United on Hamburg's Dancefloors

You Could Just Hear the Guests Screaming and Partying the Whole Time

Golden Pudel Club, Hamburg, Sommer 2018 by Katja RugeInstitute for Sound and Music

The gay house disco club Front and the anarchic Golden Pudel Club share the same open-minded club culture: fluid musical and social boundaries, an undogmatic approach to other people (door policy) and clear sociopolitical values on and off the dance floor.

And Front and the Golden Pudel Club have something else in common that is rather more bizarre. Both clubs have close associations with food supplies in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. While Front used to occupy a former Nazi-era food authority building in the Hammerbrook district between 1983 and 1997, the Golden Pudel Club—first founded in the Schanze district in 1988—has been located since 1995 at the bottom end of St. Pauli, next to Hamburg's fish market and in the premises of a former smugglers' prison.

Today: Shake, Back Then: FRONTInstitute for Sound and Music

"Front was simply different from other clubs and discos. Whereas elsewhere, feuds and disputes would break out before people even reached the disco, i.e. the focus was on confrontation, Front was a place for love," says Boris Dlugosch, who followed the fortunes of the club for 12 years altogether—including about 10 as the resident DJ.

Many of today's legendary clubs are distinguished by having set themselves up in a place that wasn't a cultural venue before—in a power station or an abattoir or under a railway arch, all kinds of places. That makes it easy to start telling their own story. Front, on the other hand, was just one of many clubs on the same site, and, from the moment it opened, it needed to get away from the history of the place and assert its own identity.

Immediately after the Second World War, the Tangorett was the first club to move into the old Leder-Schüler building on the Heidenkampsweg, then from 1965 it was occupied by the no. 1 jazz institution in Hamburg, the Cotton Club, followed later by Danny’s Pan—until finally in 1983 Willi Prange and his partner Philipp Clarke took over the cellar premises. The break from the preceding clubs was clear even from the decor which was gray and austere, extremely modern.

Boris Dlugosch (2015) by Katja RugeInstitute for Sound and Music

A few neon lights, for a while visuals on screens (sometimes showing gay porn)—and that was it. The main event was the sound; and some odd moments: for example, the bar staff would periodically turn out the lights and stop work so they could go and dance for half an hour or so themselves. Anything was possible. While anyone could go in on Saturdays, on Fridays it was men only. On either night, you could be sure that the place would be literally throbbing.

It was the first club in Germany to dedicate itself entirely to the new house music that was just sweeping over from the States. Combined with occasional eccentricities and innovations, a sound was cultivated here that was ahead of its time in the early days—it invented, shaped, and defined modern, contemporary club culture. "The DJ would stand in a cockpit with darkened glass. You couldn't see what was going on beyond the record decks," says Dlugosch. "But you could hear the guests screaming and partying the whole time. Everyone had a good time together."

House-legend Frankie Knuckles and Boris Dlugosch at FRONTInstitute for Sound and Music

This shared experience was not simply hedonistic (and short-lived) in nature, but of enormous significance. Here at Front, a whole community of people was created for the first time that partied together—and then later suffered together. 

This was demonstrated most clearly when the AIDS virus began to claim its victims. "Solidarity events were very soon organized here—especially on December 1 (World AIDS Day), there were always parties." A point was made of never leaving anyone on their own. The concept of togetherness that was propagated in house music was put into practice here.

Golden Pudel Club, Flyer, Juli 2018Institute for Sound and Music

While Front was obviously a cultural venue for the gay scene in Hamburg, the roots of the Pudel Club (the adjective Golden was only added later) are to be found in the city's autonomous and punk scene. Yet the Pudel was very rarely dogmatic and also embraced electronic sounds relatively early on in its story.

What both clubs have in common is that they were larger than the sum of their individual members and protagonists—but some of those exerted an influence that would change the club forever. What DJs like Klaus Stockhausen and Boris Dlugosch were at Front, people like Dial Records owner Peter M. Kersten (aka Lawrence) and David Lieske were at the Golden Pudel Club, or the sound artist Nika Son and the all-round electronic music star Ralf Köster, who has been responsible for over two decades for the Sunday MFOC parties that are a hit as far away as Detroit.

Helena Hauff, Hamburg, 2015Institute for Sound and Music

Confident and self-assured, she operates on ever bigger stages and confronts the public with her dark, cryptic techno sets, often drawing on the history of electro and industrial. Her mixing style is characterized by a certain appealing roughness; where other DJs spend ages honing their transitions, she revels in skillful cutting—not least because that gives her more time to join in the dancing to her own sets. Helena Hauff says in an interview with Kaput—the magazine for Insolvency & Pop—that everywhere she goes in the world she is always asked about the Pudel. "The Pudel is a name that stands for something—I'm not sure exactly what, but people like to use it to categorize someone.

Hauff, who comes from Hamburg, is a relatively young representative of the club—but also one of the most well known; not least because she has enjoyed a rather special techno-Cinderella success story since gaining her first experience as a DJ at the Pudel. These days, Hauff is one of the most famous and frequently booked DJs in the world. The word has spread, from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, that she cares little about living up to expectations.

That's quite normal. People like to categorize things. What would you say otherwise? "There's a woman coming to play records for us who you've never heard of"? No, you say: "There's a woman coming who you've never heard of but she's a DJ at the Pudel." Sometimes it does get on her nerves a bit. People ask her how she came to be a resident DJ at the Pudel. That makes it sound like being the resident DJ at the Berghain club in Berlin. What they don't realize is that lots of people are DJs at the Pudel, you're just part of an ever-changing whole."

It is precisely this diversity, reflected on both sides of the DJ's console (which for many years was kept pretty rudimentary), that makes the Pudel a global phenomenon and a role model for a new generation of clubs that are experimenting with alternative club settings in Berlin, London, and San Francisco. Places where awareness and a safe space policy mean more than monetary success, where refugees and other marginalized groups can feel really included in the party, and even freaks are OK.

Helena Hauff im Golden Pudel Club, Hamburg, 2015Institute for Sound and Music

The Golden Pudel Club was invented on one long, well-lubricated night in 1988 by Rocko Schamoni and Schorsch Kamerun. It represents their faith in a milieu where cultural capital is valued more highly than economic wealth. The idea was never to run a conventional bar and club but rather to establish an artistic oasis where ideas and people could spark off one another and things would happen—most likely with no plan or objective.

So perhaps it's inevitable that this kind of approach is bound to run into a few problems over the years and decades. Recently, though, the problems have been so great that you could start to fear for the very existence of the Golden Pudel Club. First of all, a few years ago, there was a dispute between Wolf Richter and Rocko Schamoni, who had bought the property on the banks of the Elbe together in 2008, that went as far as the Hamburg Regional Court.

The Oberstübchen restaurant upstairs, which was intended to operate as a commercial business, and the real-life utopia of the Pudel had drifted further and further apart over the years. Their ideas about how to continue living and working at the property and what direction to move in had become irreconcilable. Then later, just when some kind of resolution appeared to be in sight, things got even worse. In the night from February 13–14, 2016, there was a fire at the Golden Pudel Club.

Golden Pudel Club, Hamburg, Sommer 2018Institute for Sound and Music

No one who saw the ruined Pudel after the fire would have bet a cent on it ever reopening. But the now ageing young people who had first set it up worked with a new generation of young people whose social lives had been based around the club, to rebuild it, literally like a phoenix from the ashes— supported by a wave of goodwill from Hamburg and the whole world. So it's only natural that the Pudel is now no longer run only by individual owners but by a collective. That offers protection from ups and downs in the market and keeps the program nicely unpredictable.

"The fact that the program is still written by multiple people is probably one of the reasons why, when you go for a night out at the Golden Pudel Club, you never know exactly what to expect," explains Phuong-Dan, who runs the monthly Gatto Musculoso events there. In an interview with Kaput—the magazine for Insolvency & Pop, he says: "At the Pudel, anything can happen. That has also affected the way that I play the music. There are no limits, just a craving for craziness. Lots of people don't have that kind of place to work in, they have to create it for themselves.

Equipment and drinks have to be carted around from place to place, a hire charge has to be paid to have this freedom to do things how you like. And it's all so temporary, it lasts no longer than that one night. The Pudel enables you to keep doing something which elsewhere is only possible with a great deal of effort. The infrastructure and the audience are always there—that's a tremendous luxury. It's a great gift, to have a place like that."

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps