Lead image by Ole Westermann
Bouncers are usually seen as the gatekeepers and rule enforcers of a club. But Sven Marquardt, the world’s most talked-about bouncer and the face of world renowned techno club Berghain, is more than just that.
He plays a crucial role in maintaining the club’s unique atmosphere for as long as the parties go on. It is important to know that Marquardt is not just your archetype of a bouncer; he is a curator. Every week on the door, he turns hopeful punters away, while allowing the lucky techno fans he deems fit to enter. Once inside, guests are forbidden from taking photos, let alone film videos of the club. This notoriously strict unspoken door policy has turned Berghain into something of a temple for purveyors of techno. Numerous articles have been written about the club, and how-to guides have been made for those who wish to get past its doors under the watchful, discerning eyes of Marquardt and his trained colleagues.
Besides his day job as a bouncer, Marquardt is also an accomplished photographer who’s published two photography books and a memoir. He was recently in Singapore to unveil his photographic media installation at DECK, as part of an exhibition titled Club Berlin: Electronic Music and Photography, currently showcasing photography of Berlin’s club culture in the ’90s by Martin Ebele. The exhibition is accompanied by music of renowned DJs and music producers Marcel Dettmann, Rodhad, Head High, Massimiliano Pagliara, Answer Code Request, Tale Of Us, David August and Modeselektor. In addition to that is the Boiler Room, a video on the underground music platform with performances of DJs La Fleur, Len Faki, Discodromo, Sarah Farina, Mano Le Tough, and Lucy.
During a talk on Berlin Subculture, moderated by Groove Magazine editor Heiko Hoffmann, Marquardt gave us an insight into his time in Berlin’s underground scene.
I see photography as something that represents my zest for life. The important thing was to portray East Berlin in the 1980s and the counter culture. That has always been the aim of these photos.
In the ’80s, I was mainly taking photos of my friends and colleagues, using black and white as a medium for a dramatic effect. But I’ve also done photography for DJs for their publicity materials. Berghain also has a record label called Ostgut Ton and most of the press photos of the artists are taken by me, and some have requested that I take the photos in colour. Usually, a musician or a DJ I don’t know yet will meet me in a café in Berlin and we’ll talk about what they want these photos to look like. Whether they bring their own clothes, and talk about hair and makeup, I’m quite happy for those DJs to bring in their own concepts.
I’m not interested in taking pictures in clubs. I don’t see myself as a club photographer. I take photos of people. It’s not street photography either. It’s a one-on-one relationship. My pictures are never taken in a club or during a club night. They’re all arranged and taken in daylight without studio lighting.
ON LIFE BEFORE AND AFTER THE GERMAN REUNIFICATION
In 1988 to 1989, shortly before the wall fell, my friends left the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It was a very strange time because many people were fleeing the GDR. Loads of actors, artists and even whole theatre ensembles were suddenly not there anymore. The same happened to my circle which got smaller and smaller. In fact they talked about nothing else in those days. It was a bit annoying. Before that, they were not allowed to leave the GDR.
I had the opportunity to go to France but I didn’t. I stayed in West Berlin. I thought, “Why go anywhere else if you’re the same person wherever you are?”
I wanted to get tattoos in the ’80s but it was illegal in the GDR. I got my first tattoo – a cross – in a house full of squatters. The tattoos are like a diary and each one has a meaning.
After the reunification, the first thing I did when I walked out was put my camera down. In the 1990s, I didn’t take many photos. I was more interested in the fact that we were finally able to party. New clubs started up, old clubs died down, and it was all about forgetting where you were; forgetting about time.
What’s interesting about techno was that it was born during the time of reunification, so it was a completely new music, not only for people who came to the West from East Germany, but also to West Germans. So these were places in East Germany that were then transformed into clubs. Techno was a common ground where East and West Germans could meet.
ON HIS CAREER
My brother was a DJ and he asked me if I could make sure that only the right people could get into the club he was playing in and that was what I did. My criteria then was whether I would want to party with these people if I were in the club with them.
At that time, I stood in front of the club by myself and my pockets were full of the entrance fees everyone had paid. Bouncers started getting robbed quite often then. I was working in a club that had a brothel in the front as a business and I think that protected me from being robbed. The security was stepped up as well. I then had a security guard next to me. In Singapore, clubs hire bouncers from security companies, but in Berlin, bouncers are part of the club.
Berghain was opened 11 years ago. Before that, it was called Ostgut, which held fetish parties. A few years after the opening, someone talked to me and asked if I wanted to get involved with Berghain.
I started taking pictures again just shortly after the millennium. My job as bouncer kept developing and my photography came hand in hand with that. You can’t really separate them from each other, and Berghain is always going to be my home.
For anyone working as a bouncer at Berghain, it’s really crucial that they know what it’s like inside. It’s important that they know how to party and they’re allowed be tipsy on the job.
The selection of guests is just one little part of the big picture: booking the DJs, the team in charge of the production––the whole thing is a creative process. My job is just a part of that.
ON GETTING INTO BERGHAIN
Decisions are made there and then on the door. I have to think if people came a very long way, do they have a special connection, do they want to see this place for once in their lives, so it’s a case-by-case basis. There’s no set of rules why people often don’t get in unless you’re drunk and loud with a bunch of 20 people. It can be that people who are not let in at midnight may be let in 12 or 30 hours later. Parties start from Friday night to Monday noon.
Quite a lot of times, people say, “Hey it’s okay, you don’t have to let me into the club but can I take a photo with you?” The problematic aspect of people taking selfies with me is that sometimes they might be thinking, “Well one day I will be in front of Berghain and I’ll show him this picture and say, ‘Hey look, we took this photo together, we’re friends, let me in,’” so I’m cautious about allowing pictures to be taken with me.
CLUB BERLIN: Photography and Electronic Music
5 March – 3 April 2016
DECK, 120A Prinsep Street
Admission Fee: S$5