Beyond bringing their beloved sound to cities around the world, this tour had a profound mission: to save Giegling. Will Lynch tells its story.
Though they call it their "office," the modest space where they do much of the label's administrative work feels more like a multimedia art studio. Monitors crowded the windows on one side, some with green text scrolling across a black console, another showing the face of Christian Starz, one of Giegling's lighting and décor specialists, who was joining the meeting via video feed. Across the room was a gallery of sketches showing different lighting schemes and art installations for the tour. Sitting around a square table in the center of the room were DJ Dustin, Ateq, and two more lighting and décor guys, Moritz and Dirk.
Like so many things early in the new year, the tour had snuck up on them. Now it was only weeks away, with many details still up in the air. Despite the urgency of the situation, though, the crew looked completely at ease, as they often do. Everyone gazed quietly at their laptops, Dirk and Ateq each with a personal smoking kit—weed, long-papers, tobacco, ashtray. Moritz crouched on a wooden bench to hang another sketch while he and Dustin pondered how exactly to announce the tour. They couldn't be as cryptic as usual—it was too big for that. The tour was their most ambitious project to date, a traveling circus that would take them zig-zagging across the globe, from New York to LA, through Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul and Beijing, then to Paris, London, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, Kiev, Prague and Basel, finishing with a string of gigs in Germany, and finally, back to London for their most anticipated concert, at The Barbican.
Logistically, the tour was very complex. Most stops included two or three events—a sit-down concert, an all-night party and sometimes a gallery exhibition. Each would have unique lighting and décor, which Moritz and Christian, sometimes joined by Dirk or another friend, also named Christian, would set up onsite, often flying to the next city a day or two ahead of the others to get started. Booking the flights was an undertaking in itself. Between the performing artists and the stage design crew, the group could number more than a dozen people with a range of different travel itineraries.
Since Giegling has no booking agent or management team, all of this work was done in-house. As is the case with many of their projects, the tour was largely dreamt up by Konstantin, while it fell on Dustin, the group's chief pragmatist and administrative powerhouse, to make it happen, fiddling with the endless details the tour involved (he spent a week on the flights alone). But despite the leadership those two provide, Giegling is a staunchly egalitarian collective. Everyone's input and opinion is equally valued, and everyone happily pitches in every step of the way. If not for this shared effort, a tour this long and intense would never be possible with such a DIY approach.
Why did they do this? Beyond the basic reason artists do anything—to make themselves and others happy—the tour had a profound mission: to save Giegling. In RA's 2014 Label of the month feature, Konstantin said he was worried about how the collective would withstand the next few years. He was right to be concerned.
Giegling began in 2007 as a collective of artists in many disciplines: painting, illustration, video and stage design as well as music. For years, they threw small parties, often for students, in small German cities, and hosted stages at festivals like Fusion and Nachtdigital. At every event, their aesthetic would extend to every element of the production. A few of them had met at Bauhaus University in Weimar, and carried with them an idea central to the school's philosophy: the Gesamtkunstwerk, a "total work of art" synthesizing different mediums, in their case music, light and stage design.
Eventually Giegling became popular beyond their corner of Germany, but there was only demand for one element of their offering: the DJs and live acts. Konstantin, Ateq, Vril, DJ Dustin and Edward found themselves playing clubs and festivals around the world, while the group's other members, once central to the operation, were left behind. Even the touring artists rarely got the chance to play together, and when they did, they were only sharing a club bill, not creating the unique events that had been their raison d'être.
Popularity took its toll. After years of doing their thing completely off the radar, they were now at the mercy of the strange phenomenon known as hype. Every move was scrutinized by an online audience with high expectations and swinging opinions. "Haters" became a part of life—something subtly referenced on Matthias Reiling's 2015 EP Gefällt Mir Nicht Mehr, whose title means "I don't like it anymore," and whose artwork shows a Roman emperor giving the thumbs down. A carefree era had passed, never to return, it seemed. This, too, inspired one of their records: map.ache's Golden Age, whose sleeve design, Konstantin says, captures the innocence they felt they'd lost.
The group drifted apart. Some felt the right move would be to call an end to Giegling and let everyone continue their individual projects. Then the idea for the tour was born. If the alternative was to end things anyway, why not first take a shot at doing exactly what they wanted to do, whatever the consequences? In other words, put on events that stayed true to Giegling's original spirit, despite how wildly impractical that may seem.
There was a chance they'd fail, hemorrhage all their savings and fall out with each other. If it worked, though, it would validate the ideas most dear to Giegling. The first is that of the collective. The tour would force everyone to work together again, and if it succeeded, would prove that they were capable of more together than individually.
It would also validate their commitment to doing things their own way, even when that means more work, more cost and a dramatic break from convention. Giegling's approach is rooted in the idea that, as an artist, you don't have to accept the established way of doing things. You can come up with a different way, and it can work. Many artists are dissatisfied with what the industry offers them—in the case of DJs, a life of solitary travel and sets at clubs and festivals, without creative control of anything beyond the music they play. Many see this as a matter of playing the game or not—that is, submitting to the status quo or foregoing the chance to be an artist.
Giegling believe very strongly that there is a third option, which is to step outside the established infrastructure and realize your vision with as little compromise as possible. This invariably means far more effort and a lot of resistance from the people you work with, who will likely consider you a hassle, or pretentious, or both. But the satisfaction of realizing your vision, no matter how strange or impractical, will always be worth it. Or so the theory goes.
"The tour could be a manual on how to change the game and take responsibility for your work, instead of just going with whatever is established," Konstantin said a few weeks before it began. It's also, he said, "a manual on how to create your own world inside this world."
The construction of that world within a world began with the part of Giegling most neglected in recent years: lighting and décor. The tour would give Moritz, Dirk and Christian their juiciest project yet, tasking them with creating unique atmospheres at each event. The tour would combine some of their old classics—the tinsel chandelier, the old fashioned filament lightbulbs—with a few new ones, like Dirk's red laser balls. Florescent tube lights, campsite bunting, automatic pulleys and "sky dancers" (cloth figures flung upwards by fans at their base, commonly seen outside auto dealerships) all played a role. Christian and Moritz would also build simple structures to offset the chemistry of each dance floor, from multi-layered platforms to wooden pyramids on wheels.
"Those sketches in the office," Moritz said when it was all over, "only about half of them actually happened, because in every city we had to improvise some element of it. But in the end that was even better in a way."
Each city had unique problems and opportunities. It was the exception rather than the rule that they could get all the materials they needed, or that every bit of décor made it past the rules and restrictions of a given club or country. In Tel Aviv, the filament bulbs were way too expensive. At Berghain, they couldn't take full control of the lights. At The Barbican, they weren't allowed to use candles or lasers, or amplified music at all—the event ended up being a "silent disco," with each attendee wearing headphones. (As it happened, Dustin and a few others had been interested in this kind of event for a long time.)
Most clubs resisted at least some element of the décor. Moritz, who favors printed wool sweaters and bears a passing resemblance to Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, could understand why. Many of these venues and promoters were used to hiring professionals with clear credentials. Then in come these guys they've never heard of, none of whom look the part, talking about rolling pyramids and tinsel chandeliers.
Aesthetic disagreements ran both ways. At Village Underground in London, Moritz and Christian noticed a structure of spotlights arranged in an enormous cross behind what was going to be the DJ booth. They knew this wouldn't do for the party—they couldn't allow such a strong aesthetic statement totally out of step with their own—but they didn't want to complain about it outright. One of them had an idea: balloons. They could place the motor from a disco ball upside down on the ground behind the DJ booth and attach to it large bunches of balloons, which would eclipse the cross as they twirled.
"We found a place called Party Party," Moritz said. "Such a good shop."
They couldn't afford a nitrous tank, so they filled all the balloons in the shop, then covered their floating bouquets in black trash bags and, one in each hand, set off on foot to the club.
"It was a funny moment," Moritz said. "The two of us walking through a crowded part of London on a Saturday evening, each with this big floating black blob in each hand." The balloons did the trick, as did most of their kooky ideas—the rolling smoke machine gun, the metal fence skewed across the dance floor in Prague. In most cities, when it was all said and done, Moritz and Christian received at least grudging approval from their skeptics.
The most important part of the tour was the concert, which worked as a vehicle for every aspect of Giegling that wouldn't work at their usual gigs. From the audience's perspective, it went something like this: a crowd would enter a small venue, sometimes a nightclub or concert hall but in the best cases something more interesting, like the old theatre in Leipzig or the bank vault in Basel. Inside, they would find a hearth of candles and flowers, backlit and wreathed in a milky fog, cut through with Dirk's red lasers. Dustin would be there somewhere manning a merchandise booth, which included a selection of their old records, including Prince Of Denmark's coveted 8, plus an EP made specially for the tour with artwork unique to each city.
The performance had three or four parts, depending on the night. To start, Christian would sit on the floor and play a set using two tube lights, intermittently feeding power into them and piping the buzzing sound through the PA. For most people in the audience, this meant the concert began with the sound of a raw electrical current and a pulsing glow, all performed by someone invisible to most of them and unfamiliar to those who could see him. After a few minutes of that, Moritz would slink onto center stage and sit between a cassette deck, a DJ mixer and a few other bits of gear. For the next ten minutes, he'd rock back and forth on his knees and summon billowing sheets of dubby noise, eventually getting just a bit too loud, then suddenly ending with an abrasive slurp!
The next part was the most artistically daring. Otto, a Cuban artist and longtime friend of the crew, would appear stage-right in a kind of shapeless wedding dress. Haltingly, he'd make his way toward the audience, unfurling his dress and singing, un-mic'd, in Spanish. He'd crouch at the front of the room and paint his face with a teal-colored cream, pausing every now and then to throw out another tortured lament.
This all had the effect, intentionally or not, of directly defying the audience's expectations. En route to a Giegling concert, one confidently envisions a group of guys on laptops playing somber electronic music. What you get, at least to start, are two experimental performances and some melancholic voguing.
The main bit would, in fact, involve several guys on laptops, though beyond that it bore little resemblance to the standard electronic live performance. Sitting silhouetted along a table, surrounded by candles and bouquets of flowers, were Edward, Leafar Legov, Konstantin, Ateq and Vril, usually in that order. Each of them would play one of his own songs live, and the next would dovetail out of it with one of his own. Konstantin, sitting in the center, was in charge of the mix. Musically, the set was ambient and hip-hop-inspired in a way familiar to fans of Giegling's records. In the tradition of kosmische, the music was groovy and musical in some moments, totally avant-garde in others, and progressed in a fluid, non-linear way.
The set mixed classics from the Giegling catalog with unreleased material and sketches made specifically for the tour. Once the group landed on a sequence that made sense, the tracklist was more or less the same every time, though the delivery and reception varied greatly from night to night. In LA, when Konstantin played Traumprinz's "It Takes Two Wings" (Konstantin being the de facto surrogate for the reclusive artist), the seated crowd couldn't help but get up and dance. But at Funkhaus in Berlin, the song was mysteriously flat—for reasons no one understood, the low-end, thick and warm on the other tracks, never came through the way it should have.
At most shows, the climax came just before that. Out of the murk would emerge a dubby edit of Rebekah Del Rio's "Llorando"—another Lynchian moment—bringing the concert to its emotional peak. With the crowd fished in, Leafar Legov dropped "Haller," a hip-hop instrumental from Kettenkarussell's 2014 album Easy Listening. With the vocal soaring over the chunky, syncopated beat, the moment recalled Portishead at their most dramatic.
For 90 minutes or so, the set would expand and contract, congeal and dissolve, then get progressively quieter until it finally ended. Sometimes the concerts and parties happened at the same venue on the same night; sometimes they were on different nights at separate locations. Either way, there was never much time to waste when it was over. The venue had to be cleaned up and the crew needed to get ready for the party, whether it was that night or the next.
Like the concert, the parties followed a carefully considered sequence of events, and aimed to deliver the sound of Giegling in its most unadulterated form. There were two rooms: one for the techno side of the label's sound, the other for house and downtempo. Ateq would get things started in the techno room, slowly building from lush ambience to sleek and pulsing beats. Next was Konstantin, usually for three or four hours, and finally Vril, who'd end the night with a bang—or, perhaps more accurately, a thwump.
Opening the house room, Leafar Legov would intentionally delay the kick drum for as long as possible, ideally until about halfway through his three-hour slot. Often it worked, sometimes it didn't. "Playing that kind of thing in a club, you're always a little worried," he said. "One time, I was maybe an hour or so in, I thought it was going well, and then someone came up to me and said, 'Hi, when is the music starting?' I worked on the set for two weeks before the tour began, so that hurt a little." By and large, though, the audiences knew what they were getting into, which gave the crew the chance to push things.
Who followed Leafar Legov changed from night to night. If the room needed a boost of energy, Edward would come next—unlike his records, his live set is full of thudding kick drums. If the floaty vibe seemed to be working, Dustin would come on and draw it out a bit, the liminal space between peak-time and chill-out being his forte. The final act was Kettenkarussell, that is, Konstantin and Leafar Legov, whose punchy kicks and frothy hi-hats would be an exhilarating departure from the subtler sounds that had come before. If the party still had some life left at that point, Dustin, Konstantin and Edward would DJ until it was over.
Barring the spontaneous back-to-backs, Dustin and Konstantin were the only DJs. Everyone else played live, usually for three hours or more, mixing new material with staples of their catalogs. This meant that, over the course of parties that sometimes stretched well past 12 hours, nearly all of the music played was written and performed by a Giegling artist. Even the DJ sets were a conscious expression of the label's sound: in their selections, Dustin and Konstantin intentionally homed in on records in some way essential to the story of the label. This also went beyond the records that influenced them. In LA, for instance, as a throwback to their early days playing student parties, Konstantin dropped Whigfield's Eurodance staple, "Saturday Night."
For Dustin, the only member of the group for whom DJing is his sole mode of performance, this wasn't really a change of pace—his sets often embody the label's aesthetic without any conscious effort. He might have played more seminal tracks than he would have otherwise, from Aphex Twin's "We Are The Music Makers" to longtime Giegling favorites like C.B. Funk's "Deep Sea." But even with the guidelines of the tour in place, he rarely played the same track twice.
All of this was done in pursuit of that elusive Giegling spirit, the sound, atmosphere and feeling that inspired them originally. Each night achieved this to varying degrees. One time it worked particularly well was during Dustin's set at Closer in Kiev. Coming on at 5 AM, after Edward and Leafar Legov, he coursed through a fluid sequence of thumping and ethereal grooves, from recent favorites like S. Moreira's "My Reality" to seasoned cuts like Och's "Love Unconditional" and Ricardo Villalobos's "True To Myself." Rafa and Konstantin were ready to go on but couldn't bring themselves to stop him. Konstantin would later say that Dustin's set that morning was as close as you can get to the sound of Giegling in its most honest form. Dustin, for his part, said Closer, with its cozy atmosphere and labyrinthine interior, reminded him of Giegling, the short-lived club where it all began.
At Closer, you got the sense of Planet Giegling as an actual place, a temporary reality, simpler and more colorful than the usual one. This began early in the night, before the concert started. As the doors opened and people wandered in, Edward and Konstantin bickered about whether the entrance music was loud enough. "You can't hear it!" Edward hissed. "It's better if you can't hear it," Konstantin replied, absurdly but, as often happens with him, perceptively. When people entered they immediately stopped talking, thanks in part, it would seem, to the low volume of the music.
Then again, the moment of crossing that threshold was fairly awe-inducing. The night outside was dark and wet. In here, the atmosphere was dazzling, a dreamlike mirage of candles, lasers and flowers silhouetted in the smoke. There was the same feeling of hushed awe you get walking into a church, brought on not just by the beauty of the place, but also by the feeling of having crossed into a different realm, one more spiritual and poetic than the one outside.
The party went until 7 PM the next day, ending with what was for a few of the artists the best moment of the tour: Konstantin, having achieved a chill-out room atmosphere with everyone sitting on the floor, played "Close To You" by The Carpenters. Someone starting taking flowers out of their bouquets and throwing them around the room, and that was how it ended, nearly 24 hours since it began.
"There's something special that happens when you get very, very late in the night," Edward said. "I've never liked drugs, but I've always liked afterparties, precisely for this reason. When you get to the point that it's just ridiculous for you to still be doing this, when you can't possibly justify to yourself why you're still here, that's when things start to get interesting." As the only father in the group, he figured he had a particularly keen appreciation for this strange headspace, where time loses its linearity and nothing seems to exist beyond this room and the people in it.
Planet Giegling offered this escape not just for its attendees, but also for the artists themselves. On the road, with no time to think about anything except the next gig or the next flight, normal life and its niggling details slipped into the background. Like the parties, the tour was an addictive kind of sensory overload. Its three months were a surreal montage of foreign airports, smoky dance floors, 15-person dinners and strange cities glimpsed through taxi windows. Long before one city had taken root in the memory, the next would come rushing in, with a new club and a new cast of characters swiftly replacing the last. What for many people might be the trip of a lifetime—to Tokyo, Beijing, New York—was for them a passing moment among many others.
"You might meet some amazing people," Moritz said, "but in a way they're just a distraction from the things you need to do and need to be thinking about." The same goes for their many misadventures. "We got this bus in Seoul in South Korea, but it looked like an Indian bus somehow, with pink curtains and everything. The bus driver was going extremely slow, I think he had engine problems. In the end the ride took us one and a half hours to get across the city. Looking back, it was so strange: in Seoul for only 16 hours, on this strange Indian bus, you kind of enter this weird movie feeling. But at that moment it was just getting on my nerves, I just wanted to set up the concert, I couldn't appreciate the funniness of it."
In Tel Aviv, Christian woke up to someone standing in his room. He was being robbed. He said, "Hello?" a few times and they left, making off with a pack of Korean cigarettes and 500 Taiwanese dollars. Somehow, the drama of the break-in failed to impress them.
Everyone onboard gave themselves over to the project completely, more so than any of them expected, and found in this submission a kind of zen. Their indulgences were few. Beyond moderate drinking and the occasional joint, their main fix was saunas and hot springs, which they'd seek out in each city and descend on as a group. They were less interested in elegant dinners than they were in basic sustenance—when they could, they'd squirrel away takeaway dinners in some back room of the club to help get them through the lean stretches of the night. They became content with 20-minute naps grabbed in cabs, boarding gates and restaurants. In Tbilisi, Dustin allowed himself to fall into a visibly blissful slumber on the metal table of an airport restaurant. When the waitress shyly woke him to serve him a plate of mushroom linguini, he was briefly disoriented, then all at once completely back, chatting and laughing as he twirled the first bite on his fork.
At the core of this other world was Giegling's biggest asset, and the thing they'd originally set out to rescue: the relationships within the group. Konstantin had once compared the collective to a group of young boys playing in the woods, each one assuming a fantasy role for himself. Journeying across the globe in their unruly gaggle, they also bore some resemblance to Ken Kesey's band of merry pranksters, a feeling enhanced by Leafar Legov's habit of surreptitiously filming his cohorts. When they were in New York, Bryan Kasenic of The Bunker posted a video on Instagram of Konstantin and two others waving flags around at Good Room, not for any clear reason. "Being in Giegling seems like being in kindergarten," he wrote.
Even when nothing in particular was going on, the group kept each other entertained in a way that's rare for men of their age. At MeetFactory in Prague, an afternoon sightseeing excursion was delayed again and again and eventually cancelled simply because they were too absorbed in each other's company to leave the café where they'd gathered. Giggling, chatting, bouncing from one cluster of people to the next, they'd have happily stayed there lollygagging all night. Hours passed, the sun set, and suddenly it was time for dinner.
Letting out the occasional yip or guffaw, they ambled down the road to a nearby Serbian restaurant, where they took seats around a long wooden table. Konstantin, in a rare moment of conventional leadership, offered a kind of toast, grinning his beady eyes into a squint as he proclaimed that the tour had been so good that "even if the next two weeks are totally shit, we can still be happy!" Then he turned to the person next to him. "Sometimes Moritz and I think we died in a ketamine overdose and this is all a dream."
And yet, the dream had to end. When the tour was over, a funk settled over some members of the group. Returning to normal life—empty apartments, piles of mail—wasn't easy. Some of them were back on the road in a week or two. Dustin and Ateq toured Asia together, and Leafar Legov played a few dates there on his own—the three crossed paths just once, in Vietnam. Just weeks since their party at Korner, Flo, Dustin and Christian were back in Taiwan for Organik Festival. On the rooftop of his Airbnb, Flo admitted that when he finally got back to Berlin, he'd felt nothing. "My room didn't feel special," he said. "It was like a hostel."
Ateq would head home for good—that is, for a couple weeks off—a few days later, while Dustin would carry on to Japan for Rainbow Disco Club, then squeeze in a couple gigs in Glasgow and Oxford with Konstantin, then finally return home, having already finished another international tour barely a month since Planet Giegling's final dates. Sitting in a café a day after he got back, tired and recovering from a cold, he casually deemed the tour a success. "It could have been a disaster," he said, both financially and for the group. But it wasn't. The collective had pulled off something that at first seemed preposterous, and they came out stronger on the other end—more capable, more streetwise, and with the warmth within the group restored.
What happens next isn't totally clear. Another world tour is unlikely. As much as they thrived on the sense of adventure it created, Planet Giegling's relentless pace was a bit much. "The last weekend was the hardest," Dustin said. There had been a midweek concert in Leipzig, followed by a concert at Funkhaus in Berlin, then an all-night party at Berghain, possibly the event with the hardest set up (Moritz spent eight hours on the tinsel chandelier alone, standing on a ladder in the chasm behind the downstairs dance floor). After that it was back to Leipzig for an extended blow-out at Conne Island, then, on the Sunday, to London for the final concert at The Barbican.
That had been a good one to end on. The Barbican gig, in many ways, embodied everything they were after with the tour. The venue was spectacular: a glass dome home to 2,000 species of tropical plants, warm and humid despite the frigid spring day outside. A crowd of 200 people could take in the concert as they wandered around. Even the headphones felt appropriate—after all, this concert was meant to be a channel for the intimate side of Giegling's music, the kind of thing one hears not on a club soundsystem but at home.
Dustin hadn't managed to get any sleep before the gig. He'd played Conne Island on Sunday morning, as the others headed to the airport on a bus he'd arranged. He finished playing sometime around noon, took the train to the airport and flew to London. He was at the end of his rope, but as his taxi made its way across London, he found himself in a tender mood.
"It was just so good to know that, somehow, it's actually done," he said. "I looked through the photos on my phone, I'd taken two or three in each city so I had this little personal gallery. Thinking about all the situations we had between us, everything that happened, even the bad moments that of course happened, but this crazy adventure that we shared. I was so happy. Then I got to The Barbican, we all walked in together. So quiet, with all these plants, and this tropical climate. It was kind of a holy moment. I just thought, 'We made it.'"