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Front nightclub, Hamburg
Front nightclub in HamburgPhotography Rüdiger Trautsch, courtesy of Klaus Stockhausen and Boris Dlugosch

Remembering Front, the wildest, sweatiest nightclub in Germany

With its anything-goes attitude and cutting-edge music policy, the 80s and 90s venue shaped the sound and style of German clubbing

Front is perhaps the greatest nightclub you’ve never heard of. From when it opened in 1983 to its final party in 1997, Front was one of Germany’s most important clubbing destinations, bringing cutting-edge house music to Hamburg and offering a space for the city’s gay youth to express themselves. Wolfgang Tillmans once described it as one of the first nightclubs that mattered to him, thanks to its small size, good sound system, mixed gay and straight crowd, and anything-goes attitude. “It wanted something,” Tillmans said last year. “It was extreme about music, interested in excellence and sounds and providing a good quality to people.”

The nightclub was located in a basement in Hamburg’s Hammerbrook district. In its early years, it was strictly a gay club, something that was never forgotten, even as the crowds became more mixed over the years. Its sound was defined by its resident DJs, Klaus Stockhausen and Boris Dlugosch. Stockhausen started DJing in 1977, and by 1984 was established enough to be recognised by Willi Prange (who opened Front with his partner, Phillip Clarke) while visiting the nightclub. Prange asked him to take up a residency, a position he held week in, week out until 1992, when his second career as a fashion editor and stylist took over. Dlugosch joined as co-resident in 1986, having been honing his DJ skills since the age of 16 by listening to live recordings from the club, and took over entirely after Stockhausen left.

The music of Front was recently immortalised on a new mix compilation, Running Back Mastermix: Front by Klaus Stockhausen & Boris Dlugosch, released via Gerd Janson’s label Running Back. “The sound was unique for that period of time,” Klaus Stockhausen recalls. “Plus, for Germany, it was for sure unique. Now, we’re known as the club where, apparently, house music was played first in Germany. But basically we played everything – German new wave, hi-NRG, italo disco, soul, hip hop, glam rock, whatever. It was all in the mix, and then house and acid house arrived.”

The rooms in Front were raw, with low ceilings and bare walls. The dance floor was surrounded by low platforms, the sound was loud, and the lights were straightforward – some simple strobes, fluorescent tubes, and an illuminated light box that read ‘Danger’. Inside, things would get heated. “Hot and sweaty, condensation from the walls,” Stockhausen says of the atmosphere. “Two strobes and flashing neon lights. It was all about dancing and prancing. A relaxed, yet ecstatic atmosphere. Sexy.”

The dancers were the stars of Front. In fact, the DJ booth was almost completely separate from the rest of the club, situated in a secluded area with only a few portholes to check out the vibe on the dance floor – a much better way to gauge the vibe of the crowd was to just listen to how loudly they were cheering. Despite the limited view, Stockhausen can recall that people dressed for the night: “From Tom of Finland to Junior Gaultier – a bit of Klaus Nomi, a bit of Cher, tank tops, toplessness, and satin running shorts,” he says. On themed nights, they’d go all out: “We made up the themes getting drunk at dinners – ‘Jackie O. & Dr. No’, ‘The Amazing Corpus Christie’, ‘Hermès & Eurydike’,” says Stockhausen. “They had people run their style imagination up.”

Still, the dancers were perhaps better defined by what they weren’t wearing. “They all knew, no matter how OTT or dressed-up or not they were when they arrived, that the music at the Front would make them want to strip,” Stockhausen says. “To get naked and not care anymore about the look – just the moves.”

In the 90s, DJs Michi Lange and Michael Braune would join Dlugosch as residents, broadening out Front’s sound to the Detroit techno, deep house, Latin freestyle, and New York garage sounds coming from the US, as well emerging UK club sounds, even as newer, faster, and gnarlier strains of techno were taking over other German clubs. After closing, the legacy it left behind, both from the DJs and from the crowds, would live on in venues like Robert Johnson and Panorama Bar, two of Germany’s most iconic nightclubs today. As Finn Johannsen, a DJ, writer, and original Front kid writes in the Mastermix booklet, being a pioneering club is better than maintaining the status quo. “True to its original spirit, the club closed its doors at a level that was still extraordinary,” he writes. “And it lives on – you can trace its legend in so many wonderful things.”

Running Back Mastermix: Front by Klaus Stockhausen & Boris Dlugosch is out now