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Music & clubs

Hard Wax: Berlin DJs reflect on legendary record shop

Last October, iconic Berlin record shop, Hard Wax, found a new home. Four DJs reflect on its legacy.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Hard Wax has played a pivotal role in the development of techno in Berlin and across the world. After residing on Paul-Lincke-Ufer for three decades, the store moved to Köpenicker Straße on October 30 last year.

Founded by musician and bar owner Mark Ernestus in 1989, the store is renowned for having shaped the Berlin music scene with its superbly-curated record selection, attracting DJs from across the world.

Photo: Makar Artemev

It’s also gained a reputation for breaking new talent and sounds, while educating local DJs on new and forward-thinking genres. It’s not only international selectors that the store appeals to – some of the biggest names from the local scene, from Marcel Dettmann to Cassy to DJ Hell, have worked behind Hard Wax’s counter. Now located in the Kraftwerk complex, it’s hard to not to look back on the old address with some nostalgia, from climbing the metal staircase adorned with record label stickers from every corner of the earth to the library-like industrial layout.

With the beginning of a new era for Hard Wax, we reached out to some of Berlin’s foremost DJs and asked them to reflect on the store’s legacy, to find out what makes the shop so enduringly necessary.

Ellen Allien

Berlin DJ royalty, producer and head of BPitch

Photo: @ellen.alien

The school of Hard Wax was the most important school for me

“I first visited Hard Wax in ‘92, back when I started DJing. It was a really important record store for me because it had a good collection of records that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Every Thursday, new records would arrive. They would play the records with all the DJs around, and you would have to say whether or not you wanted the record. Back in the day, Hard Wax was like a school, and it taught lessons about techno, about music, where it came from and what it meant. The school of Hard Wax was the most important school for me, to feel the energy of the record store. This kind of thing is missing now, because everything is available digitally.

Hard Wax is where I bought all my electro and techno records, from Underground Resistance to Jeff Mills to Dancemania, and I would play them every Sunday at Tresor at the after-hours. Everyone who worked there and assisted me informed the way that I DJ. I have a radical side and am left-oriented, and Hard Wax was the best place for me. It’s important to understand where the music comes from, instead of just randomly playing music. It’s sad about the old spot closing, it was so beautiful going up the stairs, looking at the stickers, and everyone would take their photo there, but I’m still very thankful for Hard Wax, and they still have an amazing collection.”

Monty Luke

American producer, DJ and the founder of label Black Catalogue

Photo: @monty_luke

“I’ve been shopping at Hard Wax for many years, even prior to being a Berlin resident. I would visit during trips to the city as well as use the mail-order service to have records shipped to me in the States. I had always heard about how intimidating the vibe could be in there and although I never felt that personally, I understood it right away. As far as record shops go, I do think Hard Wax still plays an important role because they have managed to maintain a consistent quality in the music they offer. I’m not buying as much vinyl as I used to, but when I do, Hard Wax is one of the first places I look to.

And in truth, I also rely on their downloads selection for things like my monthly radio residency on Refuge Worldwide. Hard Wax is still relevant, and the written descriptions for each release are the stuff of legend. I’m a huge fan of reggae and dub, so it’s my number one place to find dubs and other reggae and bass-related bits. One particular favourite I can remember picking up from them is by Little John & Billy Boyo on Disc Jockey. I went to the new space for the first time a few days ago, and I’m grateful it’s only one flight of stairs now! The move makes sense to me and appears to be a very smart decision. They’ll be protected from the unpredictable forces of gentrification for the foreseeable future.”

Lily Ackerman

American techno and electro DJ and producer and Tresor regular

Photo: @ackermanlily

I found the place to be intimidating

“I remember first visiting back in 2012, during one of my trips to Berlin before I moved to the city. Although I had started producing dance music about a year before, at that time I wasn’t DJing or collecting records, so I found the place to be intimidating. I felt like an awkward outsider, like I didn’t belong there – I didn’t really know how to handle the records or even where to start digging. Shortly after moving to Berlin in May 2019, Hard Wax sold the first vinyl record I had contributed music to, on a label called Vinyl Dreams Records from San Francisco, where I lived previously.

It was a surreal moment for me to go to the shop, buy the record, and later give it to a friend as a birthday present. I went to the new space on their opening day last October. It felt like a big family reunion, and I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in months or even years. Of course, I feel some sadness that Hard Wax was forced to leave their iconic location thanks to the ever-present gentrification in Berlin. However, the fact that Hard Wax is now housed within the Tresor complex means a lot to me because it’s two of my favourite Berlin institutions coming together under one roof.”

Jesse G

Hard Wax employee and DJ

Photo: @jesse_g

I’m excited about the new chapter

“Working at a record store in general is quite a special, unique and odd experience. In the end, I prefer not to think too much about the space itself, but it does feel nice seeing the importance of the shop through the customers, especially when it’s their first time visiting or buying the records they always wanted to get. It’s a big part of my life since I spend a lot of time there, both as an employee and as a customer. Most of my records at home are from Hard Wax, so the shop has been a huge part of my musical journey.

Besides contributing to my own little personal record archive at home, it has also been a place of education and exchange. I learned a lot about music and music culture in the past few years, and it definitely shaped my understanding and hearing of music. I used to go to record stores first to discover labels and music before looking them up on the internet. I discovered a lot of Berlin labels like Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound, Wax and Ostgut Ton, for instance, through my first visit to Hard Wax. I think I’m not yet in the process of missing the old location since we’ve just moved, but to be honest, I’m excited about the new chapter and grateful for all the sweet memories from the old space I got to carry with me.”