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Compilation of the Month: V/A ‘Watergate Twenty Years’

The Berlin club celebrates its 20th anniversary with a triumphant 20-track collection

When Watergate opened its doors in 2002 it gave Berlin a new kind of club. Since the fall of the Wall 13 years earlier the city had turned into a techno haven that thrived throughout the ‘90s. But the scene was underground, mysterious and (sometimes) even illegal. Tresor was in a basement. The Bunker was in a disused Nazi air-raid shelter. Watergate had a riverside view, LED lights and floor-to-ceiling windows that threw natural light onto the dancefloor at sunrise. Suddenly German techno was a tourist attraction. 

Sharing its name with a scandal that saw Republican president Richard Nixon resign from the White House in 1974, Watergate was also a celebration of freedom and cosmopolitanism in dance music. Its founders Ulrich Wombacher, Niklas Eichstädt and Steffen ‘Stoffel’ Hack ran Hard:Edged, a German drum & bass label, and the earliest Watergate parties were a phalanx of dub and jungle as well as house and techno. Watergate’s 20th birthday celebration is a 20-track (2 hours 9 mins) knees-up that portrays the club in fine health, an image of precocious sophistication with a diverse guest list boasting no shortage of famous names from all over clubland.

It starts more or less as you’d expect it to, with a song called ‘You Need Attitude’ by Henrik Schwarz, gesturing towards the bombastic electroclash sound that dominated euro dancefloors circa 2002. Schwarz’s twanged bass funk and vocoder topline are worn with brooding maturity and distinctly modern restraint, holding up memories of Peaches and early Tiga, if not quite dressing up in their clothes.

Then on track two it’s fully Y2K time. With ‘Weine Nicht Kind’ Berlin producer Max Joni and vocalist Ede bounce into the room as though wearing moon boots and crop tops, with lyrics approximating a German translation of Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ and a chorus with only slightly fewer histrionics. Artists are delightfully unafraid to let the fun flag fly elsewhere on the comp too, like Granada producer Kid Simius’s ‘Fabrica de Baile’, a popping, whistling eurotrance jamboree worthy of a seven-floor superclub.

Other corners of the party are populated by more serious faces, belonging to established Watergate regulars who turn up with track titles like ‘Nacht’ (Adana Twins), ‘Raw’ (Kollektiv Turmstrasse) and ‘Wolf Cider’ (none other than Sasha), each denoting an offering of moody moonlit techno. But everyone’s in the birthday spirit, knowing that as they’ve come all this way they might as well dance — none more so than Australia’s Kristin Velvet, whose obsidian throb ‘Wanted Competition’ is probably the finest slab of techno at the function.

Increasingly, ‘Watergate Twenty Years’ reminds us that, no matter the extent to which techno might fade from fashion, Berlin has made the genre into a formidable institution, to which ravers will flock from far and wide until all is said and done (plus afters). From Portugal we get Djeff, bringing with him an Afro house number called ‘Cloud 7’ with a piano breakdown Frankie Knuckles would be proud of. Then there’s Hyenah, a masked enigma from the Cayman Islands whose tech-house track ‘Going in Circles’ fizzes like a celebratory bottle of sekt prime for popping on the terrace.

Arriving late is Jamiie, a new resident DJ at Watergate whose arpeggiated techno groove ‘Echoes’ will ricochet between your ears for long after it’s finished. Like everything here it’s beautifully sleek, functional, high-definition dance music, designed to make you move and keep you moving indefinitely. It points to another 20 years of monolithic house, techno and whatever else on the banks of the Spree. See you at sunrise.