With bars, nightclubs and restaurants closed to slow the spread of Covid-19, nightlife in Berlin was expected to come to a halt. But no, the beats are still thumping. The city’s premier “virtual club” is now in session.
United We Stream is a collaboration of about 40 clubs and several other nightlife businesses in Berlin. Every evening at 7pm (6pm UK time), DJ line-ups are live-streamed from the city’s nightclubs. And people worldwide are tuning in to get a taste of Berlin’s world-famous techno parties from their kitchens and living rooms.
The live gigs are dropping from quintessential venues that embody the city’s “anything goes” rave culture: Tresor, a techno forefather founded in an abandoned former East German department store; Griessmuehle, in a resurrected grain mill; and Sisyphos, a former dog food factory that became a hotspot for dusk-till-dawn open-airs.
While there are no over-the-top costumes, sweaty high-fives between strangers or sex by the dancefloor, there are a few perks to virtual clubbing: no long queues or bouncers denying entry.
In each United We Stream set, DJs play alone, illuminated by light projections against empty dancefloors.
It’s a conscious decision to remind viewers that the streams aren’t a soundtrack for lockdown parties, but reflect how “critical, unbelievable and dramatic” the situation is, says Lutz Leichsenring, press spokesperson for the Club Commission, the non-profit organisation behind the initiative.
The Club Commission is requesting donations as it aims to raise €1m with United We Stream to support Berlin’s clubs.
Around €320,000 has been donated already, with the money to be distributed later by a panel, according to financial need.
A Club Commission study found that around 9,000 people are employed in the nightlife sector, and that in 2018 it generated turnover of €1.48bn,
with one in three tourists going to Berlin to party. Despite their success,
Berlin’s clubs were already facing a cocktail of challenges before the coronavirus crisis, including gentrification and speculative buying in a breakneck property market
Pornceptual, a sex-positive party where clubbers get discounted admission for going naked, recently participated in United We Stream from Alte Münze, a venue in a former mint.
Co-founder Raquel Fedato praises the initiative but says it would be better if queer party collectives were included. “It’s a reminder that the Berlin scene is united but [only] to a certain extent,” she says.
According to Leichsenring, United We Stream will keep broadcasting performances at least until 20 April, the earliest date Germany’s coronavirus restrictions could be eased, but probably even longer.
“We suppose that clubs will be the last to reopen,” he says, “so we will do the streams as long as necessary.”
Germany‘s federal fiscal court BFH has declared that techno is music, and as a result, has announced that the country’s nightclubs will receive a tax cut on its ticket fees.
As the world continues its pandemic-related lockdown, which has subsequently put a big strain on nightclubs, institutions, and the music industry, many venues are struggling to look towards a future where they’ll open once again. Nightclubs in Germany
— such as the legendary Berghain, KitKat, Sage, or Tresor — pay a fixed rate of 19 percent VAT on ticket sales,
however, this is all set to change thanks to a new ruling that associates nightclubs with other music events, such as concerts.
With this in mind, it offers nightclubs and their fans a slither of hope that one day they’ll re-open again, and when they do, that more money will go to the DJs and nightclub organizers which, in turn, should help them recover from the COVID-19 shutdowns.
As the German news outlet The Local de reports, the court judge said “They [DJs] perform their own new pieces of music using instruments in the broader sense, to create new sound sequences that have their own character.”
In other news, Ticketmaster’s concerts will only be open to those who have negative COVID-19 results and have been vaccinated.
In Germany, concert venues only have to pay 7 percent VAT on ticket sales, and as of now, so will nightclubs. The decision was made when the court weighed up the differences, noting that the average customer was, at their core, there for the music or DJ which makes it similar to a usual concert.
The case was heard in the Munich-based financial high court, with clubs arguing that DJs make music. In Germany, night clubs pay 19% VAT, while concert halls in Germany have a reduced VAT of 7%. The Federal Court ruled that the reduced rate was not due to musicians and singers, but to the primary reason visitors attend.
“DJs do not simply play sound carriers (composed by others), but they perform their own pieces of music using instruments in the broadest sense, to create sound sequences with their own character,”
The Federal Court ruled. That decision stands even if revenue from drinks is higher than entry tickets. The court recognizes that techno music is a primary draw for the night club experience.
Berlin has a reputation for a huge nightlife scene, with techno music helping to shape that. Millions of tourists visit the city each year from all over the world – until the pandemic shut down these clubs.
Originally, the Jackson Estate only valued Michael Jackson’s image at $2,105.
Appraisers said Jackson had very little income from his likeness when he died. Claims that Jackson sexually abused children also likely weighed on the value of his estate, the judge argued.
“Allegations that a celebrity molested little boys might reasonably be thought to repel potential licensees in any society that has not become completely decadent,” Judge Holmes writes.
Another expert valued Jackson’s image to be worth over $3 million because of the revenue that could be generated during the legal copyright life of 70 years after the artists’ death.
The IRS’ expert valued the Michael Jackson image at $161 million based on potential future revenue from products, branded merchandise, a Cirque du Soleil show, a Broadway musical, and more. Judge Holmes says those future revenue streams were not foreseeable when Jackson died.
His reputation was very low during the last ten years of his life, and Jackson received no income “related to the likeness of his image.”
Techno music played an important role in uniting the two halves of Germany in the early ’90s. The style originated in Detroit in the mid-1980s before migrating to West Germany in the late ’80s. After the Berlin Wall fall, empty buildings were soon taken over by young people to organize illegal parties featuring techno music. These temporary clubs struck up all over Berlin in the following years.
Tresor started as Ufo Club and was an illegal party that moved around for over three years. The venue it occupies today was reopened in 2007 in Mitte. Der Bunker is closed, and E-Werk is a venue for anything – not just techno music. Each of these clubs had their own sound, which is something techno clubs in Berlin still do.
Berghain, one of the clubs suing for the reduced VAT, favors darker, industrial techno. Tresor maintains techno DJs that perform closer to the genre’s roots in Detroit techno. These clubs build techno music as part of their identity, which is why audiences from all over the world come to enjoy them. In the court’s eyes, that’s no different than tourists heading to a concert hall to see an orchestra play.
That ruling is much lower than the $161 million estimate assessed by the IRS and disputed by the Jackson Estate. Ruling on the value of three assets at the time of Jackson’s death in 2009, the U.S. tax court found their combined value to be $111.5 million.
That’s far less than the IRS valuation of around $482 million. Judge Mark Holmes says the value of Jackson’s image will fade over time.
“Popular culture always moves on,” Judge Holmes writes in his brief. “Just as the grave will swallow Jackson’s fame, time will erode the estate’s income.”
The three assets in dispute between the estate and the IRS include Jackson’s right of publicity, his half interest in the Sony/ATV music publishing company, and his interest in his music catalog company, Mijac Music.
The Tax Court also found that the fair market value of Jackson’s interest in Sony/ATV was zero because of significant liabilities, resulting in no taxable income.
The IRS adjusted the value of these assets to $1.32 billion from $7 million, demanding $702 in taxes and penalties. The Jackson Estate disputed those valuations.
The Tax Court agreed with the estate that the interest in Sony/ATV was worthless; it said the interest in Mijac Music should be valued at $107.3 million, rather than $2.3 million, as Jackson’s Estate argues
Those factors led the court to put the value of Jackson’s image at just $4.1 million.
Major cities have long been the central hubs for dance music, in part thanks to their appeal to travelling DJs and fans. With coronavirus massively impacting tourism, however, even when clubs do reopen they could face severely reduced crowds and income. DJ Mag speaks to researchers and music industry experts about what this could mean for the future of city clubbing
What a difference 12 months makes. This time last year you might have been making travel plans for Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), getting final kicks from a summer of festivals, or on a trip to Ibiza. Times change. Pausing the global events industry cuts deeper than losing a weekend in Berlin — so many livelihoods are on the line, it’s devastating. But this side of the COVID-19 catastrophe is compounded by dance music’s reliance on ‘techno tourists’ flowing into key nightlife centres. That weekend break is no longer a no-brainer, even within your own country: it’s a crisis within a crisis.
A UK Music report from November 2019 noted that 11.2 million people travelled domestically and internationally for music events in 2018, accounting for more than one-third of the total tickets sold in the country that year. London had the biggest draw, with 2.8 million hitting the capital for its soundtrack, followed by Northwest England; Scotland enjoyed the biggest year-on-year increase, attracting 1.1 million. Across the North Sea, October’s ADE is the world’s biggest electronic music festival and conference. 400,000 attended last year, with passes held by over 100 nationalities. And that’s hardly Amsterdam’s only big sell, with weekenders like Dekmantel and Awakenings, and venues such as Radion and Shelter offering year- round temptation. Berlin, meanwhile, welcomes more than 3 million club tourists every year, and Ibiza has long been an island with a love-hate music tourism dependency.
As the COVID-19 crisis progresses, travel is becoming less predictable. At the time of publication, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain and the Netherlands made the quarantine list for arrivals into the UK. According to the IATA (International Air Travel Authority), 80% of us believe planes increase the risk of catching a virus, and the priority is rebuilding public trust in terms of safety, not simply bringing back supply. You can understand why German airline Lufthansa doesn’t expect passenger demand to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024.
So what does this mean for cities that depend on vast numbers of nightlife visitors? Can home crowds plug the gap if events return before travel does? And, given that the climate crisis was our top concern before coronavirus took the spotlight, should we even be aiming for business as usual?
The Centre For Cities is a UK think-tank that analyses socio-economic data about towns and cities, and its research confirms what most of us knew; cities disproportionately dominate partying. In the UK, 45.9% of nightlife establishments are within city boundaries, but these only account for 9% of the land mass. The bigger the place the more options there are, so relatively niche things — like feral techno basements — are heavily centralised in larger cities, which act as magnets for wider areas. For somewhere like London,
that extends far beyond UK borders, meaning the impact of COVID-19 travel disruption on nightlife will be much more pronounced.
Lahari Ramuni, a researcher for Centre For Cities, looks at the functions of cities through their High Street Recover Tracker: like what share of daytime and nighttime workers are returning to the city now, compared to before lockdown began, and comparing the scores of different cities on Friday
If London needs more tourists, Amsterdam doesn’t — or didn’t. The Dutch city is the planet’s second most-visited per head of population — the 1 million people who live there welcome around 20 million tourists each year.
In 2019, the City In Balance initiative began, essentially curbing tourism growth by stopping new hotels, souvenir shops and more from opening. Nightlife is one of Amsterdam’s core attractions.
“Club culture, as we have known it, is not possible [right now],” replies Ramon de Lima, the Night Mayor of Amsterdam, when we ask about events returning.
His office provides a crucial link between the city’s nightlife and local authorities.
“I don’t know the exact numbers of tourists who come just to visit the nightclubs, but I know what the entertainment district with smaller bars and restaurants is like. They rely on tourism from abroad and from around the Netherlands.
I think they will still have a hard time when we reopen the clubs, the ones around that area rely on people from outside Amsterdam.
In their place, club culture has moved online, drawing from scenes and styles around the world as it’s sucked into the fast-moving currents of global exchange. New genres are still emerging: not in a linear fashion,
in the manner dubbed the hardcore continuum in the early ’00s, but through new, horizontal connections across geography and history, assisted by the internet’s ability to flatten time and space into an endless, hyperlinked soup.
What’s coming out the other end right now is a sound that we seem to be calling “club”.
As a genre, club is both specific and vague. Club is not house or techno, though it might include elements of both. There might be breaks, but it’s not drum & bass. It’s intimately related to another vague non-genre, “bass”.
The word club tries to capture the cross-pollination of previously hyperlocal sounds as they make their way across continents and back again, but in clumping those disparate sounds together, the cultural specificities that gave rise to each style can become blurred or forgotten.
Club isn’t a genre in itself, but if we try to imagine “UK club” as something distinct, it seems to be an outgrowth of soundsystem culture that looks sideways rather than forwards
, listening out for shocking new sounds to splice into its vision.
and Saturday nights. “Smaller cities are much less affected,” says Ramuni.
“It comes down to four factors — lack of tourists (and for anywhere like London, that’s huge), public transport, localised centres,
and the number of business premises that still do not have all staff on-site. London currently has about 25% of the activity it had before [lockdown].
“We are seeing the number of people in cities on weekends begin to increase, and the pattern is consistent in terms of nighttime and weekends
— smaller cities are recovering faster,” she continues, admitting that the situation is volatile. “Even if we just look at local lockdowns in terms of public confidence, we don’t know the scarring that’s being caused, and what will happen when things return after taking a step backwards.”
“I think it will impact the club culture, definitely,” he continues. For any event, not least those with global appeal, endless postponement is a serious problem. “The event organisers won’t make any new money from the event, but will carry many new costs.
They planned their [quarterly] marketing budget in April, with big production costs being paid but while the next event will need this budget again, they won’t be able to sell many tickets. We are just moving the problem onto the next edition.”
While appointing a Night Mayor may outwardly signal that Amsterdam has a progressive attitude, de Lima is quick to point out that the scene can’t survive on goodwill and reputation alone.
He sees focused support from the Dutch government as crucial. “A month before recess, I spoke with people from parliament about supporting the nightlife ecosystem, so that venues, workers and promoters can survive financially. We’re starting off with not a lot of local clubbers and no tourism, but we have to keep going.”
As we enter a new decade, the ways in which we define electronic music styles are rapidly changing. Chal Ravens explores the etymological evolution of “UK club music” and speaks to some of its key players: about how regional roots are growing into digital ecosystems, and powering new conversations about globalisation in club culture
Bickering over genre definitions is a time-honoured tradition in dance music. One of the weirder etymological developments of recent years is the changing meaning of the word “club”. There’s the familiar noun, obviously: the place where we go to dance.
There’s the verb: you club, I club, we all go clubbing. But as a genre? Well, there’s club music — and there’s club. (Already the word is becoming surreal, like words always do when you stare at them too long.)
It’s a concept that’s worth unpacking: within those four letters is a modern story encompassing technology, race, class, and globalisation.
In the UK, a soundsystem culture stretching back to the Windrush generation has been the motor of dancefloor innovation for decades, audible in every major stylistic shift from jungle and rave through grime and dubstep
. But in the last decade, many elements of that culture — particularly the underground ecosystem of pirate radio, dubplates, record shops, and raves — have faded away, usurped by digital technology.
The self-consciously experimental nature of deconstructed club (sometimes accompanied by liner notes dense with jargon and critical theory) often felt too distant from the immediate needs of the club and the hedonistic impulses of the average UK dancefloor.
In hindsight it was an explosive moment; we’re still absorbing the shocks of that initial wave of deconstruction.
But alongside that extremely online wave of innovation, certain IRL happenings proved equally as influential on the development of a UK sound.
There’s no single figure who represents the core of this concept. Instead, DJs and producers emerge from their own lineage (often a personal rather than societal or cultural set of influences) and find themselves in similar territory.
One emerging artist in the UK is the Italian-born DJ and producer TSVI. Along with fellow Italian artist Wallwork, he’s the co-founder of Nervous Horizon, a London-based label that releases drum-heavy club tracks by artists like Melbourne’s DJ Plead and Lithuania’s DJ JM, alongside locals like Lloyd SB and Second Storey.
As far as TSVI is concerned, the UK is “not at the centre of innovation anymore, like it was eight years ago,” when labels like Night Slugs and Hessle Audio were in the ascendant. These days he finds himself looking to China, Morocco, and South Africa for inspiration: scenes like gqom in Durban, North African artists like Deena Abdelwahed and ZULI, Shanghai avant-club label SVBKVLT, and the scene orbiting Nyege Nyege Tapes in Kampala.
TSVI may be right that the UK has stopped cooking up unique new dance genres (UK drill and Afropop are other forks in the road for another conversation), but while the days of discovering a whole new sound in an East London basement seem long gone, it’s not the end of innovation. Scratcha DVA is putting a UK spin on South African gqom and Sherelle is fusing jungle and footwork at 160BPM.
Nervous Horizon’s latest compilation contains almost no UK artists — yet sounds obviously right for the dancefloors of London. In Bristol, experimental bass-techno continues to emanate from established post-dubstep outlets like Livity Sound and Tectonic, while Batu’s Timedance has established itself as one of the city’s most forward-thinking labels, home to critical favourites like Laksa, Ploy, and Bruce.
At Boxed in London, which launched in 2014, Mr. Mitch, Slackk and Oil Gang devised fresh takes on the grime instrumental, playing up the sound’s Technicolor vivacity and all-round OTT attitude while mixing into more obviously club-functional tracks.
The long-running night remains an important influence on UK club music in 2020, having helped launch the careers of many DJs whose roots are in grime but who’ve gone on to play techno, dancehall, electro, power ambient, pop, and more, including Finn, Tarquin, Logos and Sim Hutchins
More recently, UK club has absorbed the percussion-heavy menace of gqom, which was picked up by Boxed affiliate Moleskin for the Goon Club Allstars label back in 2015.
The gqom sound slotted in perfectly with an ongoing reboot of UK funky, with labels like Nervous Horizon purposely exploring funky’s intricate, hard-hitting rhythms and splicing them with ballroom, techno, and gqom.
Similarly, Scratcha DVA has been carrying out a systematic investigation of gqom’s applications, crafting his own signature “UKgqom” tracks and, just this month, releasing an EP of stripped back blends of gqom and R&B.
And alongside the recognisable building blocks of the South African sound (menacing bass drones, syncopated percussion) there’s been no ignoring the solid thwack of Middle Eastern drumming in recent UK club hits like TSVI’s ‘Whirl’ and DJ Plead’s ‘Baharat’, both on Nervous Horizon.
In the last five years, the UK underground has also been heavily fuelled by alternative takes on the mainstream fascination with dancehall.
Manchester is arguably the current hub of whatever “UK club” might be, though. It’s a city large enough to support a diverse scene but small enough to feel intimate and community-focused.
The Swing Ting crew are pushing everything from modern dancehall to Brooklyn-bred FDM and new spins on garage and grime through their long-running party and label. NTS Radio regular Aya channels the madcap intensity of IDM and rave into her club creations.
Finn finds connections between Jersey club, ghettotech, and French filter house to create his signature brand of #fastmusic in the 130-140BPM range. There’s also the ongoing influence of Manchester-based online music shop Boomkat, which has been pointing the way towards a more eclectic, experimental, and globally-informed club sound for years.
Check into a DJ set by any of the aforementioned artists — or other talents like Tash LC, object blue, or India Jordan — and you never quite know what you’re going to hear. It could be complex syncopation or heavy triplets — or just banging four-on-the-floor kicks. Pop and R&B vocals sent through a blender, or harsh percussion clusters catching you off-guard.
It’s more about the mood, ultimately: vibrant, kinetic, unpredictable. In fact, club is probably best understood as a style of DJing rather than production, a sound invented in real time. The element of surprise is highly valued, along with quirky edits, bizarre blends, and a fearless approach to clashing musical keys. You might hear a spinback or three. It’s music to stay on top of rather than music to get lost in.
Jamaican crew Equiknoxx were a key inspiration, having found a second home in the UK with releases on Swing Ting and Demdike Stare’s DDS label.
DJs like Tash LC, Mina and Hipsters Don’t Dance mixed soca, dancehall, and Afropop to perfection and Manchester’s Murlo booked Stylo G at his club night. Gloomy London duo Raime dropped a mixtape of their own dancehall versions.
Orlando produced dreamy pop riddims with Jamaican MCs, and Mr. Mitch carved out his own “techno dancehall” sound over two mixes for Rinse.
Other musical lineages haven’t made such headway in the UK. The Latin sounds of cumbia, tribal, and reggaeton have remained marginal compared to their impact on US club music.
African styles from Francophone countries, like coupé décalé from Ivory Coast, have had more impact on the Parisian underground than the club scene over the Channel. Colonial history continues to shape our inheritance.
The UK remains, as it has been for decades, a musical melting pot. Nervous Horizon is “receptive to these kinds of regional scenes happening all over the world,” says TSVI, “and we try to give them our own interpretation.”
TSVI cites Missdevana’s twist on Dutch bubbling and DJ Plead’s combination of Hessle Audio-influenced bass architecture and sounds from his Lebanese heritage.
Local Action is another London label drawing attention to these feedback loops, following up various Jersey-inspired releases in its catalogue with an album of greatest hits by Jersey club original DJ Jayhood.
On the dancefloor, the UK spin on the fusionist aesthetic of “club” tends towards the crowd-pleasing, often working with the theatrical elements of sound system culture: multiple spinbacks,
mad edits nodding to the silliness of hardcore rave, a tendency towards “woiii” and gunfingers as an audience reaction.
It’s weird, then, that a lot of the artists who best exemplify this sound are rarely spotted at big festivals in the UK or Europe. The likes of Mr. Mitch, Anz, or India Jordan can easily conquer any summertime dancefloor — and then there’s someone like Sherelle, who seems to be having so much fun in the booth that she brings a rare element of watchability.
Looking back on the evolution of this style, Finn, Sherelle, and TSVI all credit Night Slugs as a chief influence on the current wave of club music, both inside the UK and out. Artists like Bok Bok, Jam City, L-Vis 1990,
and Atlanta-based Helix integrated sounds from both sides of the pond, combining the spartan aggression of grime with the jackhammer rhythms of Jersey and Baltimore.
The Club Constructions series, launched in 2014, laid out strict rules of engagement to those keen to submit demos to the label: raw, stripped back tracks, with no melodies, short reverbs, and no “emotive artefacts”.
Ironically enough, the Club Constructions series had an undeniable impact on what ended up being called deconstructed club music, along with early grime instrumentals like Wiley’s drum-free “devil mixes”.
TSVI also namechecks Night Slugs artist Egyptrixx and his 2011 album ‘Bible Eyes’ as a prototype for the deconstructed sound, “taking elements from various genres, but taking them out of context.”
Why aren’t these UK club DJs appearing on European festival lineups? “If I knew I’d be playing more festivals,” says Finn, who wonders if there’s a basic mismatch in attitudes and expectations.
“There’s not much room for humour in dance music. It all feels like it has to be quite serious,” he says.
“Look at what Berlin did to techno that came out of Detroit. You listen to Underground Resistance records and they’re full of character — some of it is even silly, even though UR has a serious mission.
Exactly the same thing happened with [US regional] club music when it came to Europe — you lost all the voices of Jersey club, people like UNIIQU3 and Jayhood.”
US club music certainly has a sense of humour; it also tends towards a deranged attitude to composition, throwing any kind of sample into a blender at high speed.
As a cultural phenomenon, a genre like Jersey club is far removed from any kind of mainstream European rave culture; it’s made for and by young black kids, often teenagers throwing parties in their high school gymnasiums.
When labels outside that culture started picking up on the sound and cherry-picking specific elements for their own productions – often prioritising the music over the vocals — a certain element of that culture was smudged out
. When we mix it all up and call it club, says Finn, “we end up referring to anything that could be played in a club, rather than these actual scenes that are the source of the music.”
In the process of absorbing and reframing various black genres, the term “club” obscures the roots of its own diversity.
The label’s lurid and percussion-heavy sound was also a huge influence on a new generation of UK producers, who felt more in tune with their virtual community of SoundCloud-boosted bedroom producers than the fusty-seeming legacy of the hardcore continuum.
Her Records, launched by Miss Modular (later MM) and Sudanim (later Suda) in 2012, spent five fruitful years exploring the euphoric possibilities of 8-bar grime, ballroom, and Jersey club.
In the end, the deconstructed club movement — with its abrasive textures and non-linear arrangements, as exemplified by DJs like Kablam and Ziúr — didn’t entirely catch on in the UK. The needs of the dancefloor always seemed to take priority.
The Nervous Horizon crew never fully got into it, says TSVI, “maybe because we come from Italy and we like everything more direct and consistent.”
Hyperdub affiliate Shannen S-P, who has referred to her own style as “Afrocentric techno”, echoes that sentiment in her recent DJ Mag profile.
While the deconstructed club moment was instrumental in making people of colour and queer people more visible as DJs and producers, she lost interest when the music “tipped into IDM territory,” she notes:
“I don’t want to go out on a Friday or Saturday night and not be able to dance.”
That shouldn’t write off its utility as a catch-all term; how else might we capture the contemporary intermingling of dozens of related global scenes?
But intersecting factors of race and class are always at work in the creation and adoption of new styles.