Resident Berghain DJ Norman Nodge talks Berlin, techno and family life with Ian Maleney. A self-employed lawyer by day and a resident DJ at the best techno club in the world, Norman Nodge is one of the unsung heroes of Berlin’s Berghain. Known for a purist, no-frills approach to techno, his roots as a DJ stem from the hard-hitting techno sounds of post-reunification parties in Berlin through the early 90s. These days he’s constantly looking to balance two diverse careers and a family, while still managing to put together the excellent Berghain 06 mix for the club’s in-house Ostgut Ton label. Recorded in the club after hours and released at the end of last year, Berghain 06 mix is a good indicator of what you can expect from a Nodge set.
When he arrived in Dublin last month for a show at Twisted Pepper, he had a hankering for some fish and chips so, Burdocks in hand, we talked about Berlin, techno and family life.
You were just in Japan, how was that? You played Dommune, which looks like a really great club. Exhausting but lovely. Dommune is very small. It’s really like a living room but it has Funktion One speakers in it, it’s very funny. Everyone who is in Tokyo plays there too. There were only a few people, maybe 20 or 50. It’s nice, the smallest club in the world.
Did you approach the set differently then? Was it a chance to play things you might not normally play? Well I did play a more tracks from different styles. It was not to make them as hard as possible, just play a nice selection of tracks. It was good.
Were you happy with the response to your Berghain 06 CD? Reviews were really good. The people who talked to me about the mix were really satisfied and happy and so am I.
Even though you made the mix in Berghain, was it in your head that people would be listening to it outside of the club, like on headphones or at home? Maybe I try to find a combination of making a mix that you can listen to at a party, or when I drive my car or on headphones, just a small journey through different kind of techno music which can be heard in Berghain as well.
Were you at CTM the other week? Florian Hecker’s installation at Berghain there was an example of non-traditional club music getting a foothold in places like Berghain. No, I wasn’t there. My problem is that I don’t have so much time to go out in Berlin. I either play elsewhere or I am happy to be at home. It’s very hard for me to be out in Berlin so I miss a lot of good things. Sometimes it’s just fine to be at home. It’s not so easy. There are a lot of things to be done and sometimes it’s really hard to bring it all together. To get enough time to be at home for the kids, it’s hard.
Do your kids know what you do at the weekends? Are they old enough to understand? I’ve got three sons, the oldest one is fourteen and the second one is nine, they know what I do. The smallest one is almost four and he knows I’m traveling, I’m away. He misses me.
I know you don’t make much music of your own, but when you do, do you work with your sets in mind? Do you make things so that you can play them out? Not really. I play my own tracks not so often. It’s not that I’m sitting down and saying to myself, I’m going to make the next big club hit. I just have an idea. It’s a process where things come into my mind which I try and in the end there is a track, like it or not, and then see whether it’s released or not. It’s not that it has to be played out at techno parties but if DJs are playing them, that’s fine too. I don’t have a plan, I don’t have a composition. It’s more spontaneous.
Talking to people who live in Berlin and have lived there a while, they often mention the city has a high turnover of people. Lots of people coming and going all the time. Do you think that is good for the city? I see lots of people come to Berlin, and they are making money for or from techno music. Some of them see that it’s not like that, I mean we can party 24 hours a day but if you want to make a living from making music or different things, maybe it’s not as easy as we thought.
I wanted to ask you about GEMA. It seems to have quietened down since Berghain said it was closing but then said it wasn’t. Where do things stand with that now? Is it over? It’s not over yet, there are still negotiations going on. To make it simple you could say it’s a tax on the music but basically an organisation charges which says it represents the artists. And we say, fine, you represent artists but not the ones who are played in the club, so you can go to the discotheques where they play their music and charge them but not us.
Do you think they will listen to the clubs? No, of course they don’t listen to the clubs. They say it’s not true, that they are doing the right thing. That makes it hard to find a solution where we are left in peace and can concentrate on doing creative work rather than solving these problems.
You’ve talked before about how the parties in Berlin have changed since you first began going in the early 90s, when things were much more under the radar. Is this change a result of the increased attention from authorities of different kinds? There are still parties that are announced the day before on Facebook and whatever, so there are still parties like that going on. But it’s a bit more dangerous now. The police come to say no, you can’t do this, where in the beginning of the 90s there were parties going on in abandoned houses where we’d put big speakers in and no one cared so much about it, from the authority side. This has changed. With Berlin, there are no abandoned houses anymore. It’s all business. All the old houses are made new and repaired.
Do you think this has had an effect on Berlin as a city for clubbing or underground culture in general? Yes. Berlin had this special situation after reunification and now it comes to a more normal level, maybe. I don’t complain, this professional side has its good sides as well. Especially when you decide to make a decent part of your living from playing music or being a DJ. I think the situation in Berlin is still more liberal than most countries. It’s more of a give and take thing. The authorities and financial people see “Ok, they pay their taxes and we can see they behave in a good way, we’ll let them have their parties”. It’s not like here or other countries where they say clubs have to close because they are afraid of kids abusing alcohol during the whole night, so we have to stop at three in the morning instead of letting them do it. Hopefully it will not change in the near future but who knows? If there is another government, with different priorities, who knows? At the moment, Berlin would be really silly to change these things because we have a lot of income from all these tourists who come from the club culture.
Do you think it’s dangerous to define an artistic culture’s worth in financial terms though? It’s a natural development I’m afraid. It’s capitalism, that’s how it works. As soon as everyone makes enough money, they feel it’s ok, why should I be against this?