An incredible lineup of local and international DJs, a first of its kind with ceiling LED lights and a unique view onto the river Spree on which you can see the reflection of the sunrise in the early hours after a night of hardcore partying, that is what the iconic Berlin club Watergate has to offer, and much more, of course.
When Watergate opened its doors 20 years ago, the founders Ulrich Wombacher, Niklas Eichstädt and Steffen ‘Stoffel’ Hack had no idea their affinity for underground music would lead them to create and uphold one of the most recognised go-to places for partying in the acclaimed techno club city of Berlin. Born out of a desire to reflect social trends through music, Watergate still reflects that very same ideology two decades later and is throwing its biggest party yet in celebration of its anniversary featuring performances by special guests Laurent Garnier and Solomun, as well as a fashion collaboration with Irie Daily.
How are you and where do you answer us from?
I am fine, answering this from my bed at 6 am here in Berlin. The sun just rises, it's a beautiful moment in the day when the city is only just awakening and people slowly start their days. I am a big fan of mornings!
You are one of the founders of Berlin's Watergate Club together with Steffen Stoffel Hack and Niklas Eichstädt. A club that has become a world reference, a dancefloor on which local talent is still as important as international bookings. How do you remember the beginning of this project? Did you have any dreams to fulfil then?
Thank you for the kind words about the club. It’s always been our goal to mirror the local scene without neglecting international artists. We see music as something not limited to a territory and it should also be fully inclusive. Therefore, we also had an eye on the international electronic music scene at a very early stage of the club.
Looking at our program over the last 20 years, it reads like a mirror of electronic music history at that time, locally as well as internationally. It feels good to see we have contributed a good part to the international electronic music scene.
In terms of dreams back then, when we first opened the club, I can tell you there weren’t any really, apart from making and promoting music for us and our friends and maybe a few more people around us. We almost stumbled into the club business as we didn’t have a clue how to run a club. We had a party series back then, always renting into other clubs and wanting to become independent. Therefore we decided to open our own place. We didn’t have a business plan really, But we had a lot of idealism and motivation to make something happen. Enthusiasm for music and arts, in general, is the driving force until today.
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What began as an open-ended experiment at the Oberbaumbrücke opened its doors on October 26, 2002. And I guess that the cultural and music scene was very different from today, right? Has it changed much since then?
Oh yes, it’s been like a different century back then. Electronic music compared to today, was still in its youth days, maybe one could say teenage years. It’s been easy to program lineups that from today’s point of view are unthinkable, money wise and also because the artists are just fully booked all the time and all over the planet. Berlin was much more relevant on the international scale. That has changed throughout the last 20 years. The whole world has become a stage for artists of our genre and more and more artists can make a living from their craft. When we started out nobody would have thought we could feed ourselves not even thinking of a family from this business. In short: The scene was still young and innocent back then, and so were we….
You have dedicated your life to Watergate Club and you have been a fundamental pillar in its international consolidation, but what did you do before undertaking this project?
Oh, I’ve always been involved with music. Since my school days, I had an interest in music and was involved in different scenes. For me, it all started with hip-hop in the late 80s, then moved to House and early Drum & Bass, ending my travels through the galaxies of sounds in mainly house/techno today. Watergate wouldn’t have been possible without our involvement in music before we opened the club. We all had a background and the necessary knowledge. We didn’t know it would be useful but looking back it was very handy to know about the history of music and the roots of the culture.
And now you are about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the club. Something less and less frequent at a time in which staying on the scene seems more difficult than ever. How do you feel?
I try to be positive all the time. We’ve gone through tough times with the club recently and without ongoing optimism and a like-minded team, all this wouldn’t have been possible. Also, I have stepped back from a lot of the booking operations and involved new, younger but equally motivated and enthusiastic people in these very important fields of club operation. I have always seen the club as a mirror of the musical and social trends of our time and this also means that the staff and the people involved in the club need to fit these requirements. Luckily, we are surrounded by a great team that brings in so many new ideas and freshness and I am wishing for everyone the developments on this planet will leave enough space for us and them to continue our journey…
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What do you think have been the factors that have led to the success of the Watergate Club? What would you highlight about the experience you offer?
There are so many factors to the success of the club I wouldn’t want to highlight one. Of course, the location plays a big role but at the same time, it didn’t when we first opened. Being in a beautiful location by the river wasn’t the idea of an underground club back in 2002. We had to live with a lot of criticism about going ‘posh’ or ‘commercial.’ The LED ceiling, which we were the first to install or basically have the idea also played a big role. At the time nobody had done something comparable in a club and it immediately made us a ‘must go’ place, together with the constant quality booking that we’re running for 20 years now. At the end of the day, I would say people enjoy the mixture of quality music, a good environment, a diverse and carefully selected crowd and a well-deserved escape from today's hectic life and the realities out there…
Biesmans, Djeff and Matthias Meyer are some of the current resident DJs. I am sure that the selection of these profiles is very important for you since, after all, they represent Watergate. How is this process?
Somehow things always fall into place for us. It may sound a bit esoteric but the universe leads like-minded people to the same spot it seems. We’ve never been acting strategic by choosing our residents and if so it wasn’t on purpose. We’re happy that our residents are waving the Watergate flag all over the planet these days and thankful they’re doing so. Also seeing all the new and fresh talent such as Jamiie, Kristin Velvet or Ede making their way just now fills our hearts with joy.
Such important names in music as Solomun or Charlotte De Witte have also been playing there regularly for many years. Is there any DJ set that you particularly remember? Why?
That’s been a standard question in a lot of interviews and I’ve never answered by picking a particular set. It’s always been the mix and the magic of the moments and there’s been so many of them, it wouldn’t be fair to pick a particular one here…
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After 2 years of the pandemic, the club seems to be back to normal and it is full again. How are you going to celebrate the 20th anniversary?
We’ve programmed heavy lineups around our actual birthday month October but already started in August with a couple of highlights in the club and our beloved Summer Open Air Weekenders in Berlin. By now we are already in the middle of the celebrations and are looking forward to a busy couple of months in our home base. A good mix of fresh new talent and old friends is the concept and we’re very pleased by the positive feedback we received for this anniversary. Our label and agency offshoots are naturally involved as well; we have a big Watergate 20 Years compilation coming soon on Watergate Records, are about to launch our new fashion collection in collaboration with fellow Berlin streetwear brand Irie Daily and have a lot of showcases happening around the world from Tomorrowland via Exit Festival to ADE and much more.
And what can you tell us about your next projects? What would you like to achieve in the next 20 years?
We’re trying to stay realistic and humble for the moment. We want to celebrate the fact we made it to this point which is not natural at all. 20 years has been a long time and we’re grateful. No plans for world domination or anything like that, living and enjoying the beauty of the moment.
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