truly transformed by digital distribution. Do you feel this gives you an advantage at all, having launched in this environment, or do you feel it’s tougher to get noticed these days?
We began when this transformation had mostly already been completed, so we’ve only known things since the new age of music distribution. We’re performing very well digitally, but we’re also experiencing demand for our physical format, so we’re still covering both areas.
What’s planned for the label in the next 12 months?
We don’t want to reveal too much, but in the pipeline currently we’ve got our upcoming compilation mixed from Kerri Chandler, new EPs from Mathias Kaden, Marco Resmann and Matthias Meyer, plus some very special remixes as always. And that’s not to forget a series of artists albums that will start in the middle of 2014.
Address: Falckensteinstr. 49 10997 Berlin
WG014 - Watergate 14 Mixed by Mathias Kaden
WGVINYL013 - La Fleur - Nightflow EP
WGVINYL012 - Lee Jones - A Perfect Kick EP
WGVINYL011 - Ruede Hagelstein - Mr. Parrotfish EP
WG015 - Watergate 15 Mixed by Kerri Chandler
Marco Resmann, Ruede Hagelstein, La Fleur, Matthias Meyer, Lee Jones, Daria, Stassy, Sebastian Wilck, Robin Drimalski, Metro & Henrik Bertsch