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Ostgut Ton: Nick Höppner

Since its inception in 2005 Ostgut Ton has established itself to be one of the most respected house and techno record labels in the industry. With releases from Berghain residents such as Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock Ostgut Ton’s reputation is nothing less than legendary.

IA got into contact with Nick Höppner, label boss of Ostgut Ton to find out exactly what makes both him and Ostgut Ton tick.

Where are you originally from and what was your favorite subject at school?

I’m originally from a small town outside of Hamburg; I lived there for 19 years. Having finished school, I moved to Hamburg, where I lived for almost a decade. I moved to Berlin some time in March 2001. At school my favorite subjects were History, English and Art, but I was always more interested in History of Art. I was intrigued by arts development through the ages, its importance to society, culture and how others interpreted it.

Did you consider working within the arts as a gallery curator or owner?

I was not confident about pursuing a professional artistic career. I loved to follow different types of music, I listened to punk rock, hardcore, indie, drum and bass and techno. I dreamt about being involved with music. I used to have a band, albeit not a great band! But I never thought I would become a musician.

When I left school in 1992, computers weren’t as sophisticated as they are today. They didn’t allow you to produce music on them so I started to buy some equipment around 1994-95, I bought a cheap Yamaha CS1X Analog Emulation keyboard, a Novation drum station, an Atari ST which I used as a sequencer and a guitar effect unit.

When did you decide to move to Berlin?

Initially I was studying to become a teacher in philosophy and English but I managed to get a small internship in Hamburg, whilst DJing in small club and bars. I eventually got a job at Groove Magazine.

In the late 90’s early 2000’s we decided to set up the Groove editorial offices in Berlin, so I moved to Berlin and started to DJ around the city. My first gig was at Ostgut but I would also play at small underground raves and at Groove Magazine parties.

When was it that you started to play techno?

I was aware of techno but not a fan. Through Drum and Bass I discovered a lot of new music, 4 Hero, Detroit Techno and German Minimal House. This is the time when Perlon and Kompakt started up, so there was a huge influx of German Minimal and Techno. I was also listening to a lot of the great Warp artists such as Aphex Twin, Plaid, Squarepusher.

Being such a close-knit industry were you aware of what other newly founded record labels were doing at this time?

Yeah of course, Dial’s founders, Lawrence and Carston Jost were hosting a small Drum and Bass night called ‘Dial 666’, which happened long before the label came about. However I assume this is where the Dial name came about?

How would you define Ostgut Ton’s values?

Ostgut Ton is dedicated on quality. We center all our efforts on delivering productions of the highest standards. From mastering our releases to pressing the vinyl and it’s artwork it all has to be of the highest quality.

There is no doubt that Ostgut Ton operates as a well-oiled family, how do people get involved?

To get involved with Ostgut Ton you have to be close to the whole operation of both the club and label. We don’t think in musical terms but in social ones. This concept works well and it helps unknown DJ’s and producers excel their careers, ultimately they put more effort in.

Both the club and the label have become landmarks in Germany and within the electronic music industry, how do you feel about this?

We had no idea that the Berghain would become so popular, back in the days it was way more relaxed, now it’s adopted a whole new persona. Initially it was more social, almost like a private family. Now it’s developed into a proper operation, which obviously has it’s drawbacks, more administration, emails, accounts and all the rest, but ultimately I am ecstatic that the club owners gave me the responsibility of establishing the label.

When did you first meet Lee Jones, and what was your initial impression of him?

Lee’s an old friend of mine. I met him in Berlin around 2002-3. We met through mutual friends Carsten Klemann. Carsten was best friends with Lee’s girlfriend. Lee moved to Berlin not as a career move but for his girl. By 2004 we were all hanging out a lot more, we’d go out partying and had lots of fun together.

What can you tell us about your productions with Lee?

The idea to make music just came about. Lee and I had a lot of ambition to start producing together, after a couple of attempts the two of us ended up performing together on stage and producing music.

What has happened to your ‘MyMy’ project?

Early this summer we called it a day on ‘MyMy’. Lee’s pursuing his solo career, he’s busy promoting his Watergate mix CD and I’m busy running the label. When it boils down to it we were struggling to find the time to produce music together.

How does running Ostgut effect your musical production?

The label takes up a lot of my time, some days I’m spending 8-10 hours in the office. That plus me being a slow producer leads to only a couple of releases a year. I have loads of stuff on my computer but I need to finish it!

How did the Berghain and Ostgut Ton come about?

The idea for a label was flying around for ages, back when the old Ostgut club shut down it was not clear if the owners would open up a new venture. In 2003 I heard they had found a new spot, I got a tour of the power station in its raw form. We all immediately recognised it had potential; most noticeably it’s monumental scale. I told them that if they liked the idea of starting a label I’d love to get involved. Half a year after the club opened we met and I got the go ahead, we started licensing our first mix CD Berghain 01 mixed by André Galluzzi and I contacted Kompakt about their distribution service.

What can you say about Kompakt’s distribution service?

When we started in 2005 Kompakt’s distribution service helped us out a lot! No matter what question I had they always had an answer. Considering how un-established we were sales on our side were good. We broke even and gradually started to make money back.

What does the future hold for Ostgut Ton?

That’s difficult to answer…I hope we’re still operating and producing relevant music that our fans appreciate, although I’m not sure what type of music it will be, but I hope we will be broadening our horizons.

Who is responsible for the artwork used for both Ostgut Ton releases and the Berghain flyers? What do you see as the vision behind all of that?

We have an in-house graphic designer who works on both Ostgut and the Berghain monthly flyers. One of the club owners has a very strong visual talent, he’s always been involved with the artwork, but he’s now less involved as his priorities have shifted elsewhere. One of our bouncers called Viron Vert has designed the artwork for the L.B. Dub Corp 12 inch as well as Planetary Assault Systems past releases.

What does your management role at Ostgut Ton involve on a day-to-day basis?

Everything! From answering emails and declining demos to packing up records and sending them to the warehouse. I also have to booking the mastering studios, liaise with our artists and designers. It’s a lot of work but this is very much the job for me!

Regarding promotions we don’t promote the 12” at all. We only promote our mix CDs and albums via Tailored Communications. We press 70 white labels and send 35 to Kompakt. We keep 35 in our offices and distribute them to our resident DJs. We send out a couple of links to magazines and blogs.

Could you run us through how the Fünf compilation came about, and how you went about getting artists to contribute to it?

I was thinking of what we could do to mark the fifth year of Ostgut Ton, I was thinking of releasing a mix of the back catalogue, which we could release as a double CD and vinyl package, but this didn’t really stand out, I wanted to do something different.

A friend ‘Emika’ told me about her last experience at the Berghain whilst I was playing. She noticed that whilst I was playing, the club itself was creating its own sounds; stuff was shaking and vibrating, almost like it was humming to the music. I was inspired immediately so went out for dinner and started bouncing ideas off each other.

She started to do some field recordings using microphones and impulse response devices. She’s a programmer at Native Instruments, so she’s really experienced in this field. Throughout October and November 2009 she came to the club and started to record everywhere, under the stairs, in the fridges, even the noises the cleaners made. She devised a recording plan and was really serious about it. She then took the recordings back to her home and spent the next 4 weeks producing a 4GB sample library, which she distributed to our artists accordingly.

Our artists were allowed to do anything they liked with the samples. I felt so good about it because there was such a strong relationship with the clubs architecture and the label, because let’s be honest, the space itself has such a big influence on the music, the attitude, and ultimately the Berghain experience.
How did you approach your own contribution to the Fünf compilation? What was it that you wanted to convey about the club?

The club itself has an industrial character to it, it’s made of made of concrete and metal after all. When you’re standing in the club you hear a lot of ambient sounds. My aim was to create tracks that focused on melodies and tones, something deep. I also had the idea that I would employ a broken beat.

What can you tell us about your Airhead EP remix on Brainmath?

The original version of the song features on Scuba’s Sub:stance mix CD. I got in touch with a few labels and artists in the UK for the licensing of this mix. It turned out Tom Kerridge from Brainmath liked my stuff and asked me to rework the original track. I accepted and started working on it back in April 2010. I turned it into a basic, hypnotic bass track. I think it’s a great release, something that I’m unquestionably proud of working on.

How have you seen Scuba’s Sub:stance event develop at the Berghain?

I really enjoy those nights, I love going to them as I can listen to the music at a high volume. They always get good bookings and some of the most interesting talents in the scene.

Why do you think so much house and techno seems to recycle ideas from the past – and is that a bad thing?

It’s very important to be aware of different music and genres and especially their heritage. I don’t want to play new stuff all the time and I enjoy DJ’s who mix it up. I don’t think there is anything wrong with bringing out the old.

I’m not a fan of always being experimental. Techno and house is dance music and these formulas work together well. I don’t have a problem with using old sounds; it’s all about the balance with keeping new and old. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure to do something new.

What was the last totally new sound, genre or artist you heard?

I haven’t heard a completely new sound for a while, but I have heard a lot of fresh music this year. I can always identify new music being influenced from old sounds and artists. For example James Blake is a fresh artist in whom I can hear influences from J Dilla to Elton John. As a songwriter you take influences from others, you build on from others extending their legacy.

What do you listen to outside of techno that excites you?

I’m revisiting my old favourites; I like to listen to indie rock as well as UK Funky and bass heavy dance music.

Recently I’ve been listening to Pariah. I’m really impressed that despite his age he has managed to produce some very sophisticated music. It’s clear he has built up great taste and his Safehouses EP on R&S, is in my mind one of the records of the year.

Ewan Pearson
Ewan Pearson