The near-mythical German acid house pioneer is finally emerging from 30 years in the wilderness; most fans thought he was dead
Mention the name Klaus Blatter to anyone involved with dance music and most will have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s how deep his enigma runs. For those in-the-know however, Blatter is an electro myth, a legend; the dance Zelig whose elusive white labels, built around the sounds of the factories of Dortmund where he worked in the ‘70s, secretly kicked off acid house in the mid-80s, only for his entire body of work to be destroyed in a warehouse fire and his legacy went up in smoke with it.
Ever since, Blatter has been a moustachio’d mystery, a clubland Keyser Soze. Rumour had it he’d initiated legendary acid night Shoom, set the Hacienda aflame and orchestrated so many key moments in dance music history that he’s virtually the Da Vinci who painted the enigmatic grin on smiley. Some of his acolytes were convinced he’d left music to start a bird of prey sanctuary, most believed he was dead. But thirty-plus years after his left his indelible mark on modern music and faded into the shadows, he returned with a Glastonbury appearance, his first official release – (I Find Myself Surrounded By) The Lunatics Of Acid House’ – and a forthcoming Netflix documentary set to blow the lid off the biggest dance music conundrum this side of ‘are Daft Punk really Banksy?’ In an exclusive interview, we expose the man behind the most shadowy of DJ outlines and finally ask, who the fuck is Klaus Blatter?
So Klaus, tell us about your elusive background.
“I started the work as a young man, working as an apprentice in a ball-bearing factory in Dortmund on the industrial Rhine. I live in what you’d call the east end of Dortmund, the Kaiserbrunnen area, and being an apprentice I was deciding I wanted to make some musics reminding me of the work, very harsh music. So many of the working men took suicide and despair, I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good if people could dance to this music’. So this was my mission, I started off to replicate those sounds. The other apprentices would be mocking me and laughing at me saying ‘Klaus Blatter, why are you not drinking beer and chasing frauleins?’ and I would go ‘nein, nein, I’m much more interested in trying to make the music that I was hearing and experiencing’. I was influenced by all these bands of the time, the Cans and Kraftwerks.”
You were trying to make dance music from the sounds of the factory?
“Yeah, we were trying to do this at a very, very early time. It was trial and error, I’d have friends round and we’d have our little parties. We opened a club night called the Technosphere. There are all kinds of theories and discussions about this – some people from Chicago who are important to the history of the acid house, and people from New York City do the very same with the disco and you have also Ibiza. So there are many, many different roots but I feel in Germany we have been left somewhat out of the picture, our contribution has not really been recognised.”
You took some white labels of your early tracks to Manchester and basically kicked off the acid house scene at the Hacienda – how did they go down initially?
“They went down very well. What happened was I planned to go to Chicago because I regarded Chicago as the home of the kind of progressive dance music I wanted to make. I just didn’t have the money to go to Chicago so I would have to go to the city of Manchester because I was hearing someone say that the Tony Wilson man was saying that Manchester was very like Chicago. I heard about a club called the Hacienda and I gave the white labels to the DJ there, who was Chad Jackson.”
Why didn’t you get the recognition for those pivotal tracks?
“I wasn’t interested in recognition, why would I be interested in this? I come from the whole punk rock ethos, it wasn’t about being a big star, it wasn’t about wanting recognition, it was about doing something that to us was very real at the time.”
A fire destroyed your studio and tracks, you were virtually erased from history overnight. Was that devastating?
“The fire in the Dortmund warehouse was regrettable but some of the white labels were still in circulation, I’d given white labels as presents to people I was very close to, girlfriends, and I’ve been trying to track some down to get the originals, to get a back catalogue of the white labels. Chad also was finding two of the white labels in his garden shed, boxed up, so we are now almost ready to say we have a whole catalogue of white labels. This is the late-‘80s and early-‘90s, they are very different stylistically to the kind of music we’re doing now. You English are responsible for this because I fell under the influence of Ted Hughes, the poet of the Queen. Not the Freddie Mercury Queen, I’m talking of the royal Queen that you have. The tracks I’m doing now are influenced by the poets, the music I am making now is very different from the old stuff.”
You subsequently became a myth in the dance scene, how did it feel to have people doubt your influence?
“One cannot be controlling the perceptions of the others, you must try to do the good work, you must try to what your heart says. Obviously I had a lot of time out, there were other things I wanted to do, the bird of prey sanctuary was a hobby and a passion of mine for many years and there were all sorts of other things I was doing, I was trying to make my own way in the world as a young man and also the music was falling through the cracks. Unless one comes from a very wealthy background, one does not have the time to do all this stuff. So Klaus Blatter was not from a wealthy background, he had to work, he had to try different things. Every initial success I had in all of the clubs in Dortmund, all of the money went to the birds of prey. Then I had problems, I must admit, I was involved in all sorts of things, I had the very same experience of the Marvin Gaye character. When Marvin Gaye was washed up on the beach in Belgium, I was washed up on the beach in Brighton.”
How was Shoom your idea?
“Back in the day, back in Amnesia, I was taking the pills and enjoying the sounds and I ran into Danny Rampling, he was on holiday with Paul Oakenfold and Nicky Holloway. I found that Danny Rampling and I became friends and I said to him’ hurry, you must hurry to do this before Paul and Nicky are trying to open clubs too, you must open the club in London’. And that’s what he did.”
What other influence have you secretly had on dance music since then?
“It’s a bit like what they say about The Velvet Underground or The Sex Pistols at Manchester Free Trade Hall. I see myself as a Velvet Sex character who did not influence many people but who influenced the influencers. And they went on to do great things.”
Is it frustrating not to get the dues for that?
“In some ways, yes, but with the new album we are trying to right those wrongs, we are trying to say that now is the time for Klaus Blatter to cash in big-time with commercial success. I was not in a good place mentally, now I can handle commercial success, everything’s on course with the drugs, the frauleins.”
How did you handle the rumours of your death?
“It was very distressing, I remember my mother phoning me up and saying ‘Klaus, I heard you had died, what is happening here? It says in the papers you have died’. My mother is a very stern district nurse who worked very very hard, and she had issues of her own, it was very distressing for her to hear this. It doesn’t bother me, I know I’m alive. You wake up, you go to the toilet, you make love to some lady, you know you are here at this present moment. But the people who are close to you, they did not know this. I think it was because I’d gone so long before bringing stuff out and I’d gone so long before going to clubs, because when you get older you do not want to go to clubs unless you’re not playing music. The young frauleins think ‘who is this pervert hanging round the club? He will bet trying to interfere with us’. But Klaus Blatter is not like that.”
Why make your comeback now?
“So many of the youth of today, there is no soul in the music, they’re making clubbing music and dance music for people who do not dance or go to clubs. They live in their bedrooms with all their software packages and little bits of keyboards and make their sounds. Some of the sounds are very good and nice and creative but you need somebody who has been through the club experience, and Klaus Blatter has been through the club experience, and I wish to bring that back, that sense of fun and authenticity into dance music.”
Your new single is called ‘(I Find Myself Surrounded By) The Lunatics Of Acid House’ – what’s the story of the song?
“It’s the classic story where you think to yourself ‘I really should go home to my fraulein because I’ve had a hard days’ work and there is work to be done in the morning and we must work hard’ but suddenly you are seeing a good old friend and you go for this drink and then you are for taking some pills or snorting some cocaine and having a fun time and the next thing you know you’re at the club surrounded by people like yourself, these are the lunatics of acid house. And they’re not letting you go home.”
In the song you run into your fraulein in the club – was this a true story?
“Every weekend. You remember Rupert Holmes’ Pina Colada song? Getting caught in the rain? It is the same story – he goes on the blind date with his own fraulein. It has happened many times, my loved one, she was going through the same dilemma, she did not want to go home after work. Suddenly she decides to go to the club and there we are, we fall into each others’ arms.”
How do you keep your moustache so glossy?
“There are all sorts of grooming products – I’m not in the business of endorsing or naming them until the contracts have been signed but once they have been signed the whole world will know about the Klaus Blatter range of products. There are so many people who want this kind of moustache. At Glastonbury I was seeing people with Blatter moustaches but they were not good.”
How was it playing Glastonbury? Did you feel like a homecoming hero?
“It was a wonderful, emotional and magical experience. For the crowd. There was an element of the all-conquering return of the hero but until I start to play the gigs in Germany, which we are doing later on in the year, I won’t feel as though I have finally come home.”
There’s going to be a documentary about your story, what revelations can we expect?
“There will be some interesting people attesting to the influence of Klaus Blatter in their own music. I can’t say who they are because some people are very strange about that sort of thing. They say privately to you, ‘oh Klaus, we want to tell the world how brilliant you were and how influential you were’ but when you put the camera in front of them they are suddenly going shy.”
Dance music is your baby – what do you think of the state of it today?
“When I go to the big superclubs in Las Vegas I always want to cry. I think to myself ‘this should be Klaus Blatter up here making all this money’. But of course there is no bitterness towards David Guetta, Paul Oakenfold, Calvin Harris or any of these people. EDM, to me, is not very interesting. You go to America and say to people in the streets ‘EDM, what does it mean?’ You get some people maybe in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Miami, they will say on the sunbed ‘oh yes, EDM, this is the music we dance to, toot-toot-toot-toot’, but if you go Chicago, New York, Detroit, they have no interest in EDM. It’s all about the acid house, the 303s, one of the most beautiful instruments known to man.”
Download ‘(I Find Myself Surrounded By) The Lunatics Of Acid House’ here.