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Style & The Family Tunes Book
Ralph MeckePhotography Ralph Mecke

The cult mag that helped shape post-Soviet Berlin

Style & The Family Tunes shed light on a new generation of young creatives that found their voice as the Wall came down

In 1994 Swiss-born editor Cathy Boom launched the first edition of Style & the Family Tunes along with music editor Christian Tjaben and artist/partner JayBo Monk. An intoxicating blend of music, fashion, art, subculture and straight-up coolness, the magazine drifted away from the German capital’s early 90s techno scene to shed light on a new generation of young creative people that were finding their voice in post-Cold War Berlin.

Failing to find a magazine that she would want to read, Boom decided to create one of her own. Largely centered on ‘fashion and the tunes that go with it’, Style & the Family Tunes was originally a quarterly black-and-white production, with colour printing coming in at a later stage. True to its strong DIY spirit, anti-mainstream aesthetic and uncompromisingly high standards, Style & the Family Tunes set itself apart from every other publication in Germany at the time, ultimately becoming the most influential pop culture magazine in the country. “(We had) street castings not supermodels, t-shirts not shoulder pads – anti-glam replaced the glam of the 80s in fashion but also in music and photography. And Berlin was the perfect breeding ground for all of that – everything seemed possible, the borders were open, the city and the mind were free.”

“Berlin was the perfect breeding ground for all of that – everything seemed possible, the borders were open, the city and the mind were free” – Cathy Boom

Style & the Family Tunes also featured early work by Jürgen Teller, Giampaolo Sgura, Ralph Mecke, Andreas Mühe and Daniel Josefsohn among others, who flourished with the creative freedom they were given and went on to become some of the most innovative photographers of recent times. The first independently published pop-culture magazine in Germany, Style maintained its independence till the very end, unwilling to compromise on the journalistic value of its editorial content even when its creators were faced with the option of passing it to a publishing house, instead deciding it was better to save its independent spirit and close its doors. Besides the remarkable typeface and visionary photography, what made this magazine radically different was the crossover of worlds within it that wouldn’t necessarily connect otherwise. “We combined all parts of our lives which inspired us, and we did not give a damn about what we were supposed to do. Since we were independent there was nobody to tell us what to do or what couldn’t possibly be done – it’s with this freedom that you shape a voice,” Boom says of the inspiration behind the project.

Although Style & the Family Tunes folded in 2011, its 130 issues have written and influenced the history of a German generation, and beyond. To celebrate 17 years of enduring social impact, a new book brings together the best from the magazine’s photographic archives, proving that even if taken out of their original framework, its contents still feel relevant and modern today.

IT FOUND ITS FUTURE IN THE DESOLATION OF EAST BERLIN

By 1990, east and west Berlin were reunited into one city, marking the end of the Soviet Union as a superpower. But the demolition of the Berlin Wall didn’t only represent a watershed in international politics – the cataclysmal nature of the event had forever changed the city and its people, who in this overturned, broken scenario saw the perfect ground for a new beginning. As the physical Wall came down, other social walls that until then had blocked out anyone unwilling to adapt to the system started to crumble, leaving space for a younger, fresher picture of unrestricted freedom, where changes could be made and voices could be heard.

After the western border reopened, many families streamed across, leaving behind their old life and, most importantly, their homes. In the aftermath of the German reunification, east Berlin looked like a huge, desolate land of opportunities, a city center dotted with industrial wastelands and abandoned buildings. Those who remained were mostly young people – squatting and warehouse parties soon became the norm and the once empty streets of Berlin Mitte (the heart of east Berlin) became a flourishing ground for a community of young creatives. An extraordinary new scene was developing and the city began to grow along with it.

“It felt quite wild in a way – the eastern part of the city had not been explored, the infrastructure was pretty rotten and coming from the western part of the city we did not really know our way around. Everything seemed an adventure since clubs and bars opened without license all over east Berlin and authorities didn’t seem to care or know if they were in charge, which left a lot of room for interpretation. And that felt great!” Boom recalls.

IT HAD A UNIQUE INTERDISCIPLINARY AND PROGRESSIVE STYLE

In tone with its editorial vision, Style & the Family Tunes came about in a pretty unconventional yet totally spontaneous way. There was neither a business plan nor an office – unless two desks and a phone can classify as one. Boom remembers of the early days at their first office in east Berlin, “It was in Berlin Mitte, in quite a romantic, run-down backyard with ivy everywhere. You had bullet holes in the walls from World War II, the heating wasn't really working and the bass of a club next door would keep hammering all night.” While the setup was rather basic, what they did have was a solid motivation to produce a magazine that illustrated its creators’ most personal style. From haute couture to homoerotic fashion, streetwear, hip-hop, electronic minimalism and subversive art, Style represented a sweeping range of interests, wholeheartedly combined in one issue by a tight-knit ‘family’ of collaborators – that’s also where the magazine gets its name, besides being a pretty obvious reference to the funk band Sly & the Family Stone.

“Berlin was no man’s land regarding the fashion, advertising and the so-called creative industries” – Cathy Boom

In addition to the overarching content, Style stood out for its forward-thinking outlook. Those were the years of grunge and techno, of the gay and trans scenes beginning to get more exposure, where the trend was no longer to create a ‘polished fiction’ like that of the ‘commercialised 80s’ but to show the real and the new. During that time, Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs brought to fashion the same innovation and aesthetic that Wolfgang Tillmans and Nan Goldin brought to photography – from minimalist designs, high-tech fabrics and grunge collections to photos of drag queens and underground gay clubs, they all chronicled the making of a generation. As well as providing emerging photographers with a space to display their work, Style was also the magazine that ran an interview with Hedi Slimane back in 1997 and reconsidered the exclusivity of Hermès accessories by placing them into a whole new context, breaking the mold of conformism – Style was about “opening your mind and refusing to accept the boundaries set for you by others,” Boom writes in her new book. Back then model diversity and gender weren’t topics of discussion, but showcasing models with “unusual and individual faces, bodies and identities, and (...) placing an article about hip-hop greats like Busta Rhymes next to a homoerotic fashion spread with a young man on a white horse was the equivalent of a statement.”

IT DIDN’T LET BUDGETS (OR LACKTHEREOF) GET IN THE WAY

While everything seemed so effortlessly cool, challenges did exist. “There was never a lot of money involved in production and we had to improvise all the time,” Boom recalls, “press offices and model agencies didn’t exist in Berlin back then – Berlin was no man’s land regarding the fashion, advertising and the so-called creative industries.” The first issue came out in January 1994 and apparently “no issue was ever so hard to put together as the first one. We were just two people and had very old computers, but somehow we pulled it off.” Remembering one of the very first shoots Boom says, “It took place in the streets of Berlin and featured ball gowns and t-shirts on young, unconventional models” – it was early 90s and the approach was new – “Everything was guerilla: we just roamed the streets with the clothes and the team and took pictures. Hair and makeup was done on the go and outfits were changed in stairwells. Another time we did a shoot that was a mix of still life, architecture and fashion” – it was shot in Alexanderplatz and themed around the idea of ‘shoes on skateboards’ – “Each time I pass Alexanderplatz I think about that day when we lay on the ground for hours, fixing shoes on skateboards, letting them roll gently and taking pictures – just the photographer and me, all day long.”

“Everything was guerilla: we just roamed the streets with the clothes and the team and took pictures” – Cathy Boom

IT HAD ITS OWN SOUND

“The first sound that you hear in your mind’s ear when you think of Style & the Family Tunes should be a low one. Bass, how low can you go?” – this is how music editor and co-founder of Style & the Family Tunes Christian Tjaden describes the mood of the magazine. These are words that quite physically take us back to the grooviness and dopeness of those days when sexy funk and mellow jazz combined to euphoric effect. In the early 90s, the city’s club scene was still predominantly techno, but there was also a “very active but underground hip-hop community surrounding the club Boogaloo where bands like the Poor Righteous Teachers, The Pharcyde and The Roots played live for only a few people,” Boom explains.

From a musical standpoint Style was a completely unique mixture of hip-hop truthfulness, post-punk swankiness, No Wave vibes and the deepest synth bass beats. Once again, its groundbreaking role lay in the merging of music with an idiosyncratic visual concept that brought together music, fashion and art in equal measure. That meant providing artists – some of whom completely unknown – with a space to share their music but also adding a photographic element to their stories by demanding exclusive photo shoots to accompany the interviews, not without pissing off the record companies.

IT HELPED SHAPE BERLIN’S YOUTH CULTURE

In summer 2011, issue number 130 was published, and with it Style & the Family Tunes ceased its print production. To Boom and her team it simply felt right to move on, “It was important for us to keep the magazine intact for what it has been and represented over the years – the independent spirit.” While the magazine is now only available digitally in the form of stylemag.net, the atmosphere that was printed on its pages is still very much alive. Walking through Berlin Mitte, one still has a sense of something pulsing, like a feeling that something’s happening there, which explains why people from all over the world still pursue the Berlin dream. “Berlin is the only capital worldwide that got redefined on a major scale culturally in the last 25 years, and that is a huge chance! Low living costs, cheap rents, great nightlife and an ‘everything is possible’ vibe attract many young and creative people from all over the world to come and visit or stay in Berlin. Germany does not necessarily stand for a funky lifestyle, but Berlin with the crazy status it’s had since World War II – imagine living in a city surrounded by a wall! – was always special and I hope it remains that way.”

Style & the Family Tunes: The Book – published by Hatje Cantz – is available now