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Time and time again...

Time and time again...

DJ Mag visits Time Warp to see if it's still got it

Back in the early days of Time Warp, the organisers faced some scepticism from the community of Mannheim about an annual all-night rave taking place in their town. Over the years, though, perceptions of dance culture changed, and the focus turned to how the party was drawing tens of thousands from across Germany and the rest of Europe to the city every year. Time Warp came to be viewed in the same way it is by techno enthusiasts — as a cultural event.

Considering that Time Warp 2012 is the 18th time it’s been staged in Mannheim, the brand has endured nearly as long as dance culture itself. As the punters stream into the SAP Arena on the last Saturday night of March, anticipation levels are high for some of the event’s traditional aspects — Richie Hawtin’s annual six-hour closing set, similar extended sets from stalwarts like Sven Väth, plus the inevitable explosion of energy you can expect from Carl Cox.

However, there’s nothing that feels stodgy or conservative about Time Warp; instead, it’s informed by the same militant values the techno scene itself is renowned for. There are no concessions to other genres, and no musical compromises from the performers. The organisers do it properly, and they still draw more than 20,000 every year.

A bulk of the evening’s main action takes place in two equally massive halls placed right next to each other, and they are to be dominated by the expected cast of heavy hitters; but what an impressive cast of heavy hitters it is. Room 1 plays host to Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, Chris Liebing, Carl Cox and Adam Beyer among others, while immediately to the left in Room 2 is Dubfire, Maetrik, Sven Väth, Extrawelt and Richie Hawtin, as well as the luxurious treat of UK stalwart John Digweed laying down a warm-up set at 10pm not long after arrival.

Digweed is perhaps not someone you’d immediately think of as a headliner for such a techno-focused event, but it’s a testament to his versatility and professionalism that he sets the scene flawlessly for what is to come. His set is two hours of meticulously arranged techno from the lower end of the BPM spectrum, all locked together with heavy, heavy grooves. It plays perfectly to the simmering tension in the room, and more importantly, lays the foundation for what is to come later in the party.

By this stage, the stunning production of Time Warp is coming into full effect. Even as Room 1 and 2 are filling up, the crowd are still enjoying crystal-clear treble and devastating low-ends. Visually, what’s most impressive is how all the different elements tie together. Room 1 (with Dettmann, Klock, Liebing, Cox and Beyer) is defined by the massive pairs of cube-shaped lighting rig frames that are suspended from the ceiling. The DJ is flanked by a massive stage design that looks like a mass of cubes stacked on top of each other, with visuals and lights projected onto the set-up all night to create a distinct 3D effect.

Meanwhile, the set-up in Room 2 (home to Digweed, Dubfire, Väth and Hawtin) is no less impressive. The stage hosts a massive LCD screen that sees a spectacular array of menacing visuals splashed across it, and further to this, an amazing effect is created by hanging from the ceiling a cut-out circular frame of a sheet, at equal intervals along the extent of the hall. Combine it with the different coloured lights splashed on the cut-outs, at calculated angles and in sync with the visuals on the stage, and it creates the effect you’re travelling down a pulsing tunnel of light.

Just before 12am, Paul Ritch is laying down some live percussive clickety-clack in Room 1 to a growing cast of thousands, while Dubfire has stepped up to perform to a Room 2 that is comfortably packed by this stage, with an energy in the crowd that is well and truly rollicking; and he is musically able to match it, with perhaps the most ‘straightforward’ performance we hear all night, packed with plenty of thrills, spills and rollicking peaks.

At this point you can feel the night building into something staggeringly huge. Anyone who’s witnessed a similar event on this scale will understand you cannot undersell the exhilaration of being amongst the energy of thousands locked in tune with the music. The bubbling energy of a creeping build, swelling slowly to explosion as the drop slams in, followed by an eruption of cheers akin to a packed football stadium: this is exactly the energy bristling through Time Warp from midnight onwards; you can see the energy rippling through the crowd.

Next door in Room 1, Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock, the infamous early-morning residents from Berlin clubbing institution Berghain, are playing in succession over three hours, each laying down a set of sharp techno minimalism that is notably stripped-back from what is being heard next door. The pair is drawing a slightly more modest crowd, and the warmth of the reception doesn’t quite match the slavish devotion they receive at Berghain, but those who stick with the duo are rewarded with an atmosphere of unbridled intensity, and almost unbearable tension. Lasers explode over the crowd on the dot of 1am as one of their thundering build-ups peaks.

A quick trip over to Room 3 at 2am emphasises the wealth of musical riches across the different corners of the venue; Laurent Garnier is showcasing his new ‘LBS’ live set-up, a lot more melodic than the unrelenting heaviness of the main rooms. This is one of the few tragedies of Time Warp; the many treats on the main two stages means it’s nearly impossible to tear yourself away to witness the ridiculous amount of talent across the other four rooms, which includes Loco Dice, Marco Carola, Kevin Saunderson, and Magda just to scratch the surface.

The peak of a very, very long party arguably comes a little after 2am when CLR Records heavy Chris Liebing steps up to Room 1 to deliver a set of seething, unrelentingly industrial techno. If Dettmann and Klock were intense, then Liebing steps it up a notch or ten, and the crowd is truly busting at the seams by this stage. The steady throb of the kick-drum feels like the harbinger of the apocalypse, and this is easily the hardest, heaviest point of the entire party, and timed perfectly to get the most from the explosive energy of the crowd. 

Next door, everybody’s favourite techno papa Sven Väth has commenced his four-hour set, and though he’s already jumped deep into one of his trademark musical K-holes, alongside Liebing’s pounding industrial madness, his tripped-out sounds seem nearly fluffy in comparison. Väth prances across the stage with his usual showman antics, flanked by dancers who help accentuate the theatrical vibe in the room. A delicious, warm melody breaks out over the clicky rhythms at one point, synced perfectly with the blue lights shooting across the suspended sheets hanging from the ceiling, creating the aforementioned ‘tunnel’ effect. Jawdropping.

By the time Swedish stalwart Adam Beyer takes the reigns after 6am, the powerful tide of energy in the crowd has smashed up against the rocks, and retreated again, and Time Warp becomes a true lesson in endurance from hereon in. Luckily, though, Beyer is able to drop in with exactly the kind of pumping energy the crowd needs at this latter stage of the night, gradually taking us into some deeper, more hypnotic territory. He paces it like a pro.

Back next door, Extrawelt is pulling off a similar trick of squeezing the last drop of blood out of the audience, but when Richie Hawtin graces the stage at 8am, any doubts the crowd will go the distance are dismissed, as the party collectively (and amazingly) finds its second wind. Energy seethes through the crowd anew.

This certainly isn’t the time of the morning for deep, clicky builds, and fittingly, Hawtin comes out pounding with a set of bouncy techno that is heavy on the rubbery groove, with every last flick of the FX pad ringing out crystal-clear over the speakers. Behind Hawtin appears the menacing image of a solar eclipse, with spotlights slowly dropping from the ceiling onto the crowd, one after the other from the beginning of the hall to the end, creating the effect of lights pin-wheeling into the crowd. By the time we call it quits around midday, the room is still going strong, but we're off the airport to catch our trusty Ryan Air jet home, our heads still spinning from the sensory overload of this magnificent techno marathon...

Words: Angus Paterson

Pic: Sophia Whitfield