(Click here for German version)
Flickering dots and lines shaping in the dark. Stripes of light erratically meandering through fields of vision. A reddish shimmer, pulsating incessantly at a rapid pace. A swirling storm of colors behind closed eyelids, connected by brief moments of darkness.
Hasty breaths. Lungs pumping in an attempt to follow the pounding beat of the heavy air. The compressed vapor of sweat, smoke and lived out youth drawn into bodies through quivering nostrils.
A sea of sweat drops on skins, woven into blankets of moisture, carried through the space, from silhouette to silhouette. Pearls dripping from the ceiling, wandering down skin, glass, and pumping metal.
An incessant hum in the air. Powerful acoustic beats, a constant drumfire of sounds setting the pace of the night in a tireless staccato. Vibrating levels of sound mercilessly forcing space, bodies and time into a form, only to tear them apart and put them back together again.
It’s a Saturday night in 2021. Or maybe 1991?
One doesn’t know. And maybe it doesn’t matter too much. It definitely doesn’t play a role for the music. It doesn’t care how we want to define it as its spectators, or rather listeners. However, for the time in which the music took or takes place, the music definitely plays an essential role. A music that in its theoretical, artistic, and cultural dimension may have undergone some changes in perception and ascription over the past three decades, but which has remained the same in its essence. (Fight us on this!)
Long before electronic club music, long before “Techno”, long before “House” found its way into countless Spotify playlists, commercials from international corporations and seminar rooms at social science institutes, there was already a small group of people here in the northernmost city of Italy, who have given this music such a significant meaning in their own biographies and everyday life that it could develop over the years on their shoulders and evolve into the very musical culture in which we live today.
With conviction, passion and the indispensable pinch of madness in their blood, they threw themselves into a project whose consequences they may not have fully foreseen at the time, but whose necessity and potential they definitely felt in their bones. A project that began in an inconspicuous building in Oberföhring, a small community on the northern border of Munich, from where it was to take on forms and dimensions within only a few years that one could not have imagined with the best will and the most visionary eye.
Said building, an inconspicuous barrack on a former military hospital area of the US troops stationed in Bavaria in the aftermath of World War II, was known at that time — before its time as “Kafe Kult”, as it is better known to some today — as “Kulturstation“ and had already acted as the founding ground of a number of subcultural spectacles from the mid-1980s till then.
In the fall of 1991 another one of those spectacles was meant to see the light of day. A spectacle, which should mark a turning point for the Kulturstation’s sound palette, which up to – and also since – then has been heavily geared towards Punk, Hardcore & other guitar-heavy music. And with a view to the coming years, honestly, the marking point was not just one for the store, but rather for the entire city.
The birthing hour of “Ultraworld”.
Full of energy and freshly inspired by a visit to “Tresor”, the infamous Berlin sound institution in the then freshly baked German federal capital, where our two main protagonists, Upstart* & Dorle*, spent a night to the mixing arts of Jeff Mills and Blake Baxter, which should leave permanent marks on their memories, set off to the task of carrying what they had seen and heard to their hometown of Munich to give it a home there as well.
Together with Charlotte Goltermann, who had been sung to by Dirk von Lowtzow as “Nana Mouskuri of German House”, and Herbert*, they put down their musical roots in the space provided by the Kulturstation and, with passion and pure will, created something that ultimately became one of the cornerstones of the electronic music scene of Munich. A fact that those involved might not have realized at the time. Because, let’s be honest — a group of young people who want to live out their passion for newly found music together? Doesn’t sound too groundbreaking, does it?
But it was. In a city, in a youth that was just about to stumble into one of the most wicked decades of pop music history (Eurotrash galore!), just to think of music that doesn’t drown in plump, pathos-saturated harmonies and replacable lyrics; in a place in which the ordinary guest would suspiciously eye music that did not entirely consist of infernally whipping guitar riffs and lyrics that condemned ‘the system’ deep from the heart of self-righteous conviction; to think of music that was made up of virtually no natural instruments, let alone lyrics; and then having the chutzpah of wanting to create a local music culture connected to that… daring, to say the least.
A dare that the quartet was more than eager to take. And one that has paid off. Armed with only a handful of pennies, the latest deliveries from the “Optimal” shop — the iconic record store in Munich’s Glockenbach, which Upstart founded in 1982 — and a ton full of ideas, the four of them set out to give that strange new music, that was so difficult to put into words, a home in this town.
And so, under the musical direction of Upstart and the creative eyes of Dorle and Charlotte, the cultural station was transformed once a month from a grubby shed into a space beyond what ordinary disco-goers were able to imagine at the time. Ultraworld did not live from the sound alone, as new, appealing, and revolutionary as it was. Ultraworld was an overall aesthetic concept, an adventure park for the senses. Optical, acoustic, haptic worlds, compressed to a few square meters in the heart of a public park in the north of Munich, and only accessible on this one special night of the month. And all of that despite the then common curfew at 3 — all night long. Those few willing and initiated, who found their way to the Kulturstation, awaited everything inside, from gigantic photo collages of sorted out art photographs to fully decorated forests made of Christmas trees, from plucked birds on the ceilings to overflowing jungle plantations. The unique interior of the Ultraworld, redesigned each time, was able to cast its very own spell on every spectator. A spell that of course only developed its full effect in connection with the sound.
The new sound of the new hour — Techno.
This music no one had known before. Which one did not really understand yet. Which one didn’t really have to understand, at least not on a rational level, because its impact was noticeable anyway. This music, whose performative power has lost none of its intensity to this day. With its inherent ability to create a state somewhere between ecstasy and meditation, between complete detachment and absolute inner calm, out of seemingly endless repetition and the sheer force of its volume. And all of that with little more than a bass drum, a couple of high hats and a snare.
To ability to capture this magic, to hold it in the moment, and to stretch it over a whole night is something that many have achieved since then. But there in the Kulturstation, that was one of the places where it started. In a small barrack in Oberföhring, equipped with little more than a mixer, two record players, a massive PA, a smoke machine and a few strobe lights. And honestly — what more do you need?
[ To be continued … ]