Oy, tonight was a long, long, long but also very eventful and interesting night, so this may take a while to write up and post. Hopefully the suspense is not killing you.
My daytime activities involved sleeping in, sluggishly writing up my notes from last night, making a run to the food section of Karstadt (more expensive, but at least they take plastic), and wondering why my throat was a bit scratchy [foreshadowing! I’m a master of suspense].
So, by about 23h00 that night, the ever-growing crew of Frenchy ex-pats (and I) started to organize. Fantômette, her GF, her roommate and his buddy were all going to skip pre-partying and head directly to Berghain/Panorama Bar before 1h00 to avoid the line. John (see last night) and I decided to grab a couple of drinks at one of the bars in my neighborhood (Neukölln, the bar on Hobrechtstraße near Pflügelstraße). The headliners at Berghain (Heartthrob, Tony Rohr) were both going on at 4h00, so we decided against starting at Watergate, instead planning to hit Berghain around 1h00 or 1h30.
The bar was pretty empty when we got there, but started filling up as he hung out. At first, we grabbed some folding chairs and sat on the sidewalk outside, along with most of the other patrons. Our quiet conversation was soon marred by an older, dishevelled-looking man wearing a sleeveless t-shirt with a confederate flag on it (yes, the rebel flag in Germany; I don’t quite know what to say about it). From across the street, he was yelling something in heavily slurred German that we couldn’t quite make out, and it wasn’t clear if he was yelling at us on the terrace, the building itself, or to some characters that were not visible to the rest of us.
After a couple of minutes of his yelling (while we bar patrons were doing our best to ignore him), a middle-aged, large man of Mediterranean ancestry (I’m guessing Turkish, considering the neighborhood) came out of the building above the bar and crossed the street menacingly. He started to berate the man in an equally-incomprehensible German, sending the man’s beer crashing on the sidewalk and shouting what seemed to be confrontational questions at him.
The “shouter,” probably sensing that his ranting wasn’t going to protect him from harm, got up and started shuffling away from the larger man, as if beating a retreat in slow-motion. The larger one followed him, and I finally began to understand some of the conversation:
“Tell me you’re not going to come back here! Shout it out loud for everyone to hear! Go on, shout it out!”
I doubt that this command did anything but humiliate further the older man and express the anger of the larger man, but the older one muttered his agreement and continued to shuffle away. The larger man shouted a few more triumphant threats at the other’s back, and then started walking back to his apartment building, where a friend/relative of his had emerged and was waiting for him.
Then, quietly and distantly from beyond the light of the corner store across the street, came that voice again:
The larger man wheeled around on his heels, throwing his hands in the air and saying something in Turkish that seemed to convey, “Heaven help me, what am I to do with this one?” And he sauntered toward the older man, looking both amused and bellicose.
At this point, I was really worried that there was going to be violence, and I had no doubts about who would win this match-up. But instead, the larger man took the older man into the store across the street, out of my direct line of vision. There was an alternation between quiet speech and loud shouting, the hint of sudden gestures in the movement of shadows on the wall, and then the two of them walked back out, the older one holding a fresh beer in his hand. The larger man gave him a cigarette, lit it for him, and then pointed him in a direction away from us.
This was a sort of transaction that will probably take a lot more consideration to really unravel and understand, but I was struck by how the gift of a beer and a cigarette seemed to release both men from the violent relation they had just created. It’s as if the beer and cigarette didn’t just stand in for the broken beer, but also for the humiliation, threats of violence, fear and shouting. I think we all soothed ourselves with the idea that nothing violent came of this incident, but I don’t think this was a happy ending, either.
Berghain, Panorama Bar and The Line of Doom
As we had just bought our second beer, I get a text message from Fanômette: “Huge line at Berghain already. If you can get here quick, you can join us in the line.”
Considering that it was barely 0h30, this was really surprising. Since the headliners were starting at 4h00, I reasoned that there was no point ditching our beers and running to Berghain right now, as the line would be just as rediculous in an hour.
We finished our beers, chatted a bit about my blogging efforts and the joys and sorrows of writing an ethnographic PhD dissertation, and then made our way over to the club. John got a falafel from a Döner stand in front of Ostbahnhof, where a group of young Spaniards were clapping rhythmically and singing Flamenco, as they seem to do spontaneously when they are abroad. We made our way over to Berghain, only to get another text message from Fantômette: “We’re inside.” Damn.
We got into the back of the line, which indeed snaked about ¾ of the way back to the taxi stand (better than two weeks ago, but still ridiculous). It was 1h17, and we wouldn’t make it in the doors until 2h40.
So John and I amused ourselves with idle chatter, reminiscing about our earlier years in the rave/free-party scene, and evaluating those around us for the likelihood of them getting in. As you’ve already gathered if you’ve been reading previous posts, the door policy at Berghain/Panorama Bar is pretty selective, and in a way that doesn’t favour tourists—in both the national and subcultural senses of the term.
At one point, John said, “Looking at the people in line here, I don’t see this as the same crowd that we saw last night at Panorama Bar.” To which I replied, “Yeah, but don’t forget about the bouncers up there. I think you’ll find the crowd inside isn’t quite the same as the crowd that waits in line.”
And so there was a group of about 6 or 7 clubbers with Irish accents, clearly already drunk, carousing with each other and yelling loudly. They were relatively young but not out of the question for Berghain, but that wasn’t likely to help them if they kept on acting like that all the way to the front of the line. Also, the girls were a bit overdressed for the location (open-toed heels, cocktail dresses, necklaces, fancy purses) as were the boys (collared shirts, leather shoes). Add to this the fact that they were loudly yelling things like “Hey Priscilla, do you have any more booze in your purse?” and things weren’t likely to go well for them.
The stakes got even higher as one of the drunker and angrier boys in the group started declaring loudly that, “This better be the best club I’ve ever been to in my life!” over and over. Up until now, I had managed to remain rather detached about their fortunes, but I began to feel bad for him and his crew. Their chances were getting lower as they approached the door.
When we were maybe 10 people from the door, we struck up conversation with a French girl standing behind us, who had been hanging out with a pair of Swedes. She, a resident of Berlin for several years, was explaining to her companions why the group in front of us weren’t likely to make it in. John and I joined in with our own opinions on the matter, as I began to realize that “Guess who’s getting in!” had become our primary form of entertainment during our wait in line. Throughout the entire 1.5-hour wait, we would look at the dejected clubbers coming back from the front of the line, and speculate as to what was responsible for their refusal at the door.
Finally at the front of the line, the group of Irish partygoers were asked how many of them were in the group. Foolishly, they indicated that they were one big group. The bouncer looked them up and down, and then told each one of them to stand on the other side of the door and wait. Although they hadn’t quite been sent away yet, I could see some of them shaking their heads in resignation.
John and I got through, doing our best to nod politely and not utter a word. The “meaner” of the bouncers (skinny, tall, buzzed hair and tiny butt) looked over to the “mean-looking” but generally nicer bouncer (huge, burly, facial tattoos and piercings, leather jacket) and asked him something quietly, and then he looked at the two of us and nodded. I’m not going to speculate about what went on there, but I was very glad to finally get in.
Later that night I ran into the French girl and the two Swedes again, and I asked her if she had seen the Irish group get in. She said no, but she also said that they were still waiting on the other side of the door when she went through. It remains a mystery, but I certainly didn’t see them during the course of the night.
00h00-4h00: Kreon & Lemons
Upon getting in, we checked our jackets, ran to the washroom, got some drinks, and then set about finding the rest of the crew. We found Fantômette and company rather quickly and then set about claiming a good spot on the dancefloor in Panorama Bar.
Things were surprisingly non-packed inside, considering the insane lineup outside. This club can certainly hold thousands of people, but the sparseness of the crowd suggested to me that the bouncers were being especially selective tonight.
Kreon and Lemons’ set was solidly within the Berlin minimal style; it wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t exceptional or memorable in the course of the night. Their sound focused mainly on the addition and subtraction of bass beats, with less interest in the mid- or high-frequency range. Also, I think I was a bit put off by how quickly they alternated between build-ups and breakdowns; there weren’t many plateaus where I could really enjoy the tracks they were playing.
I could be wrong, but I think the last time I had seen Heartthrob was almost 2 years ago in Paris, fall of 2006. His set there as well as at the M_nus afterparty at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (spring 2006) had really impressed me, as did his famous anthem-of-the-summer-of-2006, Baby Kate. Anyway, I was really excited to hear him do another live set.
Since this was a live set rather than a vinyl set (i.e., performed directly from a laptop and/or “gear” like samplers and sequencers), the set was organized less around a succession of tracks and the transitions between them, and more around the introduction and removal of individual elements and layers. If I had been complaining about the rapid-fire succession of build-ups and breakdowns in the previous set, Heartthrob’s set showed the sort of large-scale pacing that I really like. He would introduce a few elements, expand them outwards and fill in the texture, then build to a small climax, pull away, push towards a larger climax, pull away, and so on until, 30 minutes later, everything was at full intensity and the crowd was going crazy.
In a sense, it’s kind of odd that his live sets have that sort of intensity, since many of the tracks that he’s produced recently have been in the more atmospheric, low-intensity vein. Nonetheless, the live set was really great and the 1.5-hour wait to get in finally seemed worth it.
Unfortunately, Heartthrob was scheduled to play at exactly the same time as Tony Rohr, my other favorite headliner for the night, which just seemed unfair. I spent most of my time with Heartthrob (sorry, Tony!), but I did skip down there a couple of times to hear his set, which was the sort of thumping, full-on techno I have come to expect from him.
At some point during the set, a young man with shoulder-length blond hair passed me in the crowd and looked me in the eyes, smiling. He paused and then said “Alles klar?” [“Is everything clear?” or, more idiomatically, “Alright?”] I, not entirely sure what he meant in this context, smiled and agreed, saying “Ja, alles klar.” He smiled as if that was what he wanted to hear, and then he caressed my face and continued pushing through the crowd. Huh.
Adultnapper’s set was a more straight-ahead minimal vinyl set, with a few tracks that hinted at house, and a certain light touch that somehow coexisted with the punchy bass kicks and busy middle-frequency textures. Although I wasn’t in the room for the entire set, I was impressed with what I heard—especially his ability to maintain a high level of intensity throughout nearly the entire set.
At this point, our group started to dissolve as we split into groups and wandered around the club. Fantômette and her GF wandered over to the bar at the Berghain level, where temperatures were a bit lower and the air circulated better (thanks to the triple-high ceilings, no doubt). Fantômette’s roommate and his friend also found themselves hanging around that area, while I was glued to Adultnapper. John decided to go home and take a shower, so that he could come back refreshed for Dinky’s set at 8h30. I was tempted to follow his lead, but I knew that as soon as I got home, I would shut down and go to sleep, thus wasting a perfectly good night.
I wandered around the club for a while, finally exploring the infamous darkrooms of the Berghain level. It was pretty much what I had expected: all the dimly-lit sexual play of any other bar with a darkroom (of which there are many in Berlin), but with a certain intensity and boldness that I think is probably pretty exceptional. I was also surprised to see a few opposite-sex couples getting it on, although they notably kept to the area near the entryway, rather than plunging into the deeper and darker recesses of the rooms.
I’ll be coy and withhold some of the details of my own adventures in that space, but I’ll say that I met a nice man named Marco (not his real name), who asked for my number but (realistically) probably won’t call. Darkrooms rarely generate follow-up dates.
With that little bit of adventuring done, I continued my wanderings around the club spaces, and eventually found myself back in Panorama Bar. I ran into John, who was back again and dancing near the bar area of the room, where there was more space and things weren’t quite so sweaty.
Dinky’s set was, overall, really lovely, although I’ll have to admit that I was sometimes distracted by conversation and several amusing things going on around me. By the later morning, the crowd in the club gets pretty interesting, as people are mostly pretty high and euphoric, their clothes are all messy and their hair is out of place. And then along come the trannies, who always tend to drop in around this time of the morning, looking freshly coiffed and fabulous.
Soon after running into John, I see a girl pass me that looks a LOT like someone I used to see partying in the Chicago techno scene when I first got there. On a hunch, I tapped her shoulder and said, “Hey, are you from Chicago?” A bit confused and surprised, she answered “Yes?” saying it in the form of a question. After a few more questions from each of us, we figured out that we were both partying with the same group of people in Chicago (the Naughty Bad Fun Collective), although she left Chicago for Berlin just as I was getting to know those same people.
Anyway, it turns out that she knows Tony Rohr, so a little while later she introduced me to him, which was great. I had written an academic article on repetition several years ago, where I had used one of Tony Rohr’s tracks, Baile Conmigo as an example. Anyway, it was nice to chat with him for a little while before he was swept away by more admirers.
While I was standing around the bar area, listening to Dinky’s set, I was endlessly amused by this couple of muscleboys standing in front of me, who were nearly engaging in full-on sex on the dancefloor. This certainly isn’t out of the ordinary in the darkrooms, and it wouldn’t have been particularly noticeable in the Berghain area of the club, which remains pretty dark, but the Panorama Bar space has a whole wall of windows that let in light once the sun has come up (despite the massive blinds they’ve installed), and there is usually less overt sexual play in this space.
So I was amused to watch—as crowds of techno-scenesters walked by them—one guy massage his cock to erection through his rather loose Adidas shorts while grinding his butt against his partner’s crotch. Then, he reached into his shorts and started masturbating pretty openly. Then, he turned to face his partner and reached into his jeans and started jerking him off. Then, he reached into the back of his partner’s jeans and (from what I could tell through the fabric) fingered him rather roughly. I made a note to myself not to shake hands with him.
Towards the end of Dinky’s set, I noticed that the garden/patio area had finally opened, so I found John and dragged him outside. The patio area is this lovely courtyard that they’ve constructed, using some of the concrete blocks from the former power plant to create rows of alcoves with cushions for laying out in the sun and napping. There’s also a bar out here, and a DJ booth and dancefloor, which would get going at around noon.
John and I found a spot in a shady alcove for a while, but it didn’t have a good view of the main areea of the patio, so we moved to another alcove and entertained ourselves with people-watching. I discovered that Fantômette and her GF had headed home, but her roommate and his buddy were still around somewhere. After a few minutes, I went inside to fetch them and bring them out.
In the meanwhile, we met a French guy who was rather k-ed out (i.e., ketamine), and insisted on trying to talk to us in really broken English, despite the fact that we were all Francophone. This may have been partially because he was with a British woman, who was continually exchanging friendly insults with him. For a while, as the French dude shucked off his shoes and then disappeared to wander around the garden area, I chatted with the British gal, who was very friendly and had a wonderfully snarky sense of humour.
At around midday, Prosumer finally started his set in the patio. He clearly knew how to tune his set to the occasion, as I found it to be the perfect sunshine/morning-after music. It was minimal-house with a light texture, a somewhat slower tempo so that you can shuffle and wiggle rather than jack and jump, and there was an emphasis on crackling high-end patterns that gave everything a bit of momentum.
There was a dance area near the bar with a sort of perforated cloth covering to break the sunlight a bit. What I didn’t realize was that, hidden in this canopy, there were WATER MISTERS. Yes, that’s right. Just as I was beginning to feel overheated and sapped of energy, a network of hoses and nozzles sprayed down a fine mist of cold water over everybody. And suddenly I was refreshed and felt like I could keep dancing for the rest of the day. If I hadn’t already decided that Berghain/Panorama Bar was the paradise of techno, this certainly clinched it.
I was probably also helped by the discovery of two drinks at this point: Beck’s Green Lemon and Afri. Beck’s Green Lemon is just a bottled version of a Radler (i.e., a shandy, or a mix of beer and soda), with Beck’s beer and some sort of lemonade. It had a lighter taste than full-strength beer, and the tartness of the lemonade made it rather tasty. Afri is this cola-like drink that has a pretty high caffeine content, but isn’t as sweet as coca-cola. Very easy to drink.
By about 14h or 15h, our group started moving, as they had heard that Ricardo Villalobos was going to be spinning at another location (Strandgut) later that afternoon. I really wanted to go, but the contact lens on the left side of my face (i.e., the part still affected by Bell’s Palsy) had been drying out and hurting my eye for a while now, and I didn’t want to risk hurting myself. Also, I was beginning to get a headache, and that scratchy throat I had felt Saturday morning had returned.
I walked with the rest of the group as far as the Warschauer Straße U-Bahn station, and then I parted ways and headed home. By the time I was near home, my contact lenses were driving me crazy and that scratchy throat was clearly turning into a cold. To make things worse, it was the hottest part of the day and the temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius. Gah.
I got a döner kebab from my trusty Guney Grill, sauntered home, took a cold shower and tried to get some sleep.