Stephan Straka aka Sikora is a producer of electronic music. True statement yet neither does it do justice to this guy’s incredible dedication to music nor to his actual skills of creating new sounds and pushing boundaries. We’d rather like to call him a “musical scientist” or even a “surgeon” since he is a stickler…
The label Harthouse was founded in 1992 in Offenbach near Frankfurt by Matthias Hoffmann, Heinz Roth and the well known Frankfurt DJ Sven Väth. Harthouse, in the early years from 1992 to 1997 a sublabel of Eye Q Records, was a platform for newcomer artists. It was designed for the harder, more minimalistic sound, the sound that didn’t fit into the commercial line of Eye Q Records. Sven Väth commented on this: “We wanted to create a stage, a playground – even an experimental one – and I think we quite succeeded.”
In the beginning Harthouse (also known as “Harthouse Frankfurt“) defined a sound that became known as “Sound Of Frankfurt”, a harder but danceable version of “Trance” – just “Hard House” or “Harthouse”. The first release was produced by the Harthouse A&R himself, Sven Väth. His co-producer until 2000 was Ralf Hildenbeutel, who still runs the production company “Schallbau” today. Together with the other members of “Schallbau”, Steffen Britzke (aka B-Zet) and Matthias Hoffmann (aka AC Boutsen), Sven Väth also released several projects on Harthouse himself.
From the very beginning Sven Väth decided on what was released on Harthouse and what was not. In the first years Harthouse releases were strongly limited, to about 2000 copies per release. The white sleeve promotion list was also kept small. Within a very short time Harthouse became the flagship of the German techno scene. The label became known worldwide, its artists became stars of the international scene with high placements in the charts.
Due to the limited copies and quality releases, demand rose rapidly. The real first big success was Hardfloor’s (Ramon Zenker & Oliver Bondzio) first release “Hardtrance Acperience” (1992,HH-008). While hardly noticed in Germany, it made it into the British charts (1992/93, No. 56) after having been re-released there half a year later. To oppose the trend to produce with constantly growing speed from track to track was a revolutionary idea in 1992. Up to today there is an international demand for remixes by Hardfloor. Examples are Mory Kanté, The Shamen and Anne Clark. Then one hit followed the other: Arpeggiator’s “Possible future of mankind” (HH-016), Hardfloor‘s “Trancscript” (HH-019) (place 72 on British Charts 1993) or Resistance D.‘s “Human E.P” (HH-020).
Due to the fast worldwide success also foreign departments were founded in 1992: “Harthouse UK” in England, distributed by “Rising High”, and “Harthouse America” in the US with a licence-deal with “Moonshine Music”. But soon, in 1994, the deal with “Rising High” was canceled and Harthouse opened their own distribution department in the UK. The cooperation with “Moonshine Records” in the USA appeared not to be successfull, too.
1997 was the worst year for Harthouse. Artists were not paid, but with calmed with hope for future payments. At the beginning of the year the confusion was already complete: Sven Väth left the label. The company then moved from its large office in Offenbach to Berlin. Two months later the company was insolvent and filed for bankruptcy. The artists could not be paid or were put off with ridiculous sums. The managing directors were not prepared to comment on the reasons for the insolvency. But the enormous discrepancies between the goals they had set themselves and reality were obvious: on the one hand, they wanted to be a German techno underground label, but on the other hand they rented a multi-storey office that had to be paid for; and they reduced turnover by their self-imposed limitated releases, while the managing directors began jetting to their branches in Great Britain and the USA.
It was clear to everyone involved that this could not work. The limitation was stopped fast enough, but moving to a smaller office came too late. Very few people know what really happened back then.
Pascal FEOS (Resistance D.) said at this time: “I would love to know more. Of course we did not get settlements of accounts anymore.” Ramon Zenker (Hardfloor) comments: “At the end new people answered the phone whenever I called Harthouse. Cash is what I never got. Luckily enough we had a clause in our contract that entitled us to call in money in case of belated payment. Thereby we were some of the last people who got any money at all.”
Sven Väth, when asked about his bailing out, mentioned conflicts of interest between his partners and himself as well as serious doubts about the discrepancies between his initial dreams, which had given him strength, and the sad reality of the whole enterprise.
At the beginning of 1998 UCMG (Under Cover Music Group) took over the rights to use the brand name of the label as well as the trademark “Harthouse”. For UCMG Germany the essential point of this deal was the assurance to return the artists / authors the right of use of their titles. UCMG Germany has therefore initially released a “Retrospective Box” series, a collection of Harthouse’s most successful releases. Ramon Zenker (Hardfloor) said: “This compilation is a good opportunity for all artists to earn a few Marks with their repertoire and thus to compensate a little bit for the damage caused by Harthouse”.
After these first compilations Harthouse at UCMG Germany started a new series of single releases as well as some album and promotion releases. A&R of the new Harthouse was Oliver Bondzio. The design of the releases was changed from the minimalistic black sleeves with the blue Harthouse logo to white sleeves with a grey logo. The release list was kept short. In the years from 1998 to 2003, when Harthouse existed under UCMG, the label released only 9 singles, a few albums and, what was new at Harthouse, a few DJ mix CDs by various DJs like Oliver Bondzio, Frank Lorber and Plank. There also appeared one foreign release by Hardfloor under Harthouse UK, by the English UCMG United Kingdom company.
In 2001 Harthouse started to re-release some of Hardfloor‘s old albums (“TB Resuscitation Remastered” and “Respected Remastered“) which had appeared under Eye Q Records in the early 90s. These re-releases sold very well, also the single releases became quite successful.
In 2004 daredo media from Mannheim took over the rights to the Harthouse brand (now known as “Harthouse Mannheim“). A different release strategy than that of UCMG Germany was adopted, with a new design (based on the old Harthouse style) and high quality releases by both established as well as with at that time still relatively unknown artists such as Zoo Brazil, Gui Boratto, Hardfloor, Der Dritte Raum, Boris Brejcha, Ken Ishii, Joey Beltram, Joel Mull, Jesper Dahlbäck, Alexi Delano – an appropriate follow-up to the old Harthouse sound and myth.
The next big change came at the end of 2017. The company UCM.ONE from Berlin took over the label Harthouse and all rights from daredo media. The first release was the album “Der Dritte Raum – D3R-25” with new remixes of well-known titles, followed by a new album which was released in autumn 2018. With these new releases Harthouse started its fourth chapter – now in the German capital. While in the 90s the Frankfurt sound and therefore also its flagship Harthouse was still the antithesis of the (West-) Berlin techno scene around Westbam, Dr. Motte and DJ Dick, now the label has arrived in Berlin and with “Der Dritte Raum” also releases an act that is now based in Berlin and which was already one of the most famous and successful artists on the label in the Frankfurt time.