vendredi, juillet 18, 2008

More Awkwardness, Tape Club, and Tresor Club

Considering that I had a (relatively) late night, getting to bed around 5h00, I was up and perky by a rather early noon. I spent the first few hours of my day running some laundry and getting some blogging / writing done. For a little while, I finally got started on revising my proposal (the final blockade to having official ABD status), which went well until I hit a writing block.

At this point it was sometime in the later afternoon, so I headed out to run some errands while my brain tried to work around the writing block. I picked up some Coke Zero (it tastes better here, I swear!) and some bleach and was halfway home before I realized that I needed milk, too. Shit. Anyway, I kept walking.

As I got to the door of my building and started pulling out my keys, I noticed that a pair of footsteps behind me had fallen silent when I got to my door. I turned around to see a man in his mid-twenties, rather lean, with mid-length messy hair, stubble, a yellow t-shirt tucked into track pants, and a set of keys on a lanyard around his neck. He was looking directly at me and smiling, so I smiled back. As I made to say hello, he launched into a short phrase in the form of a question, but it was too fast and too under-enunciated for me to quite get it. I told him that I didn’t speak much German, and he brought his hands together excitedly and said in English “Crash!”

Ah, yes, there had been a clot of emergency vehicles on Hermannplatz a moment ago, and I guess that’s what that was. I nodded in recognition and then asked him in German whether he had seen it himself. He said no, and then launched into another excited spiel that I could only presume was tied to the accident somehow. His speech was really fast and pressured, and it wasn’t helped by a slight stutter that kept returning. At this point, I slipped into “nod and smile” mode, trying my best to appear agreeable and asking him to repeat himself when he seemed to be asking me a question.

I was beginning to suspect that this man was a bit developmentally delayed or something, especially given the glee with which he talked about the car crash and rubbed his hands together. At some point, I gathered that we were now talking about either the vice-president or the “white president.” This seemed like a good point to extract myself from the conversation, so I waited until a pause in his speech and then said something along the lines of, “OK, great! I better go now,” and ducked inside. I felt bad, since he seemed to be eager for social contact and just as eager to talk about the car crash, but I couldn’t follow his speech enough to even provide him that pleasure.

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful. I grabbed some sushi at a Vietnamese restaurant that had recently opened on our street. They had a 50% promotional discount on all sushi for the opening, so the meal was certainly pretty good value. It was what the French would call “correcte”: the sushi was edible, tasty within reasonable expectations, but nothing to write home about (although I guess I’m doing that right now).

Party Mission One: Tape Club

Fantômette had a couple places on a guestlist at a bar called Tape to see a DJ named Quarion; he was spinning the opening set at midnight, so we headed out rather early. I met with her and her girlfriend (who was joining her for a week or so in Berlin), and we all headed off. Tape is rather far away from the usual neighborhood for clubs in Kreuzberg / Friedrichshain; it’s a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station), which is just a little north-west of the Brandenburg Gate. We were able to take the S-Bahn all the way to the Hauptbahnhof, but as we got out to walk, we realized that it was pouring rain. We waited for a little while for the rain to pass, but it wasn’t going anywhere. We then tried getting a cab, but all the cabs said it was too close to be worth the fare. Finally, we waited for the rain to let up a bit and then struck out on our own. Two of us didn’t have hats (including me) so we were pretty miserable by the time we got to the (not so close) club.

After a bit of confusion at the door, switching between German, English and French, two of us got in for free and we shared the cost of the third person. We grabbed some drinks and then wandered around the bar. The club is set up in what is clearly a storehouse, with the usual raised loading dock along one front of the building and several delivery doors. The club itself takes only what appeared to be one section of the building, including two floors. The setup inside, nonetheless, is rather interesting.

You go down a black hallway for maybe 20 meters, and then turn into a doorway on the right, which leads you to a set of stairs. There’s actually an unmarked door just to the side of the stairs, which serves as a short-cut to the dancefloor, but we missed it. The stairs lead up and to the right, into a lounge / loft area, with a bar and some seating and a DJ spinning downtempo hip-hop. If you continue through to the other side of the room, you discover another, wider set of stairs leading down and to the right, which leads you into the main room of the club. There’s a small but adequate dancefloor, encircled by a set of rails, and then a band of seating along the walls of the club. (I should really sketch the interior of the place…) The décor was pretty minimal, involving black walls with a set of 5 or 6 horizontal stripes, although it was accented by a light projection of a cassette tape in line-drawing format. All of this seemed to make the main room feel like a sort of 80s roller-rink, which I liked.

Quarion’s set was a bit low-intensity and generically minimal techno, which is sort of to be expected from an opening DJ set, so we hung out for a little while and Fantô said hi to the DJ. The club showed no signs of getting any more full than it already was, so we decided to hit another club. None of us had been to the newly re-opened Tresor club, so we decided to go there.

Party Mission Two: Tresor

We grabbed a taxi from Tape to Tresor, since it was a long way off and the S-Bahn was running on the late-night schedule. The taxi driver seemed to determined to take as many small side-streets as possible, so within a couple of minutes, I had totally lost my sense of direction, which was a rare moment for me. Every once in a while, the Fernseh’turm at Alexanderplatz would appear over the horizon and I would get a better idea of where we were. I was pretty sure that he was taking the scenic route to get there—who needs to cut through Gendarmenmarkt to get to Kreuzberg?—but none of us in the cab were knowledgeable enough about the city streets to argue.

A while later, we finally spill out of the cab and into Tresor. But wait; there’s a line. As we walk through the entryway into the parking lot of this re-purposed power plant (yes, just like Berghain), we discover that in fact there’s a long, fat line that runs the length of the front face of the building.

Since the rain had (mostly) stopped at this point, we grumbled a bit and then got in line. The line moved in fits and starts, which made us wonder whether large groups of people ahead of us were getting fed up and leaving, or whether the bouncers were deliberately keeping the line long for “PR” purposes. Either way, it took us nearly an hour to get to the front.

While we were waiting in line, Fantô commented on the makeup of the people in line, saying that the crowd here looked a bit more “basique.” At first I thought she means something like “mainstream” or “touristy,” which made sense, since the crowd in line was filled with mostly-hetero-looking twenty-somethings and teens (rather than the variously-queer thirty-somethings of Berghain / Panorama Bar).

A little while later, a small group of younger folks emerged from the head of the line, clearly angry about being either turned away at the door or thrown out of the club. One of the men in the group was actually having something of a rage attack, alternating between a stream of curses and inarticulate screams while sometimes wheeling around to yell at the club. One of the girls in the group, presumably “with” him, would repeatedly catch his arm and drag him further from the club, but his exit was a long one. Things got heated as one of his moments of rage went in the general direction of another group of (older, tougher-looking) men who had been sitting on the grass and drinking. There was some sort of chest-puffing confrontation, with both sides trying to talk the parties down, and eventually they moved on. At this point, Fantô said, “Do you understand now what I mean by basique?” Ah, gotcha. This was more like “basic instincts” or something along those lines, as an euphemism for “testostorone saturation.”

Alas, the front of the line was where our paths separated. Fantô’s GF didn’t have a piece of ID with her, and (for the first time I’ve seen in Berlin), they were asking for IDs. Despite the fact that she was clearly over 18, they turned her away at the door. I had already passed security, so Fantô and I had a rapid pow-wow at the door, and then I continued into the building while they headed home to regroup.

The contrasts of crowds carried on into the club. While at Berghain the men are a mix of hyper-muscular gay men with their shirts off and thin / effete heterosexual men (generally speaking, of course), the crowd at Tresor included a lot of hyper-muscular straight men with their shirts off and no homos to be seen. I’m willing to believe that I was the only gay creature in the building that night.

Just the club itself, however, was worth the wait and the price of admission. It is indeed a converted power plant from the DDR years, and—if it’s possible to imagine—they’ve done even less than Berghain to refurbish it. All the necessary plumbing and seating is available where it’s needed, although the style is about as unsexy and utilitarian as possible. Otherwise, you’re pretty much wandering through an abandoned power plant, covered with old graffiti tags.

The basement (called the Tresor room), must’ve been used to keep hazardous materials or something, because you had to walk along a 30m underground tunnel, which smelled strongly of moss and had what appeared to be dirt floors. At the other end of the hallway was a long but low-ceilinged room, with cage-like metal grids extending between some of the pillars, as if this had been somewhat high-security at one point. Although the room gave me a nostalgic surge for the warehouse parties of the 90s, the music being played here was a sort of sped-up hard techno that bordered on hardcore / gabber. I hung around a bit to get a feel for the place, but I got sick of the music pretty quickly.

The Batterieraum was on the second floor, in what must’ve been the control room and offices overlooking the generator floors (or, guessing from the name, a room with batteries). Although most of the room had been turned into a long dancefloor and a longer bar, one window remained that gave a view onto the crumbling ruins of the main floor of the power station. That view, in itself, was a sight to behold. The music here, mostly played by the headliner Pan-Pot was exactly what you’d expect to hear at a club associated with the grand old techno label of Tresor. Their sound was smack in the middle of Detroit Techno, although the emphasis on machine-like, un-syncopated, totally straight rhythms sometimes made it feel like hard trance. Again, not my style, but I could tough it out for a few hours.

There was apparently a third room on another level, called the +4 bar, which gave a view over the remains of the factory, but I never got to check it out. I stayed in the club until about 5h00, waiting for the next DJ, Luke, to come on. His set was a bit closer to the kind of minimal I tend to like, but by then I was out of energy and tired, so I headed home.

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