City Scenes: Leipzig

When you think of German cities that have been instrumental towards the cultural phenomenon that is techno, you would be forgiven for struggling to come up with anything other than Berlin. Sure, the capital has indeed been a towering figure within the scene and an important hub for the movement as a whole, but certain other locations are ripe with techno enthusiasts and pioneers. Such a location would be Leipzig; Berlin’s little and edgy cousin.

Leipzig is the most populated city in the province of Saxony and sits south-west of Berlin, a stone’s throw from the Czech border. Positioned right in the bowel of East Germany, Leipzig suffered from the ripples of the Second World War – much like Berlin – and a number of Soviet era buildings were conveniently abandoned to pave the way for exactly what happened in the capital in the late 80s and early 90s. For a city that represents a humble population of just over half a million, Leipzig is now clocking in at around 50 electronic music venues. This might not be a statistic that really shouts ‘bustling nightlife’, but does substance trump style when it comes to music?

The view from outside Leipzig’s most iconic club, The Distillery

Amongst these venues is The Distillery, which is Leipzig’s answer to Berghain. The Distillery is in fact over 25 years old (Berghain being an infant in comparison) and the birth just so happened to fall into the period of time when techno was becoming a centrifugal force in dance music. The venue has survived everything gentrification and development has thrown at it and now has been cemented into the culture of the city. The meandering corridors and huge size is reminiscent of other German institutions like Tresor, but there’s just a little bit more flavour that you just don’t really get anywhere but The Distillery. You might find a room with what seems like randomly placed old TVs and decorative pieces of furniture which you would probably find hard to describe; it’s pure unadulterated freedom and a metaphor for the liberal way of thinking that encapsulates the city. The club is no stranger to big names as well as the recent roster boasts some incredibly well-respected DJs in the scene including La Fleur, Spencer Parker and Tama Sumo.

With a multitude of curfews and club closings across many cities, it’s refreshing to see that other Leipzig clubs such as Institut für Zukunft are given the backing of the council to keep their infamous early morning parties alive. It’s this unification that really keeps Leipzig thriving in a difficult time for many other electronic music venues across the world.

Amongst the important figures to be affiliated with clubs like The Distillery is Matthias Tanzmann (pictured below), the head honcho of one of Leipzig’s most prominent house and techno labels Moon Harbour. He’s been a longstanding resident racking up over 20 years of DJ sets at the club, and he himself refers to The Distillery as an ‘institution’. The way it’s kept itself open to new and young crowds over again has helped it survive over the years and become one of the oldest electronic music venue still standing. Tanzmann was 18 years old when he first played the techno basement of The Distillery, and showcases how the young, vibrant community came and pioneered their own vision. In a recent interview, Tanzmann spoke about the unique spirit of the club and how it just hasn’t compared to anything he’s experienced since. It’s respected, almost idolised and for some really is the beating heart of Leipzig. The club is in fact so well respected that recently a local tram operator named one of their trams after the venue, and even the bus station outside doesn’t go by the name of the street but by ‘The Distillery’.

Leipzig has always stood for this vibrancy and creativity in its youth culture – its smaller size has encouraged more of a community feel within the arts. You can find examples of this throughout all areas of the city; intimate parties pop up all over the place with more local talent than you’d know what to do with. This community spirit is something that many who have spent a certain amount of time there say they have never quite experienced again; the music tying this all together. From the secret café bar on the Mariannenstrasse that is disguised as a regular house upon which you need to ring the doorbell to enter, to an industrial warehouse in Westwerk where you can discover some of the top up-and-coming DJs at 2am on a Friday night, Leipzig goes beyond what is expected from a humble-sized city.

An old photo-booth outside Westwerk

The underdog stories extend beyond music as well – you may have heard of the extraordinary tale of Leipzig’s humble football club, Red Bull Leipzig. The team rose to the top of German football in a record-breaking amount of time, utilising their local talent and community spirit to carry the humble team to what would nearly be an impossible feat. Whilst football is somewhat detached from music, the philosophy behind this amazing movement draws parallels to the resilience and nurturing nature of the city’s nightlife. The way in which the iconic clubs have survived over the years and how new and interesting parties still continue to appear again proves that Leipzig is a certified staple in German electronic music culture. More expansion is incoming for the scene as well, with a new 500-capacity venue only round the corner – the Mjut club – opening in April.

Whether you find yourself wandering the Eisenbahnstrasse (notoriously one of Germany’s most dangerous streets) in search of the infamous back garden summer parties or the hip area of Plagwitz taking in the former 19th century industrial warehouse-turned-arts collective, it’s clear why people speak so highly of the music culture in Leipzig. Or you could be enjoying some local DJ talent in a community-run vegan pizzeria-turned-club night, or be up to your neck in some of the most well-respected techno pioneers at The Distillery – either way, Leipzig has manifested music so intrinsically into its culture that it’s hard to not get blown away.