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Featured label: Ostgut Ton
Berlin techno imprint Ostgut Ton was established in 2005 as the in-house label of arguably the planet’s most famous/infamous nightclub - techno mecca Berghain. It arrived shortly after the genre had practically imploded. A great deal of techno had become a stale formulaic sound of tedious one bar loops and bongo driven tribalism, with many producers content to make poor attempts at emulating Jeff Mills’ Purpose Maker sound. Then followed a wave of soulless minimal techno that must have missed the fundamentals laid down in the blueprints of Robert Hood and his M-Plant label. Inevitably, the bubble burst...
But techno comes in waves - and around the time Ostgut Ton was inaugurated, along came a refreshing new wave. Tempo was largely reduced, and artists like Sandwell District and Function were utilizing this new found space between the rhythms and using emerging technology and sound design to bring levels of depth to the music that had been absent in the previous few years. This sound could be heard on the dancefloors at Berghain and came alive on their famous, custom-built Funktion-One sound system. It was being spun by the club's resident DJs like Marcel Dettmann, Norman Nodge and Ben Klock. It turns out they were also producing tracks themselves, and so Ostgut Ton was a platform for artists associated with the club and also those playing more house orientated sounds in the adjoining Panorama Bar.
Since its inception, Ostgut Ton has been an artist-oriented label - not content with the trend of releasing faceless, disposable white label DJ tools (although there is plenty of DJ ammo to be found on the label's 12” EPs). The label would nurture its community and develop its artists through albums and mix CDs which gave listeners a snapshot of the Berghain clubbing experience - the artwork often adorned with photos of DJs and producers taken by the club's photographer and chief doorman Sven Marquardt, a man with a reputation for enforcing Berghain's strict entry policy.
In the early days, the club and label were associated with a particular emerging “droning” techno sound, but if you delve into their catalogue you’ll find the full spectrum of techno and beyond in its many shades. The label's legacy has grown increasingly strong over the past thirteen or so years with a superbly created and diverse roster that includes Function, Barker & Baumecker, Martyn, Shed, Tobias, Len Faki, Virginia, Norman Nodge, Steffi, Vatican Shadow...the list goes on. UK techno legend Luke Slater (Mote Evolver) seems to be particularly at home on the label, having now released a series of EPs and three albums under his cherished intergalactic techno guise of Planetary Assault Systems, as well as releases under his more house-oriented handle L.B. Dub Corp.
There are also two Ostgut Ton two sister labels. A-Ton focuses on archive material and more “experimental” works such as Dettmann’s drone investigations (inspired by the photographer Friederike von Rauch), a couple of Function retrospective compilations (gathering hard-to-find tracks from David Sumner's early releases on his Infrastructure New York label), a few Sandwell District rarities, Inland & Julian Charrière's soundtrack to a video installation, and Oren Ambarchi, Konrad Sprenger and Phillip Sollmann's excellent krautrock/techno hybrid Panama / Suez. A-Ton has also resurrected Luke Slater’s hugely underrated ambient techno work as The 7th Plain - initially released in the 90s on the legendary GPR label and now beautifully presented for a new audience complete with lost tracks finally seeing the light of day.
Their other offshoot label, Unterton, releases limited edition 12”s from a few established artists as well as fresh blood. Tracks are aimed squarely at the dancefloor and have come from the likes Manhooker, The Black Dog, Kobosil, Etapp Kyle, Phase Fatale, and Tobias.
If you're a DJ, then, the Ostgut family of labels offers plenty of ammo for the party. But there's also much to enjoy for home listening, and the mix CDs are more than useful for jamming on in the car as you zoom along the autobahn.