It's difficult to walk the forbidding concrete tunnel into Tresor and not feel blinded by history. Many of the persisting idealized visions of techno—endless parties in quasi-legal settings, erasure of racial and cultural lines, and appreciation for the limitless potential of a jet-black space equipped with nothing but a strobe light and sweat on the walls—can be traced back to Tresor, which electrified post-unification Berlin and continues pumping out beats to this day.
Even in a new location Tresor retains an imposing legacy, but can a club remain creatively vital even as a canonized institution? Saturday night was its 21st anniversary, a celebration headlined by techno luminaries Joey Beltram and Juan Atkins. The offerings from these elder statesmen, however, were far from staid memorial services of peak-times past. Both sets were vibrant reminders of sounds from long past that still managed to sound relentlessly like the future.
Tresor is now aggressively branded—I can't speak for the club in its heyday, but my best guess is that it didn't have a merchandise booth. Between the upstairs Globus (highlighted by an oversize plasma ball and a ludicrous painting of Pegasus), the underground room Tresor, and +4Bar, which was screening Tresor documentary Sub:Berlin, the space is so labyrinthine you could spend as much time navigating as on the dance floor. Heaven help the disoriented friend who wanders off.
Upon our arrival, Joey Beltram was opening with an ominous screamer that rattled the rusty lockers. The room was so smoky and disorienting that at times it was impossible to see, catching only a rare glimpse of your flailing limbs under seizing strobes. Beltram tore through track after track of Godzilla techno: lumbering, merciless, innocent bystanders but a trifle trampled underfoot. He played his own "Energy Flash" and "Mentasm," both classics, and no sense of this being a bothersome obligation, only recognition of their continued brain-hoovering powers. "Energy Flash" in particular remains an oceanic experience on a booming system, the mechanical gargles and three-syllable chemical incantation as menacing as ever. For Green Velvet's "Flash," Beltram perpetuated the dark mood by eliminating the jokiest parts of the druggy monologue and emphasizing the double-time nitrous swoons.
An astonishingly small crowd upstairs in Globus still managed a roar when Juan Atkins strapped on his headphones. The Originator looked unperturbed by the dwindling numbers as he navigated through an hour of bittersweet, soulful electro. Masters At Work's "I Can't Get No Sleep" was a highlight of this holding pattern, but then voices became gobbled up by machines, Atkins transitioned from vinyl to digital, and future shock booty-shaking space-funk commenced.
Denying resolution of even the most elementary hi-hat and handclap patterns, Atkins slapped fractured elements skittering around the stereo field. The medium switch was accompanied by a noticeable percussive edge and an increase in complexity as Atkins layered additional effects from his computer. The crowd latched onto repeated vocal tics like an anonymous "Oh yeah," and such an approval persisted through the rest of Atkins's perfectly paced set. If Tresor continues to have birthdays with music like this, it will be very difficult to ever stop celebrating. See you in another 21 years?