these photos capture the wild, queer nightlife scene of 80s hamburg
Hamburg's Front was not just a club, but a space for people to live their truth and freedom. We had a chat with former resident DJ Klaus Stockhausen about rave culture and finding “the real deal”.
Photography by Rüdiger Trautsch
Crinkly chest hair, sweaty bodies, leather everywhere -- when you think of excessive parties, Berlin is probably the first place you imagine. But what happened in Hamburg, a city up in the North of Germany, way back in the 1980s, is everything your wet dreams are made of. What's more, it's all down a place you've probably never even heard of -- a gay club called Front.
“It was a sparse club in a basement – narrow, hot, sweaty and loud”, says Klaus Stockhausen, who, with Boris Dlugosch, was one of the club's resident DJs until 1992. “You felt like being part of a big family, losing control of yourself, while listening to sounds, you haven’t heard outside before and just had a good rave-up without being judged by anyone.”
Front, which was founded by Willi Prange and his partner Philip Clarke, is known as one of the first homes of house music in Germany and helped acid house to its fame here -- even legend Frankie Knuckles got behind these decks. But it was Klaus who helped make the club a safe space for the gay community for 14 years.
“The best thing about the place was how we were able to educate the people in a musical context”, explains Klaus, who recently teamed up with Dlugosch to release a master mix which sums up the sound of the entire era. But he's wary of dwelling in the comfort of nostalgia. “This ‘everything was better in the old days’ mentality makes you feel old,” he says. “It’s a fact that disco and house sound fresh to the kids -- most of them only know the remix and think it’s the original.” He's got a point. Most of us probably caught ourselves more than once listening to a new track on repeat before realising years later there exists an original version of it, too. Oopsie.
“It’s important to listen to your intuition,” he says, explaining how he always trusted his gut feeling and never thought a lot about what to play during his gigs. “A fixed set won’t work most of the times. You have to assess the mood on the dance floor and react quickly if it changes. What sounds good at home can turn out shit in a club.”
Most of us usually forget that residents had to play all night long back in the 80s. An impressive feat coupled with the fact that it was as difficult to get your hands on all these tracks as on the drop of a new limited sneaker edition nowadays. “Everything was fresh, the music was new and there was hardly any club music playing on the radio,” Klaus says. “This slowly changed with MTV and the first video clips -- today everyone can access everything within no time.”
This is not the only thing that changed. By now, rave culture is a global phenomenon reflected in fashion too. Brands like Gosha Rubchinskiy and Heliot Emil create your next party outfit and let you actually wear the feeling of freedom. This trend is something Klaus, who has created music for fashion shows since the mid 80s and is now working as contributing Fashion Director at German ZEITmagazin, can relate to. “Rave culture means freedom -- and nothing is more important today.”
Nowadays, with the advent of superclubs and action-packed events, it's easy to forget that the most important part of clubbing should be the music. And Front was a pioneer in this. “Today there are too many annoying posers and chi chi clubs,” Klaus says. “But there are also the ones which are all about the music -- you dance until you forget everything around you. That’s the real deal.”
The Front Mastermix by Klaus Stockhausen and Boris Dlugosch was released on Back Records and is available now.