vendredi, juillet 11, 2008

Awkwardness, intimacy and the charm offensive

So, I did some relatively interesting things during the day (like go back to the Türkischer Markt and buy delicious stuff), but my night out at Watergate is what I really need to write down, so here’s my night.

Watergate: Kiki’s Birthday

I headed out from my place around 00h30, aware that I was probably still too early. I took the U-Bahn instead of a taxi, which made the trip longer (the trains come less frequently after midnight), so that I was in line around 1h15 or so. I was still pretty early, but there was a sizeable line at the door of the club, in the shadow of the Oberbaumbrücke, so I was doing pretty well.

As I got into line, a clot of 5 young English blokes formed behind me, dressed in collared shirts and leather shoes, joking loudly with each other in English and otherwise looking pretty normative. In other words, they were radiating “non-scenester / tourist” vibes.

This could be a problem for them, as Watergate—along with Panorama Bar / Berghain—has a New York-style door policy, where the bouncers give you a once-over and then tell you whether you can enter. While Panorama Bar / Berghain is certainly the most restrictive (and infamous) for this, Watergate and a few other clubs in Berlin do the same. Many Paris clubs do this as well, but whereas in Paris you should be dressed in mid-range prêt-à-porter fashion (collared shirt, no sneakers) and bring girls with you, in Berlin you should have punk-inspired hair, some conspicuous piercings or tattoos, some sort of printed t-shirt or super-low v-neck shirt, sneakers, and you should look plausibly queer (and/or bring girls with you). Anyway, these boys were dressed in a more London-Paris fashion (designed, I might add, to keep out minority partygoers in both cities), and they were pretty far from the Berlin techno-scenester fashion (designed to keep out a different kind of outsider: tourists / suburbanites). To make matters worse, they were a large group of young men; in any European city, nothing limits your entry into a club like showing up looking like a stag party.

So there I was, feeling mildly superior in my ability to blend in and look like a scenester (and, let’s face it, I’m certainly a techno-scenester), when I get a tap on the shoulder:

Bloke: Entschuldigung?

Luis: (reluctantly) Ja?

B: [something unintelligible in broken German]

L: Wie, bitte? (Pardon me?)

B: [the same thing, and no clearer]

Now, if I had been able to understand his mangled German, I would’ve answered in the most authentic-sounding German I could muster and then leave it at that, as I did not want the bouncer to think that I was with these guys. There’s a real possibility that they won’t get in, and I was imagining their uncoolness as something contagious. However, I didn’t have a clue what this guy was trying to say, so I had to “come out” as an Anglophone.

L: Try that again in English.

B: Oh, how much does it cost to get in?

L: I’m not sure, but it’s usually around 10 Euros.

And with this, trying as best as possible make it clear to everyone looking (especially the bouncer nearby) that I was merely being informative but would never even imagine being socially burdened with this lot, I turned back around and busied myself conspicuously with deleting the old photos on my camera. The Brit-Boy spokesman, however, was having none of it.

B: So, are you from the States, then?

L: Nah, I’m actually Canadian

B: Ah, same thing for us.

L: Well…that’s not something you’ll want to say to a Canadian.

B: Right, sorry. We’re Brits, so we don’t know any better. Do you speak French, then?

L: Yup, I’m from the Anglophone part of Canada, but I learned French in school.

B: And German, too?

L: A bit. Enough to get by.

Another Brit Boy: [joining in] That’s the problem with England, we don’t do enough languages in school.


As they inquired about me, my sense of sociability and politeness kicked in, and I found myself asking about them and, back and forth, we got to know each other. And so, relentlessly affable in the face of my forceful disinterest, this boy and his mates made me like them, know them and eventually care about them.

So, when they raised the question of how likely they were to get into the club, I began to feel protective and responsible for them. I told them that I had never had any trouble getting in (which is true, but misleading considering how different we were), but that they should avoid speaking English loudly while waiting in line, present themselves as two smaller groups, and (for the next night, when they were going to try Berghain) look a little less straight, so to speak. If I had been in Paris, I could’ve mustered a believable local accent and told the bouncer that the boys were with me, but I didn’t think that my weak German was going to help them at this point.

When we got near the front of the line, the bouncer made to let the next group of people enter the box office / security point. Having read the situation better than I had expected, the bouncer sent me in with the people in front of me, while keeping the boys back for the next group. As I went in, I looked over my shoulder and gave them a half-encouraging / half-apologetic wave, hoping that the signal would encourage the bouncer to let them in.

After passing through and checking my jacket at the coat-check, I walked straight back up to the entryway and started looking for the group of boys. And so it was that these young British blokes, whom minutes earlier I had been studiously ignoring while enjoying a certain smug Schadenfreude at their failure to step out of themselves and be eloquent and smooth in the techno scene, made me spend the rest of the night and morning scanning the room for evidence of their successful entry. Alas, I don’t think they ever made it.

If I see them at Berghain, I’ll have to apologize for not being the intrepid guide they thought I was.

12:00-3:30: Main Floor, Phage; Waterfloor, JonJon & Chopstick

On the way in, I saw a huge sign in English right over the security checkpoint, saying “No cameras! Respect people’s privacy.” Shit. Although Berghain / Panorama Bar has had this restriction for years (mostly because it is a rather libertine queer bar where people often also have sex), I had been able to take a camera into Watergate the last time I had been here. Apparently, it seems, other Berlin venues are now following Berghain’s lead. The security guy saw my camera, but let me keep it, provided that I didn’t use it while in the club. After giving him all my assurances possible, wandered inside.

About half an hour later, I saw a group of people take pictures of each other on the dancefloor. Nobody stopped them and nobody seemed bothered. As the night progressed, the camera ban seemed to be entirely forgotten, as people were taking photos of each other all over the place. Although I was tempted to take out my camera, I really couldn’t in good conscience. As my dissertation supervisor said recently, “reasonable expectations of privacy” is the magic phrase for fieldwork ethics, and so a prominently posted camera ban using the language of privacy made photos out of the question for me. Ironically, if I wasn’t “on the clock” doing research, I would’ve snuck out my camera and taken pictures.

I walked around both of the floors of the club and the outdoor deck/dock on the river Spree (you can see photos from my previous visits here and here) and found that the music on both floors were almost interchangeable. Thankfully, it was very good “classic Berlin” minimal techno on both floors, but I was amused at how generic this style has gotten here. Although I didn’t hear any record played twice the entire night, the style was really continuous.

I eventually decided I liked the sound of Jonjon and Chopstick better, as there was a greater emphasis on the sort of complex, crackling high-end sounds that I so like in my microhouse / minimal techno. Oh, and as you might’ve guessed, one of the men in the DJ duo was Asian; how unexpected! If I’m ever in a bi-racial DJ duo, I’m going to be called “Fajita,” or maybe “Castanets.”

At one point, while taking a break from the heat on the outdoor deck, a girl standing near me turned to me and started to ask a question. I had overheard her speaking English, and her attempt to address me in German was causing her to wince as if she were passing a kidney stone, so I jumped in with English. As it turns out, she was looking for a lighter, so I helped her ask a guy nearby for a lighter.

Her initial relief at having spoken to another Anglophone turned to curiosity, as she asked me where I was from and how I came to be in Berlin. She was originally from Detroit, so we talked a bit about the Detroit-Toronto corridor, and then she introduced me to her friends, who were a multi-national group of business students like herself. In typical North-American fashion, throughout the entire conversation she would touch my arm or my elbow or put her hands on my shoulder to make a point; in the don’t-touch-me world of Continental Europe, this sort of casual contact is something I’m going to miss.

After a short but enthusiastic conversation, she invited me to go back into the club with her friends to buy a drink and keep talking. While we were waiting for drinks at the bar, one of the boys she was with (who I think was trying to pick her up) said something to her, she nodded, and the two of them walked off. Although I did see her in the bar from time to time, we never really talked again.

When I sometimes speak about intimacy across loose or slackened social bonds, this is the sort of thing I’m thinking about. Not only do environments like these clubs create an extraordinary acceleration of intimate encounters—an intensification of warmth that (sometimes) has total strangers caring about and for each other in a matter of minutes—but they also slacken the responsibilities of intimate bonds: you can bond with the girls waiting for the bathroom and then never see them again; you can tell your life story to a stranger on the deck and then drift away from them; you can flirt with someone on the dancefloor and never ask their name; you can give and receive gifts of cigarettes, drinks, drugs and affection with people you don’t know. Ultimately, these sorts of intimate-public spaces are ones where “I know you” isn’t necessarily the prerequisite for “Let’s be close.”

3:30-4:30: Danton Eeprom live (Main Floor)

I headed back upstairs to catch the work of Danton Eeprom, who had blown us all away at Mutek in Montréal about a month ago. His live set here was a lot less exciting, I have to say, and I wasn’t nearly as impressed. He still had that same epic, maximalist sound that I had heard at mutek, but here he made much too much use of long, sustained sounds. That is, he used a lot of the “analog”-style sound-washes so popular in psychedelic rock and trance (think rushing noises, swooping white noise, or anything that goes “swoosh!”).

So, I hung out for a while to see if the sound would change, and then I wandered around the club for the rest of his set, waiting for Kiki’s (birthday) set.

4:30-6:00: Kiki (Main Floor)

Although certainly a great set, Kiki’s set was also pretty indistinguishable from the minimal sets going on earlier in the night. The only difference, really, was that he was playing at a higher intensity. The bass was turned way up, he spent less time between “peak” points in the music, and the tracks he was selecting were generally heavier in texture. Still, the set was great and a lot of fun to dance to. Things got really hot in the main room by this time, but the sun was already up and shining through on the Water Floor, so I sat down for a while and had a couple of beers, and then threw myself back on the dancefloor.

6:00 - ???: Siopis (Main Floor)

This guy’s set continued in the minmal techno vein, but he played a lot of tracks that seemed rather Detroit-influenced, including a number of them that had spoken/rap lyrics usually by a man with an African-American accent. The cant of the voice always sounded like it had been lifted from a booty-house / ghettotech track, but with the Berlin “minimale” treatment.

Anyway, as interesting as his style was, I began to get really tired by about 7h00 and started making my way back to my place. The ride home on the U-Bahn was slow but a welcome rest, before I dragged myself back to my place, washed the rave grime off me, and fell into bed.

3 commentaires:

Travis a dit…

Sounds like a really interesting night. The observations about intimacy and the microdynamics of sociality in club spaces, in queues, and other places are quite nicely sketched. My favorite phrase, though, describes one of the blokes: "relentlessly affable in the face of my forceful disinterest." It had me laughing out loud...

LMGM a dit…

Ha! Thanks Travis. I was also pretty happy with that phrasing as well, because I wanted to underline that there was a certain amount of force behind what appeared to be a friendly exchange...but it wasn't necessarily a violent force. Being coerced into liking someone is not a scene of force that we have a good vocabulary for.

Kristy a dit…

FAJITA!! I'm dying over here. Coffee out the nose, the whole bit. You absolutely kill me. And I DO know you my lovely Fajita - can we still be close?? Poor yuppie Brit boys... You've totally worked up my sympathy for them. Personally, my favorite part of this post was your imaginary ethical line between taking photos for work, and taking them for personal use. This could be applied to so many things... For instance: Not ok to club baby seals for fur / ok to do it for sport. Etc.