Photography Wolfgang Tillmans

A ret­ro­spec­tive of Berlin’s rau­cous 80s club scene

No Photos on the Dance Floor! is the latest exhibition to hit the C/O Berlin photography museum, paying homage to youth culture and European nightlife.

If you’ve ever par­tied in Berlin, you’ll be famil­iar with Berghain’s no pho­to” pol­i­cy. The door­man of this leg­endary Euro­pean night­club slaps small, round stick­ers over every smart­phone cam­era that enters the estab­lish­ment, so you can’t sneak any snaps. Rules in night­clubs are usu­al­ly eye­roll wor­thy, but this strict door pol­i­cy hasn’t always been the case in Berlin – a city that saw its nightlife boom before the dig­i­tal era.

Now, some of the most spon­ta­neous, sala­cious and down­right rau­cous pho­tos from Berlin’s nightlife are going in view in a sprawl­ing ret­ro­spec­tive at the C/O Berlin pho­tog­ra­phy muse­um on 12th September.

No Pho­tos on the Dance Floor! Berlin 1989 – Today fea­tures over 100 pho­tos from the 1980s onward, tak­en by Wolf­gang Till­mans, Camille Blake, Ben de Biel and more. They show­case the surge of tech­no from its ear­ly days as a D.I.Y. ven­ture in fac­to­ry ware­hous­es, fea­tur­ing now-defunct night­clubs, fetish par­ty­go­ers and por­traits of Peach­es and Nina Kraviz.

It traces back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a time when indus­tri­al fac­to­ries were turned into par­ty spaces like Tre­sor, Ufo and Plan­et. These night­clubs were not only hubs of tech­no music but saw the rise of some of the world’s great­est DJs, help­ing carve out an elec­tron­ic music scene long before it was mainstream.

While some of the night­clubs are still alive today, most of them are closed, mak­ing these pho­tos an ode to a time of Berlin’s yes­ter­year. With com­men­tary from the pho­tog­ra­phers, here are a few pho­tos in the forth­com­ing exhib­it in a trip down Berlin’s hazy mem­o­ry lane.

SVEN VATH AT LOVEPA­RADE1992

Photography by Ben de Biel

The Love Parade was the most pop­u­lar elec­tron­ic dance music fes­ti­val in Berlin. It kicked off in 1989 with 150 peo­ple as a peace­ful protest, intend­ing to uni­fy all peo­ple through music. It ran until the ear­ly 2000s before spread­ing to oth­er parts of Ger­many, like Rurh and Bochum, and end­ed in 2010 after the Love Parade in Duis­burg left 21 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds were injured from over­crowd­ing. Berlin doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ben de Biel (who also co-found­ed three night­clubs in Berlin in the ear­ly 1990s) took a pho­to at a Love Parade in 1992, set in Kur­fürs­ten­damm in west Berlin.

On the truck from the right is Sven Väth with a water pis­tol, Rose danc­ing with her hands up and Inga Humpe from the back,” said de Biel. I can’t remem­ber how many peo­ple showed up that day, but there was a huge crowd. The Love Parade in 1992 was one of the last ones that had the real spir­it of the tech­no com­mu­ni­ty before tech­no became main­stream, in many ways.”

OUT­SIDE SNAX CLUB2001

Photography Wolfgang Tillmans

This pho­to was tak­en out­side of the now-closed Snax club by Turn­er Prize-win­ning pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Wolf­gang Till­mans, in 2001 (a reg­u­lar gay par­ty called Snax con­tin­ues at Berghain today). 

My images exam­ine the essence of what it means to be human; they are not about gaw­ping at crazy young peo­ple and dis­miss­ing every­one else as bor­ing losers,” said Till­mans. I nev­er sought to objec­tive­ly doc­u­ment peo­ple, and the fact that my pho­tographs nev­er­the­less con­tain so many indi­vid­u­als, is in part because my role is not that of an observ­er, but rather that of either a par­tic­i­pant or the direc­tor of scenes I imag­ine. The pho­tographs should be tak­en as authen­tic because they con­vey my authen­tic expe­ri­ences, but they aren’t real’ in the way a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­ph­er would use the term. I care about what unites us, not what divides us.”

MAR­CO AT INSEL DER JUGEND, 1991

Photography by Tilman Brembs

Brem­bs, a long­time Berlin res­i­dent, has been doc­u­ment­ing the art and music sub­cul­tures in Berlin since the 1990s. He was the for­mer staff pho­tog­ra­ph­er of the local tech­no mag­a­zine, Front­page. This is where, from 1991 to 1997, he took over 20,000 pho­tos of Berlin’s par­ty cul­ture, doc­u­ment­ing the rise of techno’s ear­ly days at Tre­sor club, among oth­ers. This pho­to, enti­tled Mar­co,” was tak­en by Brem­bs in 1991, depict­ing a lone dancer stand­ing in the mid­dle of an emp­ty dance­floor, dressed in black latex and sneak­ers. Mar­co was a raver from day one, this image was made at one of the first ever out­door par­ties in Berlin, at the Insel der Jugend’ par­ty in 1991,” he said.

GOLDIE AT DRUM & BASS PAR­TY1994

Photography by Timan Brembs

Brem­bs took a close-up snap­shot of Britain’s own Goldie, the now-recog­nised DJ with a set of 24 gold teeth. How­ev­er, this pho­to of the jun­gle pio­neer was tak­en at a gig in Berlin back in 1994, just as he was just becom­ing recog­nised out­side of the UK. Pic­tures were actu­al­ly not allowed at this Drum & Bass par­ty in 1994, but I was able to take a good shot, since I was so close up,” he said.

Brem­bs always shot with an ana­logue film cam­era, with rolls of 36 pho­tos at a time. Film pro­cess­ing would take about a week, then he’d head out to the next par­ties the fol­low­ing week­end. His pho­tos, as do many in this exhib­it, detail the free­dom of club­bing in a time before smart­phones – and sur­veil­lance. The images are full of ener­gy and show how peo­ple cel­e­brat­ed then,” he said. We heard, danced and lived tech­no – even though we were total­ly ana­logue kids.”


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