Alum explores Berlin's impact on club culture
16 March 2022
DJ-ing for Hollywood A-lister Robert DeNiro at a beach party in Cannes, presenting a show on Hoxton Radio, hosting a regular TV slot for London Live, and working as head of music for Secret Cinema are just some of the amazing career opportunities former University of East London student Paul Hanford has enjoyed.
Now the 48-year-old, who studied BA (Hons) Music Culture: Theory and Production, has added author to the list of highs with the release of his first book, Coming to Berlin, published by Velocity Press, and released next month (April).
Based on his experiences of living and working in Berlin, the book explores the influence the German capital has had - and continues to have - on electronic music and club culture.
"I wanted to write a book that takes a serious look at electronic music from a no borders, no hierarchy point of view, rooted in human experience. So, Berlin itself was the biggest influence," explained Paul.
"Also, I was living as a migrant in Germany and so many people I know in electronic music communities also have an international background. Berlin is often talked about as a cultural capital, particularly for electronic music, as well as a city with a deep sense of personal freedom. I wanted to understand why I, and so many others, have made it their home.
"The city itself has such a monumental history and I wanted to write about aspects of this history through the experiences of international settlers. I noticed too that the communities making progressive changes in electronic music, such as queer and femme-centred collectives, and people who have experienced being refugees, aren't often reflected in the mainstream narrative."
The UEL alumni moved to Berlin in 2018, where he set up the Lost and Sound podcast with a grant from the Arts Council of England. It still runs weekly. He also lectured at BIMM Institute Berlin, teaching music culture.
Previously, he had enjoyed successes as a music journalist, music curator for events and companies, including Tate Modern, Somerset House and the V&A, international DJ, radio presenter and TV music expert.
The idea of writing the book started as soon as Paul settled in Berlin but for ages, he said, he didn't feel in a position to assume any kind of knowledge. "Total imposter syndrome," he laughed.
Once settled on the idea, Paul wrote the book over six months, interviewing players in the Berlin scene and visiting the sites, clubs and venues that position the German city as one of the world's capitals of culture.
"I based all the research on first-hand accounts. It was very important to what I wanted to communicate - to write about music culture from a human perspective," he said.
"As a cultural participant in Berlin, a lot of the research happened in a very organic way - it's part of the fabric of the city I live in, and knowledge is often shared in the energy of a city. It's the stuff we all know and feel if we live somewhere.
"Some stuff I knew I wanted to cover before I really started, because I already felt certain particular knowledges weren't too well known, and other subjects developed through the research."
Although graduating from the University more than 10 years ago, Paul still credits UEL for giving him the grounding and the confidence to pursue his career in the music industry, and is thankful for the advice he received from his course lecturers.
"This may sound a bit hyperbolic but it's genuinely true. Prior to UEL, I didn't know anything that connected the dots musically to cultural history. This was a major epiphany for me. What I learnt from my lecturers - Helen Reddington, Tim Lawrence, Jeremy Gilbert and Steve Goodman - opened my mind to a way of thinking about music that has informed me since.
"There was lots of practical advice that gave me a push to go out in the world and get music-based jobs. Straight after finishing the course, I used this practical knowledge to start getting journalism jobs, music event jobs, in and around east London.”
He added: "If it wasn't for UEL, the cultural insight it gave me, I wouldn't have taught cultural theory, made my podcast… or written this book."
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