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Courtesy of Alexander Popov, Unsplash

Berlin’s techno DJs are seeking Unesco world heritage status

Pioneers of the genre are calling on the UN to recognise its historical impact and help preserve a ‘free, wild, creative Berlin’

Last year, Germany’s financial high court officially ruled that (as we all already knew) techno is a genre of music, resulting in a vital tax cut for the country’s clubs as they reopened in the wake of nationwide coronavirus lockdowns. However, techno’s biggest supporters aren’t stopping there; now, they’re seeking world heritage status.

Launched by Dr. Motte — a pioneer of the genre responsible for Love Parade and 2020’s Rave the Planet — a new campaign specifically calls on Unesco to grant Berlin techno “intangible cultural heritage” status (ICH), in recognition of the genre’s unifying influence on the city after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“It would mean that the government and authorities have to help the culture continue,” Motte tells DJ Mag. “It would mean easier access to money from the state for support... if we have that status, we could support clubs with lower taxes, and it could affect building and trading laws.”

ICH is more typically granted to niche cultural subjects, from Swiss dry stone walling to the art of the Byzantine chant (though Jamaican reggae was added to the list of recognised practices in 2018). It could help provide stability for techno, however, as it faces the threat of ongoing COVID restrictions. Just this week, Berlin announced a ban on dancing in nightclubs in an effort to curb transmission of the virus.

It would also help preserve a “free, wild, creative Berlin” in the face of rapid gentrification and wide-scale club closures, according to Detroit DJ Alan Oldham. “Unesco protection would go a long way towards maintaining that old spirit,” Oldham tells the Observer. “Legacy venues like Tresor and Berghain for example would be protected as cultural landmarks.”

It’s worth noting that Berghain already won a legal case that saw it designated a “high art” venue back in 2016, granting it the lower tax rate of venues that peddle “high culture”, such as classical music halls.

Obtaining cultural heritage status from Unesco is an even bigger challenge, however. Despite the fact that the UN body “seems supportive” regarding the initial application, Motte suggests that it could take “two, five or 10 years to get a final outcome”. 

The campaign’s ambition also stretches far beyond the Berlin city limits. “To get to the status of Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage for techno in Germany, this is what we want to work towards,” Motte explains. “And then Europe. But first, we start in Berlin.”