Party, Love and Profit: The Rhythms of the Love Parade (Interview with Wolfgang Sterneck)
The Love Parade came to be the foremost event of the 1990s techno movement. It stood for a new and diverse culture, whose core cultivated ecstatic and creative parties, but which came also to embody their commercialization.
Wolfgang Sterneck danced numerous times on the streets of Berlin at the Love Parade. But he also kept himself separate from and repeatedly critical of the event's development, such as in his book Cybertribe-Visionen; early on, he predicted the extreme commercialization as well as the movement away from original ideals. To this day, he remains committed to the project of combining parties and politics.
In the following interview, Sterneck looks back over nearly twenty years of the Love Parade. In doing so, he combines personal experiences with the placement of the Love Parade's development in a social and political context.
Graham St John: Wolfgang, let's begin with a rather personal question: which of your experiences during the Love Parades of the 1990s has stayed with you as a particularly positive memory?
Wolfgang Sterneck: It isn't reducible to one experience. Off the top of my head, it was especially the feeling of dancing in the streets with thousands of other people to thrilling music. As diverse as this was at the surface, at its core it was always connected to another approach to life: leaving the chains of the everyday behind and unwinding in a positive way—and this not only in the enclosed spaces of a club, but also in the middle of the main streets of a global city.
At one point, I wished that the "acid sound" pumping straight out of the speakers at a Love Parade party would flow through the streets every day. An endless rhythmic beat, instead of the urban barrage of noise that otherwise surrounds us. And, at the same time, people stepping out of the proverbial line instead of going to work every day, stony-faced, to serve as a cog in a giant machine.
This was undoubtedly a psychedelic vision, but it was also the image of a social utopia that became—at least at certain moments—a reality, without those dancing being aware of this potential.
Now we're getting to the heart of the matter. But this also leads to the question of a negative experience that has remained prominent in your memory until today.
I'm not going to commit myself here to just one experience, either; nonetheless, a negative feeling that accompanied me on many occasions at the Love Parades was a sense of tightness. This sense was almost never conveyed by the media, and it fades from memory in comparison to the ecstatic moments, but tightness is also part of the basic experience of the Love Parade. Tightness along particularly popular parts of the route, tightness in the special-event trains, tightness in the crush in front of the clubs, tightness in the utterly overcrowded clubs, tightness in the lines for the toilets....
Also negative, to my recollection, were the mountains of flyers that piled up in the streets after the Love Parade. Every promoter thought that they had to inundate people with their party flyers, but hardly anyone really looked at them and they mostly landed straight on the asphalt. You could've probably filled a small library with all that paper, but ecological issues were never a serious topic at the Love Parade.
All the sponsors also left a negative memory with me, with their innumerable leaflets, give-aways and logo banners. And the politicians, who suddenly materialized at the Love Parade because they thought that it was good for their image, even though their fellow party members had condemned the Love Parade just beforehand. I criticize this not just at a theoretical level; for me, it was also always tightly bound up with the sense that they did not really belong there, that they only wanted to exploit, capitalize, and co-opt something.
It is said today that the Love Parade made Berlin into a single, vast dance floor, upon which everything was possible. Was that actually the case?
Sterneck: A lot was indeed possible right in Berlin during the early years. The beat of a new culture was increasing in volume and some parts of the city resembled a dance floor—not only during the Parade, but also at night. For many, there was this general feeling that, along with this emerging techno culture, something fresh and ground-breaking was finding its way out. And this was reflected in the energy of the Love Parade in the early years: partying, developing and organizing.
New forms of musical expression, the endless beat at parties and after-hours, the rethinking of day and night. Positive energy, a new community and, later, diverse cybertribes like pulsating organisms instead of authoritarian, ossified structures. The combination of smoke, mind-bending, and ecstasy. The renunciation of the conventions of both bourgeois establishment and culture industry, including the total rejection of the dust-covered rock music of that time.... All of these characterized the period and the Love Parade.
Especially in the early 1990s, Berlin offered space for that sort of development, free space being physically available in the empty buildings and warehouses—above all in the eastern part of Berlin, which was no longer in use after the fall of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
In addition to this, there was also a certain psychic freedom and a sense of new possibilities seemingly at all levels. At one level, there's the original and fairly open dance style, at another level the occupation of an empty warehouse or the experimentation with new forms of expression. Free psychic space was also used in order to unfold oneself, to plunge into the self as a psychonaut or to paint the external world in somewhat different colors.
The conquest of the Eastern Bloc dictatorships led to a defining sense of new possibilities and new freedom in Berlin. Admittedly, it was a freedom that, in terms of the conquering economic order, led not infrequently to an ego trip, which in turn was also reflected in techno culture and, more specifically, the Love Parade. One felt and experienced a new energy of freedom, which would soon find itself again relegated to those realms that were not compliant or did not allow themselves to be exploited profitably enough.
Indeed, at least some small parts of techno culture certainly had the hope of changing society for the better. Also, the Love Parade not only saw itself as a huge party, but also had a rather clear message—not least of all through the explicit emphasis on "Love".
Sterneck: There were different approaches within techno culture and its offshoots. There was the concept of the Raving Society, which rather flatly asserted the expectation that techno culture, as a youth movement, would positively change society from within. Society would thus become inevitably more open, more peaceful, more tolerant, more creative. At its base, however, it was just a superficial marketing concept, which served the purpose of increasing sales and ultimately challenged nothing fundamental, instead strengthening it.
Then there was the hope that the mass use of ecstasy would, through an "E-volution", transform society. One started from the premise that the feelings of happiness and openness associated with ecstasy would expand further and further. The original communal "we are one family" feeling of parties was thus to become a basic social principle. This was also an illusion. Same thing for Terence McKenna's theory of an "archaic revival", which was supposed to change all of society for the better.
Most party-people were not interested in such concepts, anyway. They went out on weekends to party, especially on ecstasy, and functioned during the weekdays as salespeople, bankers, or even soldiers. Taking a consciousness-expanding substance or dancing in a trance is not enough to effect a genuine change. It requires coming to grips with experience as well as a closer examination of oneself and one's surrounding conditions.
In this sense, the simple question, "Why is the weekend so colorful and the everyday so gray?" can already lead to this, such that one sees one's own life—the frequently alienated daily job routine, but also the often so superficial appearance of parties—in a different light and perhaps even change something.
Nevertheless, the prerequisite is reflection, which was and is far too rare in the colorful world of partying at the personal level and, for example, the development of the scene itself.
What is decisive is the readiness and the will not only to scratch the surface but also to change something essential in oneself and in society. And it is well known that this is not an easy path. It involves dealing with a daily, subtle pressure to conform and to fit in.
The Love Parade had the carried the call for "Love" around the world. When one looks back, however, one now remembers first of all the fatalities of the last Love Parade, who were sacrificed on the altar of profit and greed.
The Love Parades of the early and middle 1990s certainly produced an important cultural impulse and made diverse experiences personally possible. But the social and political potential remained largely unused.
One can imagine 100,000 party-people blocking the government offices and dancing for a different politics. As far as I'm concerned, it would've been great if, in keeping with the Love Parade's "politics of love", they had filled the concept with some sort of content.
If "love" had been connected in concrete terms to a peaceful, solidary and equitable collective life—without the exploitation and destruction of people and nature—then the whole thing would've opened up a new dimension. But then the sponsors would've mostly cancelled, too....
Only in the underground does there exist a genuine will to change that goes beyond the scope of ecstatic party-weekends, improved self-marketing opportunities and empty phrases about "Love, Peace and Unity". I'm thinking of, for example, the early manifestos of Underground Resistance, Spiral Tribe and Praxis-Records.
It went beyond theory and, in doing so, was committed to the practical implementation of such ideals for the purposes of idealistic non-commercial parties, "reclaim the streets" campaigns and projects that effectively bound "parties and politics" together. Also entirely crucial was the special development of communal forms of collective life, such as the nomadic tribalism of Spiral Tribe or the free spaces of autonomous cultural centers and occupied buildings.
In retrospect, how do you reckon the meaning of the Love Parade?
Sterneck: One must distinguish between the 1990s and the following decade. From around 2000 to 2010 the Love Parade was increasingly not just a swan song, but a fully commercialized remix of an initially good idea that was already commercialized.
In the 1990s, the Love Parade was an event of world-wide prominence in "Techno-Kultur", as the movement was labeled in the German-speaking world—or "Electronic Dance Music Culture", to put it in international terms. (Back then, "techno" was a meta-concept that included streams such as trance, house, and hardcore.)
The Love Parade amounted to a dancing network. It was the event that brought together diverse projects and streams. It bundled together newly emergent and pulsating energies coming from all over the place and at the same time increased them exponentially. It drew them inwards to a focal point and also radiated them outwards, all the while conveying an attitude towards life and becoming the leading image of a new culture.
Something happened that nobody could've foreseen at the beginning, to which nobody at the first or second or third Love Parade gave thought. This playful, colorful, rhythmic, partly frenzied and ecstatic, partly naïve but also winking parade, which was dedicated to the new party culture under an overloaded mission statement of "Love", struck a timely nerve. Within few years, the number of participants increased from around 150 (1989) to 200,000 to 1,000,000 or more, according to estimates (1999).
The Love Parade symbolized the development of techno culture from a small underground scene to the most important youth movement of this era, at least in Western Europe. What Woodstock was for hippie culture, Love Parade was for Techno-Kultur: a point of crystallization for key elements.
At its core stood, notably, the indeed fuzzy but nonetheless solid ideals of communal, ecstatic partying and free development, held together by a new music. These ideals corresponded to a deep longing, but in certain moments also to a concrete, live praxis. In the end, the capitalist machinery of exploitation swallowed up the Love Parade and once more made "Love" an empty marketing slogan.
You see a few parallels with Woodstock. "Love" was also used there as a concept and symbol. Are there shared roots between the Love Parade and the hippy culture of the late 1960s?
Sterneck: When you take a close look at the development of electronic dance music in the last fifteen years or so, there are without a doubt numerous points of reference. The peak of the acid-house era around 1988 was named "The Second Summer of Love" after the hippies' "Summer of Love".
Also, the initial ethos of PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) in techno culture was at least similar to that of the hippies; in particular, psychedelic trance (the Goa scene, to be more precise) clearly remains within the tradition of hippie culture in both values and expressive forms.
One must not overload these connections, however. Love is the principal emotional need of human beings. And every person also has the need for free development and community, the need for transcendence and flow, the need for a free life without the repressive norms of parents, society and system.
These characteristics can be found in every alternative culture as well as at the core of every music scene, even if the expressive forms no doubt change and, to some extent, these needs and ideals are only recognizable at second or third glance.
Thus, for example, the writings of early punk culture corresponded to exactly these needs, despite being in most cases rather aggressive and provocative. Likewise, punk was a trenchantly formulated expression of the yearning for love on an entirely personal level while also, in a social context, the yearning for community in opposition to exclusion and competitive thinking.
In this sense, the Love Parade is part of a long tradition and thus affords to some extent the drawing of references to the late 1960s. Mind you, there are also fundamental differences.
A new youth movement or music culture does not randomly emerge out of nothing. On the contrary, it is always a consequence of specific social and political conditions that are reflected in people's everyday realities. Their experiences, needs and longings shape the outcome.
It was only against this backdrop, for example, that hip-hop could emerge out of African-American ghettos with its expressive musical forms and themes, or punk out of the English suburbs. These, in turn, formed manifold interrelationships in which, if nothing else, the music industry had a particular influence; but the surrounding circumstances shaped the outcome.
Also, the Love Parade and its development is the result of prevailing social-cultural conditions. And here is where it diverges fundamentally from the late 1960s, wherein a fundamental collective transformation was a self-evident goal, even for the decidedly apolitical hippies. With the Love Parade, however, one must look long and hard for these sorts of goals and—excepting a few empty slogans—is to be found at best on subliminal and unconscious levels.
The Love Parade actually amounted to a renunciation of clearly collective goals; it was an expression of de-politicization. Thus, in the Federal German Republic (West Germany) of the 1980s, there were numerous strong non-government movements. But the peace and anti-nuclear movements as well as the autonomist movement could not accomplish their goals, given the power relations at hand, and they largely lost momentum.
Later, the fall of the pseudo-socialist dictatorships of Eastern Europe led not to the creation of a new, actually free social form, but rather to the blind adoption of capitalism with all of its accompanying effects.
These social developments were also reflected as a basic tendency at the personal level. Generally speaking, there was in many ways a resigned political indifference. Meanwhile, each person was increasingly looking to him/herself, to entirely private happiness and success as well as personal fun, development, and entertainment above all else. Under the banner of prevailing neoliberalism, the perspective was increasingly narrowed to the ego, to consumption and career—and not to the common good or even a new social perspective.
The Love Parade reflected all of this. It was about a vague "Love" as primal longing and about ecstatic partying as an escape from the everyday, but all of this at an entirely de-politicized and consumerist level for the purposes of an increasingly commercialized mega-event.
The question of whether the Love Parade is a political demonstration or a commercialized parade was time and again put to the organizers. But they emphatically defined the Love Parade as a political demonstration.
Sterneck: Yes, that's right, this issue always played a central role. In the corresponding discussions, it was not really about the political alignment or the ideals of the Love Parade. The background was economic. In Berlin, there is a regulation that the city should finance and undertake waste disposal after a demonstration. The organizers of commercial events, however, must take care of it themselves.
That's why, almost yearly during the 1990s, there was this debate: the municipal agencies would deny them permission as a demonstration, then the Love Parade would complain about it and threaten cancellation. In the end, permission would come from the city, certainly with high tax revenues and public image playing a decisive role.
With what arguments did the Love Parade portray itself as a "political demonstration"?
Sterneck: Dr. Motte, the founder of the Love Parade, always said that the foundational motto was "Peace, Joy, and Pancakes". "Peace, Joy, and Pancakes" is actually a Germany-wide figure of speech that describes a carefree state, albeit usually with an ironic undertone suggesting that it is only superficial.
Motte reinterpreted this turn of phrase as a political claim. He repeatedly stressed that the "peace" stood for disarmament in the context of the political Love Parade, "joy" for music as a medium for popular understanding and "pancakes" for equitable food production. At the same time, this certainly resonated with an ironic take on bureaucratic protocols as well as the dogmatic phrasing of left-wing groups. On the other hand, Motte was and is a person who really did espouse these sorts of goals, as seemingly naïve and formulaic as they are.
From Dr. Motte's perspective on the inside, these were not classically political stances of a central platform, but rather his Buddhist convictions. It was in this sense that he once spoke with me about this around the middle of the 1990s, saying that the Love Parade was his spiritual contribution to multiplying love and happiness on the earth.
Indeed, Dr. Motte himself gave a political speech at some of the Love Parades.
Sterneck: Well, yes. Dr. Motte's speeches were indeed legendary, it's just that hardly anyone could catch a word of it. Even if you wanted to listen to it, the acoustics were usually too bad. Those who did manage to catch some of it spoke mostly of shallow, spiritually glorified world enlightenment.
It wasn't even possible to read the speeches somewhere after the fact. In around the year 2000, I once wrote to the Love Parade and asked for the text of the speeches. The succinct answer was that they were constantly receiving these sorts of requests, but they lacked the capacities to take care of it. I was directed to the "History-Facts" section of the homepage, where I found nothing substantial, aside from a few dates and numbers.
This was very characteristic. The Love Parade team had no time for these allegedly central issues. They were presumably busy all day with sponsoring and promotion. You couldn't better describe the eager evacuation of meaning of the Love Parade by its organizers.
In your writings and talks you've described the Love Parade repeatedly as a symbol for the commercialization of music cultures. Where do you see the parallels?
Sterneck: If one looks directly at the development of beat-music, hippie rock, punk, hip-hop, techno or another large music culture of recent decades, again and again the same mechanisms are clearly seen. They inevitably arise from capitalist market dynamics and are susceptible to being structurally and even foundationally overpowered by these forces.
The dynamics of co-optation and exploitation are so strong, that capitalism even succeeded in bringing its own antithesis to the market, as can be seen in the example of Che Guevara products over the past decades.
From emergence in the underground to commercialization and fragmentation, it has repeatedly followed the same sequence, which I divide into eight phases:
Phase one: Rooted in socio-cultural conditions, a new and growing (music) culture emerges with idealistic beginnings. Two: It faces rejection and repression by the establishment. Three: The (music) culture becomes increasingly co-opted by the industry. Four: The (music) culture becomes the mainstream.
Phase five: Counter-movements arise from the underground. Six: The (music) culture splits into discrete sub-cultures. Seven: Interest in the (music) culture fades over the course of new socio-cultural developments. Eight: This turns to revivals and museumification.
These developmental stages can be applied to techno culture as well as to the Love Parade in particular:
In 1989, the Love Parade began as Dr. Motte's small underground party on the streets of Berlin. Around 150 people took part. This Love Parade had something subversive in its combination of a new, groundbreaking music with an idealistic DIY (Do It Yourself) mindset and a groundbreaking appreciation of the streets as dance floor. The parade hit upon the spirit of the times and the number of participants increased steadily (Phase 1).
Afterwards, the parade initially remained unnoticed in the broader public sphere, and it was increasingly vilified by the bourgeois media as a "drug-" and "sex-parade" while techno was continually denied any musical qualities (Phase 2).
Along with the growing importance of the Love Parade grew the interest of corporations such as music, drink, clothing, and cigarette industries, who sponsored the Love Parade—that is, co-opted and used for profit the spirit of the Love Parade through their products and advertising (Phase 3).
In the latter half of the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people took part in the Love Parade every time. The estimates sometimes surpassed the million-mark. Techno had become mass culture. By then, the DJs were partying at the Love Parade like stars, despite all of their original ideals. Numerous politicians from parties that had initially spoken against the Love Parade in entirely pejorative terms hurried to the Love Parade, in order to present a youth-friendly image of themselves on the live-broadcasts of the TV networks (Phase 4).
The development of the Love Parade was sharply criticized by those parts of the scene that were oriented towards the original counter-cultural ideals of techno culture. This brought about the founding of the Fuckparade as an expressly non-commercial, explicitly political counter-event (Phase 5).
Techno culture split into an increasing number of subcultures that looked back towards the same roots, but were starkly different with respect to musical development as well as ideas and codes of conduct. Only a portion of these still associated themselves with the Love Parade (Phase 6).
At the beginning of the new millennium, techno culture had passed its peak. The Love Parade was certainly still a mega-event, but a decrease in attendance was clear, as was a clear loss of the Love Parade's significance. Due to tightened constraints and steeply declining revenues from sponsors, the previously yearly Love Parade was cancelled a number of times (Phase 7).
A revival of the Love Parade came about over the course of a renewed interest in electronic dance music or, more specifically, party culture. The purported modernization of the event, however, led to a complete commercialization, which in turn led to multiple fatalities in 2010 due to catastrophic organizational failures. The organizer subsequently explained that there would be no further Love Parades. It is nonetheless foreseeable that in a few years there will be an extensive revisiting of the Love Parade's history, while a proper recognition of its significance remains to be done (Phase 8).
How have you personally experienced this commercialization and, more precisely, the turning away from original ideals that you had mentioned?
Sterneck: In hindsight, the individual phases can be made out rather clearly. As a direct participant, one experiences most of this more as flowing transition. Two examples cross my mind at the moment.
Marc Spoon was, at the time, one of the most successful DJs and producers in Germany. Like all famous DJs of that time, he took part in the Love Parade. I can still see it clearly, how he was standing on a truck. Totally drunk, he yelled repeatedly into a microphone: "Why are you all so fucking quiet?!" And the people around the truck cheered him on. That effectively became his trademark and he repeated it innumerable times at the following Love Parades. And again and again people gathered around Marc Spoon's float to yell with him.
For me, this behavior was antithetical to techno. Or, in other words, it was the symbolic resurrection of that which Techno-Kultur had wanted to defeat in its early years. It was the rebirth of the lowbrow, egocentric rock star.
In its underground origins, techno means: no stars, but rather a party community in which there are various tasks, none of them ultimately more important than the other. Techno stands for a collective trance experience and not for following a DJ in the most literal sense of the word, cheering whatever it is he does, no matter how stupid it may be.
I felt reminded by these scenes of the writer George Orwell. In his brilliant Animal Farm, he depicted the Russian revolution in parables. The animals rose up successfully against the tyranny of the humans. But then, they made the pigs into the new leaders, and at the end there was no difference between the old and the new regime—or, that is to say, in the recognition of leading figures.
Another example: this new musical style was only narrowly marketable. Sure, people danced to it for nights on end on dance floors, but large profits are only possible when the track is at the top of the mainstream charts.
And then, suddenly, there was Marusha, topping the charts with "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". It was the perfect marketing ploy. The track's foundation was a stupid "techno-beat", upon which a few melodious elements were laid down as well as the catchy chorus from the title, "Over the Rainbow", a universally loved number from the classic musical film, The Wizard of Oz.
The track wasn't released by a major multinational music corporation, but instead by "Low Spirit", a label that had emerged out of the scene. New distribution and production structures coupled with a neoliberal stance made it possible for techno culture to market itself more strongly than all of the previous music movements that had been bought out by major music corporations.
You repeatedly criticize the commercialization of music, but isn't it understandable that a musician would want to make a living from his/her music?
Sterneck: That is obviously fair enough. We all have to look at how we finance our lives under the given conditions. I have no problem with someone, as a member of a scene, being dedicated to it through particular activities and living within reason from these activities.
But there are also limits, such as when it is only about profit. Or when party guests are only defined in terms of profits. Or when one sells one's knowledge about a scene to a corporation. These are not about any "spirit of the scene", but rather about an optimal marketing strategy.
To put it in other words, for example, you can also use a portion of the revenues from parties to buy a sound-system that will be made available to idealistic projects. Or you could support groups that work to inform the scene about drugs or take a stance against right-wing political trends. Or you could use your popularity by publicly endorsing a good project. There are good examples of this in the most diverse music scenes.
The fundamental question is whether it is just about an ego-trip, or whether issues of responsibility and solidarity play an essential role.
What role do drugs play in the Love Parade?
Sterneck: The Love Parade is tantamount to a gigantic demonstration for the legalization of psychoactive substances. The organizers have never planned this or framed it in this way, but in this respect the Love Parade has nonetheless taken its own direction.
At least half of the participants at the Love Parade took illegal substances. At some parties in the early morning, this proportion was certainly closer to a hundred percent. When people in such groups defy a legal prohibition, it takes on a political dimension, even if it isn't articulated explicitly by the participants.
The most widespread were cannabis, ecstasy and speed, as well as—depending on the party and the scene—cocaine, LSD and a slew of other substances. Obviously, legal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes were also part of this.
Alcohol played no role in the early years. For a long time, beer was totally unfashionable as a dull drug of the old rock generation. Then came the discovery that ecstasy combined with alcohol in large amounts created a rather sloppy high. Then, the beverage industries managed to put new alcoholic drinks on the market and to re-brand beer as a party drink.
The establishment of "energy drinks" happened in this time, too. They were distributed at the Love Parade, at times for free. The strategy was to instill in consumers of these drinks a connection between a positive party experience and the drink itself. So then they would drink the energy drink in their everyday lives and be unconsciously reminded that feeling.
Among the lead sponsors there were always companies from the tobacco industry that wanted to provide their cigarette brands with a modern, youth-oriented image.
And so things came to a totally absurd situation, although it was legal in terms of the dominant regime. Massive amounts of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes were being distributed freely as part of a promotional campaign. Again and again, you would run into people who drunkenly fell all over the place or who became aggressive while plastered, and you would be dancing in an unhealthy cloud of cigarette smoke. At the same time, people were getting busted for a couple grams of pot or a few pills of ecstasy.
Drug policies never really had to do with just health issues; it was rather first and foremost about economic considerations as well as power and control.
Drugs have nonetheless already been with humanity for thousands of years. Prohibitions couldn't change anything about that; instead, they have often indirectly exacerbated the harmful aspects.
Also, techno culture (or party culture), with all of its subcultures, wouldn't have been thinkable without ecstasy and LSD. These substances contributed substantially to its creative development, as well as to the development of a particular sense of collectivity at parties during the early years.
Ecstasy admittedly was and is directly connected to health risks, all the more so with the conditions of the black market, where numerous extremely harmful substances are being falsely traded as ecstasy.
Ecstasy was also very much associated with superficiality and appearances. On E, everybody is part of a big family, the DJ is simply godlike and the overpriced entrance fee is somehow reasonable. In everyday sober life, people often couldn't get as involved with each other.
This was OK, if you were able and willing to keep the frenzied world of partying separate from the realities of everyday life. Those who wanted to establish a closer connection often met with disappointment or had to come to grips with something more profound within these connections. A small few did this and so techno culture fell ill—and the Love Parade with it.
Certain substances certainly have had an important impact, time and again. One can think of acid house, for example, where the connection was made in the genre-label itself. But there were also a lot of problems in connection to drugs.
Sterneck: Without a doubt, there were numerous problems. There was too little objective information, there were impure and adulterated substances, there were people who couldn't handle certain substances or who would fly off into a fantasy world.
But the answer can't be: demonization, prohibition and repression. The answer lies in the strengthening of individual people by means of the development of drug-responsibility (Drogenmündigkeit, similar to "harm reduction" or "responsible drug use" in Anglophone discourse). Responsible drug use involves objective information as well as the recognition and respect of one's own potentials and limits. And it also aims towards a community in which each person can freely and knowingly decide whether or not to take a psychoactive substance by any means.
Anti-drug campaigns like "No Power to Drugs" (‘Keine Macht den Drogen') are at best met with laughter inside techno culture. Also, more accepting drug-assistance projects will get no footing inside the techno scene, so long as they only want to bring something into the scene from the outside, rather than be anchored in the scene or have some common point of reference.
In contrast, extremely successful projects have been those that emerged from the scene and provided information about drugs without demonizing or condescending—in other words, they furthered responsible drug use. The first such project in the German-speaking world was the 1994 Eve & Rave, and then later came Eclipse, Drug Scouts, and Alice-Project, among others.
Even & Rave was always at the Love Parade with chill, on-site info-areas, thus combining education and counseling with a culturally-open approach. Eve & Rave also initiated the first networking meetings at the yearly Love Parade weekends, which led to the 1999 founding of the still-existing Sonics-Netzwerk (Sonics Network). Sonics brings together those projects that are active in the party-world and have an idealistic approach, most of them having a focus on "parties and drugs".
These projects, by the way, withdrew from the Love Parade over the course of its flattening out and some of them got involved with the Fuckparade, which continues to have an explicitly non-commercial and political alignment.
In the media, there was often not just talk of a "Drug Parade", but also at times of a "Sex Parade".
Sterneck: There were, at times, scantily clad women and men dancing on the floats. Even topless, every now and then. These pictures found their way into the media and created the image of a libertine Love Parade.
Certainly, the vast majority of the participants were by all means colorfully and sometimes even extravagantly dressed, but otherwise absolutely in keeping with current norms. But such a conventional outfit pales in comparison to scantily clad, sexy beauties—and so these were accordingly photographed and shown in the media.
Sex, in a narrow sense, played no role for the most part. There were definitely other cultures that were more open. This doesn't mean that techno folk were prudes. On the contrary, the experience of a good party, merging in ecstasy, sound and trance, was occasionally such a deeply sensual experience that the need for sex lost importance and only slowly reasserted itself at chilled-out after-hours parties.
The Fuckparade formed in 1997 as counterweight to the commercialized Love Parade. Was it really an alternative or just the grandstanding of frustrated DJs whose sound was no longer current at the Love Parade?
Sterneck: In the early years, the Fuckparade took place as a counter-parade on the same day as the Love Parade. At that time, it actually defined itself in terms of the Love Parade—or rather, in terms of a critique of it: against commerce, against hierarchies, against flattening out and against the exclusion of harder music styles like hardcore and gabber.
At the Love Parade, the idealistic and subversive spirit of the "Free Tekno" scene no longer had a place between ad banners for cigarettes, mobile phone contracts, or even, in one year, a new TV soap opera.
The Fuckparade was initially important as both concrete critique and lively opposition. In the long run, however, it would've become a pure negation of the Love Parade that was always also dependent on it, thus becoming uninteresting in the process.
But, over the years, the Fuckparade managed to become an independent event that no longer made reference to the Love Parade, but instead pursued its own course for a long time. For all intents and purposes, it was even closer to the original ideals of the Love Parade in certain respects than the Love Parade itself.
The Fuckparade continues to take place in Berlin, usually once during the summer. It is generally organized through direct democracy, expressly eschewing sponsorship and positioning itself clearly and unequivocally with left-wing politics.
It continues to take cultural abuses, club closures and raids as central themes, but it also maintains a broader view of party scenes. In speeches and on banners, there is an especially intense engagement with the fight for social and cultural free space, that is, taking a stand against increasing gentrification. Taking center stage, furthermore, are antifascist positions and a critique of state surveillance and repression.
The Fuckparade is part of a tradition of Reclaim The Streets campaigns. These are not only about dancing on the streets for a few hours and having fun, like at the Love Parade. On the contrary, partying and politics are closely intertwined. This reclaiming of the streets is understood as both an expression of a life-affirming culture and of a fundamental transformation of organized political praxis.
Due to its alignment and influences as well as its history, regularity, and size, the Fuckparade is probably the most significant Reclaim The Streets campaign worldwide.
The history of the Love Parade came to a tragic end in 2010. It went from a parade of love to a parade of death. How did it come to this?
Sterneck: Since about 2000, interest in techno culture, parties and also the Love Parade has been waning. This was still a mega-event with six-digit attendance figures, but the sponsor companies were withdrawing and the Love Parade was denied its classification as political demonstration. As a result, it had to cover the massive cleaning costs on its own.
At the same time, it had long ago lost its preeminent relevance and resembled instead a gigantic, exuberant folk festival dominated by drugs and alcohol.
After the Love Parade had been cancelled a number of times due to financial and organizational problems, Rainer Schaller entered the picture. His company, McFit, is considered the biggest fitness chain in Germany, known for its comparably low fees but also for its reduced offerings and minimal services.
At first, McFit was the main sponsor of the Love Parade, then Schaller bought the marketing rights—or, more precisely, the entire Love Parade enterprise (Loveparade GmbH)—and carried on the Love Parade under his own management. It was obvious from the beginning that Schaller had no connection to techno culture or to the spirit of the Love Parade; instead, he saw the Love Parade as a huge advertising space for McFit.
In the course of an alleged "modernization" of the Love Parade, it was opened up to other styles and offered to other cities. Dr. Motte had in the meantime resigned from the development project in protest and sold his shares in the Love Parade.
Schaller then decided on a departure from Berlin. Starting in 2007, the Love Parade was to take place in the Ruhr valley, moving from year to year between five cities. The Love Parade was carried out in Essen and then Dortmund with heavy media coverage, but in Bochum it was cancelled by the city due to fears of overloading the city's infrastructure. The 2010 event in Duisburg, a mid-sized city, was controversial due to similar concerns and financial problems.
The Love Parade was not carried out in the streets of a city, as was usually the case. It was located instead on the property of an old, disused freight station that, in contrast to all previous Love Parades, was enclosed by a fence. The reason was allegedly for safety measures. In fact, it was probably more about controlling drink sales. With that, the event broke with a broad and essential aspect of the Love Parade: full and open access to space.
The only openly accessible point of entry to the Love Parade property was a tunnel that also simultaneously served as the only exit. Given the tens of thousands of visitors streaming in both directions through one tunnel, it was obvious to any layperson during the run-up to the event that this could lead to big problems. All the more surprising, then, that the responsible authorities of the city of Duisburg approved the event after examining the security measures.
And so a catastrophe took place in this tunnel. Numerous photos and videos show that an intolerable crush reigned in the tunnel, that the streams of visitors were mutually blocking each other and the barely-visible security forces were entirely overwhelmed. A panicked state developed in the throng of people. Numerous people were injured, twenty-one people died.
The next day, there was a disgusting press conference, where the organizers and the city denied blame. At first, the word was that all security measures had been observed and the guests themselves had caused the disaster. At the same time, Schaller declared the end of the Love Parade.
In the meanwhile, there was an array of explanations in which the organizers, the city and, in particular, the responsible authorities and the police forces laid the blame on each other. Years of lawsuits are to follow.
The forensic clarification of which organizational error caused the fatalities is one thing. But in addition to that there is still a fundamental, overarching responsibility. Ultimately, greed for profit and fame formed the root cause of the Duisburg Love Parade catastrophe.
On the one hand, Rainer Schaller (or, rather, his company, Lopavent GmbH) wanted to see this through as cost-efficiently as possible. On the other hand, Adolf Sauerland, the conservative mayor of Duisburg, also desperately wanted the Love Parade, in order to improve the image of the city and undoubtedly his own image as well.
Revealingly, both organizer and mayor would later admit that the total attendance figures that were made public were in fact seriously inaccurate. During the planning stages, the mayor had been informed that the published data on the number of attendees at the previous Love Parades in Essen and Dortmund (officially 1.2 and 1.6 million, respectively) were many times higher than the actual turn-out. The published data allegedly served only as media promotion, while those inside the planning circles worked with substantially smaller numbers.
Only on the day of the Love Parade, and just before the tragedy, did the organizer and mayor speak of 1.4 million attendees in Duisburg. And when, after the disaster, the security measures and the corresponding authorizations were put into question, the number of reported attendees suddenly dropped to 200,000 at the most, obviously in accordance with the authorizations. Here also, all previously-published numbers were just promotional.
The mayor should've already resigned due to these false numbers, but with the support of his party (the Christian Democratic Union), which overrode an impeachment motion, he is still in office.
Is it true that Dr. Motte, founder of the Love Parade, is now active in the Fuckparade, which originally sprang up as a counter-event to the Love Parade itself?
Sterneck: Yes, Motte is now running with the Fuckparade. He has already given a speech at one of them and this year he took part in the minute of silence at the beginning of the Fuckparade, in memory of the casualties that took place at the Love Parade in Duisburg.
In interviews, Motte has repeatedly criticized the selling-out of the Love Parade. But certainly this selling-out didn't first begin with the McFit takeover, but rather well before under the leadership of Motte in the 1990s.
Dancing in the streets of Berlin at the Love Parade was something new, partially a symbolic breaking of taboo, sometimes also a breaking out from the bonds of ossified structures. It was an amazing feeling, bound up with diverse possibilities of development and organization.
But, despite all of its positive energies, the Love Parade has shown that it is also susceptible to rather fast assimilation. From the groundbreaking, ecstatic revelry of a new culture, it became a conformist, commercialized mass parade. The history of the Love Parade shows once more that detached partying and a few neat slogans are not enough if you want to really change something.
What is remarkable is the variety of connections between partying and politics, between rhythm and change—not just at particular events, but also in our everyday lives.
Sterneck, Wolfgang. 1999. Cybertribe Visionen. KomstA and Nachtschatten-Verlag.