Capturing Berlin’s anarchic 90s rave scene on film
If you go to a club in Berlin these days, you’ll notice something unusual. Unlike clubs almost everywhere else on earth that are filled with punters pulling their best duck-pout for the club photographers or their own selfies, in Berlin all photography is banned inside clubs.
It’s the visual equivalent of a ‘what happens in the club, stays in the club’ policy, and it’s a big part of the reason why clubs like Berghain retain their mystique and reputation for unbridled debauchery. It does, however, make it difficult if you’re looking to represent Berlin club culture visually, as we’re aiming to do for the inthemix Guide to Berlin.
It was while researching club photography in Berlin, though, that we stumbled upon the work of Tilman Brembs, a photographer who captured on film the glory days of Berlin’s wild 90s rave scene (which you can read all about here). Brembs photographed his friends, the ravers, the scenesters, the epic Love Parades and even some very young famous faces (from The Prodigy’s Keith Flint to Sven Vath, Laurent Garnier, Ellen Alien and Goldie) out raving it up.
We asked Brembs how he got into photographing the club scene, why he decided to keep the images for posterity on his website Zeitmachine, and what was so special about Berlin in the 90s.
How did you get into taking photos of clubs and raves in Berlin in the early 90s?
I started to take the photos because I got a job as club photographer for the famous FrontPage magazine. There were not many people allowed to take photos inside the clubs. I knew all the people and was part of the scene so it was no big problem to get my pics and I never published photos that would offend the individual.
What was the dance music scene like then? Was it really as wild, free and anarchic as it appears?
It was like the hippie movement, the ‘Summer of Love’. Everything was possible, it was a new age and fascinating. There were no problems with violence or the police.
What was special about Berlin as a city back then that helped the scene to flourish?
The reunion in Germany let us explore the other, until then unknown, part of the city (East Berlin) and we made a lot of new friends. There were a lot of unoccupied old buildings and we used them to party all night long. Everything was changing and the people had new ideas and were open to trying out new things.
Has the dance music scene changed very much in Berlin since then?
Berlin is a great party place but it’s changed a lot compared to the old times. Today we have a lot of tourists, whereas earlier there were only the people who lived here and some friends from other cities. Some of the early DJs became superstars and all the “old” clubs are closed now. But I don’t go out very often because it’s the time of a new generation.
There’s no clubbing photography allowed in Berlin these days, why is that?
It was never allowed but some people (like me) have done it. Today nobody wants to see pictures on the social networks of themselves when they’re wasted. Obviously in 1993 there was no Facebook, no digital cameras and no smartphones, so what happened in the clubs, stayed there.
When did you decide to publish your archive online?
In 2008 an ex-girlfriend posted an old photo of me on my Facebook wall. This was the inspiration for me to scan and publish my archive. I scanned around 10,000 pictures and sorted the best out. When I started the Facebook group Zeitmaschine I got a lot of positive feedback and today I have more than 5,500 fans who are active in this community. The next project will be a Zeitmaschine photo book.
What’s your personal favourite photo and why?
I like several photos out of this time but the picture of the girl with the “bad” teeth is the most impressive picture for me. It’s a symbol that everything was possible, nobody cared about the way they looked and everybody had fun. You can see that all the people are innocent and full of curiosity for what was coming next.
And you’re still heavily involved in photography?
Yes, I have been taking pictures for 30 years now. I still love photography, because it’s a great tool to capture all the moments of your life. Photography is like a time machine where you can get in and travel years into the past, refreshing memories and sometimes you can even smell and hear what happened while the picture was taken.