Total Confusion was one of the oldest and most renowned electronic dance music nights in Cologne. Launched in July 1998 by the DJs Tobias Thomas and Michael Mayer (and therefor closely connected to KOMPAKT) and the the club's programme director Ralph Christoph, the event has been running without a significant break for over 16 years. From 1998 until 2006 it was a weekly night, shaping the city's nightlife and influenced a generation.
Confused happiness (2002-05) by Max GrönertKompakt
“It's about communication and love”
From 1998 to 2019, Studio 672 was one of Cologne’s most important and influential clubs. The party night and concert program, which was formally curated but also influenced by individual collectives and event organisers, was to acquire an outstanding reputation that reached far beyond the city itself.
Studio 672 would attract up to 200 people, or far more in the course of a Total Confusion night. In time, it became hard for people to navigate a path between the bar, the dance floor, and the stage. It was cramped, hot, and physically intense.
From the welcome at the door with the invariably lengthy guest list—supervised at the time by Cologne’s best doorwoman Andrea Nieswandt—it was then a case of passing the often already bulging cloakroom and disappearing into another, better world for a couple of hours at least. Everything played out on the same level, with no complications or hierarchy. There was a feeling of transcendence and a real sense of flow, both in terms of the music and between the people who were present.
Woman smoking (2004) by Daniel HerrmannKompakt
12 x 672
Daniel Herrmann and Tobias Thomas first met at the Robert Johnson club in Offenbach. Herrmann had already been working there as a house photographer and artist and was enthusiastic about the idea of continuing his unusual approach of capturing people and scenarios on camera during the night at Total Confusion in Cologne’s Studio 672.
Four images from 12 x 672
12 x 672
At first glance, the photographs by Daniel Herrmann look like snapshots or random moments and show nothing especially exciting. There are no wide shots of the kind you might associate with official club photos, neither of the dance floor, nor of the DJ, who only features at best as a (headless) body or hands on the turntable. Herrmann’s photos tend to show the space in between things, the transitory moment that actually seems to capture the present in all its essence. Just as the principle of identity at the club has given way to the principle of flow, constant change, and openness, the idea of an official club photo is also both an illusion and a fiction. Daniel Herrmann’s photographs actually work in reverse: no single photo presents a picture as such. The various photos only begin to form an overall visual impression in the eye of the beholder, which goes beyond the purely documentary and recalls the communal nature of the social and, above all, the musical experience, but without any feeling of completeness or closure. Because his images are also no more than hints, and rather than provide an insight into the past, they somehow exist outside of time and space, before the figures they depict disappear into the blackness of the night once more. (Michael Kerkmann)
Tobias Thomas has told the whole story of the project below, in his own words, in the foreword to 12 x 672 ...
The first monthly program flyer following the opening of the club and the first Total Confusion nights on July 1 and 3, 1998. »Fridays at Studio 672« became an absolute must for many who enjoyed Cologne’s nightlife around the end of the ‘90s and start of the noughties. There was always the option on a Friday of heading to Studio for the »Confusion«. Regardless of the lineup or what the time was: everyone somehow ended up at Total Confusion and stayed until Edith arrived.
Three typical artworks from the early days of Total Confusion.
(1) With postmodernism the dominating mood and in a blossoming pop culture landscape, the scanner became a sampler and a scene from Larry Clark's revolutionary youth-AIDS-sex movie KIDS would itself become a fitting visual metaphor for the loneliness, melancholy, and sadness behind the brightness of the party scene.
(2) Ralph Christoph, Michael Mayer, and Tobias Thomas at the entrance to the club. The line “Musik für eine andere Wirklichkeit” (Music for another reality) quotes a song called Status Quo Vadis by Blumfeld. The Total Confusion system was to know no limits.
(3) A homage to the Berlin-based DJ Kid Paul as a visual metaphor for the basic idea behind Total Confusion: euphoria, sweetness, and pop. Three bodies made of acid house.
Still a collector’s item today: a mixtape compiled in 2000 by Michael Mayer and Tobias Thomas in collaboration with Levi’s. The cover shows another holy relic: a V-neck T-shirt that reads “Total Confusion / Studio 672 Köln.” Around this time, a Total Confusion banner would also hang from the wall at Studio. One particular morning, after a long night, this had disappeared and was never found again.
By now, the Total Confusion flyers were being designed by graphic designer Christian Schäfer, himself a DJ and producer (including on the label Cómeme) under the name Christian S. Christian was to strike up a close friendship and lifelong collaboration with Tobias Thomas in particular, which would later continue through things like Cologne’s c/o pop festival.
In 2001, Christian Schäfer designed a series of flyers called »Fantasie« (phantasy), which combined motifs from art and design with private photographs and his own graphic creations.
The most legendary series of flyers in the history of Total Confusion were, without doubt, the portraits that emerged between 2003 and 2004. The concept, which was jointly developed by Christian Schäfer and Tobias Thomas, started out with some deliberately simple black-and-white photographs of friends and acquaintances. There are immediately identifiable nods both to fashion photography and to a kind of photography that was typically found, among other things, on the covers of music magazines at the start of the noughties. Schäfer and Thomas were simply turning the tables: rather than the lineup and big-name DJs, star billing was given to close friends and regular guests at Total Confusion, who took center stage for once. The very direct and unaffected portraits speak of the extremely close social and physical proximity that parties at Studio 672 would generate. Here too, it was all about love and communication.
In 2009, the idea was taken up again in a kind of self-quotation and developed further. The result was a similar portrait of the "second generation" of Total Confusion. This time, the photographs showed friends and close companions in everyday and bizarre places, where they seem rather lost and lonely. One can sense how much the atmosphere of the parties, but also that of the world around them, had changed in many ways.
In December 2006 Total Confusion changed the venue and then took place every first Friday in the month at Bogen 2, a venue that is part of the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne and located directly beside the cathedral and the main station.
Bogen 2 (2008-05) by Tobias ThomasKompakt
The new venue was basically an empty room to rent and it offered the Total Confusion crew the chance to create a night completely based on their own ideas. From sound, light, decoration and line up to the bar and door team - everything was created and produced by the newly founded Total Confusion company.
The Total Confusion GbR produced all events between 2006 and 2014 and consisted of Tobias Thomas, Tomasso Tessitori and Sarah Idarous.
The opening night at Bogen 2 took place in December 2006 with Sascha Funke, Michael Mayer and Tobias Thomas. It was the beginning of a new era that lasted another four years.
The new - now monthly - event series at Bogen 2 opened a complete new chapter. After spending 8 years in a classic basement club with moderate closing hours in the inner city, the new space with its warehouse feel, a rough neighbourhood and Berlin-like open endings felt like a liberation and a revolution at the same time - for both the creators and the crowd.
A whole new generation of club kids entered the arena and was going wild, especially when new local acts like COMA, MIT or Aroma Pitch were performing. Concerts with the likes of The Whitest Boy Alive and The New Puritans or screenings of music films like the techno documentary "Speaking In Code" were now happening before the "real" party started. The queues in front of the club were getting longer and longer so while waiting in the cold guests were served Jägermeister shots.
The first series of flyers for Bogen 2, again created by Christian Schäfer, circled around the topic of complex systems.
At the monthly Total Confusion parties, guests such as DJ Koze, Acid Pauli, Paul und Fritz Kalkbrenner (before their commercial breakthrough), Jennifer Cardini, Rebolledo, Sascha Funke, Alter Ego, Chloé, Isoleé, Ata, Roman Flügel, Matias Aguayo, Pantha Du Prince and many more regularly played alongside the resident DJs Thomas, Mayer and Superpitcher.
More emblematic than any other party of the generational change taking place at this time, however, was COMA's performance on 2 November 2007, immortalised in the video below. A legendary night.
From 2007 to 2011, Total Confusion became younger and wilder, the audience was more international, and the mood was more diverse and queer. A lot of this can be attributed to a chartered coach, organised by good friends of Total Confusion from Belgium, which brought around 50 ravers a month to Cologne, for about a year, from neighbouring Brussels. A video of this has survived too, which captures the energy and intensity of the time, around 2008, in moving pictures.
The flyers for the 2008 season showed simple four-letter words such as “hope,” “high,” or “rock,” which felt a bit like election slogans or rallying calls. In the summer of 2008, Total Confusion celebrated its 10th anniversary. The flyer (see chapter »The Next Generation« above) bore the most notorious, corny, and enduring word in the world: love.
The soundtrack for the video below is the Supermayer remix of the Total Confusion hit »Jolly Joker« by Alter Ego who played one of their legendary live sets that night.
The Total Confusion at Bogen 2 chapter ended on February 4, 2011. After four exhausting and extremely intense years and the considerable expense of putting on the events at this venue, it was time for a break and possibly a new start somewhere else.
Following the Bogen 2 years, Total Confusion embarked on a rather nomadic period. It was just not that easy to find a venue in Cologne that offered the same kind of freedom. Between 2012 and 2014, events were held at places like the Stadtgarten, Roxy, and Odonien, in the Jugendpark, and also back at Studio 672 for around six months. Halfway through 2014, it became clear the time had come to bring the 16-year project to a close with one huge last party at the old haunt. So on December 19, 2014, Cologne experienced The Last Total Confusion.
In an interview with Finn Johannsen, Tobias Thomas looked back on the tracks that defined Total Confusion and the ideas, thoughts, and concepts associated with it. The interview, illustrated with photos by Daniel Herrmann, has also been published by friends from Electronic Beats .
Thanks to the film-makers and TC friends Jascha Hannover and Viktor Apfelbacher (Florianfilm), a small but wonderful piece of documentary evidence was created, which managed to capture on camera the spirit, the legacy, and ultimately the last curtain call for the party.
Pure Vernunft darf niemals siegen (Pure reason must never win).
Over the 16 years, many exceptionally talented guests, from unknown local newcomers to world famous artists, have visited Total Confusion and enriched it with their music: Sascha Funke, Miss Kittin, Theo Parrish, DJ Hell, DJ Koze, Dixon, Westbam, Lawrence/Sten, Lena Willikens, COMA, Gui Boratto, Ricardo Villalobos, Paul Kalkbrenner, Roosevelt, MCDE, Craig Richards, Matias Aguayo, Wighnomy Brothers, Thomas P. Heckmann, Roman Flügel, Girlz Club, The Whitest Boy Alive, Erobique, Peaches, dOP, Rebolledo, Ellen Allien, Jan Jelinek, Thomas Fehlmann, Matthias Kaden, Jennifer Cardini, Khan, Geiger, Nathan Fake, Commercial Breakup, Zander VT, Ferenc, Jake Fairley, Jonas Bering, Highfish & Diringer, T.Raumschmiere, Basement Jaxx, Ark, SCSI-9, Kaito, Christian Morgenstern (†), Tobias Schmid, Junior Boys, Demon, Phantom & Ghost, Markus Nicolai, These New Puritans, Alter Ego, Alex Smoke, Christian S, Schaeben & Voss ft. Schad Privat, Chloé, Mr. X & Mr. Y, Fritz Kalkbrenner, C-Rock, DJ Fra, Supermayer, Strobocop, Jan Gazarra, Tato Cado, Maral Salmassi, Christopher Just, Pawel ...
... Sven Howland, Jan-Eric Kaiser, Jo Saurbier, Pantha Du Prince, Isolée, Axel Boman, Ada, Denis Stockhausen, Petter, Dave, Mikkel Metal, Triple R., James Holden, Kenneth Christiansen, Dirt Crew, Justus Köhncke, Electric Indigo, Eliott Litrowski, Ralph H. Christoph, Phon.On, Jörg Burger/The Modernist, International Pony, The Kooky Scientist, Tobi Neumann, Steve Barnes, Hufschlag & Braun, Kango's Stein Massiv, Aroma Pitch, Captain Comatose (Khan & Snax), Closer Musik, Ata, Losoul/Don Disco, Woody, Acid Pauli, Heiko MSO (†), Shumi, Gebrüder Teichmann, The Rice Twins, Oliver Hacke, André Kraml, Artist Unknown, Hans Nieswandt, Bianca Strauch, MIT, Bastian Wegner, Glitterbug, Marcel Janovsky, John Harten, Stefan Sieber, Novatek, Einmusik DJ Team and many more.
Thank you for the music!
All flyer concepts & artworks created by Christian Schäfer and Tobias Thomas (with much help from Bianca Strauch).
Tobias Thomas, Christian Schäfer, Boris Kauer, Guillaume Bleret, Heiner Hersemann, Tomasso Tessitori, Daniel Herrmann