While techno remains one of the pillars of American dance music — pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson founded the genre during the ‘80s in Detroit — the scene is perhaps one of the most international sounds in the wider electronic spectrum. That’s largely thanks to Time Warp.
Launched in 1994, Time Warp is today one of the most globally recognized events and brands in the international electronic music circuit. The annual event is widely known for its curation-first approach to lineups, which have welcomed legends and luminaries like Adam Beyer, Chris Liebing, Dixon and Nina Kraviz, as well as emerging artists and producers throughout the decades.
As one of the first true global electronic festival brands, Time Warp has played an integral role in the internationalization of techno, with the brand and genre symbiotically expanding to worldwide audiences across the years.
This year, Time Warp celebrates its 25-year anniversary with a series of international events, including a massive festival in the brand’s Mannheim home base this past April and an edition in São Paulo, Brazil, earlier this month. This weekend, the festival returns to NYC (Nov. 22-Nov. 23) for its final run of anniversary shows, which feature a stacked lineup that includes Time Warp friends and regular performers Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos — plus breakout artists Amelie Lens, Peggy Gou, Denis Sulta and many more.
Billboard Dance caught up with Robin Ebinger, co-founder and Head of Marketing of Cosmopop, the company behind Time Warp, to discuss the festival’s ongoing legacy and decades-long evolution from a local German event to a worldwide techno phenomenon.
This weekend Time Warp returns to New York for the first time since 2015, following its U.S. debut in the city in 2014. What is the significance of New York’s techno and electronic scene to Time Warp?
We’ve been to many cities around the globe with the Time Warp brand. Whenever I name these exotic cities or European cities, it never triggers the same reaction as when we said Time Warp New York.
New York has a very strong aura, a strong position, so it makes the event very special. When we did Time Warp for the first time in the U.S., it was for our 20-year anniversary in 2014. Now, coming back for the 25-year anniversary means something special for us as well. We feel quite honored to be able to host Time Warp there, a brand with such a heritage in a city that stands for music and for art and culture. It has such a unique positioning.
Why did it take so long to return?
Whenever we stopped Time Warp somewhere, it was because we experienced trouble with the location. Our first edition abroad was in Prague in 2005. It was quite a success; we had like 4,000 people. It was in an old palace — a very nice, impressive building. But only a few months later, it burned. So the location was done and we couldn’t find a proper substitute.
The same goes for the U.S. We lost the original venue in 2014 and got a substitute venue. In 2015, we had the same situation, and then the alternative venue was not on the market anymore. It was just too risky for us to come back without a proper venue. Also, the energy of our agency was shifted towards other projects. It was a strategic decision to stop it until we found another fitting location to come back to the U.S.
In 2019, Time Warp is celebrating 25 years as an event and brand. How has the brand remained profitable or viable for more than two decades?
First of all, the brand was not profitable in the first 10 years. When we did our 10-year anniversary event in Mannheim, we called it “the big final show,” because we didn’t know if we should keep on losing money or should we stop the whole thing. This only happened later that it became a real business.
I think what is at the core of everything is us — we come from the dance floor, so we are not businessmen with a business idea in mind. We are crazy for electronic music, we come from the dance floor, we always wanted to create a perfect dance floor for our guests. I think this is still the fuel that drives all our businesses… as we come from the dance floor and we believe in what we do, I think we are able to communicate very authentically and to present all the things that we do very authentically. This is what people can feel, what our fans can feel and also what the artists can feel — that we try to deliver the perfect working environment for them. In doing so, they can really unfold and outperform, which then is reflected back on the atmosphere and the crowd. It’s an entire ecosystem.
Time Warp was not profitable in the first 10 years. What happened or what did you do differently after those first 10 years to make the brand profitable?
There are various factors. In Germany, there were some peaks. We had the Love Parade festival. Techno became more fashionable.
Then we had the low-cost carriers — all the flights became more cheap. All of a sudden, there were so many low-cost carriers all around the world. Time Warp has always been international, so we focused on being more international. We did promotion marketing in various countries. There were two or three years when we presented our website in five or six different languages. And the world got smaller with the low-cost carriers, but also with the internet being the main driver to connect people all around the world who were looking for the same sort of talent and music and party.
We kept on doing what we believed. We made use of modern communication means. We kept on working on the atmosphere on the dance floor. We used modern technology to intensify the experience. We kept on being authentic because we believed in what we do. All of this helped to make Time Warp, at some point, profitable.
Has the resurgence of techno in the United States affected Time Warp?
For the last ten to fifteen years, roughly 50 percent of attendees at the Mannheim event have come from abroad. We also do a destination festival in Croatia, which is called Sonus, and we have a strong following from the U.S. there since 2016. I’m not sure whether it is because Time Warp presents this show, whether this helped to bring more people from the U.S., but we saw definitely there’s more interest and attention from people from the U.S. for European festivals.
What does the lineup of Time Warp 25 reflect about the general state or influence of techno on a global scale?
We have on the lineup longtime acquaintances, longtime artists friends, like Richie Hawtin and Sven Väth. We have new talents, who skyrocketed in the last two years, such as Amelie [Lens] or Peggy [Gou]. I think it’s quite a strong proposition for a 25-year show in New York as we bring the Time Warp typical sound and people who stand for Time Warp for more than two decades.
But also, we’re bringing a lot of the new sounds, like Denis Sulta to Peggy Gou to Amelie or Reinier Zonneveld, which people really like here at the moment. It’s quite a nice variety to present electronic music as it should be right now, or techno as it should be right now and also for Time Warp.
How does Time Warp 25 get to Time Warp 50? What are your plans to establish longevity?
In our team, we have a lot of very young people. The key is to stay relevant, not just passionate and believing what you do, but also to be able to understand when something changes and adapt the brand. We don’t just do Time Warp, we also run nightclubs and open-air clubs and open-air festivals. It’s very important to understand the young audience. We have a very talented, motivated young team, which also helps us to stay close to the edge.