Stiil dancing 25 years later. Happy birthday Distillery! photo Stefan Leuschel

Distillery goes silver, but never grey


I can’t imagine a world without dancing. I love being lost in the movement, in the rhythm, in the vibration of the sound. There’s nothing like being on the dance floor to make one escape into a state of bliss.

I’m not alone in this.

Back in 1992, nine guys who loved dance music created a party in an abandoned brewery. They couldn’t afford to go to the newly opened Tresor in Berlin every weekend, but wanted the freedom they felt there. Armed with a generator and turntables, what they thought might last six weeks has become a Leipzig treasure.

Happy 25th birthday, Distillery!

I have had so many good times there. When I came to Leipzig in 2004, it was the only non-mainstream club. Over the years I’ve spent birthdays, met drag queens, done dance workshops, watched dance battles, danced my ass off, laughed my ass off, drank my ass off, seen good friends off, and much much more.

I’ve always felt welcome. They want to be our living room. I’d say they’ve done better than that.

The abandoned brewery in Connewitz where the Distllery began in 1992.

I talked to Distillery’s Martin Driemel to find out more.

mwd: Wow! 25 years! Where I’m from in the States, clubs are lucky to last 5. Did you think you’d reach 25 when you started?

md: No. No one would have thought. It all started out of the drive to just party and have a nice time. That the Distillery 25 years later still exists, is a gift and a great feeling.

What was the original concept?

To put it plainly: just to party and have a nice time – with like-minded people and friends and a sound that hadn’t existed here before.

How is it different now?

We still see ourself as a platform for sophisticated music and a living room for our guests. We do not understand our job as detached from society and the environment we are living in, but we try to have a good influence on the people coming to the club frequently or on the ones that just know we exist. If it was formerly a demarcation from intolerable society, we become more and more aware of our external effects, and we are proud to be a sign for this city.

Distillery photo Stefan Leuschel
Lost in dance at Distillery. (Photo: Stefan Leuschel)

Distillery is known for its high quality DJs. How do you know which EDM trends are next, or do you just go with what you like?

Both. On the one hand, of course, we have an eye on the new and young aspiring artists. On the other hand, we also know who has been around for years and is still important to the scene. To find the middle road is the most difficult. We often go with our gut and also test a lot. But no matter what artist we book: the most important criterion is music and sound.

I was at the premiere of the documentary and the Save the ’tille action 5 years ago. What’s the status now? Are you guys safe?

2011 started with a planning for the whole area (on which also the Distillery is located), which ultimately provides for a development of the area with residential houses. In January 2014 there was a City Council decision, in which the city of Leipzig referred to the Distillery “as an important part of the cultural city Leipzig” and pledged “to preserve Distillery at the current location”. In 2013, however, the whole area was sold to an investor who obviously did not particularly care.

distillery maeshelle west-davies
In Sept 2013. hundreds of people gathered to add their voices to the debate over the property where the Distillery now sits. The club had been there for 20 years and was/is now in danger of being torn down and replaced by flats. In the States, where I come from, clubs rarely survive more than a couple years without having to sell out. Distillery was and is exploring dance music in its current and purist forms. (Photo: maeshelle west-davies)

You recently won a competition to be featured on a tram. When will that happen and is there a party in the works to celebrate?

The inauguration of the tram took place on 16th of October. So from now on a tram with our name is running through the city. And there could not have been a better time – what a beautiful birthday gift! Really cool! But this is also a valuable sign in uncertain times, for which not only we, but many cultural institutions are currently exposed (the current debate on the curfew in Leipzig or the ongoing debate of gentrification, for example).

This is why it is very important to be seen as a culture-builder and to be heard at different levels and from different people. The fact that we have won the “favorite venue project” of the LVB and one of the new trams carries our name is a big hit. Surely we would like to celebrate this – also in a tram you get a proper music system installed and the location would be something special.

'tille equals home poster from save the 'tille protest party says it all. (Photo: maeshelle west-davies)
’tille equals home poster from save the ’tille protest party says it all. (Photo: maeshelle west-davies)

What are the specs of your sound systems?

Martin sent me the specs in detail. I’ll abbreviate for the non-techies, but let’s just say it’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck dance with joy. Upstairs: 14 top and 14 sub speakers with 4 monitors and another 4 at the bar. Intense light and stadium quality projection system. Downstairs: 10 top and 6 subs with a very different light show. 

How did the TH!NK? festival develop?

Actually quite unspectacularly. Again, we wanted to have a good time during the summer break of the Distillery. So we decided to meet at an open air. After the first two editions in 1994 and 1995, the TH!NK? was reissued after a 15-year break in 2010. And the story goes on…

Distillery photo maeshelle west-davies
Bar staff get glamourous for the 20th anniversary party at Distillery. (Photo: Stefan Leuschel)

What’s next?

A lot. We have not gotten lost in the last 25 years and we do not intend to change that in the next 25 years. Our goal is not to stand still, but the distillery will continue to evolve over the coming years – and when new opportunities arise, we will take advantage of them. There are different ideas of how the “Distillery project” can develop. So stay tuned…

Artist, curator and writer: maeshelle west-davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums.

hate speech
Previous Story

ECPMF calls on youth to ponder hate speech

Coming of age appears to be an important leitmotif at DOK Leipzig this year. I preview and review some diverse films I've found to fall into this category. (Photo: public domain)
Next Story

DOK: coming of age in times of upheaval

Latest from DJ