Last winter found a small crew of music writers sweating down in the Yucatán, not just escaping the cold but trekking to a pool party thrown in a far-flung locale by the ravenously revered German dance label Giegling. Explain in wretched Spanish your destination to the local cabbies and they’d just nod. “Ah sí, Pablo’s,” they replied — as in Escobar — dropping us at the farthest tip of the peninsula before a sprawling, unfinished compound wedged between dense rainforest and the Caribbean Sea: the grounds of the notorious drug kingpin. To say it was a curious place to spend a few hours dancing to worming, gently thickening, ultimately transcendent minimal European dance music feels like an understatement.
“It was a dream come true to play a scenario like that,” said Konstantin (no surname), a member of the German collective. “I like to play in different environments — from Ibiza to open-air festivals in small European towns — and see how much of that feeling I can adapt there. Sometimes you can just transform it into this other world.” That other world is something they like to call “Planet Giegling,” and a similar transformation will occur this weekend as this mysterious cabal of DJs, musicians, painters, light technicians, sculptors, dancers, and friends of the imprint descend on New York City like a 21st-century Gypsy caravan, offering an elaborate and rather inexplicable presentation of their aesthetic. One night will feature a sit-down concert and art installation at the Knockdown Center in Queens; the next will be a proper club night at the Good Room in Brooklyn (February 3 and 4, respectively). “This is actually how we used to do our events in Weimar — we just wanted to expand the view,” Konstantin said. “It is not about being the best things on earth, but just being our thing.” Think a modern version of the Acid Tests or Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable with a steadfast kick drum underneath.
“Giegling embody a sort of purity, sincerity, and craftsmanship that many may feel has been lost in the commercialization of dance music,” said Patric Fallon, former editor at the online dance music magazine Resident Advisor. “There’s no calculated marketing schemes, no trend they’re following. They allow their audience to come to them, which I think fosters a sense of discovery and personal connection.”
Giegling was originally the name of a student bar in Weimar, Germany, until the owner (whose family name adorned the venue) tabbed Bauhaus University student Konstantin to throw a few events there in 2007. An assortment of creative types from Berlin and Hanover convened. The label began in earnest two years later; bigger and bigger events came about. “If I try to understand what keeps all of us together, I think it is not so much the music but the will and the trust,” Konstantin said. “We are living this dream, and everybody who is listening is living this dream with us.”
It’s entirely possible that in the States you’ve neither seen nor heard much of Giegling’s music. Konstantin puts the collective’s numbers at about ten artists and maybe twenty more friends, all of them “working like a flock.” They’ve released roughly fifty singles and albums since 2009, all on vinyl, most featuring elaborate homemade sleeves. One release last year had each sleeve colored in by hand. An early single featured smudges of dust that — as they told one interviewer — came from the parties they used to throw at their old venue. But no matter how ornate or over-the-top it might seem, all Giegling’s releases sell out immediately and fetch high prices online (a copy of Prince of Denmark’s eight-LP box set, released in December of last year, already tops $300 online). Musically, the label’s style ranges from downtempo instrumental hip-hop (see Dwig) to disco-infused deep house (see Edward), with the odd frantic drum’n’bass track thrown in for good measure. No matter the artist, a minimal aesthetic runs through each release — doing less with more. One of last year’s standouts from Traumprinz wove a snippet of Mary J. Blige’s “Your Child” into some bleeps and a lone bass drum until it became a gospel-inflected stunner that Resident Advisor voted the top track of 2016.
“While they’ve been known to throw a cheeky curveball every now and again, the music they put out is utterly genuine,” said Jason Garden, talent buyer and resident DJ at Chicago’s Smart Bar, who’s also released music on a Giegling sublabel. “It’s easy to connect with their music on an emotional level, because the label doesn’t shy away from being sincere or big ideas.”
For this motley crew of Germans, coming to New York is important. Konstantin spent some time in the city back in 2012, mostly checking out the sweaty dance parties the since-shuttered record shop Dope Jams threw in its own space. “New York is house music itself,” he said. “Being in New York just gave me a lot of strength and trust. The vibe is so incredible and it gave me strength in what I was doing.”
It’s no doubt an inauspicious time for foreign artists traveling in the United States, but the inspiration Giegling took from American dance music is what they hope to reflect back upon us. “We are actually quite in love with that American spirit,” Konstantin said. “We think music and art are always above politics. It communicates values and ideas directly to the hearts of the people and it can give hope and strength in a situation that seems hopeless and lost.” To which he added: “That’s actually when music and art hit the deepest.”