Berlin DJ Culture
crowd at Club Maria
photo courtesy of Benjamin Biel
Living in profound noise/dancing into the night
by Erin Rioux
I have found two types of music in the world.
The Type A City is stimulating, shiny, seductive. You arrive and fall in love with it. You vow one day to prove your love to your new home by making your most beautiful works of art fueled by its inspiration. You visit the city's elite galleries and underground clubs. You see art and hear music that makes you think. You begin thinking very deeply about art. You want to make thinking music for smart people. You are smart. You live in a smart city. One day, the city shows you its fast lane. You hop on. You create. Everyone is creating! You show the fruit of your labors to your city, but it is not hungry. It is already full from golden era upon golden era, and a younger generation emulating these periods. Your city doesn't really want you. You're expendable, with an infinite line of people waiting to take your place. They are coming to your city to make their dreams come true. You pack your bags and take your dreams somewhere else, at least for the time being.
The Type B City is a place. It is a place where people live. It doesn't aim to be anything more than this. You arrive and don't know what to look for or why you're here. You need to warm up to it and it needs to warm up to you. The streets are spacious and the people are quiet. They have nothing to prove to you. They are decidedly neutral and having just come from a Type A City, you call attention to yourself with your loud features. The pace is moderate and there is no hurry. Why hurry? The city will always be there. You can leave and come back to it without feeling that you've missed anything. There is less to think about, and this allows you to feel more.
Berlin is a Type B City that runs on what I call 'Feeling Music.' This music shares the qualities of its city and the music and is played in spaces that share the qualities of its city. Form follows function. You can tune in any time and it will always be good. Most importantly, Feeling Music is not Thinking Music. It is not oriented around being smart or funny or clever. It is only designed to feel good. It appeals to our primal side: it makes us move, it induces trance, it builds a sense of oneness with others and it recycles our energy. You dance, you sweat, and you get high from it. Historically, this has been music from non-western traditions, such as rhythmic music from Africa and drone music from India, but it's now the basis of Berlin's electronic music experience. This is how I experienced it in 2011:
TAPE CLUB (DANCING INTO THE LIGHT)
bar view of the Tape Club
Photo courtesy of Uli Huthmann & Jonathan Margulies
I moved to Berlin for a four-month stay in February. I could speak the language and had spent some time in the country a few years earlier so I felt very naively prepared for whatever it was I was getting myself into. I spent my first day traversing the city by foot in the bitter cold, wondering where all the people were, why it was so quiet, and whether or not I believed in ghosts. I realized that I wasn't in New York City anymore, and that no one in Berlin has the prerogative to hustle through the cold. Only the ghosts. On my first weekend, I went out with some old and new friends to see where all the people were holing up for the winter. We thought we'd try a danceclub so we took the U-Bahn (subway) to Hauptbanhof and came to Tape Club, an unmarked warehouse in a strip of unmarked warehouses. We arrived at 1:00 AM and at this point it had been one hour since we took our hits of molly at the apartment. Our legs are floaty, our stomachs all butterflies, and we glide in. We check our coats in the venue's daytime gallery space and make our way to the first floor filled with glowing purple, red, and golden lights. A DJ is spinning '90's American Hip-Hop and down-tempo dance music, while the 2nd floor is dedicated to mid-tempo minimal techno. One of us buys a bottle of water and we pass it around. The music spirals around us, repeating, building momentum. It's 2:00 AM and I lose awareness of my dancing. I'm on auto-pilot and the music seems to be coming from inside my body now. I try to relate this to seeing a live show in New York and can't. I can think back to similar experiences in Detroit warehouse parties but something about this is different. I look around at the faces in the room. Eyes closed. Smiles. Peoplesí souls dancing out of their bodies. No one's here to see this specific DJ. His name isn't listed on the bill. They trust the club and DJ seems thrilled to be anonymously giving everyone a beautiful experience. By 5:00 AM, my group of friends from different phases of life has bonded, refilling and passing the water bottle. We merge into one dancing creature and by 9:00 AM, we walk to the U-Bahn into the rising sun.
MAUERPARK (LIVING IN PROFOUND NOISE)
The months of February and March were conditioning us to the Berlin method of partying. We mastered the method of the disco-nap - sleeping at midnight and waking up to go out at 3:00 AM. The Berliners don't start partying until then. You keep this up twice a week and you start to wonder how the Germans do it. Mainstream culture stays up all night Friday and Saturday, sometimes Sunday. The idea is work hard, party hard. But in the middle of the winter, the fun starts to wear you down. You just can't handle the good times anymore. Exhaustion kicks in and you become a zombie with or without drugs, drifting from club to club. Addicted to the dancing high. Absolutely hooked. Eventually, you adapt and the sun comes out, moving the parties outdoors.
In the last week of March, Spring came to Berlin. The apparent population tripled with trains, streets, and bike lanes now filled with smiling faces. I hop on the U-Bahn to Prenzlauer Berg and walk to Mauerpark for its famous flea market. I walk up the hill to where the Wall once ran and see an ocean of people. DJ's are set up with their portable rigs, spinning vinyl for huge crowds. The DJ's come and go. Everyday people who love music and care about it enough to share it. I walk to the center of the park and can hear the sound of 12 different DJ's bleeding into each other. A profound noise I will never forget.
MARIA CLUB (WHERE PRETENSION GOES TO DIE)
Listen to a mix of the artists at the Polyhymnia-Festival at Club Maria
A friend and I struggle to find another unmarked warehouse space called Maria to see Polyhymnia, a two-day festival showcasing contemporary Krautrock. We make friends with Germans on our search for the venue and eventually arrive to a see a performance art trio. One girl dancing, obscured in a black and white geometric garment, one dude on a sampler, and another on a bass. The space is sleek and clean, impeccably designed. We're offered a joint from a stranger and see the next band, a sort of modern Kraftwerk playing drum pads, synths, and vocoders, standing before lo-fi digital-content projections. This wouldn't be taken seriously in the States today. It's not cool. It's pure sincerity. Repeating over and over again. I smile.
GÖRLITZER PARK (EVERYTHING TO FEEL)
May Day in Berlin is the biggest city-wide day-long party of the year, centered in Kreuzberg. Friends and I bike through the neighborhood, passing Turkish food stand upon food stand, DJ upon DJ. If there is a square meter of sidewalk not consumed the crowd, then it's being filled by someone selling Doner Kebab or someone blasting minimal techno. I bike past Schlesisches Tor and find that I'm being passed by a DJ bike. A biker with a stereo unit mounted about his rear wheel. We arrive at Görlitzer Park to sprawl out in the sun and find three tangential parties. People are climbing onto rooftops, dancing their faces off. Freaks. Old Women. Kids. Parents with their babies strapped in papooses. Lovers. Ravers. Sunbathers. Tourists. We make moves to the dancefloor and walk into a huge pillow fight erupting with pink, blue, and yellow flowers. On to the next DJ. Run through the playground. Go down the slide.
Fall into a puddle of people feeling music, loving life.
Nothing to think about. Everything to feel.
Special thanks to D. Strauss for his help with the photos.
Also see the websites for Club Maria (which is now called Club ADS) and Tape Club
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