A longtime nerve center of Berlin’s punk and hardcore scene has been killing idols and questioning authority for 30 years
When David Strempel first encountered Berlin’s Core Tex Records in the late ’80s, he was a young customer in search of a Suicidal Tendencies record and the companionship of likeminded kids in the skate and punk scene. By 1996, Strempel had accrued enough time at the shop to become a partner in the business. Located in formerly squat-festooned Kreuzberg, Core Tex continues to serve as the de facto hangout spot for the city’s punk and hardcore-minded youth. But where standoffishness may have characterized the store back in the day, under Strempel’s watch it’s a more welcoming environment, a meeting place where music and beer grease the social gears, and punk isn’t defined by a look but rather by what’s in one’s heart.
We are a punk and hardcore record store and mailorder. Beyond that, we sell music, the music we love. Right now, we are in our 30th year of existence without bankruptcy, without really changing owners, without big catastrophes. The store opened in ’88. It was in a slightly different location, just a few blocks down the street where I would already purchase my records as a punk kid. In ’96, that's when me and my two partners teamed up with the remaining team from Core Tex and we started our own thing. So my history begins in ’96. And even back then, it was nice because everyone, including parents, friends, people that would advise us, told us it’s never going to work here.
So looking back at it, everybody was a little bit right. From seven people involved in the end, there’s three left. Some people left because they didn’t want to be on their own anymore. They just wanted to have a steady income. They wanted to have [something] closer like a nine-to-five. So there were many different reasons, but now it’s the three of us. I think it’s gonna stay like this forever.
I can’t remember the very first item I bought at Core Tex, but I remember the vibe. I remember the feeling of being in an area where you kind of had to prove yourself. And I know many, many stories of people [that] would be just like, ‘OK, suck it up, go in there, grab something, and get out of there.’
I’d never felt really welcome in the beginning. I remember I tried to buy a Suicidal Tendencies record, and I guess they only had a few. Apparently more important people from the scene or people from bands had already ordered them. So they were there but I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t buy it from them, but I didn’t really understand, because I saw the records. Later, I found out that other people who were more regulars than I was would know: ‘This guy really needs this record.’ Once you established your face, it was even possible to get colored vinyl, which was limited and a collector’s item back then. So that’s one of my main memories of going to Core Tex.
We do try to welcome everybody, apart from racist dicks and stuff like this. The scene was much harder and rougher back then, and it was for certain reasons why not everybody is welcome, because you wanted to stay with people you can trust. We would always have random people stay at our house because you would know they listen to the same music, they gotta be good people. Nowadays, you can’t do this.
And even back then, every now and then some shit happened and somebody got his records stolen, but since the scene was so much smaller, it was easier. I remember a time where we were selling beer that was really cheap. There were a bunch of our friends who would basically drink in front of the store 24/7. Kind of scaring customers off, which was cool on one hand. Then at one point, we decided that we didn’t want people to be cursed at or made fun of because they have weird clothes or whatever. So we had to tell our guys that this is something we need to change. In the end we did change it by just raising the beer price maybe 20 cents. This was a win-win situation. We didn’t have to be the commercial dicks that had to tell our friends, “Please have some respect for the customer.“
Once the CD came up, that was a huge change. It just altered the way the store looked, because the record is different – needs different space, needs a different shelf. With the CDs came the download. Companies went out of business because it was so easy to rip the music, which as a result made the merch game so strong. I mean, the band, they don’t release new records, maybe only every four years, but they would have four different shirts a year. Right now, we have probably over 1,000 different t-shirts. That is a huge difference. Even if I look at old pictures from the store, it looks like there’s nothing in the store compared to now. That’s the main difference.
Vinyl is coming back really strong over the last two, maybe even three, years. We recently changed the store, the interior, a little bit. The CD is dying, and that’s something you can really see in the shop. Sometimes we have pre-orders. We did really good with the new Madball called “For the Cause.“ We have sold 300 copies of the vinyl, which was an exclusive cover for our anniversary. So those 300 copies, they were sold before they actually released it. And in comparison, we’ve had like, 13 pre-orders for the CD. There’s no love for the CD. The people who support this music and who live this music, they either buy the vinyl or they go to straight to whatever platform they choose, and they put it directly on their phone, or their tablet.
Our closest connection is to New York, because that’s the music we grew up on and we love. This entire New York hardcore scene, Agnostic Front, or the early Youth Crew bands. We’ve met them at an early stage of their careers, when they haven’t been as popular as they are now, so we are more like... We are friends. We’ve worked with so many bands. We’ve been a record label at a certain part of our career. We’ve worked with bands. We’ve released 7"s from Agnostic Front. We’ve done a record with a band like Hatebreed. Hatebreed is one of the biggest bands out there, still touring their ass off, playing over 200 shows a year.
The store is still right in the center of Kreuzberg, basically on the main street. Kreuzberg used to be right next to the Wall. And there was still a wall between East and West Berlin. Kreuzberg has always been a rather poor district with a lot of immigrants. Mainly from Turkey, which is also the part that makes this neighborhood very unique. But it was also always a part that made the neighborhood a little bit problematic for many reasons. So, this really is its own district, and for years and years, I have known so many Kreuzbergers, they don’t leave the district. They have everything they need. They have the cinema, they have their bar, their venue. I’m from a different district. I’m born and raised in Charlottenburg, I always had to take this journey to come here. It’s a little bit like a little village. It’s very nice.
In the very beginning, it was like an outskirt district. It was really cheap. There were a lot of abandoned buildings, really low rents, and in the ’80s, there was a huge squat scene. Like many European cites. Kreuzberg has always been very particular, with a very strong left wing movement. Many activists. This has stayed like this. Only that now a lot of these people who chose to be squatters, maybe now they run a bar, a venue. We’ve been working with the same people, like the people who run the famous SO36 club, only a few blocks down the street. For us, having a show at SO36 is the perfect spot, because the people can show up at the store, maybe grab a beer, maybe even buy their ticket for a little cheaper, and then they go over to the show.
I just wanna continue what we do, fighting this big type of capitalism. We just wanna be a record shop. And I can really say, as long as there’s people out there that love hard, or extreme, or other good music, we will be here to sell it, and to distribute it in order to help the bands and the artists to have a shot like us. The music we love, it belongs in the club. It doesn't belong in the disco, it doesn’t belong in your car, it doesn’t belong in your headphones. It belongs in the dark club with your friends, stage diving, pogoing, slam dancing.
I know it can’t be forever. I mean, I’m 48 years old. I don’t look like a punk guy anymore. If I worked at the counter and still had green hair or a Mohawk, people would look at me like, “Who is this guy? Long hair, gray beard, what the fuck is he trying to tell me?“ The staff needs to be young. The staff needs to have a connection with our customers. So me and my two partners, we move more and more to the background. You don’t have to look like a punk. Once a punk, always a punk. That’s something you have in the heart. But you can’t see it, unless you start talking to people. If I had to describe punk, for me, it always means question authority, question everything. But question especially people that wanna push you around, and tell you what to do.
I know it can’t be forever. I mean, I’m 48 years old. I don’t look like a punk guy anymore. If I worked at the counter and still had green hair or a Mohawk, people would look at me like, “Who is this guy? Long hair, grey beard, what the fuck is he trying to tell me?“ The staff needs to be young. The staff needs to have a connection with our customers. So me and my two partners, we move more and more to the background. You don’t have to look like a punk. Once a punk, always a punk. That’s something you have in the heart. But you can’t see it, unless you start talking to people. If I had to describe punk, for me, it always means question authority, question everything. But question especially people that wanna push you around, and tell you what to do.
The mission is to bring all those great bands to the people, and also for us, to just stay in business. Every five years, when we renew our contract, it’s a huge relief and some burden goes off my back. I’m like, “Wow, I can tell my family that for another five years, or four years, that’s what I’ll be doing“. And since I started, I’ve never thought of doing something else. I just wanna continue like the last 30 years.
Header image © Maxwell Schiano