Klaus Quirini claims to be the first DJ in the world. Obviously this is an extremely dubious claim that nobody could ever really prove, but so far no one's kicked up a fuss about it, so we’re just going to buy it. Why not?
The story goes that Klaus stumbled across a set of turntables by chance one night, dubbed himself DJ Heinrich, and gave birth to an entire era. Because we have no idea what entertainment used to be like in post-war Germany and we were interested in what a 67-year-old guy thinks about being the father of DJ culture, we met up with him for a chat.
Vice: What was your first night as a DJ like?
Quirini: It was back in 1953. I worked as a journalist at the time. I had just turned 18 and I visited this local dancing haunt (the word "disco" didn’t exist yet). According to the law, I was still a minor, but I was drunk on whiskey. The guy from Cologne Opera, who was in charge of the music that night was really boring, so my friends and I were rampaging a bit. The local’s owner came up and said I was welcome to take over if I thought I’d be any better at this. So that’s what I did.
What happened next?
I began my performance with the words, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ll flood the local now,” and I played a song about ships. The people loved it and applauded frenetically to everything I put on. At the end of the night, the owner approached me and offered me 800 Deutschmarks per month. That was a lot of money that soon after the war. My father told me to come up with a stage name, because he was one of the founders of Deutsche Bank and he didn’t want the name Quirini associated with something like this. That’s why I called myself DJ Heinrich.
How long did it take for the first copycats to crop up?
About a year. All of a sudden the word "disco" existed and there were 42 discos in Aachen, which is a lot for a city with 250,000 people. Today there are only four discos left.
Were DJs in Aachen big-shot party dawgs like they are today?
Definitely. I used to dance to each and every song, sometime in the middle of the crowd. That’s why I always had two towels next to my turntables; I’m sure you can imagine how hot you get in a suit and tie. The dress code used to be very important, obviously more so than nowadays. One thing I notice today is that young gentlemen dress far worse than back then. If you paid more attention to what you wear, I can promise you’d have more luck with women.
How lucky were you with the ladies?
Times used to be different. I was married at the age of 22. At four in the morning you were happy it was over and you could now go home. The mentality was a different one, too. I saw myself as more of a substitute for an artist or a service provider that had a responsibility towards his audience. Like a waiter who's serving a bottle of champagne.
Did you ever get into the tricks of modern DJing? Mixing and scratching and the like? Turntablism?
No. That was after my time. I’m leaving that to Sven Väth and people like that. What I was really into was when the first visuals came up in the 70s. Music that’s played from a record is always something dead, something lifeless that has to be brought back to life by the DJ. In the 70s, things developed more towards effects: lighting and visuals rather than talking to the audience. Scratching started in the 80s, and is a further development of that whole thing.
What are your musical habits like these days?
You grow with your music, but I still like the Beatles, the Stones, the music from my youth, you know? People still send me lots of records, but I don’t even listen to most of them anymore. A little while ago this young musician whose name I forget approached me and I told him, “Listen young man, your music is terrible.” Then a couple months later he went platinum. The times do change.
What was the worst request you ever got as a DJ?
Actually, I can’t really recall anything crazy. It might have to do with the time that people always respected me a lot and they were as nice to me as I was to them – I never dismissed anybody’s music request. I was providing them a service, you know?
PS: Here are a bunch more old photos of the German party scene in the 50s and 60s (and we think 70s) that were passed to us by Klaus.