PARTY, LOVE AND PROFIT: THE RHYTHMS OF THE LOVE PARADE
(Interview with Wolfgang Sterneck)
Graham St John
Interview with Wolfgang Sterneck, October 2010.
Translated by Luis-Manuel Garcia.
in 'Dancecult - Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture'
Party, Love and Profit: The Rhythms of the Love Parade
(Interview with Wolfgang Sterneck)
- The City As Dancefloor
- The Dance of the New Freedom
- Ecstatic Appearances
- The Symbol of Party Culture
- Dancing With Yourself
- The Politics of Empty Phrases
- The Loops of Music Cultures
- Sold Beats
- The Parade of Drugs
- The New Responsibility
- The Fuckparade
- The End of the Love Parade
- The Rhythms of Chance
The Love Parade came to be the foremost event of the 1990s techno
movement. It stood for a new and diverse culture, whose core cultivated
ecstatic and creative parties, but which came also to embody their
Wolfgang Sterneck danced numerous times on the streets of Berlin
at the Love Parade. But he also kept himself separate from and repeatedly
critical of the event's development, such as in his book Cybertribe-Visionen;
early on, he predicted the extreme commercialization as well as
the movement away from original ideals. To this day, he remains
committed to the project of combining parties and politics.
In the following interview, Sterneck looks back over nearly twenty
years of the Love Parade. In doing so, he combines personal experiences
with the placement of the Love Parade's development in a social
and political context.
The City As Dancefloor
Graham St John:
Wolfgang, let's begin with a rather personal question: which of
your experiences during the Love Parades of the 1990s has stayed
with you as a particularly positive memory?
It isn't reducible to one experience. Off the top of my head, it
was especially the feeling of dancing in the streets with thousands
of other people to thrilling music. As diverse as this was at the
surface, at its core it was always connected to another approach
to life: leaving the chains of the everyday behind and unwinding
in a positive way—and this not only in the enclosed spaces
of a club, but also in the middle of the main streets of a global
At one point, I wished that the "acid sound" pumping straight
out of the speakers at a Love Parade party would flow through the
streets every day. An endless rhythmic beat, instead of the urban
barrage of noise that otherwise surrounds us. And, at the same time,
people stepping out of the proverbial line instead of going to work
every day, stony-faced, to serve as a cog in a giant machine.
This was undoubtedly a psychedelic vision, but it was also the image
of a social utopia that became—at least at certain moments—a
reality, without those dancing being aware of this potential.
Now we're getting to the heart of the matter. But this also leads
to the question of a negative experience that has remained prominent
in your memory until today.
I'm not going to commit myself here to just one experience, either;
nonetheless, a negative feeling that accompanied me on many occasions
at the Love Parades was a sense of tightness. This sense was almost
never conveyed by the media, and it fades from memory in comparison
to the ecstatic moments, but tightness is also part of the basic
experience of the Love Parade. Tightness along particularly popular
parts of the route, tightness in the special-event trains, tightness
in the crush in front of the clubs, tightness in the utterly overcrowded
clubs, tightness in the lines for the toilets....
Also negative, to my recollection, were the mountains of flyers
that piled up in the streets after the Love Parade. Every promoter
thought that they had to inundate people with their party flyers,
but hardly anyone really looked at them and they mostly landed straight
on the asphalt. You could've probably filled a small library with
all that paper, but ecological issues were never a serious topic
at the Love Parade.
All the sponsors also left a negative memory with me, with their
innumerable leaflets, give-aways and logo banners. And the politicians,
who suddenly materialized at the Love Parade because they thought
that it was good for their image, even though their fellow party
members had condemned the Love Parade just beforehand. I criticize
this not just at a theoretical level; for me, it was also always
tightly bound up with the sense that they did not really belong
there, that they only wanted to exploit, capitalize, and co-opt
The Dance of the New Freedom
It is said today that the Love Parade made Berlin into a single,
vast dance floor, upon which everything was possible. Was that actually
A lot was indeed possible right in Berlin during the early years.
The beat of a new culture was increasing in volume and some parts
of the city resembled a dance floor—not only during the Parade,
but also at night. For many, there was this general feeling that,
along with this emerging techno culture, something fresh and ground-breaking
was finding its way out. And this was reflected in the energy of
the Love Parade in the early years: partying, developing and organizing.
New forms of musical expression, the endless beat at parties and
after-hours, the rethinking of day and night. Positive energy, a
new community and, later, diverse cybertribes like pulsating organisms
instead of authoritarian, ossified structures. The combination of
smoke, mind-bending, and ecstasy. The renunciation of the conventions
of both bourgeois establishment and culture industry, including
the total rejection of the dust-covered rock music of that time....
All of these characterized the period and the Love Parade.
Especially in the early 1990s, Berlin offered space for that sort
of development, free space being physically available in the empty
buildings and warehouses—above all in the eastern part of
Berlin, which was no longer in use after the fall of the German
Democratic Republic (East Germany).
In addition to this, there was also a certain psychic freedom and
a sense of new possibilities seemingly at all levels. At one level,
there's the original and fairly open dance style, at another level
the occupation of an empty warehouse or the experimentation with
new forms of expression. Free psychic space was also used in order
to unfold oneself, to plunge into the self as a psychonaut or to
paint the external world in somewhat different colors.
The conquest of the Eastern Bloc dictatorships led to a defining
sense of new possibilities and new freedom in Berlin. Admittedly,
it was a freedom that, in terms of the conquering economic order,
led not infrequently to an ego trip, which in turn was also reflected
in techno culture and, more specifically, the Love Parade. One felt
and experienced a new energy of freedom, which would soon find itself
again relegated to those realms that were not compliant or did not
allow themselves to be exploited profitably enough.
Indeed, at least some small parts of techno culture certainly had
the hope of changing society for the better. Also, the Love Parade
not only saw itself as a huge party, but also had a rather clear
message—not least of all through the explicit emphasis on
There were different approaches within techno culture and its offshoots.
There was the concept of the Raving Society, which rather flatly
asserted the expectation that techno culture, as a youth movement,
would positively change society from within. Society would thus
become inevitably more open, more peaceful, more tolerant, more
creative. At its base, however, it was just a superficial marketing
concept, which served the purpose of increasing sales and ultimately
challenged nothing fundamental, instead strengthening it.
Then there was the hope that the mass use of ecstasy would, through
an "E-volution", transform society. One started from the
premise that the feelings of happiness and openness associated with
ecstasy would expand further and further. The original communal
"we are one family" feeling of parties was thus to become
a basic social principle. This was also an illusion. Same thing
for Terence McKenna's theory of an "archaic revival",
which was supposed to change all of society for the better.
Most party-people were not interested in such concepts, anyway.
They went out on weekends to party, especially on ecstasy, and functioned
during the weekdays as salespeople, bankers, or even soldiers. Taking
a consciousness-expanding substance or dancing in a trance is not
enough to effect a genuine change. It requires coming to grips with
experience as well as a closer examination of oneself and one's
In this sense, the simple question, "Why is the weekend so
colorful and the everyday so gray?" can already lead to this,
such that one sees one's own life—the frequently alienated
daily job routine, but also the often so superficial appearance
of parties—in a different light and perhaps even change something.
Nevertheless, the prerequisite is reflection, which was and is far
too rare in the colorful world of partying at the personal level
and, for example, the development of the scene itself.
What is decisive is the readiness and the will not only to scratch
the surface but also to change something essential in oneself and
in society. And it is well known that this is not an easy path.
It involves dealing with a daily, subtle pressure to conform and
to fit in.
The Love Parade had the carried the call for "Love" around
the world. When one looks back, however, one now remembers first
of all the fatalities of the last Love Parade, who were sacrificed
on the altar of profit and greed.
The Love Parades of the early and middle 1990s certainly produced
an important cultural impulse and made diverse experiences personally
possible. But the social and political potential remained largely
One can imagine 100,000 party-people blocking the government offices
and dancing for a different politics. As far as I'm concerned, it
would've been great if, in keeping with the Love Parade's "politics
of love", they had filled the concept with some sort of content.
If "love" had been connected in concrete terms to a peaceful,
solidary and equitable collective life—without the exploitation
and destruction of people and nature—then the whole thing
would've opened up a new dimension. But then the sponsors would've
mostly cancelled, too....
Only in the underground does there exist a genuine will to change
that goes beyond the scope of ecstatic party-weekends, improved
self-marketing opportunities and empty phrases about "Love,
Peace and Unity". I'm thinking of, for example, the early manifestos
of Underground Resistance, Spiral Tribe and Praxis-Records.
It went beyond theory and, in doing so, was committed to the practical
implementation of such ideals for the purposes of idealistic non-commercial
parties, "reclaim the streets" campaigns and projects
that effectively bound "parties and politics" together.
Also entirely crucial was the special development of communal forms
of collective life, such as the nomadic tribalism of Spiral Tribe
or the free spaces of autonomous cultural centers and occupied buildings.
The Symbol of Party Culture
In retrospect, how do you reckon the meaning of the Love Parade?
One must distinguish between the 1990s and the following decade.
From around 2000 to 2010 the Love Parade was increasingly not just
a swan song, but a fully commercialized remix of an initially good
idea that was already commercialized.
In the 1990s, the Love Parade was an event of world-wide prominence
in "Techno-Kultur", as the movement was labeled in the
German-speaking world—or "Electronic Dance Music Culture",
to put it in international terms. (Back then, "techno"
was a meta-concept that included streams such as trance, house,
The Love Parade amounted to a dancing network. It was the event
that brought together diverse projects and streams. It bundled together
newly emergent and pulsating energies coming from all over the place
and at the same time increased them exponentially. It drew them
inwards to a focal point and also radiated them outwards, all the
while conveying an attitude towards life and becoming the leading
image of a new culture.
Something happened that nobody could've foreseen at the beginning,
to which nobody at the first or second or third Love Parade gave
thought. This playful, colorful, rhythmic, partly frenzied and ecstatic,
partly naïve but also winking parade, which was dedicated to
the new party culture under an overloaded mission statement of "Love",
struck a timely nerve. Within few years, the number of participants
increased from around 150 (1989) to 200,000 to 1,000,000 or more,
according to estimates (1999).
The Love Parade symbolized the development of techno culture from
a small underground scene to the most important youth movement of
this era, at least in Western Europe. What Woodstock was for hippie
culture, Love Parade was for Techno-Kultur: a point of crystallization
for key elements.
At its core stood, notably, the indeed fuzzy but nonetheless solid
ideals of communal, ecstatic partying and free development, held
together by a new music. These ideals corresponded to a deep longing,
but in certain moments also to a concrete, live praxis. In the end,
the capitalist machinery of exploitation swallowed up the Love Parade
and once more made "Love" an empty marketing slogan.
Dancing With Yourself
You see a few parallels with Woodstock. "Love" was also
used there as a concept and symbol. Are there shared roots between
the Love Parade and the hippy culture of the late 1960s?
When you take a close look at the development of electronic dance
music in the last fifteen years or so, there are without a doubt
numerous points of reference. The peak of the acid-house era around
1988 was named "The Second Summer of Love" after the hippies'
"Summer of Love".
Also, the initial ethos of PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) in
techno culture was at least similar to that of the hippies; in particular,
psychedelic trance (the Goa scene, to be more precise) clearly remains
within the tradition of hippie culture in both values and expressive
One must not overload these connections, however. Love is the principal
emotional need of human beings. And every person also has the need
for free development and community, the need for transcendence and
flow, the need for a free life without the repressive norms of parents,
society and system.
These characteristics can be found in every alternative culture
as well as at the core of every music scene, even if the expressive
forms no doubt change and, to some extent, these needs and ideals
are only recognizable at second or third glance.
Thus, for example, the writings of early punk culture corresponded
to exactly these needs, despite being in most cases rather aggressive
and provocative. Likewise, punk was a trenchantly formulated expression
of the yearning for love on an entirely personal level while also,
in a social context, the yearning for community in opposition to
exclusion and competitive thinking.
In this sense, the Love Parade is part of a long tradition and thus
affords to some extent the drawing of references to the late 1960s.
Mind you, there are also fundamental differences.
A new youth movement or music culture does not randomly emerge out
of nothing. On the contrary, it is always a consequence of specific
social and political conditions that are reflected in people's everyday
realities. Their experiences, needs and longings shape the outcome.
It was only against this backdrop, for example, that hip-hop could
emerge out of African-American ghettos with its expressive musical
forms and themes, or punk out of the English suburbs. These, in
turn, formed manifold interrelationships in which, if nothing else,
the music industry had a particular influence; but the surrounding
circumstances shaped the outcome.
Also, the Love Parade and its development is the result of prevailing
social-cultural conditions. And here is where it diverges fundamentally
from the late 1960s, wherein a fundamental collective transformation
was a self-evident goal, even for the decidedly apolitical hippies.
With the Love Parade, however, one must look long and hard for these
sorts of goals and—excepting a few empty slogans—is
to be found at best on subliminal and unconscious levels.
The Love Parade actually amounted to a renunciation of clearly collective
goals; it was an expression of de-politicization. Thus, in the Federal
German Republic (West Germany) of the 1980s, there were numerous
strong non-government movements. But the peace and anti-nuclear
movements as well as the autonomist movement could not accomplish
their goals, given the power relations at hand, and they largely
Later, the fall of the pseudo-socialist dictatorships of Eastern
Europe led not to the creation of a new, actually free social form,
but rather to the blind adoption of capitalism with all of its accompanying
These social developments were also reflected as a basic tendency
at the personal level. Generally speaking, there was in many ways
a resigned political indifference. Meanwhile, each person was increasingly
looking to him/herself, to entirely private happiness and success
as well as personal fun, development, and entertainment above all
else. Under the banner of prevailing neoliberalism, the perspective
was increasingly narrowed to the ego, to consumption and career—and
not to the common good or even a new social perspective.
The Love Parade reflected all of this. It was about a vague "Love"
as primal longing and about ecstatic partying as an escape from
the everyday, but all of this at an entirely de-politicized and
consumerist level for the purposes of an increasingly commercialized
The Politics of Empty Phrases
The question of whether the Love Parade is a political demonstration
or a commercialized parade was time and again put to the organizers.
But they emphatically defined the Love Parade as a political demonstration.
Yes, that's right, this issue always played a central role. In the
corresponding discussions, it was not really about the political
alignment or the ideals of the Love Parade. The background was economic.
In Berlin, there is a regulation that the city should finance and
undertake waste disposal after a demonstration. The organizers of
commercial events, however, must take care of it themselves.
That's why, almost yearly during the 1990s, there was this debate:
the municipal agencies would deny them permission as a demonstration,
then the Love Parade would complain about it and threaten cancellation.
In the end, permission would come from the city, certainly with
high tax revenues and public image playing a decisive role.
With what arguments did the Love Parade portray itself as a "political
Dr. Motte, the founder of the Love Parade, always said that the
foundational motto was "Peace, Joy, and Pancakes". "Peace,
Joy, and Pancakes" is actually a Germany-wide figure of speech
that describes a carefree state, albeit usually with an ironic undertone
suggesting that it is only superficial.
Motte reinterpreted this turn of phrase as a political claim. He
repeatedly stressed that the "peace" stood for disarmament
in the context of the political Love Parade, "joy" for
music as a medium for popular understanding and "pancakes"
for equitable food production. At the same time, this certainly
resonated with an ironic take on bureaucratic protocols as well
as the dogmatic phrasing of left-wing groups. On the other hand,
Motte was and is a person who really did espouse these sorts of
goals, as seemingly naïve and formulaic as they are.
From Dr. Motte's perspective on the inside, these were not classically
political stances of a central platform, but rather his Buddhist
convictions. It was in this sense that he once spoke with me about
this around the middle of the 1990s, saying that the Love Parade
was his spiritual contribution to multiplying love and happiness
on the earth.
Indeed, Dr. Motte himself gave a political speech at some of the
Well, yes. Dr. Motte's speeches were indeed legendary, it's just
that hardly anyone could catch a word of it. Even if you wanted
to listen to it, the acoustics were usually too bad. Those who did
manage to catch some of it spoke mostly of shallow, spiritually
glorified world enlightenment.
It wasn't even possible to read the speeches somewhere after the
fact. In around the year 2000, I once wrote to the Love Parade and
asked for the text of the speeches. The succinct answer was that
they were constantly receiving these sorts of requests, but they
lacked the capacities to take care of it. I was directed to the
"History-Facts" section of the homepage, where I found
nothing substantial, aside from a few dates and numbers.
This was very characteristic. The Love Parade team had no time for
these allegedly central issues. They were presumably busy all day
with sponsoring and promotion. You couldn't better describe the
eager evacuation of meaning of the Love Parade by its organizers.
The Loops of Music Cultures
In your writings and talks you've described the Love Parade repeatedly
as a symbol for the commercialization of music cultures. Where do
you see the parallels?
If one looks directly at the development of beat-music, hippie rock,
punk, hip-hop, techno or another large music culture of recent decades,
again and again the same mechanisms are clearly seen. They inevitably
arise from capitalist market dynamics and are susceptible to being
structurally and even foundationally overpowered by these forces.
The dynamics of co-optation and exploitation are so strong, that
capitalism even succeeded in bringing its own antithesis to the
market, as can be seen in the example of Che Guevara products over
the past decades.
From emergence in the underground to commercialization and fragmentation,
it has repeatedly followed the same sequence, which I divide into
Phase one: Rooted in socio-cultural conditions, a new and growing
(music) culture emerges with idealistic beginnings. Two: It faces
rejection and repression by the establishment. Three: The (music)
culture becomes increasingly co-opted by the industry. Four: The
(music) culture becomes the mainstream.
Phase five: Counter-movements arise from the underground. Six: The
(music) culture splits into discrete sub-cultures. Seven: Interest
in the (music) culture fades over the course of new socio-cultural
developments. Eight: This turns to revivals and museumification.
These developmental stages can be applied to techno culture as well
as to the Love Parade in particular:
In 1989, the Love Parade began as Dr. Motte's small underground
party on the streets of Berlin. Around 150 people took part. This
Love Parade had something subversive in its combination of a new,
groundbreaking music with an idealistic DIY (Do It Yourself) mindset
and a groundbreaking appreciation of the streets as dance floor.
The parade hit upon the spirit of the times and the number of participants
increased steadily (Phase 1).
Afterwards, the parade initially remained unnoticed in the broader
public sphere, and it was increasingly vilified by the bourgeois
media as a "drug-" and "sex-parade" while techno
was continually denied any musical qualities (Phase 2).
Along with the growing importance of the Love Parade grew the interest
of corporations such as music, drink, clothing, and cigarette industries,
who sponsored the Love Parade—that is, co-opted and used for
profit the spirit of the Love Parade through their products and
advertising (Phase 3).
In the latter half of the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people
took part in the Love Parade every time. The estimates sometimes
surpassed the million-mark. Techno had become mass culture. By then,
the DJs were partying at the Love Parade like stars, despite all
of their original ideals. Numerous politicians from parties that
had initially spoken against the Love Parade in entirely pejorative
terms hurried to the Love Parade, in order to present a youth-friendly
image of themselves on the live-broadcasts of the TV networks (Phase
The development of the Love Parade was sharply criticized by those
parts of the scene that were oriented towards the original counter-cultural
ideals of techno culture. This brought about the founding of the
Fuckparade as an expressly non-commercial, explicitly political
counter-event (Phase 5).
Techno culture split into an increasing number of subcultures that
looked back towards the same roots, but were starkly different with
respect to musical development as well as ideas and codes of conduct.
Only a portion of these still associated themselves with the Love
Parade (Phase 6).
At the beginning of the new millennium, techno culture had passed
its peak. The Love Parade was certainly still a mega-event, but
a decrease in attendance was clear, as was a clear loss of the Love
Parade's significance. Due to tightened constraints and steeply
declining revenues from sponsors, the previously yearly Love Parade
was cancelled a number of times (Phase 7).
A revival of the Love Parade came about over the course of a renewed
interest in electronic dance music or, more specifically, party
culture. The purported modernization of the event, however, led
to a complete commercialization, which in turn led to multiple fatalities
in 2010 due to catastrophic organizational failures. The organizer
subsequently explained that there would be no further Love Parades.
It is nonetheless foreseeable that in a few years there will be
an extensive revisiting of the Love Parade's history, while a proper
recognition of its significance remains to be done (Phase 8).
How have you personally experienced this commercialization and,
more precisely, the turning away from original ideals that you had
In hindsight, the individual phases can be made out rather clearly.
As a direct participant, one experiences most of this more as flowing
transition. Two examples cross my mind at the moment.
Marc Spoon was, at the time, one of the most successful DJs and
producers in Germany. Like all famous DJs of that time, he took
part in the Love Parade. I can still see it clearly, how he was
standing on a truck. Totally drunk, he yelled repeatedly into a
microphone: "Why are you all so fucking quiet?!" And the
people around the truck cheered him on. That effectively became
his trademark and he repeated it innumerable times at the following
Love Parades. And again and again people gathered around Marc Spoon's
float to yell with him.
For me, this behavior was antithetical to techno. Or, in other words,
it was the symbolic resurrection of that which Techno-Kultur had
wanted to defeat in its early years. It was the rebirth of the lowbrow,
egocentric rock star.
In its underground origins, techno means: no stars, but rather a
party community in which there are various tasks, none of them ultimately
more important than the other. Techno stands for a collective trance
experience and not for following a DJ in the most literal sense
of the word, cheering whatever it is he does, no matter how stupid
it may be.
I felt reminded by these scenes of the writer George Orwell. In
his brilliant Animal Farm, he depicted the Russian revolution in
parables. The animals rose up successfully against the tyranny of
the humans. But then, they made the pigs into the new leaders, and
at the end there was no difference between the old and the new regime—or,
that is to say, in the recognition of leading figures.
Another example: this new musical style was only narrowly marketable.
Sure, people danced to it for nights on end on dance floors, but
large profits are only possible when the track is at the top of
the mainstream charts.
And then, suddenly, there was Marusha, topping the charts with "Somewhere
Over The Rainbow". It was the perfect marketing ploy. The track's
foundation was a stupid "techno-beat", upon which a few
melodious elements were laid down as well as the catchy chorus from
the title, "Over the Rainbow", a universally loved number
from the classic musical film, The Wizard of Oz.
The track wasn't released by a major multinational music corporation,
but instead by "Low Spirit", a label that had emerged
out of the scene. New distribution and production structures coupled
with a neoliberal stance made it possible for techno culture to
market itself more strongly than all of the previous music movements
that had been bought out by major music corporations.
You repeatedly criticize the commercialization of music, but isn't
it understandable that a musician would want to make a living from
That is obviously fair enough. We all have to look at how we finance
our lives under the given conditions. I have no problem with someone,
as a member of a scene, being dedicated to it through particular
activities and living within reason from these activities.
But there are also limits, such as when it is only about profit.
Or when party guests are only defined in terms of profits. Or when
one sells one's knowledge about a scene to a corporation. These
are not about any "spirit of the scene", but rather about
an optimal marketing strategy.
To put it in other words, for example, you can also use a portion
of the revenues from parties to buy a sound-system that will be
made available to idealistic projects. Or you could support groups
that work to inform the scene about drugs or take a stance against
right-wing political trends. Or you could use your popularity by
publicly endorsing a good project. There are good examples of this
in the most diverse music scenes.
The fundamental question is whether it is just about an ego-trip,
or whether issues of responsibility and solidarity play an essential
The Parade of Drugs
What role do drugs play in the Love Parade?
The Love Parade is tantamount to a gigantic demonstration for the
legalization of psychoactive substances. The organizers have never
planned this or framed it in this way, but in this respect the Love
Parade has nonetheless taken its own direction.
At least half of the participants at the Love Parade took illegal
substances. At some parties in the early morning, this proportion
was certainly closer to a hundred percent. When people in such groups
defy a legal prohibition, it takes on a political dimension, even
if it isn't articulated explicitly by the participants.
The most widespread were cannabis, ecstasy and speed, as well as—depending
on the party and the scene—cocaine, LSD and a slew of other
substances. Obviously, legal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes were
also part of this.
Alcohol played no role in the early years. For a long time, beer
was totally unfashionable as a dull drug of the old rock generation.
Then came the discovery that ecstasy combined with alcohol in large
amounts created a rather sloppy high. Then, the beverage industries
managed to put new alcoholic drinks on the market and to re-brand
beer as a party drink.
The establishment of "energy drinks" happened in this
time, too. They were distributed at the Love Parade, at times for
free. The strategy was to instill in consumers of these drinks a
connection between a positive party experience and the drink itself.
So then they would drink the energy drink in their everyday lives
and be unconsciously reminded that feeling.
Among the lead sponsors there were always companies from the tobacco
industry that wanted to provide their cigarette brands with a modern,
And so things came to a totally absurd situation, although it was
legal in terms of the dominant regime. Massive amounts of alcoholic
drinks and cigarettes were being distributed freely as part of a
promotional campaign. Again and again, you would run into people
who drunkenly fell all over the place or who became aggressive while
plastered, and you would be dancing in an unhealthy cloud of cigarette
smoke. At the same time, people were getting busted for a couple
grams of pot or a few pills of ecstasy.
Drug policies never really had to do with just health issues; it
was rather first and foremost about economic considerations as well
as power and control.
Drugs have nonetheless already been with humanity for thousands
of years. Prohibitions couldn't change anything about that; instead,
they have often indirectly exacerbated the harmful aspects.
Also, techno culture (or party culture), with all of its subcultures,
wouldn't have been thinkable without ecstasy and LSD. These substances
contributed substantially to its creative development, as well as
to the development of a particular sense of collectivity at parties
during the early years.
Ecstasy admittedly was and is directly connected to health risks,
all the more so with the conditions of the black market, where numerous
extremely harmful substances are being falsely traded as ecstasy.
Ecstasy was also very much associated with superficiality and appearances.
On E, everybody is part of a big family, the DJ is simply godlike
and the overpriced entrance fee is somehow reasonable. In everyday
sober life, people often couldn't get as involved with each other.
This was OK, if you were able and willing to keep the frenzied world
of partying separate from the realities of everyday life. Those
who wanted to establish a closer connection often met with disappointment
or had to come to grips with something more profound within these
connections. A small few did this and so techno culture fell ill—and
the Love Parade with it.
The New Responsibility
Certain substances certainly have had an important impact, time
and again. One can think of acid house, for example, where the connection
was made in the genre-label itself. But there were also a lot of
problems in connection to drugs.
Without a doubt, there were numerous problems. There was too little
objective information, there were impure and adulterated substances,
there were people who couldn't handle certain substances or who
would fly off into a fantasy world.
But the answer can't be: demonization, prohibition and repression.
The answer lies in the strengthening of individual people by means
of the development of drug-responsibility (Drogenmündigkeit,
similar to "harm reduction" or "responsible drug
use" in Anglophone discourse). Responsible drug use involves
objective information as well as the recognition and respect of
one's own potentials and limits. And it also aims towards a community
in which each person can freely and knowingly decide whether or
not to take a psychoactive substance by any means.
Anti-drug campaigns like "No Power to Drugs" (‘Keine
Macht den Drogen') are at best met with laughter inside techno culture.
Also, more accepting drug-assistance projects will get no footing
inside the techno scene, so long as they only want to bring something
into the scene from the outside, rather than be anchored in the
scene or have some common point of reference.
In contrast, extremely successful projects have been those that
emerged from the scene and provided information about drugs without
demonizing or condescending—in other words, they furthered
responsible drug use. The first such project in the German-speaking
world was the 1994 Eve & Rave, and then later came Eclipse,
Drug Scouts, and Alice-Project, among others.
Even & Rave was always at the Love Parade with chill, on-site
info-areas, thus combining education and counseling with a culturally-open
approach. Eve & Rave also initiated the first networking meetings
at the yearly Love Parade weekends, which led to the 1999 founding
of the still-existing Sonics-Netzwerk (Sonics Network). Sonics brings
together those projects that are active in the party-world and have
an idealistic approach, most of them having a focus on "parties
These projects, by the way, withdrew from the Love Parade over the
course of its flattening out and some of them got involved with
the Fuckparade, which continues to have an explicitly non-commercial
and political alignment.
In the media, there was often not just talk of a "Drug Parade",
but also at times of a "Sex Parade".
There were, at times, scantily clad women and men dancing on the
floats. Even topless, every now and then. These pictures found their
way into the media and created the image of a libertine Love Parade.
Certainly, the vast majority of the participants were by all means
colorfully and sometimes even extravagantly dressed, but otherwise
absolutely in keeping with current norms. But such a conventional
outfit pales in comparison to scantily clad, sexy beauties—and
so these were accordingly photographed and shown in the media.
Sex, in a narrow sense, played no role for the most part. There
were definitely other cultures that were more open. This doesn't
mean that techno folk were prudes. On the contrary, the experience
of a good party, merging in ecstasy, sound and trance, was occasionally
such a deeply sensual experience that the need for sex lost importance
and only slowly reasserted itself at chilled-out after-hours parties.
The Fuckparade formed in 1997 as counterweight to the commercialized
Love Parade. Was it really an alternative or just the grandstanding
of frustrated DJs whose sound was no longer current at the Love
In the early years, the Fuckparade took place as a counter-parade
on the same day as the Love Parade. At that time, it actually defined
itself in terms of the Love Parade—or rather, in terms of
a critique of it: against commerce, against hierarchies, against
flattening out and against the exclusion of harder music styles
like hardcore and gabber.
At the Love Parade, the idealistic and subversive spirit of the
"Free Tekno" scene no longer had a place between ad banners
for cigarettes, mobile phone contracts, or even, in one year, a
new TV soap opera.
The Fuckparade was initially important as both concrete critique
and lively opposition. In the long run, however, it would've become
a pure negation of the Love Parade that was always also dependent
on it, thus becoming uninteresting in the process.
But, over the years, the Fuckparade managed to become an independent
event that no longer made reference to the Love Parade, but instead
pursued its own course for a long time. For all intents and purposes,
it was even closer to the original ideals of the Love Parade in
certain respects than the Love Parade itself.
The Fuckparade continues to take place in Berlin, usually once during
the summer. It is generally organized through direct democracy,
expressly eschewing sponsorship and positioning itself clearly and
unequivocally with left-wing politics.
It continues to take cultural abuses, club closures and raids as
central themes, but it also maintains a broader view of party scenes.
In speeches and on banners, there is an especially intense engagement
with the fight for social and cultural free space, that is, taking
a stand against increasing gentrification. Taking center stage,
furthermore, are antifascist positions and a critique of state surveillance
The Fuckparade is part of a tradition of Reclaim The Streets campaigns.
These are not only about dancing on the streets for a few hours
and having fun, like at the Love Parade. On the contrary, partying
and politics are closely intertwined. This reclaiming of the streets
is understood as both an expression of a life-affirming culture
and of a fundamental transformation of organized political praxis.
Due to its alignment and influences as well as its history, regularity,
and size, the Fuckparade is probably the most significant Reclaim
The Streets campaign worldwide.
The End of the Love Parade
The history of the Love Parade came to a tragic end in 2010. It
went from a parade of love to a parade of death. How did it come
Since about 2000, interest in techno culture, parties and also the
Love Parade has been waning. This was still a mega-event with six-digit
attendance figures, but the sponsor companies were withdrawing and
the Love Parade was denied its classification as political demonstration.
As a result, it had to cover the massive cleaning costs on its own.
At the same time, it had long ago lost its preeminent relevance
and resembled instead a gigantic, exuberant folk festival dominated
by drugs and alcohol.
After the Love Parade had been cancelled a number of times due to
financial and organizational problems, Rainer Schaller entered the
picture. His company, McFit, is considered the biggest fitness chain
in Germany, known for its comparably low fees but also for its reduced
offerings and minimal services.
At first, McFit was the main sponsor of the Love Parade, then Schaller
bought the marketing rights—or, more precisely, the entire
Love Parade enterprise (Loveparade GmbH)—and carried on the
Love Parade under his own management. It was obvious from the beginning
that Schaller had no connection to techno culture or to the spirit
of the Love Parade; instead, he saw the Love Parade as a huge advertising
space for McFit.
In the course of an alleged "modernization" of the Love
Parade, it was opened up to other styles and offered to other cities.
Dr. Motte had in the meantime resigned from the development project
in protest and sold his shares in the Love Parade.
Schaller then decided on a departure from Berlin. Starting in 2007,
the Love Parade was to take place in the Ruhr valley, moving from
year to year between five cities. The Love Parade was carried out
in Essen and then Dortmund with heavy media coverage, but in Bochum
it was cancelled by the city due to fears of overloading the city's
infrastructure. The 2010 event in Duisburg, a mid-sized city, was
controversial due to similar concerns and financial problems.
The Love Parade was not carried out in the streets of a city, as
was usually the case. It was located instead on the property of
an old, disused freight station that, in contrast to all previous
Love Parades, was enclosed by a fence. The reason was allegedly
for safety measures. In fact, it was probably more about controlling
drink sales. With that, the event broke with a broad and essential
aspect of the Love Parade: full and open access to space.
The only openly accessible point of entry to the Love Parade property
was a tunnel that also simultaneously served as the only exit. Given
the tens of thousands of visitors streaming in both directions through
one tunnel, it was obvious to any layperson during the run-up to
the event that this could lead to big problems. All the more surprising,
then, that the responsible authorities of the city of Duisburg approved
the event after examining the security measures.
And so a catastrophe took place in this tunnel. Numerous photos
and videos show that an intolerable crush reigned in the tunnel,
that the streams of visitors were mutually blocking each other and
the barely-visible security forces were entirely overwhelmed. A
panicked state developed in the throng of people. Numerous people
were injured, twenty-one people died.
The next day, there was a disgusting press conference, where the
organizers and the city denied blame. At first, the word was that
all security measures had been observed and the guests themselves
had caused the disaster. At the same time, Schaller declared the
end of the Love Parade.
In the meanwhile, there was an array of explanations in which the
organizers, the city and, in particular, the responsible authorities
and the police forces laid the blame on each other. Years of lawsuits
are to follow.
The forensic clarification of which organizational error caused
the fatalities is one thing. But in addition to that there is still
a fundamental, overarching responsibility. Ultimately, greed for
profit and fame formed the root cause of the Duisburg Love Parade
On the one hand, Rainer Schaller (or, rather, his company, Lopavent
GmbH) wanted to see this through as cost-efficiently as possible.
On the other hand, Adolf Sauerland, the conservative mayor of Duisburg,
also desperately wanted the Love Parade, in order to improve the
image of the city and undoubtedly his own image as well.
Revealingly, both organizer and mayor would later admit that the
total attendance figures that were made public were in fact seriously
inaccurate. During the planning stages, the mayor had been informed
that the published data on the number of attendees at the previous
Love Parades in Essen and Dortmund (officially 1.2 and 1.6 million,
respectively) were many times higher than the actual turn-out. The
published data allegedly served only as media promotion, while those
inside the planning circles worked with substantially smaller numbers.
Only on the day of the Love Parade, and just before the tragedy,
did the organizer and mayor speak of 1.4 million attendees in Duisburg.
And when, after the disaster, the security measures and the corresponding
authorizations were put into question, the number of reported attendees
suddenly dropped to 200,000 at the most, obviously in accordance
with the authorizations. Here also, all previously-published numbers
were just promotional.
The mayor should've already resigned due to these false numbers,
but with the support of his party (the Christian Democratic Union),
which overrode an impeachment motion, he is still in office.
The Rhythms of Chance
Is it true that Dr. Motte, founder of the Love Parade, is now active
in the Fuckparade, which originally sprang up as a counter-event
to the Love Parade itself?
Yes, Motte is now running with the Fuckparade. He has already given
a speech at one of them and this year he took part in the minute
of silence at the beginning of the Fuckparade, in memory of the
casualties that took place at the Love Parade in Duisburg.
In interviews, Motte has repeatedly criticized the selling-out of
the Love Parade. But certainly this selling-out didn't first begin
with the McFit takeover, but rather well before under the leadership
of Motte in the 1990s.
Dancing in the streets of Berlin at the Love Parade was something
new, partially a symbolic breaking of taboo, sometimes also a breaking
out from the bonds of ossified structures. It was an amazing feeling,
bound up with diverse possibilities of development and organization.
But, despite all of its positive energies, the Love Parade has shown
that it is also susceptible to rather fast assimilation. From the
groundbreaking, ecstatic revelry of a new culture, it became a conformist,
commercialized mass parade. The history of the Love Parade shows
once more that detached partying and a few neat slogans are not
enough if you want to really change something.
What is remarkable is the variety of connections between partying
and politics, between rhythm and change—not just at particular
events, but also in our everyday lives.
Sterneck, Wolfgang. 1999. Cybertribe Visionen. KomstA and Nachtschatten-Verlag.
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