Tresor talks: The Dusted Interview
The German label Tresor Records was established in 1991 and immediately became a crucial conduit in the exchange of techno music and dance culture between Berlin and Detroit. Originating from a Berlin club in the lower depths of a bombed-out department store, Tresor put out records by many of the best Detroit artists including Jeff Mills, Drexciya, Juan Atkins, Underground Resistance, Alan Oldham, K. Hand, Blake Baxter, and Rob Hood. The musical connection between the two cities created internationally-aware communities and afforded musicians and audiences in both regions the chance to experience fresh ideas and sounds. Berlin's youth culture demanded something new in the wake of political upheaval in the late 1980's, and Detroit techno continued its trend towards internationalism. The symbiosis proved fruitful, and along with Basic Channel, Tresor stands as one of the most important German electronic music labels of the past decade.
In 2002, at this year's Detroit Electronic Music Festival, it's clear that all of the aforementioned names are still central to techno; Atkins closed out the first night of the festival; Oldham and Baxter performed as well, and K. Hand played last year. Drexciya and Hood were *supposed* to play, and for the third year in a row many people consider Jeff Mills to be the most glaring exclusion from the lineup. Tresor has also remained relevant with respect to its output, releasing records by newer artists like Stewart Walker, Christian Vogel, Tobias Schmidt, and Matthew Herbert.
Tresor looms large at a time when electronic music is in a strange state of flux. The DEMF has been marred (many would say ruined) by creeping corporatization in the form of obnoxious advertisements and tasteless sponsorships, the continued reign of Pop Culture Media—the concern that fired Carl Craig, and a sub-par artist lineup. If Detroit can't hold a good electronic music festival, who can?
Over the weekend here in Detroit, I spoke with Tresor's Carola Stoiber about the label, electronic music, and the DEMF:
Ben: What was the club Tresor like?
Carola: The club is a vault room of a former department store from the 20's. The building was destroyed and only the underground is still there. You have to imagine that you go down and there are old safety deposit boxes. The doors aren't there anymore, but you can see the shelves where they put the jewelry and the money. It's all kind of rusty and rough. There was also metal—like prison-bars I guess, where they also locked other things. It's still there. There are bars in front, and then you go inside to the actual dancefloor.
B: What kinds of records were people spinning 10 or 11 years ago?
C: Detroit techno. A lot of Detroit techno. And then also the so-called Berlin tekkno, which has two "k"'s. It was the harder version of everything that came from Berlin artists until then. Really hard stuff. The club was found in the beginning of 1991, and opened in march '91. That was also the time when Underground Resistance from Detroit were ready to spread out the new sound of Detroit to the world. So we met them in New York at the new music seminar. We knew Jeff Mills from before because he was playing in his band Final Cut. We had them on our label before it was Tresor, when it was Interfisch records. That label existed since 1988. It had early Berlin acid house stuff and this electronic punk band from Sheffield called Clock dva. Then the club was found, and it opened. That was after the wall came down and the whole city was just moving from the east into the west, etc. Everybody was just exploring. So it happened by accident, this sound for this new situation, for this certain feeling. And when Jeff for example played for the first time, late summer of '91 with Mike [Banks], people were not dancing yet. It was all so new that they were just watching, and then they got into the music. So it was pretty hard.
B: Do you think the political events in Germany were related to what attracted people to the sound of Detroit techno?
C: Yeah, the whole situation was changing. Everybody was ready to check out what was going on on the other side. It became the soundtrack to that, but I would say by accident. I also think that techno was one of the first things that was actually a reunion of the people. At the club younger people from the east met younger people from the west.
B: What first attracted you to the Underground Resistance sound?
C: They were the first techno records I heard where I felt something deeper. I wanted to explore, also. You know, when you listen to music and it's nice and you like it, you want to know more about the people and where it comes from. For me, that started with the first records by Underground Resistance.
B: Had you ever been to the U. S. before then?
C: Yes, I was working for the label before it became Tresor as a secretary. I was studying and I did this job there. After I finished at the University, I did this typical European trip—buying a car in San Francisco and then driving through the U. S., so when I went to New York again in '91 it was the second time. I didn't go to Detroit on that trip, not until the middle of the 90's.
B: What was your first impression of Detroit when you came?
C: I was impressed because it was a totally different city. I'd never seen a city like this before. I came here and they told me you cannot walk out by yourself and they all drove me all the time. I guess there was already all this development going on downtown, but also buildings that are empty just being there, and nothing was going on. And no people on the streets. Downtown there was nobody on the streets during the day.
B: What did you think of the difference between all theses empty building and no people and then at the same time all these creative things happening on the underground?
C: I thought it was a little bit logical, because if you have talent and you need to do something with it, you go into the studio and use what you experience. I think a lot of people got into the music business in Detroit in order to have something to do.
B: What do you think of what's happening in electronic music today, particularly the electro revival?
C: I think it's too early. Revivals can be a little bit more delayed. Before you have an 80's revival, it should be maybe 2020. Everybody's looking for new sounds and trying to find the new thing. But new things are just happening; you cannot make them. So I think the electro revival is something that has to do with the need to create something new. But it's not new, it's old. I'm a little bit older, I grew up in the 80's with that kind of music and I don't like anybody to touch the old tracks.
B: What are your thoughts on the racial politics of techno?
C: Before we came to Detroit, we didn't know how heavy that was. For us that was never a subject. But when I came here I found out how difficult it is for black musicians to come to Europe where everybody's white. You need some time to work with people to get their trust. But I think that's a lot better now. Look at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, you have people from everywhere. It's about the music and not what color of skin you have.
B: How do you feel as a woman being involved with techno?
C: Sometimes it's really hard, but I've learned to be tough. Some people came to Berlin and I picked them up from the airport and they thought I was the driver. It's in the society. And I don't think women do as much track-talking. If you can't do that, then you're out. But I know how to handle it.
B: Do you have a favorite Tresor release?
C: The X-102 is one of my favorite records because I think it's a century album. I love the first Christian Vogel. These are the two main releases for me.
B: What do you guys have planned for the future?
C: We're having an Advent album out in the fall, and then we have the Scion project which is a little bit different than what people are used to. It's not a mix, it's not a compilation [the Scion project is a reworking of Basic Channel tracks using the software program Ableton Live -ed.] And a new Neil Landstrum album is coming as well.
B: Any thoughts on the DEMF controversies?
C: I Support Carl Craig. But I think that there's too much ego-tripping going on, which is always the case. In Berlin we have the Love Parade where you also have these kinds of discussions. Is it a sell-out, what the Love Parade people are doing? Is it too commercial? But the main thing is that it goes on. With the Love Parade two years ago it was really bad, a lot of sponsorships and cigarettes and even a political party had a truck there. That was a little bit too much I thought. But then last year it went down a little bit again. It got healthy, and I think the same thing will happen here.
Tresor recently released Christian Vogel’s Dungeon Master and re-released Blake Baxter’s huge hit One More Time with added remixes. The Scion project (a cd-only release) should hit stores in the coming week.
By Ben Tausig