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Why the Arrival of German Techno Festival Time Warp is a Triumph for New York's Underground

This Thanksgiving, New York City has something new to be thankful for.
November 26, 2014, 9:00pm

It speaks to the health of New York City's dance music scene that it can sustain an array of underground-oriented festivals, ranging from party-hard club crawls like Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival to the more esoteric likes of Unsound New York. Hell, even the metro area's mainstream fests, such as Electric Zoo and the local installment of Electric Daisy Carnival, reserve at least a tiny corner of their massive mainstage EDM shindigs for real-deal techno, deep house and the like. But it's perhaps of greater significance when those champions of underground techno (the Germans, of course) decide that the city's underground is ripe for invasion.

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Time Warp, the beloved Mannheim, Germany-based throwdown that's in the midst of its 20th anniversary celebrations, comes to NYC this weekend, Friday, November 28 and Saturday, November 29, for a party on the 39th Street Pier at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Featuring Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin and Josh Wink, Dixon, Luciano, Sonya Moonear and tINI, among others, along with a list of New York-based artists that includes Anthony Parasole, the Martinez Brothers, No Regular Play and Frank & Tony, there is no doubt that this is techno at its finest.

Led by Steffen Charles and his partner Robin Ebinger, Time Warp got off the ground in 1994, with a party held in a warehouse outside of Mannheim. (That first edition's lineup featured, among others, Speedy J, Robert Armani, Laurent Garnier and John Acquaviva—not bad for a start.) "I opened a record shop in 1992 in Germany," Charles recalls, "and that's how it all began. We started doing small club shows, basically to promote the record shop. Then we did the first Time Warp.

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Post by Time Warp.

A location rendering of Time Warp in New York City

"If you look at the old artwork, you see that the 'Warp' is a lot bigger than the 'Time,'" he explains. "We already had the lineup and everything, but we didn't have a name. My partner chose the name Warp while I was on holiday, and when I came back, I said, 'No, we can't call it Warp! Warp is a big, well-respected record label!' So we stuck 'Time' on there—it's almost a mistake."

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Needless to say, Charles and Ebinger have gotten a bit more clued-up about business practices over the years. And they've made the occasional Time Warp foray further afield. Earlier this year, as part of the anniversary celebrations, the festival hit Buenos Aires. New York marks its first excursion into North America. Why now?

"Last year, after the word spread that we were going to be doing Time Warp Buenos Aires, the promoters we are working with now asked if we would be interested in bringing Time Warp to the U.S.," says Charles. "So I came over last June with my wife—believe it or not, that was my first time in New York City. We went out a little bit, including to a ReSolute party and a Blkmarket party, and I just really liked the vibe. I told everyone, "Okay—if we can find the right space, let's get it going. Let's give it a try."

Ah, the right space. After much fanfare earlier this Fall about the festival's original NYC venue, the Bronx's massive Kingsbridge Armory, the site was abruptly changed to the Brooklyn waterfront. Charles prefers to keep mum about the reasons for the move, but he's confident that the new spot will be just as welcoming.

"There's actually been this annual rabbi dinner [the Chabad-Lubavitch Conference of Emissaries dinner]; there's one happening this weekend, right before Time Warp," he says. "They bring in 5,000 rabbis from all over the world. It's an amazing production, and so we knew that we could do something there. But this is the first time it's being used for something like Time Warp." And he promises a clubbier feel than your average festival experience. "There'll be two stages—two dance floors, really," he says. "For sound reasons and for energy reasons, we have the two rooms made into black-draped squares. It really doesn't feel like standing in a big empty warehouse; it feels really intimate, warm and cozy. And the real advantage is that with the drapes, it really helps the sound. You don't have an echo, with sound bouncing back and forth."

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Though Time Warp is ostensibly a techno festival—and there will be plenty of straight-up techno—the New York edition's lineup, though not huge, is a relatively wide-ranging affair, with the deeper sounds of artists like Dixon and No Regular Play. "We've actually worked with Dixon quite a lot," Charles says. "He's been playing with us for six or seven years now. And with No Regular Play…well, last year, somehow their CD ended up on my table. I put it on and really listened to it, and really liked it. We're always looking for music that's a little more groovy, more house, for our smaller room, and I thought they'd be perfect."

For No Regular Play's Greg Paulus and Nick DeBruyn, who play on Friday, the fact that Time Warp is coming to New York signals a maturation of the local scene. "We can feel that ourselves whenever we go to Europe," DeBruyn says. "People are always asking about the New York scene, and what's happening over here. The clubs that have opened up, clubs like Verboten and Output and even little places like Bossa Nova Civic Club, have brought New York more into the global conversation."

Paulus agrees. "You used to have to explain to people what the music and the scene was all about" he says. "And they would say, 'Oh, I think I know what you mean. That shit sucks!' And now people know what it is, and people know that there's tons of dance music that is actually really good."

"It's great that they are making an effort to involve some New Yorkers," says Anthony Parasole who plays Saturday, "and that they went beyond the normal festival comfort zone by booking people like Danny Tenaglia or Victor Calderone. That would have been the easy way to go—'See, we have some New Yorkers!'—but they didn't necessarily go the easy route, which is pretty cool. I do think it's time for New York to embrace their own artists, beyond the Dannys and the Victors, and I think this festival will help convince people of that."

Time Warp has also enlisted the aid of some of the city's top party-throwing crews, with Blkmarket Membership and ReSolute each hosting a stage on the pier. "It was very important that we have local people as promotion partners," Charles says. "We didn't want to just come over from Germany and do this; we didn't want to hurt the people who have been working in the underground in New York for so long. We asked them, 'Can you help us promote it? Can you help us add some artists?' Our attitude is not to just come into a city, take the money and give nothing back."

If they had really wanted to cash in, Time Warp might have gone the easy route and booked a few EDM superstars to pack in the kids. "Well, we only want to have music that we really like," Charles says with a laugh. "I mean, I personally don't have a problem with that overground kind of sound; if five or ten percent of the young kids who are into the EDM sound grow into what we think is good music, the more underground stuff, then we will all benefit from that. I just don't want to do a festival like that. I don't think we could afford their fees, anyway!"

New York's underground is thankful for that.

Bruce Tantum is a writer and DJ in New York City - @brucetantum