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Are you already working or still dancing?

Are you already working or still dancing?
Photo: © Wencke Grothkopp

How are jobs created in the Berlin techno scene? Jan-Michael Kühn alias Fresh Meat is DJ, runs a blog for techno and club culture and is a researcher on the topic "Working in the Berlin Techno scene". Now his book has been published. He says: In the scene many people earn little and few earn a lot, but for a large part of the scene it's legitimate. It's about subcultural recognition, aesthetics and active scene existence, economic profit is secondary.


Interview Jens Thomas


CCB Magazine: Hello Jan, you run a blog called the "Berlin Mitte Institut", but you don't look like an institute.

Jan-Michael Kühn: Yes, I'm more of a project, that's how I feel.

CCB Magazine:Via your blog you connect the scene and inform about current developments. At the same time you are a DJ, scientist and do research on the topic "Working in the Berlin techno scene" - forms of community, scene structure, gainful employment. What are your results?

Jan-Michael Kühn:The work in the techno scene is organized in a scene-like manner according to its own aesthetic criteria in its own infrastructure and value chain on a small scale. This is not primarily about economic exploitation, but rather about scene aesthetics and about being part of the scene. Subcultural recognition, social prestige and reputation play a decisive role for the scene. The cultural economy of the techno scene has very specific characteristics that also distinguish it from mass cultural scenes and the classical music industry.

CCB Magazine:For a long time, however, the techno scene in particular was notorious as a commercial playground and part of the mass market.

Jan-Michael Kühn:Yes, that's true, but the techno scene has its own markets with its own logic, resulting from its forms of cultural production. On the one hand, in the 1990s there was the big commercial market around performers like Marusha or Westbam, which then collapsed briefly, but has now returned to the charts. On the other hand, there was and is the club-based music culture, which is different from the mass market. But techno is always about electronic dance music, whether commercial or non-commercial, that is the focus. The markets open up directly from the scene.

CCB Magazine:It sounds as if you're going to party for years and years, until at some point you might end up with a job.

Jan-Michael Kühn:The people come from a scene context and that means: You don't do an university education, but you move in the scene until you become part of it. The actors ask themselves: What kind of jobs are there in my environment that I can do? People switch from going out to active cultural production.

CCB Magazine:This sounds like an electronic dream of the brand Paul Kalkbrenner, who released his first album in the middle of the music industry crisis in 2001 and just kept going until he was discovered through the film "Berlin Calling". Not everyone succeeds in this.

Jan-Michael Kühn:Yes, of course not everyone has this luck, quite the contrary. But many people don't want to take his place, and in the Berlin scene he has lost a lot of credibility due to his mass orientation. He moves beyond the subcultural hierarchies that arise around music and clubs.

Photo: © Hardy Meinhof / Soundcloud / Mixcloud 

CCB Magazine:In your study you plead for the term "scene economy". Why?

Jan-Michael Kühn:Today, the music industry is essentially oriented towards the principles of mass culture, and the creative industry has recently begun to interpret any form of economic-aesthetic activity as creativity. Techno, however, is not primarily about an economic orientation, but about aesthetics and participation in the networks of the scene. It's about an active club context.

Techno is not primarily about an economic orientation, but about aesthetics and participation in the networks of the scene

CCB Magazine:You explore the Berlin Techno scene. What is so special about it?

Jan-Michael Kühn:The special thing about Berlin is first of all its historical foundation. The city was once divided into two parts: in West Berlin, there was no military service and no curfew for a long time; in East Berlin, subcultural scenes and regime critics gathered in Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. These developments were at the same time a gateway for all subscenes and also had an influence on the Berlin techno scene. Already after World War II, there was a broad alternative scene in Berlin and this desire to be different, this thinking of a "way out of the provinces". This history still has an effect today, it makes Berlin interesting worldwide.

CCB Magazine:Many see this culture in Berlin in danger. The fear of repression is growing.

Jan-Michael Kühn:Yes, it's the fear that alternative cultural spaces are disappearing, and this development is emerging in the course of gentrification. On the one hand, the scene is now seen as an economic factor, and on the other hand, it can be seen that in the struggle for urban resources the scene remains economically disadvantaged and is being displaced; at present, it's increasingly migrating to the districts outside the city center. The scene cannot keep up at all economically.

CCB Magazine:Berlin's music industry produces between 700 million and one billion euros in sales annually with 10,000 employees. The events market is growing, while the revenues of the sound carrier market are declining. Especially for small labels, music producers and publishers, this market remains precarious. Do you see this development as a danger?

Jan-Michael Kühn:The gap between the well and the poorly paid in the scene today is immense, and this development is a danger, but at the same time precariousness is a fundamental part of music scenes. This is already rooted in its social form "scene" and its aesthetic demarcations. By separating scenes from the mass market, scene-specific aesthetics regulate the working conditions of the radical market. The slogan sums it up: "Good music I dance to - no good music I not dance". Trade union tariffs, for example, for DJs, would meet with huge protests in the techno scene and intervene deeply in subcultural selection processes. Insecure, flexible living and working conditions are thus legitimized by the actors.

The Techno scene can not keep up economically

CCB Magazine:At the same time people complain about bad basic conditions and want to be able to live from their work. Is that a contradiction?

Jan-Michael Kühn:No, because it's about changing the framework conditions politically.

CCB Magazine:What do you mean?

Jan-Michael Kühn:Today, subculturally oriented scenes in particular should be given a clear political advantage so that the city can benefit from their effects. Currently, for example, we are discussing how to strengthen 'free' culture in Berlin due to the increased number of tourists by means of a hotel tax, the City-Tax. In the future, hotels and commercial hostels in particular should pay taxes, which in turn should be used to purchase space and rooms that are made available at low cost for subcultural living and working. Financial support can flow into such infrastructure concepts. There must be affordable rents and enough rooms and spaces for young people and artists. Conceptually, urban planning is at the forefront here.

CCB Magazine:To what extent does the digitalization of the sound carrier market also contribute to the fact that many cultural producers in the techno scene today earn too little?

Jan-Michael Kühn:The barriers to access to cultural production are falling, allowing more and more people to make music. However, if the overall markets of the scene economy do not grow enormously at the same time, established music producers will lose income due to the loss of music sales and possibly also gigs. At the same time, many of the upcoming producers will not make it into the scene networks, as many are simply not interested in their music, as there is an abundance of production today. The music culture is currently experiencing a wave of amateurization. On the Internet, a large graveyard of music spam is emerging. The club is therefore becoming more and more central to finance the whole scene economy.

CCB Magazine:Jan, thank you very much for this interview.

Music, texts and further information:


Profile of Jan-Michael Kühn auf Creative City Berlin.

Portfolio of Berlin Mitte Instituts auf Creative City Berlin.

Jan-Michael Kühn: Die Wirtschaft der Techno-Szene. Arbeiten in einer subkulturellen Ökonomie, Springer VS, 2016

Category: Knowledge & Analysis


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