From Rock to Techno Aesthetic

February 7, 2019


Anyone who has seen the 2007 modern classic I Am Legend can imagine what a techno club looks like after 3am: dark, grimy, and full of nearly naked nightcrawlers. The vibe, however, is often ecstatic and in reality hardly any limbs get torn off. How come this positive vibe is so strongly juxtaposed to the dim architectural characteristics of the club? To give you a hint: it’s all in the music.


[ Shelter's interior | source: ]


Back in the ancient days, the Greek theatre and later the Roman amphitheatre were the first human-made structures designated to the western arts. Skip ahead some two thousand years and their designs still resonate in modern football stadiums or more classic venues such as Amsterdam’s Carré. In early modern times, there grew from the liturgic concert-setting (i.e. churches) the concert hall as we know it now: a forward-facing crowd directing its gaze at the artist(s) in front. 


The architectural placement of audience and artist in contemporary concert venues is still for a great part dedicated to the visuals. That is, its design has everyone surround the stage in a semicircle so that one can see what’s happening onstage from every spot in the hall. Moreover, speakers are placed directing backwards, creating a unified frontward gaze (to which even the light and sound technicians adhere). The strategic placing of the artist(s) - elevated on an illuminated and spacious stage - as opposed to the jam-packed audience residing in the dark causes for a hierarchy that highlights the performer(s). This, in turn, adds to the rock- or popstar concert experience.


 [ Paradiso's interior, based on the amphitheatre | source: Paradiso Amsterdam ]


Then, there is the techno club. Born from illegality its subculture has hidden in the shadows for most of its younger years. Only in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s it settled in designated dwellings still characterised by their lack of light. The lack of light aside, its aficionados/organisers/gatekeepers/etc. also tended to lack in financial means to erect brand-new buildings. Instead, techno rooted in de-industrialised and decaying constructions. Working with whatever was at hand this resulted in the grave yet eclectic interior of the techno club. The few incidental objects one encounters are carefully placed so as not to obstruct a dancing audience, especially when the crowd is as blind as a bat.


Doesn’t techno then have an architectural aesthetic of its own? It surely does. While the majority of techno clubs still settles in out-of-use buildings (in Amsterdam alone: Marktkantine – market canteen, De School – school, Gashouder – gasholder, RADION – dental centre), some enjoy more freedom of design. One of these is Shelter. Located underneath the Amsterdam Tower on the north side of town, the club established itself in a concrete excavation reminiscent of an inverted LEGO brick.


[ Shelter's interior | source: ]


The speaker-cabinet is directed at the empty space in front of the DJ booth, attracting those who wish to immerse themselves in the thrusting bass and techno beats. The dark uniformity produced by dim unfocused lights and a grim colour palette lines up with the basement character of its concrete walls and floor. Geometrical design defines the contours of the club, with the occasional plant as only organic form accompanying the audience. 


In contrast to the rock aesthetic, Shelter features a small non-elevated DJ booth located in the very front – although not attached to the wall so that it can be circumvented – that hardly reveals the DJ’s physique behind the vast amount of musical machinery. Excessive use of stroboscopic flashes slashes through the clubbers’ sight of the space, complementing the continuous four-to-the-floor beat of techno. Reinforced by the lack of windows and clocks this triggers an oblivious state of mind amongst the crowd. 


[ Shelter's interior (at night) | source: ]


While at first the techno club appears as the residue of urban space, as dark caves full of weirdly moving creatures, or as a concrete dungeon with ear-soaring sonic pulses, it is in fact thoughtfully designed. It provides its attendees with all they need: space to play and an atmosphere that synaesthetically suits its music. Allowing dancers to introvert to the backdrop of bass and beats it truly serves its purpose as a sanctuary. Think of that next time you pass the security scan and make your way into darkness.

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