Interview Norman Nodge at Vlammenwerper!15/11/13
Norman Nodge is probably not the most famous name in the techno scene, but his name should ring a bell with self-proclaimed techno lovers. The German started spinning records in the nineties and is resident from the start in Europe’s biggest club, Berghain. So when, earlier this month, the new Ghent-based techno concept Vlammenwerper got Nodge for a four hour techno college between his gigs in Rome and London, we got an excellent opportunity to chat with this uncommon yet easygoing DJ.
Norman, tell us about how you first got in touch with techno and do you feel like that changed your life?
Well, I had no chance to get in touch with techno music before 1989 because I lived in East-Germany but in the east we heard some tracks on the radio. After the wall came down, we went out in Berlin and then I also started buying records, but I also heard other music. It’s not that I only listened to techno from the one moment to the other. I listened to other music as well, like today. It gradually became more important, it’s not like there was a certain day or like some people who have a first experience in a club and from then on only want to listen to techno.
It became more and more important, and then you decided to do something more with it, like organizing parties?
Yes, but this is really a long period, it took a long while from being interested in music in general and buying records of all genres and then more and more specific, concentrating on the techno releases and then trying to mix them into each other at home.
When you started organizing these parties, back in the day would you consider yourself as one of the driving forces of techno in eastern Germany or was there already an established scene?
I don’t know if you can talk about an established scene, but there were a lot of people who organized parties, so I wasn’t the originator or something. I was just one of the guys who started throwing parties and inviting other DJs from Berlin or somewhere else to play, but I wasn’t the only one or the first one or something like that.
The scene today, is it quite similar to the scene back then?
Today there are also lots of things going on in Berlin, but I hear other people talking about it. I don’t have the chance to go out much to other parties. I know about lots of new clubs and parties or sound systems if you will. Maybe in this point you can compare it to the 90s, but today everything is more professional off course. It’s not like you go to an old warehouse and do your thing without any permission from the authorities. That doesn’t work anymore, I mean there are a few sound systems that do parties in parks during summertime, but this is not the main the part.
Do you miss this underground way of throwing parties?
Like everything, it has two sides. Yeah, we just did it back in the days, we just borrowed some speakers and put them in a room and made parties without permission from the authorities. It was good for us (laughs), but I wouldn’t do it like this today, because the authorities look more exactly at what people are doing. And on the other side this spontaneous thing involved less professional behavior. For instance, in paying the DJs. On some occasions I could not find the promoter. Or if I did, he could tell me ‘sorry, we had not enough guests’, or if they did a speaker broke down which led to all this discussions and negotiations. This could probably happen today also, but if I speak for myself I am glad with a contract.
So you were DJ-ing in the 90s already but then you backed out to focus on your family life and studies as a lawyer.
Oh but I still liked buying records and listening to music, but I was not active as a DJ anymore because I’m not a guy who promotes himself that good, so it was not a decision to stop playing, I just did to little effort to get new gigs. I just spent time with other things.
Yet you were convinced in 2004 to join the Berghain. What convinced you to do it again as a DJ?
I was friends all the time with Marcell Dettmann and he talked about the former Ostgut-promoters who would open a new club called Berghain and that they were looking for resident DJs. He said he thought about me and asked me if I wanted to make a tape to give to them. I did the mixtape the old-fashioned way and they liked it and then I played in the Berghain for the first time in January or February in 2005.
Would you say that if it wasn’t for your close friendship with Marcell Dettmann you would not have done it?
When he wouldn’t have asked me I wouldn’t have played there. I wouldn’t have come up with the idea to make a mixtape or something because I didn’t have the connections. So as I said, I still bought records all the time and I was also a clubgoer, but I wasn’t playing there as a DJ, but I enjoyed the music there all the time.
So now you have found a weird balance maybe between a professional career as a lawyer and life as a DJ.
And family! So I try to not exaggerate in the DJ-ing because it would be too exhausting. Sometimes I also have to sleep. And my children, I like to see them from time to time. So we have an agreement in a way that I’m at home at least two weekends a month. This weekend I have three gigs in a row.
You don’t play outside of Berlin too often then?
I do play but more compressed. So this weekend I play three times, the next three weekends I don’t play because October was busy! After this weekend my next gig is in the Berghain on 30 November.
Now that we’re talking about this balance, you’re also producing. How does that fit in?
It’s not so easy; you have to have inspiration, power and energy for that. I mean producing was never the main thing for me. It was like ‘okay, I can try to do my own tracks.’ But I never made plans to release an album as soon as possible and be a big techno producer. I just did it for myself. It was not to push my career, I see myself more as a DJ.
Have you played in Belgium a lot? Is it special or are we just like the other countries?
I played in Brussels a few times. I’ve experienced it as mostly open. Belgium has a good crowd in that sense that they are open to different styles in one night and not just to what they expect from a certain DJ. But off course it’s not only like that in Belgium. Every night is another challenge, how far can you go? What can you do and what does the audience still like.
Do you look for a variety of styles in your set?
Yeah I like to, but I don’t go to a club and say ‘I have to play disco and then electro and everything.’ I mean if the situation is fine for it I do it and if not then not. It depends on the situation. Off course I have to limit myself because I can only take a certain amount of records when I take the airplane to other countries but this only gives me a frame. But I cannot say ‘I’m gonna play this and then this after that record.’ But I know colleagues who do have it prepared, this song and then that one, but that is not my approach.
In the Berghain you often play the opening set, does that change your approach?
No not really, it’s often written in biographies. I did it in the early years and that’s a lot of fun, but now it’s mixed. Sometimes I do the beginning, sometimes the end, sometimes in between. Normally it does not change my approach, but ok, if I know I have to warm up I bring other records with me then when I do primetime.
Interview by Aaron Maes & Jan-Willem Hoste