Going underground at Tech Noir

Going underground at Tech Noir
David Bartal wanders into a subterranean night club and discovers a realm where Belgians rule the roost and latex is more rule than exception.

A whole generation of popular music passed by and I didn’t even notice. It isn’t so much that I lost the alternative electronic music of the mid-1980s and early 90s, since I never found it in the first place.

I was reminded of that deficiency in my education when an e-mail arrived this week from a club that promised an evening of “Old School EBM”:

“Do you remember Ritz? Machine at Kolingsborg? Necronomicon? The Cold War was raging, Berlin was divided and Belgium was creating the world’s best music,” the invitation suggested. The Cold War and a divided Berlin rang a bell. But as for the rest, I guess I was on a different planet.

Tech-Noir bills itself as an EBM/Industrial/Dark Electro/Goth/Synth Club, and is located appropriately in an underground passage near a subway station on the south side of Stockholm.

It's easy to find: just go to Södermalm Square and follow anybody who is dressed in a latex skirt or pants, black platform boots with lots of metal clasps, or has an unusual hairstyle. (One has to be a member to get in the club, but it's easy to register at www.tech-noir.org.)

Most of the guests on this particular night seemed to be in their early to mid-20’s—in other words, they were just babies or not even born when Ralf Hütter of Germany’s electronic band Kraftwerk coined the term Electronic Body Music, EBM, to describe the hard, physical sound of their album The Man-Machine.

Regardless what you call the different genres of electronic music at Tech-Noir — industrial, aggrotech, “Old School” or Goth — one common thread is that it's all great dance music with a dark attitude.

There were smoke machines, shining disco balls, and strobe lights. The eyelets on my Converse sneakers turned light blue as I passed through a short corridor lit by black-light.

On the main dance floor, one could hear groups like Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Skinny Puppy and DAF. Downstairs the walls and glass windows were vibrating to a harder sound, bands like Agonize, Tantrum, Tactical Sekt and IC 434.

I ran into DJ Conan as he cooled off between sets with a cold beer in a plastic cup.

“I’ve been doing this since 1992. Me and my brother even started the predecessor to this place, which was called Necronomicon.” He describes the music he plays as aggressive, angry, and nihilistic.

“It's so fun to play music that people really, really want to dance to. It makes me feel almost like God,” says Conan, who has a day-job as an IT consultant.

Despite the moody and hard edge to this mainly instrumental music, the attitude at Tech-Noir is lighter and more relaxed than at most clubs. It's definitely less snobby than the glitzy party palaces in Stockholm’s entertainment district; there, one can be totally snubbed even before you get in the door.

Some foreigners find their way to Tech-Noir, which has some 30,000 people on its mailing list. For example, I ran into a tattooed Yank named Daemeon who has been in Stockholm for one month, and used to go to synth clubs back home in Washington D.C. “The scene is bigger back home and more Gothic,” he explained.

As far as I know, the kinds of music one hears at Tech-Noir is rarely if ever played on Swedish radio stations. One has to look for it to find it, or learn about it through word of mouth. Another way to tune in is to join a web community of like-minded souls.

“Everybody here tonight belongs to the web community Helgon (www.helgon.net),” a young Chinese university student named Tunda informs me. “That’s one way people find out what is happening.” His female friend Jie, also from China, nods in agreement.

For someone like me who was raised on rock from birth, the synth scene is exotic, mysterious and remote. It's cool in its own alternative way.

A few years ago in Oslo, Norway in a dance club housed in a former public toilet, a Norwegian DJ told me some wise words I’ve never forgotten. He said: “It takes a whole lot of subcultures to make up a culture.” And that’s the truth, isn’t it?

See also: Tech Noir gallery