Marcel Dettmann has been a selfless facilitator of Techno since his teens. When his hometown, the former GDR, a small suburb outside of Berlin, lacked the facilities to buy and sell records, he took it upon himself to distribute his favourite records from the likes of Depeche Mode, The Cure, Front 242 and a wave of post punk industrial cuts that spoke to his tastes him at the time. Even back then, it was obvious he was destined for greater things, something that would combine his love for the records, nightlife, and his ear for music, and that point came when a job for Hardwax and a residency at Ostgut (Berghain’s predecessor) encouraged Dettmann to make the move to Berlin, which in turn sealed his fate. It coincided with a time when Techno, always the musical underdog, saw a newfound interest in the genre facilitated by the likes of DJs like Marcell Dettman and the clubbing institution Berghain.
Following releases on Berghain’s Ostgut Ton label, Dettman would also go on to establish MDR (Marcel Dettmann Records), tirelessly working towards promoting a sound of Techno that would be raw, but not crass, channelled through a German sensibility for the sound as influenced by the Dettmann’s exquisite ear for music and the influences from his youth. Marcel Dettmann is an enabler of Techno, which today takes on many different forms. As a DJ he promotes the genre diligently; as a label boss, he offers an equal platform for new artists working in the genre to make an impression on the scene; and as an artist, he brings a unique voice to the genre through labels like Ostgut Ton, 50 Weapons, and of course MDR. His reputation precedes him today, and any discerning music fan will know the name Marcel Dettmann even if Techno is not their genre of choice. With a musical education that includes not one but two institutions in club music in the form of Berghain and Hardwax, his knowledge is not to be taken lately and when we, at Jæger got the opportunity to ask him some questions before he comes to our basement next week, we jumped at the chance, and here’s what transpired.
You were buying and selling records as a teenager from your hometown, Fürstenwalde long before you made the move to Berlin. How fundamental was that era to your development as a DJ and artist?
First I got to know my friends and label mates Patrick aka Answer Code Request and Norman Nodge. Secondly I was able to build up my record collection, which is still kind of a musical basement for me today. And I started learning much about what happens behind the curtain, things like the vinyl productions process or just all the administrational stuff, which comes along by selling records.
You focussed on a lot of synth-wave and post-industrial punk during those years, I believe. What was it about music from the likes of Depeche Mode and Front 242 that particularly struck a chord with you?
The best way to answer this question is taking a quote from Patrick Codenys, the singer of Front242:
In my opinion, you look for what you have inside. We called our style “electronic body music” because the body is also the brain. It’s not only about groove, swinging and dancing. It’s enjoyable but it’s also mental. Our body is also a great instrument that uses the senses. I think when you work with a machine you create an interface between yourself and the machine. I could symbolize this by a big arrow from the machine to you and you to the machine. You try to understand and manipulate the machine and try to get something out of it. The machine is giving it back to you.
You eventually made the move to Berlin and got a job at Hardwax. What did you pick up while working there and how did it filter into your own development?
Working at Hard Wax was the next logical step back then and it was kind of a lucky coincidence. I was learning a lot, gaining musical bandwidth, learning how to filter music, and above all I got to meet a lot of inspiring artists. I was stepping through all the processes that need to be solved while working in a record store and gained al lot of inside knowledge about the music market.
Another monumental moment was your residency at Ostgut and then Berghain. You’ve said in another interview that Berlin, Berghain and Hardwax basically “created” you. How do you think the club and city influenced you?
These three things, Berlin, Berghain and Hard Wax are the most influential things to my career as a DJ and musician. I grew up in Berlin, personally and musically, so these things made me to what I’m today.
What do you look for in music specifically today when you’re looking for something to play?
The point is: I don’t look for something to play; things open up to me when I hear it. If I like a certain piece of music I always try to work it into one of my sets. Sure, I’m mostly orientated to techno music, but I’m having a hard time dealing with borders, especially in music, so I don’t really care.
How has having your own label had any influence on your career as a DJ and a producer do you think?
When I started the label 11 years ago, it was about releasing music by my friends and me, there was no plan behind it, no business model, it was just about releasing the music we made. In the end it helped focussing on my kind of style, there was no need to arrange with other people’s opinions. I was able to produce and release just the music I liked, no compromises had to be made.
Your set at Jæger is billed as an MDR 4 hour long set. Firstly, I know you prefer an extended set. Why is that?
Long time sets give you the opportunity to unfold yourself much more. I got more time to develop things and emotions, I don’t have to „function“, I can build up my set more intuitive, it becomes more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Secondly, how does an MDR showcase set differ from a straightforward Marcel Dettmann set?
Usually an MDR night is a showcase with several acts from the label, but in this case we only have four hours time, so I’m coming all by myself. I’m quite excited how this will work out and what will be special about that night. I’m really looking forward to that.