Author : Joe Muggs
Dimitri Hegemann is the sort of big character that music world myths are made of. Since the early 1980s, he has been part of Berlin’s scene, always ready to bring art manifestos, grand proclamations and exhortations to experimentation. And since the end of that decade he – along with the Tresor brand he founded – has been synonymous with Berlin’s globe-conquering techno scene. Meaning “vault” or “safe” the Tresor club was founded in the cellars of a department store, and its concrete-and-strobes aesthetic helped define techno culture in the mid ’90s. And with releases by everyone from Jeff Mills and Robert Hood to Joey Beltram and Surgeon to Cristian Vogel and Neil Landstrumm, Tresor the label became one of the most important imprints in all of electronic music.
When the original venue was closed in 2005, thanks to the ongoing redevelopment of the area, many doubted Tresor could continue but in fact it reopened successfully in a disused power plant in 2007 and has continued ever since. Like so many musical svengali figures, Hegemann has been controversial, with Landstrumm especially recently publicly calling out Tresor’s approach to its catalogue and business. But however it may approach its own past, the label’s achievements are undeniable, and the club remains right at the heart of Berlin’s – and thus the world’s – nightlife, ensuring that techno is still a vital living entity.
What was the first moment you realised that Tresor was going to be an enterprise that would last for decades?
In late 1994. When we started it was with the idea to find a platform or a venue to present the artists and music we released on our label. In early 1990 after the fall of the Wall we had no idea how long this interest in electronic music or the existence to the Tresor Club would last. Was it just a trend that would go over in a few months or is there a deeper substance? It was so new and fresh that we enjoyed the moments without thinking about tomorrow. And it happened that 1993 the Tresor Club nearly crashed. Less people came out and the authorities started to chase illegal clubs. But from the summer of ’94, when the Love Parade became popular and our records started to sell, I was convinced that the brand Tresor will have a future. I must say that this special location played an important role. This space was outstanding. It was hard and strong. Everybody who has ever been down at the vault was fascinated.
Tresor was founded particularly on links between Berlin and Detroit. In artistic terms, did you feel more German, European, or globalist?
European. I love the European idea and I really want to support what has been reached so far. Going to any EU country is not problem anymore. Young people grow up with this opportunity. I have just been in the beautiful city of Saint Petersburg. If I think all the visa problems and its costs are a serious obstacle for most young people of the international youth to visit Russia. That perspective is sad.
How would you describe the energy of the club?
Innocent, curious, peaceful, but ecstatic.
How has Berlin’s techno scene changed around you? Who were and are your closest musical allies in the city?
Well, there were a very few electronic music clubs and bars in the early nineties we have now a hundred and more of them! In the early days there was a friendly alliance with other clubs like i.e. Planet and E-Werk. But even today, where the competition is much stronger, Berlin clubs are working together in an alliance called the Club Commission.
One difference between the nineties and today is that in many clubs nightlife is dominated by tourists. And unfortunately less vinyl. We can’t stop the digital society. 80% of our visitors do not speak German. Most of the tourists and clubbers who come to Berlin are well informed before they arrive, but some of them misunderstand Berlin. They want to party only and forgot how to behave and to respect the freedom and tolerance Berlin offers. Berlin’s nightlife is not Munich’s Oktoberfest! We have to teach him more about the special spirit of the Berlin night, which is a demanding task. But most visitors bring inspiration and take some new ones home.
By the time the original Tresor club closed in 2003, “minimal” was dominating everything. How did you relate to that?
I did like it. It came a bit late. But for me it was all there already in this classic album Internal Empire on Tresor records by Robert Hood!
Berlin’s place in the world scene seems to only get more significant, but techno is also getting more widespread with places like Russia becoming newly important and creative. Can Berlin remain the techno capital?
To my mind there is no other city in the world that cares so much about techno like Berlin. beside this world class techno program berlin offers every weekend there is another reason that Berlin stays the Techno City Number One The music industry with companies like Ableton or Native Industries have settled down in Berlin. The exchange of new ideas between artist and industry happens daily and more directly.
I think as well Berlin is still a very free city where the nightlife is not so repressed like in other cities like London or Paris. Our cool and well informed culture senator Klaus Lederer is talking to the clubs and we have a certain political support as the responsible start to understand that the Berlin club scene is very precious for the whole city. They finally understand a healthy night time economy is an economic force and an important marketing tool for the city’s marketing.
Concerning Russia: this is not a free country. Techno has there the power for the youth as a revolutionary force, but it can´t be a real capital. Travelling to Russia means a lot of stress for people who want to travel spontaneously like in the EU – “today Berlin and next week Lisboa”. This kind of travel opportunity helps so much to let the European idea of togetherness grow.
How unified do you feel the European club/rave scene is in 2017?
I always prefer clubs opposite to raves. I don’t go to raves. Most rave promoters do it once a year but I feel they don’t know and don’t value the work of the clubs. It would be great if they would invest into clubs in a way that they pay fees directly to a club when they use the club’s brand for their rave or festival. Clubs work hard all over the year with high risk and passion. I did not have good experiences with rave and festival promoters and that’s why Tresor cancelled its participation for Nature One.
As with many dance labels in the 1990s, Tresor has ended up in dispute with artists: how do you work to maintain the label’s reputation in the face of criticism?
First of all I would not agree with that Tresor had a lot of disputes with artists. But anyway: problems and misunderstandings can happen in all relationships. Sometimes they last over years or forever. The reasons are mostly solvable. Actually I think it is not my way to go thru a media if I disagree with an artist or anybody. If I have a problem I always try to get in direct contact with the person I have a problem with.
The weekly business with a club or a label that runs now already over 26 years with ups and downs including different changes in the team causes changes and also misunderstandings, let’s say problems and sometimes “daily terror”. I am open to conversation for anybody especially for people I have worked with – to clear problems. It is definitely sad when people split but it happens. As long as I represent the soul of Tresor and its politics I will be open for solutions. Everybody who might have a problem with my company will find me.
Techno is now 30+ years old: do you see it existing in a similar form for another 30 years?
Yes techno will go on for years. I connect the word “techno” with different values: especially tolerance and sharing with each other. For me who lives in Berlin, techno was fresh and completely new and became the soundtrack of the reunification after the fall of the wall. Techno helped to bring together the kids from East and West Berlin in dark basements.
Techno will remain that unifying force. It is still the most energetic music that will fascinate generations to come!