Schulte and Weinrich represent two generations of Salon Des Amateurs, or "the Salon" as it's commonly called, where they are both residents. Schulte is the younger of the two. He started coming to the Salon in 2006 and is part of a small network of producers, label bosses and DJs who have sprouted from the venue's fertile soil.
Weinrich, meanwhile, is one of Düsseldorf's foremost night owls. He arrived in the city in 1992 to study sculpture at the famous Kunstakademie. He makes music—sometimes grubby, sometimes delicate—as part of the experimental band Kreidler and solo as Tolouse Low Trax. He isn't very well known outside Düsseldorf, but his DJ sets at the Salon are the stuff of local legend. Under his watch, some truly oddball records—impLOG's "Holland Tunnel Dive," Richard Wahnfried's "Time Actor," an In Flagranti edit of Birth Control called "Heizgas Meter"—have become Salon classics, the kind of tunes that get whistles from the regulars. He's helped turn the Salon into a place where, as he puts it, "there's a really straight way of playing strange music"—for example, Krautrock, percussive African records and freaky jazz, all of which can often be heard during peak time.
The venue's name riffs on Société Des Artistes Français, an association of French painters and sculptors that holds an annual (or sometimes biannual) event called the Salon. "The 'amateur' part of our name is important," Weinrich says, "because we're not professional at all. We're just in love and totally enthusiastic about our work."
"In the beginning it was 100 percent amateur—nobody had an idea how to run a bar or club," says Lena Willikens, another one of the club's residents. "This anarchy was mirrored in the crowd. A totally diverse range of people felt attracted to come here, from a 60-year-old professor to an 18-year-old skater. Nowadays the profile of the Salon as a nightclub is clearer—maybe that's why the professor doesn't appear that often anymore."
"It sounds clichéd but for all the residents at the Salon it was never about a DJ ego," she says. "It was about sharing music we love and music which was hard to find on other dance floors."
Willikens, who's now based in nearby Cologne, says playing at the Salon helped her cultivate her own DJing style, one that treasures off-the-wall selections and is fuelled by a desire to unearth interesting records and present them to an audience. "I've been able to try things out without any pressure and with an open-minded crowd," she says.
Marc Matter, one third of The Durian Brothers, also worked behind the bar at the Salon before taking up a more music-focused role, curating some Friday and weekday events. "The concept in the beginning was that everyone does a bit of everything," he says. "I immediately knew it was a pretty special place. But it took two or three years before people really recognised the potential of the Salon being a club."
Having heard stories of a small club with an open-minded crowd, guest DJs began packing their bags differently for the Salon. "You are given free reign to play as you want and what you want," Jorge Velez tells me. Velez is precisely the kind of artist the Salon embraces. Despite his appearances on respected labels over the years—Italians Do It Better, Rush Hour, L.I.E.S.—he's generally flown under the radar.
"I'm not a digger but I do know my music to an extent, and the residents never fail to play amazing records I've never heard before in my life," Velez says. "After my set I'll suck in each and every record they play. And you party at the Salon. There is no standing around on the dancefloor. You have to join in the elegant lunacy of it all."
Most of the guests who play at the Salon are mavericks or outliers. It's a place where Cut Hands is invited to spin Italo records under the name DJ Benetti. Jamal Moss, AKA Hieroglyphic Being, played there well before there was any wide interest in his music. Beppe Loda, the revered cosmic DJ, has played at the venue more than most, including the Salon's tenth birthday in September 2014. Speak to regulars and they'll tell you countless stories of magical nights—when I-F opened his set with a Kraftwerk track, say, or when the lead singer of that Georgian folk band jumped into the crowd with a sword mid-set.
Connections with like-minded crews have naturally grown over the past ten years. There's a kinship with Golden Pudel—residents at the Hamburg venue like Phuong Dan and Nikae have travelled to play the Salon, while Weinrich and co have been invited to the Pudel. A link between Amsterdam and Düsseldorf has also been established, thanks in part to the friendship between Salon resident Vladimir Ivkovic and Tako Reyenga, who co-runs Amsterdam vinyl emporium Red Light Records. Reyenga has been a regular guest at the Salon, with other Amsterdam DJs like Orpheu De Jong and Marco Sterk (AKA Young Marco) also making appearances.
"I used to do these monster sets there with Detlef and Vladimir from 10 PM till 8 AM," says Reyenga. "Musically it was a revelation and a school for me. I learned to DJ properly there. The crowd was a bit like a family, you would always see familiar faces, and I have made some really good friends there. It sprung a whole scene—I think that's beautiful. Detlef, Vladimir and Lena have consistently, and without any concessions, made that place what it is today."
After being invited by Reyenga to play alongside him at the Salon, Sterk became equally enamoured. In early 2014 he described the venue to me as "the weirdo post-kraut scene's Haçienda," and when I contacted him again recently, he said: "That place feels more like an out of control gallery opening. The people behind the bar, the resident DJs, all the regulars... they are all really key factors that create this uninhibited atmosphere."
As well as helping build the Amsterdam connection, Ivkovic introduced another, perhaps more unlikely DJ to the Salon: Loco Dice. Ivkovic is the manager of Loco Dice's label, Desolat, and Dice, who was born and bred in Düsseldorf, usually plays booming techno to crowds of thousands. Occasionally though, he spins to 200 people or so at Salon Des Amateurs. The first edition of Desolat Im Salon, the venue's only explicit house and techno party, took place in 2012. As Ivkovic explains: "I've been playing there with or without Detlef almost since the beginning, and at some point, there were some bills that needed to be paid. So I asked Dice to pack his records and play one Sunday."
The Salon was opened in 2004 by Weinrich, Aron Mehzion and Stefano Brivio, three friends from the Kunstakademie. "The idea was to have a kind of artist's bar in Düsseldorf," Weinrich says. "It didn't start as a club. It was more like a quiet bar with nice music and live concerts, and maybe some parties."
Weinrich was inspired by Düsseldorf haunts like Creamcheese, a venue in the city's old town that became a prog haven in the late '60s, and Ratinger Hof, a converted pub around the corner from the Kunstakademie that was a melting pot for punk and art during the '70s and '80s. Spots like these helped Düsseldorf nurture a scene that gave the world acts like Kraftwerk, Neu! and DAF.
"I felt it was important to remember these places and their connection with the Kunstakademie, this mingling of music and art," Weinrich says. "I mean, the Salon can't be Ratinger Hof, but I feel like it's a kind of modern translation. I see it as a place for socialising and education."
The Salon is literally at the heart of Düsseldorf's art community—it's located inside Kunsthalle, an exhibition hall for contemporary art. A sculpture by the celebrated German artist Max Ernst stands about 20 feet away from the front door. And the Salon is technically the Kunsthalle's official café, though these days it serves that purpose in title only, and the venue pays rent to operate independently.
Despite all this, the Salon hasn't really developed into a hangout for Kunstakademie students. "Things have changed a lot since I was studying at the Kunstakademie," Weinrich says. "Students were not so ambitious back then. Now they have a lot of fears—'I have to be very quick to find a gallery, and sell my art.' And in the Salon you have to pay €2.50 for a beer, and it's too much. Typical artists. But they come here sometimes. It's not an artist's place now, it's more a place for musicians, and people who are interested in music."
Inside, the Salon doesn't really look like a nightclub. It feels like an upmarket bar or lounge. There's a bar on the left that leads down to a modest DJ booth. On the right, there are silver tray tables and some black leather couches. The back wall works as a canvas, with different artists invited to cover it with paintings or collage. The dance floor is equipped with small but deliciously crisp Axis speakers.
The programming has been adventurous from day one—lectures, listening concerts, poetry readings and film screenings have all taken place. But it was the parties that resonated most. "We saw people coming to the Salon to dance," Weinrich says, "so it grew with the needs of the people."
Some of the people who came to dance at the Salon went onto start records labels and bands. In addition to Wolf Müller and The Durian Brothers, there's Stabil Elite, a three-piece live outfit comprising Lucas Croon, Nikolai Szymanski and Martin Sonnensberger, and Musiccargo, a duo featuring Gordon Pohl, who also runs the Kunstopf label. And then there's Arne Bunjes, who started Themes For Great Cities in 2009.
I had met Bunjes at Schulte's apartment on the same night I watched the soundcheck. As we sat in his studio, the pair leafed through records and talked me through their selections. Schulte angled the sleeve of Sounds Superb Vol. 1 towards me, pulled the record out, popped it on a turntable and dropped the needle. It was "Heizgas Meter," In Flagranti's edit of Birth Control. This one had brought him to tears a few years back at the Salon. "There was this feeling in there, an electricity, something you could almost reach out and touch. Every time I hear this it's magic."
If the Salon is, as Weinrich says, a place for education, Schulte has been playing closer attention than most. "I didn't know the Neu! records that well before I came to the Salon, and I had no idea all those Neue Deutsche Welle records were from Düsseldorf," he says. "This place has brought that music to life again for us. What Detlef and the residents did was to show us that it's possible to play this stuff in a club environment."
Having soaked up countless nights at the Salon from the dance floor before becoming a resident, Schulte has developed his own DJ style, which often features heavily percussive music from Germany and Africa. "I remember playing one of Achim Reichel's guitar looping records that was 160 BPM, but if you just pull it out in the right moment… the whole Salon was jumping to a krautrock record."
The next night, I made my way to the Themes For Great Cities birthday bash. Bunjes, playing as Rearview Radio, followed Carsten Dämbkes's opening set with some slow, chugging selections, before moving into mid-tempo disco. Schulte's live show as Wolf Müller ramped up the intensity. He played live versions of a couple of recognizable tracks—"Balztanz" and "Pflanzentanz"—as well as plenty of new material. People crowded around to get a glimpse of what was happening. Soon after, Weinrich played live as Tolouse Low Trax, opening with his 2014 tune "Eisenbahnzunge" before working through a procession of lean, crunchy electronics.
Just after 4 AM Bunjes returned to the decks and dropped Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express." A string of piano and sax-heavy rave and breakbeat tunes then steadied the ship somewhat. After 5 AM, someone—it must have been Weinrich—played "Heizgas Meter." By this stage Schulte, Weinrich and Brujes were DJing back-to-back-to-back. Someone in the crowd began passing around a bottle of Hendricks on the sly. Smoke curled into the air from behind the DJ booth.
It was nearly 8 AM when Schulte played "High Life," Ibliss's epic 13-minute flute jam from the 1972 Supernova album—another Düsseldorf record. At this point Weinrich leaned toward me and said: "Now you're seeing the real Salon."