Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno, und der Easyjetset. Tobias Rapp. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 2009.
ISBN: 3518460447 [German only]
RRP: €9.50 (paperback)

review by Sean Nye

University of Minnesota (USA)

"A new Berlin is emerging - and nobody is noticing" (p.9). The first line of Rapp's Lost and Sound. Berlin, Techno und der Easyjetset clearly states the motivation behind the book: the need for an update of Berlin techno. Rapp is well situated to write such an update. He reported on Berlin nightlife for many years as the editor of one of Berlin's leading newspapers, Die Tageszeitung. The first line also indicates that techno is no longer the focus of the media, since most scholars and journalists associated the Berlin techno-scene with the Love Parade. Given this relative invisibility, it might come as a surprise that Berlin has become a center of the international techno-scene like never before; from the concentration of print media to the conglomeration of expat musicians.

Can it be that techno is also the soundtrack of the zero years, as Rapp calls this decade? Rapp answers affirmatively - at least for Berlin. However, the role of techno has changed. Rapp aims to pinpoint exactly what these changes are. He asserts, "This is also not the East-Berlin of the nineties, that adventurous playground forming the backdrop of the Love Parade, with its flamboyant dancers on walls that still bore the marks of history" (p.33). The book primarily concerns itself with the innovations of the zero years. Four aspects form the core of his investigation:

  1. The move of the scene's locus from the Friedrichstraße/Leipziger Straße club mile of the 1990s to the Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg club mile of the zero years.
  2. The new mood of the scene in the post-Love-Parade age (after the Love Parade was canceled in 2004 and 2005 and definitively moved to the Ruhr Valley in 2007). The first techno generation is aging but remains active; simultaneously new generations of techno activists are emerging.
  3. The development of a new form of techno tourism and club management through bargain airline travel such as Easyjet.
  4. The replacement of hard techno (Tresor label) and pop techno (Low Spirit label) as the dominant Berlin sound by minimal as the sound of the zero years.

As his first focus, Rapp describes Berlin's new club mile, which consists of a range of clubs, including Berghain, Watergate, Maria, Weekend, that in fact spread over five kilometers along the banks of the river Spree. These banks form the border of Berlin's two famous countercultural districts, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, underscoring their continued importance for city nightlife. Rapp emphasizes that in terms of style and location, the new clubs differ markedly from the old clubs, for example E-Werk, Bunker, and the old Tresor and WMF. The old designs were innovative and playful, but also provisional. The owners knew the locations were likely to be bought out by developers. Nevertheless, this club mile prepared the ground for the rise of techno in Berlin and for the exceptional success of the Love Parade. The route of the Love Parade in front of the Brandenburg Gate was not only of historical importance; it was also crucial for tourism. The parade drew masses of tourists, who also took part in the club events of the Berlin Love Week surrounding the parade. The entrance fees were jacked up and the number of clubbers always overwhelming, guaranteeing big profits for the clubs. Until 2003 the Love Parade and the associated Love Week were the most prominent examples of international club tourism. Even without the profits of the Love Week, however, the new club scene is financially well situated. Most clubs now have long-term rent contracts and are richly equipped with the latest sound systems, with, for example, the club Berghain named as "Best Club in the World" in 2009 by the British magazine DJ-Mag. The scene is now even more international, considering the number of expat musicians living here, most prominently Richie Hawtin. Yet without the media event of the Love Parade, this new scene remains relatively unknown.

The diary of a typical club-week frames the book's analyses and assists in presenting the mood of the new underground, which is Rapp's second point of focus. The club-week begins on a Wednesday and ends (perhaps) the following Monday. Interviews with various protagonists - DJs, youth hostel managers, rave mothers, and club owners - enliven Rapp's analysis. Rapp's journalistic reports are a diverse mix of cultural, sociological, and economic analysis. His third point of focus is the entanglement of the scene in international networks. He emphasizes this interdependence through the new economy of club tourism, made possible by bargain airlines. Rapp writes, "The Easyjet-raver is the definitive subject of European nightlife of the zero years. He came, without a grand announcement, and has developed into the most important subcultural figure of the present" (p.78-9). Rapp explains how the combination of new bargain airlines on the one hand, and Berlin's economic crash after the optimism of the nineties, on the other, allowed for the emergence of this new European subject. The Easyjet-raver could both fly on the cheap and visit an exceptionally cheap city. Indeed, the failure of Berlin's plans for an economic revolution following reunification meant that, compared to cities like London or Paris, Berlin remains a bizarrely inexpensive metropolis. In short, what has been bad for Berlin business has been good for the international underground.

The first three foci of Rapp's analysis offer some considerable new insights. However, as an overview of the musical history of the Berlin scene the book is less helpful. Rapp's investigation remains bound up with the minimal scene. What for him counts as the Berlin Sound of the zero years was actually only one of many trends. He does not explain that minimal only came to prominence in Berlin during the middle of the decade through the establishment of labels liked Perlon and M_nus. Rapp dedicates an entire chapter to the Minimal DJ/Producer Ricardo Villalobos (p.110-120), stating plainly "he is the biggest DJ-star of the zero years" (p.110). With that he contradicts his earlier claim that the new scene has no stars, rather "the Berlin clubs and their public" (p.12). Indeed, throughout the book, Rapp repeatedly mentions Villalobos so much that he outs himself as a swooning fan and minimal-groupie. He thereby utilizes a trend that had already been purposefully hyped by him and other journalists. Rapp even includes a Berlin Discography, which is a personal collection of minimal hits - beginning in 2003 with, again, a Villalobos album. The book thus tends towards the genre of a travel guide and advertisement for minimal, instead of analyzing it as part of Berlin techno.

Furthermore, an examination of the electro and electroclash trends is missing. For his topic, an analysis precisely of these scenes was needed because they played important roles in the first tourist waves during the zero years. If Rapp decided Villalobos was necessary to include, then an important "star" is missing: namely, Ellen Allien and her label B:Pitch Control. She is important precisely because of Rapp's focus on the Easyjet-raver and club tourism. She has presented herself as a Berlin-DJ unlike any other, with her albums Stadtkind (trans: City-Child) and Berlinette and, even more strikingly, through her DVD club-tour-guide of Berlin for the Time Out series. Indeed, the material of her musical productions is a crossover between techno and tourism. Other equally influential stars during the zero years can also be listed: for example, Monika Kruse, T.Raumschmiere and Anja Schneider, not to mention Paul van Dyk, whose continued international stardom resulted in him receiving the Landesverdienstorden (Land Order of Merit) from Berlin in 2006.

To be sure, Rapp does examine other branches of the techno scene. There are interesting interviews addressing new media and technology with producers Robert Henke, Philipp Sollmann and Ben Clock. Rapp analyzes the debates regarding urban renewal with the example of Media Spree, a construction project that could have a major impact on the new club mile. He also examines new online forum restrealitaet.de and internet fanzine Resident Adviser. Nevertheless, one would expect a more diverse analysis of the many styles from electro to breakcore that make up the Berlin sound. Finally, the role of media needs more attention. Many pop-cultural festivals and institutions have moved to Berlin - print media like Spex and Groove, the music channels VIVA and MTV, the popkomm, etc. - a trend that has profited to the detriment of Cologne, which in many respects was the pop media center of Germany until 2000. Such gaps demonstrate that Rapp's attempt to combine a personal diary with cultural analysis is not as successful as he perhaps wished. Rapp loses himself in self-absorbed scene life and gossip. Too much club jargon and name-dropping takes place, thus making some of the book comprehensible only to insiders.

Despite these faults, the book offers an important update on Berlin techno history. The literature and media that defined the popular understanding of German techno was published more than ten years ago. The following titles appeared in the decisive year 1998: Simon Reynolds' Energy Flash, Rainald Goetz's Rave, Iara Lee's documentary Modulations and Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run. Perhaps the most internationally well-known German book on electronic dance music, Ulf Poschardt's DJ Culture, appeared even earlier, in 1995. For those whose knowledge of German techno is based on such literature, Rapp's Lost and Sound will be a helpful update. It makes clear that the history of techno is not over, and Rapp is correct that the zero years are an important period in this history.