From 1983 to 1997, Germany’s gay club scene revolved around the Front, a cultural hub located in a basement in Hamburg’s business district. Soon after opening, it became a institution known for its emphasis on freedom of expression and high quality soundsystem. In 1983, after being recognized by one of the club’s founders for his mixing at Cologne’s Coconut and Amsterdam’s Flora Palace, Klaus Stockhausen came on board as a resident DJ.
From his nightly post in an elevated box above the crowd, Stockhausen acted as tastemaker, entertaining regulars like Wolfgang Tillmans and Christiane Arp and helping usher acid house into Germany’s club scene. Although he left the Front in 1992 to pursue his interest in fashion as an editor and stylist, Stockhausen’s impact on the scene can’t be understated, as evidenced in 2018 when Gerd Janson’s label Running Back released a mastermix featuring Stockhausen and fellow Front DJ Boris Dlugosch.
Tell me about where you were born.
I was born in Bonn, the capital. I grew up in Bonn, went to school in Bonn, then went to study in Cologne, which is half an hour train ride.
Bonn is kind of boring, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s just not even in existence. That’s why I studied in Cologne. Had a row with my parents, as you do when you’re 15 or 16. Started to work in a little men’s boutique to make some money. There were lots of pimps in there buying silk Versace shirts and one of them had a discotheque and he wanted somebody to DJ on Tuesday nights. So I tried that, and stopped working at the boutique soon after. The club was all of a sudden very hip. It was called Pavone, like Rita Pavone, an Italian singer from the ’60s.
What year was this?
It was early ’77, ’78 we’re talking maybe, early Philly sound. First I just played Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then I played weekends and it was full of kids all of a sudden. And then some day the owners of the Coconut, an industrial club in Cologne, booked me for their gay Sunday tea dance, an idea they imported from America. They opened from 5 PM onwards and it was so busy. People came from Frankfurt, Belgium, Amsterdam just for these few hours, and this helped me get a name.
What records were you playing?
Very early on I was really into Philly and funk and soul. It always had to go from here [motions to heart] to here [motions to groin]. I always hated this sledgehammer method. You know when you have the bar and the DJ booth all in one? So on a bad day you could do the door, bar and the DJing. Really bad, but really okay. I got bored. I had a holiday in Italy and we stopped over in Milan and I went to a club with some friends and the DJ played “Spacer” by Sheila B. Devotion and mixed it around, and I was freaking. I was hiding behind this column staring, thinking, “Oh my God, people can really do this!?” I’d never heard of mixing, the only thing I’d heard was a WBLS tape from way back when. So I started a little bit.
Did you have a mixer in the club?
No. I had a very basic quick in-and-out, and ciao, basta. There wasn’t a goal. And if there was a goal it was to get them together as quick as possible. There was no stretches, or double or triples or delays.
Who was the guy you saw in Milan?
I don’t know, I have no idea. I wish I knew now! Coconut people got me for the Sunday, and then another club from Frankfurt called No Name wanted me for Thursday and Friday. The No Name owner was the boyfriend of [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder and the club was full of American GIs stationed near Frankfurt. There was a huge American base there and it was full of black gays and lesbians in the army there.
There were a lot of good black musicians working there in those days weren’t there?
Yes, there were. It was super cool. The difference in those days was that the Cologne club was a leathery dress code where you had to play Hi-NRG or they wouldn’t take their poppers and go for it. This was the end of ‘70s. Actually, there was another club in Amsterdam, as well. I travelled for two years, all around the end of the ’70s, beginning of the ’80s.
What sort of stuff you would you have been playing?
Hazell Dean, Man Parrish. You had a set of six to eight hours, which you didn’t even call a set, but some records you thought the people would like. The nice thing between the Coconut, the No Name and the Steps in Amsterdam, they had the leather queens dancing to Hi-NRG, the Gis giving it to “Pull Up To The Bumper.” And to turn this around to make the black people jump to the Hi-NRG and the leather queens dancing to Grace Jones.
Was the Amsterdam place leathery too?
No, that was on Mondays. “Hey Are You Gay, See You Monday!” It was kind of a one-nighter – I guess I wasn’t good enough for the weekends.
If there weren’t other people that you were aware of, what goals were you setting yourself?
My aim was to please the people. I was just into music. I just had fun playing and I was happy and the crowd was going crazy. And when the sweat was dripping from the ceiling, I knew it was okay! I didn’t even have a mixer at home, never ever.
Was there any interaction between the danceable krautrock stuff and the disco? Did krautrock get played?
There were big clubs which were strictly one direction, but I was working in small clubs where you could educate the people. That’s what satisfied me. It was good to go from Tears for Fears to Hazell Dean. To play this whole thing, to go up, go down, take a break, and start at 98 BPM and go up and people are screaming. That wouldn’t happen now.
Were there any other DJs for you to follow or copy?
No DJs with a name. There were a couple of gay clubs that got me going, but I was never really interested. There was a club in Cologne called the Pimpernel, and the DJ was called Frank. I knew him as a person, but I didn’t think he was particularly good or bad because I didn’t judge him. You either made people dance or not. The thing that got me off DJing later was the celebrity thing and the labelling. Is it handbag, is it dub, or what? I don’t really care! All of a sudden you had 30 charts of different music. To me it was always, “Is it nice? Would I want to dance to it?”
How did the move to [the Front] happen?
I went to Hamburg and in a bar somebody said, “You need to go to this club called the Front. It opened three weeks ago and you’re gonna have fun there.” So we went there and when I arrived the owner was on his knees in front of me, but I didn’t know who the fuck he was. He was the guy who was buying tapes from me at the Coconut. He was like, “Can you play? Oh, I feel really silly.” Anyway, a week later I did a little test drive and I just loved that club. I loved the crowd. It had a DJ booth that was completely enclosed, nobody knew who was in or if there was anybody in. I loved the anonymity.
I fell out with the owners of the Coconut. So…off to Hamburg. And the Front turned into one of the most influential house clubs in Germany. Which I didn’t realize at the time, by the way, it was just fun. I had a splendid crowd. People came from everywhere.
What did it look like?
It was a basement club, not that big, 500 people max. Very industrial, dancefloor with two stages on the side, very basic. Neon lights on the ceiling. Nothing fancy at all.
You said the DJ booth was enclosed. Did it have smoked glass or something?
No, no. It had round portholes that were high up, you could look out but people couldn’t look in. It attracted me because I couldn’t hear them scream so easily. So they really had to be before I thought, “Ah, OK, it’s going off in there!” By then, by the way, I knew about Larry Levan and Tee Scott through their remixes on Prelude and West End.
So you played a lot of disco?
I was super disco mixed with huge hits; my hits, not chart hits. Culture Club and Human League, which was not played much in Germany apparently. I think it worked. It went from there into house.
Did hip-hop not have much impact in Germany?
Not then, though breakbeats a little bit. Later the hip-house, like Tyree, had lots and lots. Because I played mostly for a gay crowd… they really take till now to accept it.
I really detested the little cupboards that music was placed into. I never ever planned a set. It was what you felt.
What about when the first Chicago and Detroit records came?
Oh! Hard on! Yeah.
Did you feel this was something different?
Yes and no, because I felt it was an extension from what I learned from Kraftwerk, Can, Bauhaus, Patrick Cowley and Motown.
So there was continuity there?
For me it was, because I never thought, “Oh, this is Chicago house.” Yes, you know, because of the beat you could put it there and there and there, but I really detested the little cupboards that music was placed into. I never ever planned a set. It was what you felt.
But if you loved the disco and industrial, then Chicago was combining those two elements…
Absolutely. So in the end it was like the industrial to start off, going more into the Chicago, and when everybody’s losing it you can play the stupidest disco. There were also all the Disconet versions, but 80% of the disco records, I played just the dub version by then because it was more into the Chicago-y housey thing.
What was the first house record you heard?
If only I knew. For sure it was in my record store called Tractor. I didn’t travel much. I did go to Spain a lot, but that was in the mid-’80s. By the end of ’80s in Germany it was already acid house, turning into techno. Acid house I loved, but by the time techno arrived it was not me.
What was the reaction of the crowd when you started playing house?
They reacted to everything at the Front, and I think that’s what it’s like with a small club and a resident who can educate people. If you really want you can make it. Nowadays, DJs, when they travel, they mostly rely on their 20 best records.
How mixed was your crowd?
It was mixed. It became more and more popular so everybody wanted to come. The best days were 70/30 mixed gay/straight crowd on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday was strictly gay. Saturday was purely gay. I always loved the Sunday because you could play stuff you wouldn’t necessarily play on the Saturday.
Was there a noticeable time when ecstasy arrived?
Yes there was, because everything went on for longer and longer….
But there were no great cultural changes like there were [in the UK?]
No. No, the culture in Germany was too mellow for that on one side, and too speedy on the other.
My take on it is the big revolution happened when the wall came down and the East Germans flooded in. The techno.
Yeah, but for me it was already over. By that time, I was already bored with the system and the DJs becoming celebrities. I already started working for a couple of fashion companies and I wasn’t at the Front every week. I had Boris Dlugosch – now he took over from me more and more. He stood in front of me as a 16 year old and said, “Can I watch?” “Will you listen to my tape?” The Front owners and myself could feel this shy guy’s talent and drive.
When did you sense this idea of DJs becoming celebrities started arising?
For me, the transition from acid house into techno. There was too much labelling.
Were there magazines documenting this?
I don’t know. If I read magazines it was the Face, Blitz and i-D. I was completely hooked on English DJ and fashion culture. I played a few times at the Daisy Chain in the Fridge in ’87, oh my God Buffalo... when Gerlinder was still alive.
Really? I used to go every week.
We’re on the same vibe.
Marc Bell and Daz Saund…
Exactly. It was kind of like the Front. It had these two levels, the Front was more compact. What happened there was you could basically transform into what happened at the Front. Then I sensed I was done, so Boris took over. I started to do a few of these “fly the famous DJ from Hamburg to a little town in South Germany” gigs and it was disastrous. I couldn’t stand it. It was also the first time that Frankie Knuckles and these DJs were doing German gigs. After hearing them in their residencies in New York, it just didn’t cut it for me. Hamburg lost it completely when the Wall came down because it’s just an hour and a half drive to Berlin.
The Front turned into one of the most influential house clubs in Germany. Which I didn’t realize at the time, by the way, it was just fun.
Hamburg was always considered a bit of a party town and leftfield place, wasn’t it?
Yes, the best clubs were always in Hamburg and Frankfurt, a little bit Cologne and Berlin, but more the Studio 54 type things like the Metropole. When the Wall first came down it reminded me a little bit of the first ecstasy period in London when the warehouse parties were happening. But instead of the house, you had the washing machine techno.
Do you think that’s to do with the lack of black music experience among East Germans?
Well, among Germans full stop, apart from the GIs or English people being stationed there after the war, because they really did help us on lots of levels, including music. By then, though, everybody was into popping 500 Es a night, which hadn’t been that common. You took one or two and you were happy for two days.
The same arguments happened here with commentators arguing that kids had replaced beer drinking with E consumption.
But with the East German experience perhaps it has to do with sensory overload, after all of that grey concrete.
But that was the whole culture. I took a trip to Berlin on Sunday and I went to the countryside there and it’s a little village and no young people left there, and you have this little house which has not changed for 30 years, but there’s a satellite dish and Mercedes outside.
When the techno explosion happened why was there no one saying, hey, let’s try something a little more mellow?
Because Berlin didn’t stand for mellow. For sure there were one or two clubs but it was Tresor that represented Berlin.
But usually when you have a scene that big there are usually satellite things happening…
I don’t really know because I didn’t go there that much.
Those guys that were influenced by American music like Boris and Mousse T, were they all from the Hamburg area?
Yes, they all came to the Front. Kind of. If they were not from the area, they still came to Hamburg.
Did the fact that the music was electronic change what you did with it, because you could manipulate it more easily?
A little bit, but at the end of the day it was about the music rather than mixes. I didn’t use lots of stuff, my goal was to make it long and good. But also with disco… I also used lots of delays, but I was always a technophobe. I would never even change the needles.
What about EBM? Stuff like DAF?
Oh, I played tons of that stuff. EBM was big at the Front. I played Bauhaus. If you played this at the right moment it really worked. Like everything. There were even two or three records in German that I played. I did a mix with Catherina Valente and Two Tribes by FGTH and all of a sudden at Tractor Record it was in the charts, and that record did not exist. So surreal and fun, a bit like when I was in a band called Boytronic for two years.
The ones that did “Bryllyant?”
Yeah, and “You” and “Man In A Uniform.” Kind of electronic body music, if you wanna label it.
When house happened were you aware of others DJs playing it? Did it feel like a movement?
I think there was a movement happening. After working the club we always went to this bar, just having a drink. When they started playing house, I knew the movement had taken over.
But in Germany…?
After the Front [there was] a one-nighter called Opera House in the red light district, a very old theatre, on Thursdays. But that was later; ecstasy, smiley culture.
Was that a direct copy of the UK?
Yes. But one month later rather than three years. They were very quick. There were smileys everywhere. Clubs got bigger and bigger. ’84, ’85, there was awareness of house. By ’88, ’89, house turned into the acid house thing, and finally became overground, because any wanker with no brain could move to it, whereas before you had to have a little soul to understand it.
This interview took place in 2005. © DJ History