Leipzigerstrasse 126a — for 14 years, this Berlin address was home to Tresor club, a mecca to which techno enthusiasts worldwide made pilgrimages. In April 2005, the club closed, the victim of urban gentrification. Live at Tresor Berlin is a set by techno producers Recyver Dogs, but it is also a tribute to the club. Laypeople may not get much out of this DVD, but techno enthusiasts who have been to Tresor may get misty-eyed.
Tresor opened in March 1991 in the former bank vault of a department store. The club preserved the features of the vault, down to the teller bars separating the DJ booth from the dancefloor. Due to the low ceilings and mixture of fog and smoke, the subterranean space felt like a bunker. In this environment, underground techno flourished. The club was crucial in connecting Berlin with Detroit, the birthplace of techno; artists like Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills, and Blake Baxter got little recognition in America but were welcomed in Berlin with open arms. The club spun off a label, which has become legendary in its own right. Tresor has released over 200 albums and singles by a who’s who of techno, including Atkins, Mills, Baxter, Robert Hood, Joey Beltram, Surgeon, and The Advent, as well as a host of compilations featuring the distinctive target logo; few operations have established a brand as successfully as Tresor’s.
In 1995, Mad Max, a resident DJ at Tresor club, invited Steve D. to play there. The two began working on tracks together as Recyver Dogs, and Steve D. eventually joined the staff of Tresor label. Recyver Dogs’ discography isn’t long, with a few singles here and there, but the pair has developed a fluent live show. One noticeably different aspect of their live show is the gear. Recyver Dogs use a custom-built hardware and software system that equips them with flat-screen monitors and mini-PC’s. While most live electronic musicians today use Ableton Live software on laptops, Recyver Dogs click on mice and type on desktop keyboards. Though they look anachronistic, it’s the result that matters, and as this DVD shows, Recyver Dogs can amply move a dancefloor.
The DVD has the option of adding crowd noise to the music. Including crowd noise degrades the audio a little, but enhances the overall experience. As loops and kick drums drop, people react and cheer, resulting in a “you are there” feeling. Omitting crowd noise brings purer audio, but the viewing experience becomes abstract; it’s tough to reconcile shaky handycam footage with pristine sound. In general, the viewing experience isn’t much. Recyver Dogs are producers, not entertainers, and watching them click, type, and bob their heads isn’t that exciting. The majority of the footage is on the dancers, and it comes from two guys walking around with a handycam. Not surprisingly, the camera spends a lot of time on fit females. But the footage never gets scandalous, as the editing is frankly quite bad. There are ill-timed slow-motion sequences and inexplicable freeze frames, with cheesy rave-style visuals (ball lightning, gears turning, and so on) mixed in. Except for a brief intro and outro featuring the duo entering and leaving the club, all the footage takes place inside. If you don’t like hearing repetitive techno in a smoky club, watching it on a screen won’t change your mind.
The set itself is solid, if safe. Recyver Dogs essentially stay at the same 135+ bpm throughout, with “four on the floor” kick drums all the way except for a brief breakbeat respite in the middle. This set was recorded in January 2004, and though minimal techno was taking over Berlin by that point, the trend obviously didn’t affect Recvyer Dogs. The duo plays in the older style of hard, loops-based techno, with lots of one-bar repeating patterns. The production isn’t detailed and avant-garde like in minimal techno, but that’s not the point: moving butts is. Or, rather, arms and legs, since Europeans don’t seem to dance with their hips like Americans do. It would be tough to swivel hips to this material, anyway. There’s not much in the way of swing or basslines, though a nasty bassline erupts at one point, causing much cheering and dancing. People dance to the kick drums; the grooves are stiff, propulsive, well-engineered, and oh-so-German. But before they performed live, Recyver Dogs were DJ’s for years, and they know what they’re doing. Tracks never get boring, as loops and kicks constantly drop in and out, with occasional vocal samples to spice things up. Hang on until the end, and you’ll be rewarded by an unexpectedly dark, mournful closing track. From the looks on the dancers’ faces, you really had to be there.