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Label Watch: Ostgut Ton

The infamous in-house label of an infamous techno temple. With a resident DJ also called Norman. We like.

Ostgut Ton. The name alone is enough to send clubbers the world over into fits of pique, their eyes glossed as they remember the first time they saw what a Marcel Fengler tune did in the hands of the right DJ. From its intimidatingly strong roster of artists to the fact that it is inexorably linked with Berlin's equally intimidating Berghain, the label looms large over the modern clubsphere.

Even when you're partial to a bit of the old techno it can be difficult to know where to start with Ostgut Ton, with both its large back catalogue and its busy release schedule to contend with. But when perusing the OT archives one of the first things that you notice is that the same names tend to crop up time and again - Steffi, Ben Klock, Nick Höppner, Marcel Dettmann. There’s a good reason for this. Ostgut Ton is the label arm of Berghain, and Berghain has a reputation for exclusivity (you’ve probably heard about the door policy). So it makes sense that their in-house imprint would keep things among family. As such, the label’s releases - from its earlier days at least - tend to come courtesy of the club’s resident DJs.

It’s no coincidence that the size and shape of Berghain has played a significant role in defining the OT sound. The place is huge - thousands pass through its doors every weekend - and the main room is fitted with a Funktion-One soundsystem that is fawned over by audiophiles for the definition it gives even when operating at the highest volumes. Bass booms monstrously in the hall, but the higher frequencies linger a little, ricocheting off the walls and high ceiling. There are few experiences like hearing music in that room.

It makes sense, then, that much of Ostgut Ton’s output tends towards a sound that will suit this space. Drop the needle on almost any Ostgut Ton release and you’re likely to find techno tunes that have their four-to-the-floors shrouded in a dubby fog. When deployed in a club setting it makes for a potent combination - as hard-wired grooves pummel you into submission, the chemtrails of reverb and whooshes of alien electronics that hang in the air take on an almost psychedelic quality. It’s a sound at once rough and bespoke, nuanced and immediate, classic but not antique. Though more than a decade has passed since the label released its first record by Klock and Dettmann, recent drops like LSD’s Process and Terence Fixmer’s Through The Cortex stick to the principles laid down back in the mid-2000s.

While the label’s stock in trade is well-established by now, Ostgut Ton is not afraid to venture beyond its comfort zone. Barker’s Debiasing, for instance, was an original record that leaned strongly into the neo-trance sound of artists like Lorenzo Senni. It was notable that a 2018 LP from seasoned OT veteran Answer Code Request owed just as much to IDM and breakbeat as it did to techno. Even the aforementioned LSD and Fixmer records, though they are immediately recognisable as Ostgut Ton, displayed a modernizing tendency by incorporating a little of the EBM, industrial and darkwave influences that are currently all the rage on European dancefloors.

There have also been plenty of occasions where the label has issued something that caters to the more house-centric heights of Panorama Bar, Berghain’s upstairs lounge and effectively its second room. Virginia is the foremost operator in this field. A singer with credits on releases as far back as 1999, the last few years have seen the Brazilian-German artist drop a slew of superb records on OT. Her 2016 LP Fierce For The Night, for instance, does a fine job of setting her unique DJing style (she is known to pick up a mic and sing over whatever high-grade house wedge she has just spun) to tape. Cuts like ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Bally Linny’ could pass for classic Madonna if they didn’t come with the additional edge characteristic of all Ostgut Ton drops.

Norman Nodge’s Embodiment EP is a great example of where the label is at right now - and no, we’re not just partial to it because he’s called Norman. As a long-time resident DJ of Berghain, Nodge has spent years figuring out the whys and wherefores of playing that particular room. Indeed, it has become his modus operandi - according to the press release for Embodiment, its title track ‘references a more halcyon Ostgut Ton aesthetic – one that resonates not only in the space of the club but also within the bodies of those occupying it.’ Nodge understands the club experience creates a ‘feedback loop’ between DJ and audience, and on his new record he intends to milk it for all its worth.

Embodiment by Norman Nodge

Norman Nodge Embodiment

  • Ostgut Ton
  • O-TON116
  • Available on: 12"

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Across the four tracks of Embodiment Nodge rewires classic 4x4 club styles in that timeless Ostgut Ton manner. Synths that come straight outta Detroit, bad acid in the Unit Moebius vein and the hypnotic weight of dub techno all get a look in here. ‘Tacit Knowing’ kicks things off with a little jack in the groove, its two-note lead line burrowing itself into the listener’s brain; ‘Discipline’ is a ferocious thing reminiscent of Phase Fatale’s Reverse Fall, another of OT’s recent forays into darkside EBM and one of our favourite things they’ve released in recent times.

First B-side ‘Gathering’ is a most impressive take - the manner in which its skittering bongo loop moves in and out of the loping bassline draws from both minimal techno and the soundsystem mutations of artists like Ploy and rRoxymore. While the tuned percussion and duelling time signatures are unusual and innovative, the tune remains grounded in the usual Ostgut Ton sound palette (crashing hi-hats, sub bass) for maximum dancefloor impact. Embodiment rounds out with its title number, a classic OT piece cloaked in the kind of halcyon fug that will induce both euphoria and introspection in a peak-time rave crowd.

If you hear Ostgut Ton and think of Berlin, it’s because OT has defined the sound of Berlin. And because Berlin is the foremost clubbing city of the 21st century, it stands to reason that Osgut Ton can claim to be one of the definitive European techno labels of the 21st century. The quality of OT’s output is beyond dispute. If you’re still wondering about where to start, the simple answer is: pretty much anywhere. It’s all good.