Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke on The Love Parade, Neubauten and Berlin
Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke were both important figures in the recent cultural history of Berlin. De Picciotto was one of the co-founders of The Love Parade, a long-running electronic music event, where the participants were part of a parade through Berlin that, within the first few years of its existence, included over a million people and helped to launch that music as an important artistic movement in continental Europe.
Tina Winkhaus Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke
Alexander Hacke, meanwhile, was an early, and current, member of influential experimental band Einstürzende Neubauten. Throughout the '80s to the present, Neubauten was a direct influence on industrial music, and he was also an inspiration to the musical avant-garde worldwide with his band's uncompromising approach to making music so unique (and uniquely executed) that it pretty much could never really be imitated or reproduced. The best introduction to the band would probably be to pick up any of its Strategies Against Architecture compilations and explore from there. Or better yet, should you be lucky enough to have the opportunity see any of its absolutely unforgettable live performances for yourself.
This year, de Picciotto released a book entitled The Beauty of Transgression, A Berlin Memoir about the first twenty years she spent in Berlin. In the book, she discusses her experiences among the people and places of the vibrant arts culture that existed in Berlin during that time of the late '80s to well into 2000s.
She is currently touring with her husband, Hacke, who will perform some improvisational electronic music to accompany a multi-media presentation wherein de Picciotto will read from her book while showing pictures and short films she made to accompany the reading tonight Hinterland Art Space (3254 Walnut Street). We very recently had a chance to sit down and talk with de Picciotto and Hack, along with local music luminary, Jill "Razer" Mustoffa, about the book, The Love Parade, Neubauten, Berlin itself and how artists can survive and flourish in the current era of seeming scarcity.
Westword: Why did you feel compelled to write your book at this time?
Danielle de Picciotto: I started writing it in 1995, when I realized that I was starting to forget more than I thought I would. You think that you're never going to forget certain things but you do. The time from when I moved to Berlin in '87 to '95 already had been so amazing with the fall of the [Berlin] Wall to the development of music from Geniale Dilletanten and Neubauten, turning into Berlin's techno scene and stuff like that -- I was like, "I have to start writing things."
It took me about two years to figure out if I wanted to write it in German or English. Then I wrote for a little longer. Then I talked to my publisher and asked if it was interesting. He said it was interesting, "But you're mentioning way too many people." Because I had been mentioning hundreds of them. And he said I wasn't mentioning anything about myself. He said, "You have to become more personal because if you want to do a book only on Berlin; you have to be more scientific. But when people read this, they're going to want to know what you were doing." So I had to re-write everything. So the whole thing, basically, took fifteen years.
For me, it was basically, Berlin now, at the point that I am -- I've been there such a long time I've been thinking of maybe going somewhere else. And I've had that feeling now for the last five years. So I thought, "Okay, I'm going to write until 2005, that's twenty years, and that way it's really my Berlin Years; it's not my life's memoir -- it's my Berlin Years memoir. It was a very instinctive kind of thing. It wasn't planned, it just kind of happened the way it did.
What took you to Berlin in the beginning?
DdP: Back then, my life was very instinctive. When I was in New York, I was offered a job in Cologne to work there after I'd finished studying. My mother's German, so I'd been in Germany before. When I was in Cologne, a lot of things happened, and I decided I was not going to stay there, and I decided to go to Berlin before I went back to New York. I wanted to go for two weeks. Then when I got there it was like, "This is amazing."
It was as creative as New York in the '80s. New York was amazing in the '80s, but it was also scary and dangerous. I was studying there and people were getting killed all the time and getting shot. It was really expensive. I arrived [in Berlin], and immediately, I was in this amazing, bubbling pot of creativity. Every day, every night you were confronted with musicians, with art, with exhibitions, with crazy fashion shows -- it was non-stop.
It was like New York, but not dangerous at all. You were surrounded by a wall, and it kept everything from coming in and going out, so it was like an encapsulated space. And it was very cheap. I moved into an apartment that was huge like a loft, and it cost me like thirty marks, which is like fifteen dollars. Each room was as big as this whole space [editors note: Little India]. Back there, too. We had five of them, and I was like, "Okay, I'm staying."
Did you two meet back then too?
DdP: We met pretty early on.
AH: I was born and raised in Berlin, so I'd always been there. The apartment that Danielle had moved into on Ritterstrasse was also where my friend Roland Wolf, who used to play keyboards in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, lived, so we ran into each other pretty early on.
DdP: So Nick Cave and Neubauten were there all the time.
How did you get involved in a group like -- well certainly there's no other group like it -- Neubauten?
Alexander: I discovered music in general because I did experiments with my cassette recorder as a little boy. Then I discovered punk rock. When I was twelve years old, I discovered The Ramones. I went to my first Ramones show, actually, when I was twelve years old. Then I played in a group in school, and I took part in the organization of an anti-fascist festival, and that's where I met all these other guys that were much older than I was. I was like the only kid in this group of punk rockers, and hippies and activists and stuff.
That's how I met a bunch of people and among them were Blixa [Bargeld] and Andrew [Chudy] from Neubauten. I would skip school and hang out in a record store and met a lot of people. Blixa used to have a shop in Berlin, a clothing store, Eisengrau, from where he also sold cassette tapes.
DdP: With Gudren Gut. She's an important woman.
AH: Yeah, I would just skip school and hang out with these people instead, and that's how I started playing music with them in year zero.
Did it start out with the elaborate devices and noise-making objects, or did it start out very different from that?
AH: It started out as a pure improvisational thing. Nobody could play any instruments. I think out of that constellation of people, I am the only person that learned how to play music by now. [chuckles] In the early days, in Berlin in the '80s, there was just such an explosion of creativity in any field. People were just making up band names and inventing groups and artforms. Then all this crap was invented and forgotten and invented and forgotten again within weeks. Neubauten was one of many things. I played in twenty other groups in this era and was part of twenty other ideas at the same time.
In the late '80s is roughly when you co-founded The Love Parade. What was the idea behind that? What inspired you to do that?
DdP: I did that together, of course, with Matthias Roeingh, who was my then boyfriend, and it was basically the idea of...I mean Berlin was always very underground. There was nothing overground.
DdP: Yeah, there was either the dark cellars, where you'd have parties and everybody would sleep during the day...The end of the '80s and the beginning of the '90s was definitely a turning point. I don't think you have that as extreme nowadays, but back then, every decade had its own music style. You could really feel at the end of a decade that something was going to change. I don't know why that doesn't happen anymore. You could feel that in Berlin.
When I came to Berlin in '87 and in '88, you could feel [people's attitudes changing]. They were doing '70s parties; they were doing rock things and hip-hop. But it was kind of like something was missing, something new had to arrive. When that new thing arrived, it had a just so completely different atmosphere than anything that had been in Berlin before because it was very colorful. From the very start, it wasn't this kind of depressed melancholic thing, it was more [celebratory and joyful]. You had the feeling you just had to go out, out of those cellars.
[Dr. Motte,] Matthias, came home one day and he said, "You know, I'm going to do a parade." He was a DJ, and he had his own club, Turbine Rosenheim. It was pretty legendary because they had good parties there and they were always trying out new musical styles. Motte, had also played in different bands, and he was also part of the Geniale Dilletanten scene, the "Ingenious Dilettantes" that Neubauten belonged to.
It was this scene in the '80s where all these different bands basically called themselves dilettantes, that didn't know how to play any instruments but did music anyway. He was part of that crowd a little bit, but he wanted to be a DJ, and he became a professional DJ, basically. He said, "I want to bring this out into the light. I want to do a parade."
I think raves were starting in London and stuff, and it was something that was new because you could do them outside. So I said I would do the visual part of it, and he did the music part of it. We got together a little bit of money. We didn't have any sponsors and we did it. The first time was funny people because people were like, "What is going on?"
AH: The first time it was a group of a hundred and fifty people and it was one truck with the DJ in it. I was there.
DdP: We had just gotten one truck, one turntable. There were actually more police than participants because nobody knew, they were like, "What are they doing?"
AH: And of course it started raining.
DdP: Everybody was just standing there. It was so funny. They couldn't believe it. It was just that truck with Mattias DJing and walking behind it were maybe a hundred twenty people, dancing.
AH: How many years later did it become one point five million?
DdP: Three or four. It went really fast. The whole thing started with that parade. The whole techno movement really started because clubs came up because of the parade. DJs came up and fashion came up. It generated money for the whole city. Within three or four years the city was earning forty-three point seven million marks a weekend. People would earn enough money in their clubs to survive a whole year with it.
Jill "Razer" Mustoffa: It was a zoo in Berlin when The Love Parade was going on.
So you were there at that time?
JRM Fucking hell, yes! Everybody in their fucking neon hair, neon tattoos, their neon-colored clothing. And everybody's tripping their brains out and they're happy. There were millions of these people running around. And you cashed in lots of money.
AH: And it was incredible in the way that hardly anyone ever got hurt.
JRM: It was a happy party.
AH: No violence, no arrests, nothing.
DdP: Until it was sold to greedy money people.
That happened many years later, like over a decade later wasn't it?
AH: It started to get commercialized and lost its original spirit when you stopped, basically.
DdP: I stopped about four years after. I don't like big, massive things, and it was becoming more of a commercial thing then. But it lasted for a lot longer.
AH: The last year the catastrophe happened in another city.
JRM: Then it happened at Tiergarten, and they had to re-sod the entire park because all those people just trampled it down to nothing. Also a lot of our friends made money off of selling watermelon to people.
DdP: It was impressive because it was something that was so successful and we managed to do that without money. For Motte and me, it was this thing that if you really believe in something and if you do it as one person, you can actually generate something like that. So in that way it was very inspiring.
JRM: I got there in 1990. I was trying to figure out when you first did because I swore I was there right at the beginning when it was just there, and all of a sudden it became The Love Parade. Because I'd never heard of anything before, and then it was just The Love Parade. It's like an entire weekend of insanity. A week, basically, because they come in a couple of days before then they party really hard all weekend, then they kind of trickle slowly off.
AH: People like me, who wanted to stay out at night and take drugs in peace and stuff. We would just try to get away from it all. The Love Parade was basically the "amateur week." [laughs]