People with disabilities account for at least 13% of the German population, yet they are hardly visible on stages or in DJ booths. Even in music venues and clubs, disabled people are few and far between. The team at Ick Mach Welle is gearing up to change this. Their mission: improve accessibility across the club scene.
From these modest beginnings, a whole new wave of musical acts has emerged.
The Ick Mach Welle initiative is the brainchild of Nico Deuster, a seasoned DJ who knows the ins and outs of the Berlin club scene. In 2008 he founded KilleKill, initially as an events company, throwing parties in Berghain and across the city, and running the Krake Festival each year. Eventually, the brand also became its own record label, showcasing and promoting some of the more eccentric electronic music in town.
Then, in 2018, in KilleKill’s back office – behind the record racks, printers and desk chairs in a rehearsal studio lined up with keyboards, drum machines and synthesizers – Deuster began running a mentorship program for disabled people, providing access to electronic music technology and tutorship. From these modest beginnings, a whole new wave of musical acts has emerged.
The idea to kickstart the initiative started during a meeting with the Berlin funding body Musicboard, who have been pro-actively looking to improve the levels of inclusivity for disabled people throughout the local music community. “At this point I started to think, who could I book?” Deuster says. “And even though I’ve been in the scene for about 20 years, I could only think of two artists.”
Deuster then went about setting up a tuition program to help disabled people gain access to the tools they needed to make electronic music.
“I first got in touch with the team behind Spaceship, an inclusive party at Mensch Meier,” Deuster explains of his first steps. Partnered with Lebenshilfe, a Berlin initiative that aims to increase diversity and inclusion at all levels of life, Spaceship is one of the few musical events in Berlin run for people with disabilities. It was with their help that Deuster was able to get his project off the ground. After making the right calls, acquiring some funding and musical gear, Deuster brought a set of new and budding music enthusiasts from the disabled community to his office space to start jamming.
We’ve grown from one band to ten projects, and could grow it more
“We started out by inviting some people who we thought would be interested, just to see what would click,” Deuster recounts. “We focus on the artist – for example with Uwe [DJ Locati], he came to us when he was 48. With his first session, I thought he wanted to DJ. So I asked him to try out a synth, and really had to talk him into it. He was very defined about what he wanted to play, but had never touched a keyboard before. He had such a good ear, he was really able to play a melody, and then repeat it. Everybody in the room went silent. He went through the different sounds and played them differently in a way that worked. He was so musical and had never had the chance to touch anything before, and that’s a pity for him, and for society.”
For Deuster – who had no background in social work – the whole process was eye-opening and a learning experience. From the very beginning, it came with challenges – including actually understanding what it is to be disabled and what that means on a societal level.
“The problem starts with the word itself, which is an obstacle,” explains Deuster. “It’s just far too wide and general. When we started running a workshop, it didn’t work out because everyone was on a different level.” People with disabilities are clustered into one broad category, which on a societal level is unfair and on a musical spectrum even more problematic.
“You have to know what they all want to do individually: DJ, be an artist, work in multimedia,” says Deuster. “In the end, we knew we needed to get mentors for each individual.”
Another big obstacle to improving accessibility lies within providing disabled people with access to the scene in general. “It’s difficult to get into clubs, it’s expensive, the hours are difficult – especially if they have caretakers – and then there’s this social media and technological side of the community. Some disabled people don’t have mobile phones, credit cards, or even email addresses. It’s a big limitation that I would never have thought was a problem.”
Berlin may not have reached full inclusivity and equality, but Deuster and his gang are inching the industry ever closer
Deuster realized the issue he was taking on was multi-faceted. Solving it would involve doing more than just hosting workshops for disabled people in his office. He would need to individually cater to the needs of each and every person, speak directly to the community and engage with them, while providing total accessibility to his own events.
“At Krake, we offer a €5 inclusion ticket for people with disabilities, and they are allowed to bring a caretaker for free. We are also barrier free and provide access for people with wheelchairs,” Deuster states about this year’s upcoming festival. “We really wanted to put inclusion as a focus on the festival this year, and tried to book 50% of our line-up of artists with disabilities, but it’s not so easy.”
This year’s Krake Festival doesn’t quite manage to hit that goal, but it gets close. “More like 35%,” Deuster says about the lineup. “We have Drag Syndrome coming over from London, consisting of people with Downs syndrome, which I find really amazing. And there’s DJ Stingray and The Hacker, plus a lot of other cool unknown acts.”
In addition to this, Deuster makes sure that these events and opportunities are properly communicated to the disabled community as well. “It’s important people don’t feel excluded, are made to feel welcome, and are encouraged to try out new venues or events.”
Initially, Ick Mach Welle (which translates to ‘I make waves’) was its own band, formed with the mentees who honed their musical talents from Deuster’s studio. As the group developed, each individual artist split off into their own respective projects. “We’ve grown from one band to ten projects, and could grow it more,” Deuster says about the explosion in talent.
KilleKill is now releasing records by many of the artists, including the futuristic techno/rave sounds of Werner Soyeaux, known as Bläck Dävil, and the unique world-building and dadaist music created by Schrunzel. Several of the Ick Mach Welle artists, including Soyeaux, DJ Locati and Senator, plus new addition Hanni Kusch (originally from iconic punk-band Pisse), are part of the new collective band project dubbed Wellen.Brecher, which is reaching out to new audiences to much buzz.
Their music is featured on the label’s new compilation, Superbrains, and they’ll be performing at Krake Festival and Nation of Gondwana this summer – plus dropping their debut EP, featuring the lead single ‘Tierisch Verboten’. “Werner is a genius on the mic,” Deuster says about the single. “The lyrics are really deep… at the time he had something on his chest, and he just let it out… it’s really a song that sums up the whole project.”
The single’s accompanying video shows the band members in a club setting, dancing with masked individuals, as the music asks: “Was muss man denn machen, um dazuzugehören? Ich verstehe das alles nicht.” (“What do you have to do to fit in? I do not understand any of this.”) These questions are the defining purpose of Wellen.Brecher, and of Ick Mach Welle. They’re questions that Deuster and his team are constantly looking to answer.
“The whole discussion around diversity is growing, and a lot of things have changed,” Deuster says. “Things are getting better, but disabled people are still being left behind. Individual people or groups can change things a lot. If an event opens up and offers it to this community, it will have a big impact. Wellen. Brecher are getting a lot of bookings now, but I don’t think this would have happened five years ago.”
Ick Mach Welle has not only made waves but continues to ride them. Berlin may not have reached full inclusivity and equality, but Deuster and his gang are inching the industry ever closer, one ripple at a time.