In a city undergoing constant, rapid change, where the hottest party spots can radically alter in just a few weeks–either moving to new locations or disappearing altogether–the world-famous Hard Wax record store is something of an anomaly. Mark Ernestus–who, with Moritz Von Oswald, comprises techno groundbreakers Basic Channel and revolutionary electronic dub act Rhythm & Sound–opened Hard Wax in 1989. Initially the store traded vintage soul, funk, reggae, and hip-hop but quickly shifted focus towards electronic dance music when the first imports from the then-fledgling Chicago house and Detroit techno scenes hit Europe.
Seventeen years on and not much has changed. Hard Wax continues to be one of Europe's leading purveyors of quality American dance music, as well as the distributor for some of Germany's most respected labels (including Sleeparchive and the labels related to Smith N Hack and Basic Channel). The store is still located in the same decaying building down an anonymous driveway in Berlin's largely Turkish Kreuzberg neighborhood. Hard Wax is on the building's third floor–and the tags and stickers that line the grubby flight of stairs are testimony to the thousands of DJs and producers that have visited over the years. The floor above used to house Rhythm & Sound's studios and is still home to Dubplates & Mastering, where Stefan Betke (a.k.a. Pole) cut more than just his teeth.
Those who visit Hard Wax on a regular basis can't help but rub shoulders with Berlin's biggest DJ talent. Ricardo Villalobos is one of Hard Wax's biggest customers–he spends a small fortune on vinyl during each visit, either buying new records or replacing those he has given away during gigs. Store manager Torsten–who, in true Hard Wax style, is both serious and rather reticent–estimates that most of Berlin's leading DJs drop by "every one to three weeks" and explains that a number of them can be found on the other side of the counter, too. "In the past, DJ Hell and Electric Indigo worked here," he writes, via email. At the moment there is DJ Pete (a.k.a. Substance and one half of Scion), [Perlon artist] Cassy, and Marcel Dettmann (who has collaborated with Bpitch's Ben Klock and is a resident at Berghain/Panoramabar)."
It is almost impossible to overstate Hard Wax's importance to Berlin's vast electronic music community, so symbiotic is the relationship between the two. Put simply, without Hard Wax's nearly two decades support of exciting new music, Berlin would be a very different place indeed.