Marcel Dettmann & Ben Klock: The DJs of Berghain

There are many reasons why Berghain is now considered the best club in the world. One factor is its music—hard, uncompromising techno. What's behind this sound, and why was it only achievable in Berghain?

GROOVE Magazin Berlin

Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann by Dirk MertenGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Berghain brought about a new techno style in the second half of the 2000s, and nobody has shaped this sound quite like Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock. And it's because of the individual talent of both musicians.

Ben Klock by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The unique Berghain status is just as important. Nick Höppner, currently responsible for the Berghain label Ostgut Ton, comments: "The tracks show that this is something all our own. You can't accuse any of the techno records of being influenced by something else currently going on elsewhere."

Marcel Dettmann by Groove ArchiveGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The music comes from an awareness of the experience of the nineties. But it's anything but nostalgic. It doesn't long to go back to the past. With its dark sound and reduced tempo, it incorporates the developments of later years. 

Ben Klock by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

At the same time it also unleashes a rawness and vitality that you can barely imagine being a product of another club. Höppner states: "The core artists identify a lot with the venue, and it's inevitable that it would develop across this space. Records are tested and played here. It serves as a reference."

Marcel Dettmann by Groove ArchiveGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Marcel Dettmann adds: "All the artists on the label are pretty deeply rooted in it. It goes back to the eighties. For me it's about Robert Hood, Planetary Assault System, and Joey Beltram. But we're completely reinterpreting this music." Höppner says: "It's not a full-on old-school throwback but an idealistic vision of it."

Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann by Dirk MertenGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Dettmann and Klock have two very different Berlin techno backgrounds. Klock, born in 1961, grew up with the club music of the nineties, just like Dettmann who was born in 1977. Klock comes from the West Berlin district of Schöneberg and was a jazz pianist and songwriter. He became familiar with house and techno at the Berlin-Mitte clubs.

Marcel Dettmann by Groove ArchiveGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Dettmann was socialized in the very specific East German techno scene. He grew up in a prefab building area in Fürstenwalde 30 miles from Berlin. Before reunification he was a Depeche Mode fan: "In the German Democratic Republic, music was a means of escape. Now there's yoga."

Marcel Dettmann by Lisa Swarna KhannaGROOVE Magazin Berlin

In 1992, techno arrived at Fürstenwalde. The connection between its rebellion against all other known music at the time and its futuristic sound awakened something in him that still takes hold today. The first Jeff Mills records Dettmann heard at 16 sounded strange and mind-boggling.

Marcel Dettmann by Lisa Swarna KhannaGROOVE Magazin Berlin

"I felt like I was in the future. It was the best movie I could never see. Now, of course, music is perceived a lot differently." At 16, instead of a moped, Dettmann bought two record players. He played at his own parties in Dresden and Frankfurt (Oder).

Marcel Dettmann by Sven MarquardtGROOVE Magazin Berlin

A friend handed in a cassette at Ostgut, the predecessor to Berghain, without him knowing. A little while later, one of the creators of the club called. In six months he was a resident DJ. Since he was a teenager Dettmann has been certain that music is his life's mission.

Marcel Dettmann by Sven MarquardtGROOVE Magazin Berlin

He dropped out of school, and in 1996 he started running a small record shop from home which had a steady stream of customers. He later worked at a record store and for a distributor, and at the techno institution Hard Wax from 2004.

Marcel Dettmann by Groove ArchiveGROOVE Magazin Berlin

"I've always wanted to do what I do today. I never had the discipline to get involved with something that didn't interest me. If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't have become who I am today. Naturally there's a certain amount of perseverance involved."

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Dettmann first started doing his own productions in 2006. "The bass drum of a track is a reflection of the artist. Techno is a loop for me. But it's only when I can hear a loop for five or six hours that I take it in.

Marcel Dettmann by Lisa Swarna KhannaGROOVE Magazin Berlin

"If I have to add a melody five minutes into a track then the sound is terrible. In that case I start something new, or I go to sleep." 

Marcel Dettmann by Sven MarquardtGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The influence of the Hard Wax school can be seen in Dettmann's cautious and analytical sound editing method. "The music can only be futuristic and reflective when it's darker. Positive music is often dated. I stick to dark sounds."

Ben Klock by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Ben Klock shares the title with Dettmann for the king of roughness. His tracks, however, are more refined and often have a melody floating around somewhere. Klock has a larger stylistic spectrum. Klock precisely works out the tension between individual tracks. Either the new record makes the dynamics of the previous track more intense—or it breaks with it.

Ben Klock by Raphael Maxim GuillouGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Ben Klock comments: "I think it's exciting, when arranging music in a set, if you use music that's essential for a certain set, regardless of whether it's an overplayed hit or an old unknown record. Instead of going from record to record you can also have a bit of Daft Punk."

Ben Klock by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

The connections are more important than the individual parts. This composer-like approach to DJing goes back to his youth. Klock was seriously considering becoming a jazz pianist. After studying piano for hours on end on the grand piano at the University of the Arts, he realized that for him it was more important to connect individual elements than practice an instrument to perfection.

Ben Klock by Raphael Maxim GuillouGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Dettmann embodies the East German techno upbringing, Klock the West Berlin perspective: Klock grew up in the Schöneberg district of Berlin where the music didn't fire anyone up like in Fürstenwalde. "The change to electronic music also meant a change to another scene."

Ben Klock by Romeo AllaefGROOVE Magazin Berlin

People before didn't experience essential club moments—moments where you realize that that's what it's all about. Many found techno dull and primitive. For me, the nineties were a time of awakening. The eighties stood for pop, for superficial music. When I went deeper into the nitty-gritty, I found it great that the music got more intense and full-bodied.

Ben Klock by Joachim GernGROOVE Magazin Berlin

A key experience for Klock were the The Power of the Night (Die Macht der Nacht) parties with Kid Paul in the late eighties. Over the following years he started to make headway in his second job as a graphics designer, and the Berlin club culture of that time surfaced. Jungle reawakened his interest in club music, and he soon found the linear club sound in Tresor or WMF to be more intense.

Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann by Dirk MertenGROOVE Magazin Berlin

In 1994, he started DJing at the Delicious Doughnuts house: "At the time my sets were mellow. They became more and more energetic over time. This stretches right up to Berghain. The architecture, the sound, it's exactly how music's meant to be. The puzzle pieces finally fit together. When I played there for the first time I took a lot of records with me that I couldn't play anywhere else, and all of them worked bar none."

Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann - Dawning EP Cover by Peter Knoch & EtimanGROOVE Magazin Berlin

In contrast to Dettmann, Klock was already releasing records in the late nineties. Rare traces of organic musical moments can be felt in tracks that bring about a powerful groove. The tracks always test out what the greatest possible suspense is between the individual elements.

Ben Klock by Joachim GernGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Despite its global success, Berghain has always been an anchor: "Fly across the world and the parties are always just okay. Playing once a month in Berghain is important for me. It's my personal playground where I can do what I want. It spurs me on," says Dettmann. Klock adds: "Because I'm there once a month, I can also have great club experiences elsewhere where the sound isn't as good."

Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann auf dem Free Your Mind Festival 2006 by J-LoGROOVE Magazin Berlin

In talks between the two about new records, they focus on the exciting aspects of the songs—or weak sections of the tracks. The comments clearly show the deep and thorough understanding of club music that the both of them share. It's always about gleaning the specific musical essentials of techno from the trials and tribulations of sound styles.

Ben Klock by Jimmy MouldGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Dettmann and Klock meet out of their fondness for punk-like bare bones tracks which give the DJs plenty of freedom. Both of them distrust the current trend to overproduce—the tendency to arrange tracks like songs. Dettmann's rejection of all kinds of trance moments is Klock's refusal to adopt a carefully composed house sound with typical tones.

Ben Klock & Marcel Dettmann by Groove ArchivGROOVE Magazin Berlin

Despite this shared ground there are huge opposites. Klock faces a sound created by Dettman's analytical techno school background with traces of African-American funk music. Klock states: "There are moments when we're alike. But they're outweighed by our differences. Marcel doesn't play any records that sound too musical." Dettmann responds: "I'm more subtle. Ben also likes to stick in a melody. He's been trained in classical piano."

Credits: Story

Text: Alexis Waltz

Credits: All media
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