A label truly worth celebrating marks its fifth anniversary in style.
Chris Power 2010
Like Ibiza’s Amnesia and Manchester’s Haçienda in the 1980s, or Berlin’s Tresor and New York’s Twilo in the 1990s, Berghain and Panorama Bar – both of which occupy the same former power plant on the border of the Berlin neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Freidrichshain – are clubs which, over the last six years, have come to possess an aura and relevance extending far beyond the poured concrete floors, steel staircases and exposed-brick warrens of their interiors.
Some say they’re already on the wane, and that the innovations of Berghain’s affiliated record label, Ostgut Ton, have been diluted by an outpouring of lesser reproductions of Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann’s style of bleak but hedonistic techno. Even Shed, whose albums are released on Ostgut, said in a recent interview that in a year, "[n]o one will want to listen anymore to any Berghain or Panorama Bar DJs, because they’re playing everywhere at the moment. I think it’s a bit too much".
No one club or sound is preponderant for longer than a few years, and the lapse between domination and demise can be brief, but if this club and label are dead they certainly aren’t acting like it. Ostgut releases continue to be of a consistently high standard, and Fünf (‘Five’), a two-CD compilation of new material celebrating the label’s fifth anniversary, is exceptional. Aside from the contributing artists all being club residents and regulars, the conceit that binds the album is that every track is, to a greater or lesser extent, constructed from field recordings made in Berghain and Panorama Bar. Thus, rather than just trading on a name and exporting a sound, Fünf weaves the building itself – which, in its imposing austerity, is an important part of the Ostgut aesthetic – into the album.
And what an album. From the old-school 808 drum-fills and relentlessly delayed bassline of Panorama Bar resident Boris’ Rem to the weakly ringing bells and deeply cushioned kick of Marcel Dettmann’s Scourer, the retro squat-party acid of Len Faki’s Kraft und Licht and the rubbery convolutions of Luke Slater’s Boom Tang Shwuck, Fünf contains some outstanding techno. Belters aside, the album also puts the lie to the wrongheaded idea that Ostgut Ton is monotone. Label boss Nick Höppner lays compact, slapped congas over gusting synth textures on ISP; Never Give Up on a Mood Swing sees Cassy exploring vocal loops and rich deep house textures; on Norman Nodge’s Start Up an attenuated beat skips through snatches of orchestra tunings: clarinet trills, kettle drum booms and desultory runs along a piano’s keyboard. The ability to make these confident digressions away from the crumbling concrete techno at its core makes Ostgut Ton a label truly worth celebrating.