Berlin: The Home of Real Drum and Bass

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Berlin: The Home of Real Drum and Bass

It isn't ALL about techno.

So, what the hell is Air Max Day? For those that aren't up on their sneakerhead knowledge, March 26th marks the day in 1987 when the original Air Max with its visible air bubble was released to rapturous acclaim and the shoe's subsequent near 30 year reign. The Air Max 1 pretty much defines the moment Nike became the sneaker company. The shoe's creation was lead by legendary designer, former athlete and architect, Tinker Hatfield Nike's current Vice Pres for Design and Special Projects, Hatfield also designed all the best Jordans and the iconic Air Max 90.

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If you're like me and don't have a whole heap of money you probably want the footwear you do buy to be the best. Each generation of Air Max has represented the pinnacle of Nike's Air technology, engineering in as much air cushioning as scientifically possible at a reasonable price point and a robust build level. A high specification and light running shoe from the street's favourite brand was always going to appeal to Europe's sportswear clad fans of electronic dance music. In the early days it was as if each leap in Air technology, each new Air Max somehow captured the coinciding technological leaps in the music being danced to, I mean who wouldn't if they could want to wear the futurist beats they could hear in the form of futurist crepes on their feet? Sure there are more important things in life but with the years since 1987 having been the most exciting both in electronic music and sneaker design ever, good music and good trainers are a strong start.

It was a warm July afternoon in 1998 as I was speeding on the A4 in a rented Mercedes E class. This was the ride of choice when traversing the country with my mates Miguel Ayala, Ronin and Glacius, also known as the Precision Crew. Our destination: Berlin, where we were booked to play at the prestigious WMF club. The Berlin collective Hard:Edged were hosting their Drum & Bass events every Friday at this state-of-the-art club at the Johannishof, a former guest house for the East German council before the wall came down. There was always a bit of rivalry in Drum & Bass circles between my homebase Frankfurt and Berlin, so the fact that the four of us were booked as a team to perform in Germany's unofficial nightlife capitol was as much a compliment as it was a challenge. Hard:Edged had reputation for tearing down the house, and while most of Drum & Bass events in mainland Europe required headliners from the motherland to draw a crowd, Hard:Edged could rely on their local talent to deliver the message. And they made sure that there were no misunderstandings: stacks of speakers, 360 degree projections, the whole nine yards.

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But Berlin's love affair with Drum&Bass started long before the WMF. The "Toaster" in Neue Schönhauser Strasse opened in 1994, and it was there that many were exposed to the latest UK whitelabels for the first time. However, Berlin was always a bit more sophisticated, and the crowd knew their tunes, had common sense when to call a rewind and looked at you in disdain if you clanged your mix. One thing that struck me as relevant was the infrastructure that Berlin offered for Jungle to thrive: in addition to a number of specialist record stores you had weekly shows on terrestrial radio stations Kiss FM and Fritz, and a Neumann VSM 66 dubplate cutting machine expertly manned by CGB-1 pulling double shifts before the weekend started.

Around 1995 Germany was hit by a major Jungle hype, and the media was going ballistic over the sound from the future. Jungle was praised as "the black alternative to Techno", but CDs were sitting in the shops like stale bread. While this wasn't the sole reason for the following backlash, it was an indicator that the complex breaks and basslines were maybe too taxing for the "untrained" ear. So it didn't take long for Jungle to be no longer considered the next big thing, and by the end of 1996 it went back underground. However, the following year the "Icon" club opened its doors in an old brewery in the Prenzlauer Berg area, the first venue explicitly catering for a Jungle crowd. This was a sign that despite all the bad rep, Berlin's Jungle scene was still going from strength to strength. Thanks to the unique topography of the nightlife in Germany's capitol, Jungle was rubbing shoulders with its older cousins House and Techno, allowing for a unique form of cross- fertilisation not seen anywhere else. It's no wonder that Hard:Edged was representing at the Loveparade 1997 with a crew of heavy hitters from the UK, showing all the naysayers that the genre was still packing a heavy punch.

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In terms of style, drum 'n' bass crowds in Berlin looked different from those in London. While the local activists acknowledged the fact that the sound originated in the UK, they were quick to put their own spin on things. The fanzine "Easy" was launched in 1994 to document the latest developments, followed in 1997 by the long-running music and lifestyle magazine "De:Bug". While the fashion brand "Irie Daily" from Kreuzberg was omnipresent at dances in Berlin, also thanks to their close ties with some of the scene's figureheads.

Berlin unlike the UK didn't have a native ragga scene and most of jungle's German fans came to the music through hardcore and techno, hence the Berlin scene's fondness for T-shirts and record bags from Jeff Mill's Detroit based Underground Resistance collective. Subsequently the MCs didn't have the prominence in Berlin they'd had in London and the clothes were less ostentatious. The components of the Junglist soldier look were all there just toned down. That meant Air Max 95s—a sneaker that with it's radical new styling and a forefoot air bubble seemed to be as forward facing as the music—baggy T-shirts and baseball caps. Indeed the basic building blocks of muted sportswear and low-key casual can still be seen on Berlin's clubbers with their music first attitude even today. Although looking at some of the fliers from that time you can also see the undercurrent of the cyber aesthetic taken up by the trance world. Another sub trend was the wearing of camouflage and military clothes, especially cargo pants providing sartorial links to Berlin's industrial, punk and Techno scenes.

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The of Berlin's jungle scene was pragmatic and rugged, but with a distinct club vibe, taking the foundation of the sound and adapting it to the House and Techno paradigms. And I guess this is its heritage to this day. A lot has happened since Jungle's halcyon days: it spawned a number of top 10 hits, died several deaths and became a truly global scene in the process. And somehow there is always a bedroom producer with the skills and the vision to inject fresh blood into the Jungle sound when it is most desperately needed. But that's another story for another time.

Read more in this series:

London: The Home of Shuffling
Amsterdam: The Home of Gabber
Paris: The Home of Clubbing in the Banileue

Photographer - Alex de Mora
Creative Director and Stylist - Kylie Griffiths
Assistants - Ellie, Sian, and Thomas
Production Assistant - Tabitha Martin
Hair - Johnnie/Morocaan Oil
Hair Stylist Assistant - Kumiko
Make Up- Lucy Wearing/MAC Cosmetics
Make Up Assistants - Lydia Harding and Celia Evans.
Models - Callum, Cleso and Matthew