Chill In The Hour Of Chaos: Interference Festival 1994

Oli Warwick goes in search of the story behind the extraordinary ambient and experimental event

Techno and social liberation went hand-in-hand in Berlin after the fall of the Wall, and by 1994 the Love Parade weekend represented pure hedonistic abandon for hundreds of thousands of people across the city. However, a dedicated group sought to break the monotony of the homogenous party music prevalent at the Parade by organizing an event focused on ambient and experimental music at Tresor.

Interference Festival was the brainchild of Uwe Reinecke and Matthias Roenigh, AKA Dr. Motte, both of whom were inspired by the move towards more esoteric home listening fare in early ‘90s electronica and wanted to create a hub for the emergent sounds. Considering Motte was the mastermind behind Love Parade and Reinecke ran the largest electronic music distributor in Germany, EFA, they were in a strong position to make their idea reality.

“In the beginning Love Parade was German cities coming together for the first time in Berlin and showing up with their style and their music,” recounts Motte. “It evolved into a kind of music we didn’t like any more.” In 1993 Motte created The Garden Of ELM (Electronic Listening Music) in Berlin’s Tiergarten as a sub-event within Love Parade, with Mixmaster Morris booked to play the distinctive downtempo sounds he had built his reputation on both as a DJ and on record as The Irresistible Force. “Rising High was the first UK label invited to Love Parade,” Morris recalls. “We did the open air chillout in the Tiergarten and then after that I did an all night ambient sleep-in party at The Exit, just inside East Berlin.”

I was standing there with Jeff Mills and he said, “What are they doing? I’ve never heard this before!”

Uwe Reinecke

“Love Parade was at least 200,000 people in the streets by ‘94,” Motte adds, “so what we tried to do was provide another facet music-wise that was not full on power and energetic stuff, but rather a place to chill out or experience music in a different way.”

While Motte and Reinecke’s yearning for an ambient and experimental event increased, elsewhere the music was starting to amass an identity out of the blurry innovations of the early ‘90s. Artists like David Moufang, AKA Move D, started up Source Records in Heidelberg alongside Jonas Grossman, and Jonah Sharp spearheaded leftfield techno in San Francisco as Spacetime Continuum. Moufang ended up travelling to California and meeting Sharp shortly before the first Interference, leading to their collaborative project Reagenz.

With such movements occurring on the fringes and the likes of the Orb and the KLF on the UK charts, 1994 was a good time for ambient techno. But there were still few places dedicated to showcasing the music in a live setting. Reinecke and Motte managed to secure a setting for their envisioned festival in the unlikely climes of none-tougher Tresor, which by that point had achieved worldwide notoriety amongst dedicated followers of techno. “Tresor was the hardest club in the world,” Reinecke recalls, “And I rented it for three days during Love Parade when all these ravers are coming from all over the world and wanted to go to the heavy, heavy Tresor club. They came in and there was nothing like those sounds!”

With the venue in place a lineup came together that reads like a dream wishlist for any fan of the electronic music of that era. As well as Deep Space Network, Spacetime Continuum and Pete Namlook, Reinecke reached out to Atom Heart, Richie Hawtin, Higher Intelligence Agency, Sun Electric, Panasonic (later shortened to Pan Sonic), Thomas Fehlmann, Susumu Yokota and many more. Reinecke programmed set times so that there were no drastic overlaps, giving attendees a chance to catch as much of the music on offer as possible. He aimed equally to keep the styles constantly fluctuating within this arrangement, from heavier sounds to the more delicate, in order to give people the broadest musical experience possible. Keeping in mind that Tresor was a big draw for those wanting nothing but hi-octane techno all weekend, it was a pointed move.

Considering the festival occurred more than twenty years ago, most present accounts contain contradictory details, some memories rose-tinted and others soured. However, certain moments and performances left a strong impression on all present.

I had a paper sheet with notes for the set. At some point I saw that some idiot pothead had torn it and was rolling joints from the pieces.

Mika Vainio

“Sähkö were really brutal and loud and hardcore in a way that I hadn’t really seen,” muses David Moufang. “I’d known their more ambient, minimalistic droney techno stuff and I liked it, but what they were doing at Tresor was full thrust, really intense and so cool.” Indeed, the appearance of the Sähkö collective seemed to mark all those who witnessed it. Interference ‘94 was one of the pioneering Finnish techno team’s first gigs, at a time when the first Panasonic records were just appearing. “The line up for Panasonic was me, Ilpo Väisänen and Sami Salo,” recounts Mika Vainio, a founding member of the group. “I had a paper sheet with notes for the set, next to my instruments. At some point I realized that it had disappeared. Then I saw that some idiot pothead had torn it and was rolling joints from the pieces.”

Matching the Finnish contingent in sheer impact were the performances by Susumu Yokota, Makoto and Toby Izui, representing a wild Japanese interpretation of techno that had scarcely been heard in Europe before. “We had all these crazy guys from Tokyo and I was standing there with Jeff Mills and he said, ‘Uwe, what are they doing? I’ve never heard this before!’ says Reinecke. “He was standing there with an open mouth saying, “Fuck!’”

Uwe Schmidt, then recording primarily as Atom Heart, has a wry perspective on the whole event. “My set was scheduled for 7 AM,” he explains, “which was a really awkward time for me, since I felt unable to stay awake until that time and play a show. So I went back to the hotel, slept, had breakfast and came back to the venue around 6 am. Frankly, everybody I had contact with apart from those who organised the festival were pretty much wasted or out of their minds, which was quite funny to see from my perspective since I just came from a hotel breakfast buffet.”

David Moufang’s own performance duties were completed on Friday, leaving the rest of the weekend clear to enjoy the music. “I remember Sun Electric in the garden, doing a long ambient set and getting in radio signals,” Moufang recalls, “and you would hear some music coming through blending in with their set. It was outside and it was beautiful.”

“I think Pete Namlook was maybe the last performer,” he adds, “who I might have met for the first time at the Interference. He was playing and it was very late, so it wasn’t overcrowded, but it was a live set as well, with an EMS Synthi in a suitcase. I remember in the crowd there were people like Renaat from R&S, Morris obviously, and that was a really special moment.” Namlook played late on Sunday morning. After a long weekend of experimental sounds the crowd had noticeably thinned, but it didn’t spell the end of the Love Parade celebrations at Tresor.

“On the Sunday night Sven Väth came through,” says Uwe Reinecke. “He brought his posse and his records and then he took over the Globus floor and asks if he can play. I said, ‘Ok, you can do it,’ and I think they did it ‘til the evening hours of Monday. You know Sven Väth. You can’t stop him.”

The Shockwaves

After the dust had settled, the impact of Interference ’94 was felt on numerous levels. Prior to the event, Reinecke had the foresight to organize recording facilities for all four spaces, capturing all the sets on DAT to appear later on the Interference – Live at Love Parade ‘94 compilation. Aside from this selection, more recorded material surfaced as live albums such as Pete Namlook’s Namlook VII and Atom Heart’s B2 (Atom Heart Live Berlin/Barcelona).

It totally felt like we were part of a bigger movement of people who shared the same perspective.

Move D

Reinecke recalls that there were plenty of influential figures coming up and congratulating him on the success and ambition of his event, including members of New Order and Kraftwerk as well as Klaus Schulze from Tangerine Dream. “I didn’t hear nearly anything bad,” he considers about feedback post-festival. “Maybe there was one gabber fan who said it was not enough beats, but I don’t know.” At a time when genres were still taking shape and the business side of the electronic music industry was still learning the ropes, Interference represented a very real possibility for experimental music orbiting the fringe to leave the sidelines and reach a wider audience.

“Uwe brought this Interference thing together,” says Moufang, “and it totally felt like we were part of a bigger movement of people who shared the same perspective. I was really expecting the whole thing to have a bigger life span. In the party scene, someone like Interference aiming at a more ambient, listening-focused festival was a rebel in a way.”

The Sequels

After the success of Interference ‘94, the crew returned again the following year at a new venue Planet. Despite an equally weighty lineup that included artists such as Bedouin Ascent, Plaid and LFO, the weekend didn’t attract the same crowds as the year prior, and Reinecke ended up bankrupt.

“There was a radio station, Kiss FM, the official station for Love Parade, who really fucked me up,” Reinecke explains. “They said, ‘Can we borrow a DJ from your event, and then he can say where your party is and tell people to come?’ Some people who were coming were saying, ‘Hey, we heard on Kiss FM that your festival is closed.’”

“Interference ’95 kind of flopped,” agrees David Moufang, “but lineup-wise it was at least as cool... It was at Planet, which was not as cool as Tresor or E-werk. It stood for the East Berlin goa trance rave kind of scene; people that would have normally had nothing to do with Interference.”

Despite the losses incurred, Reinecke continued to organise smaller events through the ’90s. In 1996 and 1999 there were Interference events on the Love Parade weekend as well as many one-off gigs in different spaces around Berlin. “We had some very nice happenings and very strange locations,” Reinecke recounts.

“We did some kind of jazz thing with Pete Namlook playing 25 guitars, and Jimpster from England with a kind of electronic jazz band. Sometimes it was in a club, sometimes in a location where nothing happened before. This was in Berlin Mitte and the houses were not renovated, so you could go here and there and nothing really mattered. “

Reinecke also launched the Interference Records label, beginning with the 1994 compilation and going on to release a handful of singles and compilations that dealt in trip-hop and downtempo sounds. Despite this continued activity and commitment, Reinecke never managed to recoup the money he had lost on the 1995 festival.

While the eventual end point for Interference understandably left a sour taste for Reinecke, there is no doubt that he and Motte created an event that perfectly captured the mood in 1994. With the mixture of a techno temple setting, uncompromising sounds and an unsuspecting crowd, it’s understandable those involved at the time believed it could have been the start of a huge rise to prominence for experimental electronics. In hindsight, it seems like a more familiar tale out of independent music folklore, where a chance weekend in the spotlight proves the exception to a life spent operating in the shadows. More notable is that, more than 20 years after the event, Interference ’94 still stands out in the memories of so many as a weekend of truly exceptional music.

By Oli Warwick on November 13, 2015

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