Coretex Records has been the heart and soul of Berlin’s hardcore punk scene ever since its inception in 1988 with the store supporting both local bands and bands from overseas from the off. The store stocks a multitude of amazing records and merch both instore and online and is a must visit for any fan of hardcore and punk. While on a trip to Berlin, In Effect’s Gavin Brown made it a must stop off and had the pleasure of catching up with David Strempel from Coretex at the store to talk about how it all began, the history of Coretex, celebrating its 35th anniversary and what the future holds for undoubtedly one of the best record shops in the world. Interview conducted March, 2023. Lead graphic by: Paul Turano
IE: Coretex is celebrating its 35th year as a record store this year. Can you tell us a bit about the store and how it began for you?
David: Yes, first of all, when it first opened in 1988, I was a customer, I was a punk kid, but living in a different district, so trying to make it there was quite a trip. The scene was different back then, you had to prove yourself and as a kid back then, I didn't know anybody and the scene was much tougher, but even back then I felt that you would be welcome. I realized that in the scene, it was something so precious. I remember I tried to buy a Suicidal Tendencies record, but it wasn't available. Maybe it wasn't available for me, because they only had a few copies, but after showing up again and again and again, the guy behind the counter said why don't you just bring me a tape, and I will record it for you and so I got the record and then it took them time to get familiar with your face, then you got more records and it was like getting a golden star, and that felt pretty good! So I was a customer long before I even thought that this could be my work, because music was just like a hobby. I was in bands and I played drums, I was around with straight edge bands. My actual work was for MAD Tour Booking back then, and when Coretex the way we know it now, was formed in 96 that's when I came in the game with my partners. MAD Tour Booking had another record shop that was in Berlin, they were called Fun Records. We all had this idea. Let’s do one good thing together instead of competing and hating each other. We said that there should be one thing that unites the scene and represents the scene in such a big city like Berlin. Of course it didn't work, too many people involved in one kind of thing. No one from the originators are still part of the team. It's just me and my two partners. We’re still friends and we hang out every now and then, but the people that originally started, they had different ideas, some couldn't take the burden of being an independent business and pay the bills, taxes and wages, and they were just better off getting a nine to five job. Others had different visions and took their musical ideas to another level. Man back then, Berlin had so much to offer. One of the originators started to organize huge dance parties and later on opened his own club that was or is still to date one of the most hyped places in the city. Before I joined the store, I had a record label (Mad Mob Records and Bad Dog Records) and when you join a company you bring money, knowledge or product to the table. Having the label, I brought knowledge and records and that was it. From that point on, we just kept inventing ourselves and reinventing ourselves without looking at other people or other stores, but really, at an early stage, we learned that it makes no sense to look at somebody else's business because you never know what they recoup. Maybe they have rich parents, maybe they won the lottery, maybe they go out of business the next day, we started to realize we have to make our own calculation for the pricings, and to me, obviously, we did something the correct way, because 35 years later, we're still here, and it's been very tough. Two years with the global pandemic, nobody has ever been through something like this. I mean, obviously, there's still a demand for an independent record shop that tries to bring the best of underground music, and something you can’t automatically get through Amazon Prime delivered to your doorstep the very next day.
IE: How has Coretex adapted through the digital age and are there any things you sell in the shop that you wouldn't have imagined when you first started out?
David: Yes. Here are a few things: DVDs, Blu-Rays and all these “new” formats. I mean, I’m a merch guy. I've always loved merch from the punk scene, pins from The Exploited and whatever, so I know the merch game and I understand that it's important for the artist, but I had no vison of the sock game for example, now we are offering The Sex Pistols SOCKS! A brand like Volcom offers a “hip“ pair of socks that are clearly “Never Mind The Bollocks“ inspired as you buy a pair, but one sock is neon yellow the other one is safety pink. They look pretty punk, BUT is that really necessary?! We have sold a Converse Chuck Taylor, The Clash, 40 year anniversary shoe. I think it's okay to have these kinds of things but on the other hand, I think its bollocks, does a band like the Sex Pistols need to make that extra money? Maybe yes, I am not here to judge. I am just asking this myself??!! Nowadays no one even knows anymore who owns the rights to what merch or music. Putin could own the rights to the original Sex Pistols recordings. You never know who signed what contract. But I think that’s a Pandora’s Box, that should never have been opened.
IE: Where did the name Coretex come from?
David: That's always a tricky question because I didn't come up with it. I do come up with a lot of names and slogans for the company now. I do believe I have never really asked who came up with it. Right now I'm thinking about doing a book for the anniversary and I will definitely get to the bottom of this. I believe it's a mix of CORE from hardcore and TEX from textiles, in my imagination, they thought back then that's a smart name. 30 years later, we found out it's not the smartest name, because a few years ago, we were sued by the company Gore-Tex.
IE: How are you celebrating the 35th anniversary?
David: OHHH, another hard one. When we first started to be even in the position to throw a party was for our 25th anniversary, 10 years ago. We had a huge party where we invited Judge and many other great bands for a 2-day festival, “Coretex Fest“, at SO36, a historic punk rock venue (the Dead Kennedys played and we all saw our very best shows there) just down the street from the store. We flew in Judge and it was their very first European appearance, a lot of people from the UK and people from all over Europe and the world came to see the show. The other day was headlined by a local band that is also signed to our label called Troopers, a legendary street punk metal band, I usually try to describe them as a Motörheadish kind of band, with very catchy German lyrics. They sing about life and about drinking, and they have great sing-a-long songs.
The German tongue, everybody loves it so even if you don't like the music, the lyrics are so catchy, but the reality is, that this band cannot be described at all. They are insane. Coretex Fest was a huge success, and then, because we had such tremendous feedback, we just said, okay, let's do this event every year. In 2014, we tried again but we’re not promoters and trying to organize was so much work. We tried to have Murphy’s Law but they had to cancel their EU-Tour and in the end a lot of other tours did not happen and we had to change the line-up the whole time until we ran out of time and in the end it ended up in a disaster. Finally we had to cancel the hardcore day, we had upset customers and it just cost us too much energy, we decided to let Coretex Fest die (for now). We didn't do any celebrations until the 30th birthday, but we could not make up our mind which band to book and it was just too expensive to fly-in an artist for an exclusive set so that plan had to be abandoned. We decided to downscale and bring it back to the roots and that it would be smart to play a gig in the shop. I asked my old band buddies in Charley’s War and it made perfect sense. The show was awesome up to the point where the PA got fried. I had double duty with the shop and I was able to play drums. That was great. My family was there and many friends. To make it even more perfect, as a counterpart, we asked the only other band that existed back then, when we played out but in the former East part of the city, Punishable Act.
IE: A great band, I saw them in Bradford in the UK, supporting Madball back in 1995!
David: Oh, yeah, they are still playing and we're still friends and the singer is a beast. You have the East part and the West part and everybody's united under one flag. Now your question was about the way we might celebrate this year. I do have plans but revealing it would put me under pressure to live up to it. We want to create something similar to MyFest/ Hold Your Ground, when we used to have a May 1st stage right in front of the shop. Gorilla Biscuits played and the Cro-Mags and a ton of other great bands from all over the world, local artists and all.
IE: What do you credit to the longevity of Coretex and how long it has lasted?
David: I think it has lasted so long because like I said earlier, we've managed to reinvent ourselves. We sit in Berlin, a huge tourist city and the capital of Germany and we don’t have much competition out here. The main thing is that we really love what we do. We love music and we bust our butts and we work very, very hard. If you didn’t love it so much, you couldn't do it. This is our life's blood, something we built with our own hands.
IE: Does Coretex act as a hub for the punk and hardcore community in Berlin?
David: Yes, we are definitely a meeting point which was very hard during the pandemic because people could not meet and a lot of people really suffered not being able to just hang out and communicate. This whole district is a melting pot with so many different people and that's what I love. The days when I don't have to work, I love to just chill on the bench in front of the store with people from the neighborhood or talk to complete strangers. I used to travel to New York City and just hang out at Generation Records. Back then we had no idea where we would sleep and we ran into the right people. I remember in 1996, we’d run into Toby Morse from H2O, who remembered us from European shows he recently played (I believe roadie for Sick Of It All) but we could not stay with him, but he made calls to friends to help us out. We ended up at Mike Dijan’s house. We were almost total strangers and he let us crash at his place with his young family. I’ll never forget that. Blessed and thank you Mike D, for giving us a place to stay. Now in return I hope that people meet at our store and help each other out.
IE: What are the places you would recommend for punk and hardcore fans coming to Berlin?
David: There's so much good stuff. There’s a great music scene with tons of live shows, lots of venues and there are NO CURFEWS at the bars. We just teamed up with a local bar that is open 24/7since 1986. The very first time they closed was because they had to during the pandemic. Back then, when the cops showed up to shut them down, they had to call a locksmith because they did not even have a lock on the front door. Aaaannnnddd of course there is a lot of history in the city. Berlin is special, because of the war, because of former West-Berlin. Cold War. The Wall. Spy Exchange. West-Berlin had that status that was ruled by the Allies (next to the Germans), but there was no draft, no army, whoever did not want to go to the army, from the former West-German cities came to Berlin to avoid the draft, that's why it's flooded with creative people, writers, artists, and musicians. People with a free spirit started to create things and make Berlin what it is today.
IE: What have been some of the craziest things that have happened in the store over the years?
David: Too many crazy things! I’m going to have to put them in the book! We’ve had fights with the police and rescuing people from being arrested by hiding them in the store. All those great musicians and artist who stopped by. What was crazy? When the Scorpions called and asked if they could shoot a video in the store and then they liked our Coretex-Beer so much they bought 2 extra cases for the hotel. That was unusual! We are all in the Scorpions video! Every day at Coretex is crazy, in a good way.
IE: What bands would you list as the most important for sales and popularity over the years?
David: Definitely all the New York Hardcore bands because that used to be our focus. But nowadays... there are so many! Too many to mention! Evergreens, Re-Issues, huge German bands, stadium rock bands because they get airplay like Rammstein or Die Ärzte. Die Toten Hosen to name a few … ALL big players in the vinyl game.
IE: What bands have you had come and play in the store and what have been the most memorable appearances? Obviously you mentioned Gorilla Biscuits and Cro-Mags outside!
David: Oh yeah! Anti-Flag, Frank Carter (and the Rattlesnakes, I think he actually played his first ever Berlin show in the shop, that gig was pretty awesome. There’s so many! Frank Turner, he always shows up. Brian Fallon, Brody Dalle.
IE: Who would you love to pay a visit in the future?
David: Do they have to be alive?! Just kidding! There’s a few we would always want to come and see us or perform for us just because they are our heroes. Bands like Madness, Social Distortion, Suicidal Tendencies. These are bands we grew up with and admired them and their style… or new (or newer) acts like Turnstile, Scowl, A Gang Called Speed or Zulu… they are ALL welcome.
IE: What are your hopes for the future for Coretex?
David: That’s simple: We want to continue and do what we love. The store is our lifeline and legacy at the same time. We are your proud dealer. Local record store. A family business or a band of brothers. We will be here for you as long as there is a demand for underground and DIY music and distribution. As long as there are crate diggers out there who appreciate the work we do, we will put everything to the table and continue to be the best alternative record store out there.
IN EFFECT'S GAVIN BROWN WITH CORETEX'S DAVID STREMPEL
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