Alexander G. Weheliye

Alexander G. Weheliye is associate professor of African American Studies and English at Northwestern University where he teaches black literature and culture, critical theory, social technologies, and popular culture. He is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke University Press, 2005).



"White Brothers With No Soul? Technospaces in 1990's Berlin"

While the reception of Detroit techno in Berlin and its subsequent deracination has received some critical attention, the place of black music in Berlin’s club landscape prior to the 1990’s techno explosion has been little discussed. Even though Berlin lacked music scenes built around black sounds from the US and the Caribbean (e.g. sound systems and northern soul) that facilitated the British response to house and techno in the1980’s, the city’s night life was far more diverse than suggested by histories and legends about the origins of techno in Berlin.

In the 1980’s, West-Berlin clubs designed for US army personnel (commonly referred to GI Discos) played import only funk and soul records and introduced DJ culture to the city. Many pioneering West-German house DJs (Westbam, for instance) frequented and drew inspiration from these clubs, laying some of the groundwork for the proliferation of electronic music clubs in the city after reunification in 1989. The GI Discos, as the army clubs also represented safe spaces for Turkish immigrants and Afro-Germans, who were often denied entry to West-Berlin’s mainstream nightclubs.

My paper will focus on the intersections of race and sound found in Berlin’s 1990’s techno club cultures. On the one hand, I emphasize how the specificity of Berlin’s architectural spaces shaped the creation of a German techno sound, and, on the other hand, I provide a genealogy of the small, but, nevertheless, important role that black music (soul, electro-funk, hip-hop, high-energy, and later house) played in the city’s nightlife before reunification and in the emergence of techno culture.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

9:00am EDT