For those of you unaware, DJ, producer and label owner Tom Clark is not, as you might presume, British. He is in fact one of Berlin’s hardest-working electronic musicians, with a career spanning from the early 90s and his days as a resident at Tresor, to the present day, where his label Highgrade Records throws regular parties at Berghain and Panorama Bar. Celebrated for championing what can only truly be described as tech house, in its purest form, Clark is very much a DJs DJ, which is part of the reason everyone is so excited that he’s returning to play at the Cartulli’s 3rd birthday on November 3rd in London.
Hi Tom, thanks for your time. You’ve been involved with electronic music in Berlin for over 15 years. What are the main differences in the way the music is presented and consumed in the city today as opposed to back then? Do you miss the ‘good old days’?
I’m not one to look regretfully back at the past. For electronic music it was naturally an exciting time, because there was a real feeling of optimism that a kind of revolution was coming. But these days it’s basically just as exciting. There are well established clubs and equally amazing parties. Above all, there isn’t a fight for acceptance of electronic music anymore. Of course there is a lot more competition now and the market has become a lot more professional. Who could have guessed back then that a DJ would need a manager, or that new media such as Facebook could become so pivotal to the success of a DJ? The definition of a DJ has also changed a lot. Now it’s not enough to simply play records, you also have to be a producer and even more, to have your own label.
Berlin must be a tough place to be a DJ – everyone involved is so up-to-date on the music that you must have to work really hard to both impress and separate yourself from the rest. Did you feel a lot of pressure DJing when you were making a name for yourself? Would you say Berlin is the hardest city to DJ in the world?
The level in Berlin is altogether very high and many of the worlds best DJs live here and play regularly in the city. In some clubs it’s always a challenge to play because the club people in Berlin are constantly listening to the creme de la crème of DJs, week after week. But that simply spurs you on. And naturally, for your own artistic inspiration it’s also a big advantage.
How did the Highgrade relationship with Berghain and Panorama Bar first come about?
I’ve know the management of the club for years and used to play for them at the former club ‘Ostgut’, so there is a long-standing connection between us. The personal connection certainly had something to do with us getting our label parties in the club, but this alone wouldn’t have been enough to sustain a long term relationship. Ever since we have been promoting nights there, we have always made an effort to do a great job and I think Berghain also values us as a good and solid partner.
Few people have had the chance to really gain an insight into what Berghain/P-Bar is all about. In your own words, how would you describe it both as a space to play at and as an institution to have grown personally so close to?
The Berghain club has given techno music a new lease on life and is, in my opinion, also partly responsible for the wider revival of techno. DJs like Marcel Detmann and Len Faki have measurably influenced this sound. But the main thing is really that everyone who ever goes there feels inspired. The mixture of the people who party there can’t be found in any other club, anywhere.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt about life and DJing as a result of your sets at Berghain/P-Bar?
Probably to be patient. A lot of people may think that when you’ve played there once or twice then it’s all on. But most things happen in small steps. Only a few people achieve a kind of super ‘boom hype’ in a very short time. Most of the successful people I know have worked hard to get there. Therefore, I’d say keep it steady, stay true to yourself and keep on your own path.
They say London is Europe’s second city for electronic music. How would you compare/contrast the two cities in their attitudes and approaches to dance music? Are they dramatically different?
I would say that both cities are very different and not so easy to compare. There are probably a similar number of clubs in London as in Berlin but London still has location problems. A lot of parties happen in the same locations. In that way Berlin is extremely lucky. There will probably be plenty of locations in Berlin for the next 20 years. However I think London can still be very important for a musical career. In Germany people say that when you’re successful in England, then you’ve really made it! That’s definitely true in electronic music.
Highgrade Records has long had the reputation for putting out top-quality tech-house. This is a wide and often disputed sound, so what does tech-house, if anything, mean to you?
The term tech-house has almost taken on a negative meaning in recent years. But it basically describes best what we do on Highgrade. Our sound has always been in the middle somehow. Never really house, never really techno. It’s just what we do. We’ve stayed very true to this over the years and haven’t followed every new trend hype, like a lot of others have. A couple of years ago there were labels who brought out only minimal and techno and now suddenly they’re releasing deep house, a la Crosstown Rebels, just because that’s what’s hip right now.
Highgrade is such a prolific label, sometimes release 2 EPs a month. Is this something you guys think is important, to keep active and constantly fresh?
Sometimes we’ll bring out two EPs in a month, and that’s almost always one digital and one vinyl release. We think it’s important to maintain a regular output. Electronic music for the club can be pretty short lived these days, and sometimes there is so much good material available that we just want to get it out. Apart from that it’s important for all the core artists in our roster that they can regularly release a record with us.
Finally, you’re playing at the 3rd birthday of Cartuli’s day, at which you’re a resident. How did you first get involved with the party? What can we expect from your set?
I’m pretty sure they just booked me the first time. Then it was somehow love at first sight, and the vibe at the party is really something special. Basically everything just seemed to fit and the boys asked me if I wanted to come and play more often. Now I’m back again and I’m very happy about it. Expect something groovy and twisted… Panorama Bar House with a bit of kick arse Berghain techno thrown in!
Words by Carlos Hawthorn