Considering that I came home around 11h00 this morning, you can imagine that I slept in pretty hard. I sort of came to around 17h00 and made myself breakfast, and then answered some emails and puttered around a bit. By about 18h00 I realized that I had a ticket to the Primary Colours Festival, and that it had started at 15h00. Mind you, it was slated to go until early the next morning, but there was a friend of the Frenchy crew, a DJ called Quarion who was supposed to be spinning about now.
I had actually pondered selling my ticket and going directly to Berghain, since Modeselektor was doing a live set at around 4h00 and that lovely Irish lad from last night said he would be there. On the other hand, Guillaume Coutu-Dumont was doing a live set at the same time at the Primary Colours Festival and I didn’t want to miss his set, after the stellar performance he put on with Ernesto Ferreyra as Chic Miniature at mutek last month. In the end, some of my Frenchy friends gave me a nudge of motivation and I started getting ready to head over to the festival. The plan, nonetheless, was to head over to Berghain around 5 or 6 in the morning and finish our night there.
So, instead of starting my partying at midnight or 1h00 as would be the standard in Berlin, I headed out my door around 19h00. That’s like starting your night at 15h00 anywhere else…
Primary Colours Festival
The festival was at Zitadelle Spandau which is an old fortress in the Western suburb of Spandau, surrounded by a moat and with a drawbridge and everything else you might imagine of a typical early modern fort. The downside to all of this was twofold:
- It was at least 40 minutes away by transit
- It was mostly outdoors and it was cold tonight.
Well, I already had a ticket and my friend was already there…and I suppose I’d like to see Zitadelle Spandau anyway…so off I went. It indeed took ages to get to the location, and the place itself was a good 10-15 minute walk from the actual U-Bahn station. Once I passed the main gates and entered the fortress, I found the main stage set up in the central field. There was a large open-air stage and light set-up, a relatively large audience area that was only full of maybe 150 people (see? nobody in Berlin starts partying at this hour) and a ring of concession stalls around the whole area.
When I found some of the Frenchy Krew sitting on the sidelines of the field, the first thing they said was, “Hey, that cocktail booth over there is making Absinthe-based drinks.” Neat! I went over and got myself a surprisingly expensive cocktail with absinthe, gin, and passionfruit juice. I had forgotten how high-proof absinthe was, so I was in for a surprise when I took the first sip. Not only was it really alcoholic, but the anise flavor of the absinthe totally overrode the flavors of the gin and passionfruit. I gritted my teeth and tried to enjoy the show.
I had arrived for the end of the Pantha du Prince, whose set seemed alright. Jake the Rapper came on next, whose schtick is to combine Berlinesque minimal techno with…well…rap. OK, it’s not quite rap, but rather a combination of spoken word à la Miss Kittin, rap, and singing. This wasn’t as cringe-inducing as Mathias Aguayo’s set last night, but it was still pretty silly at times. Nonetheless, he didn’t seem to be taking himself too seriously.
I was feeling slightly tipsy from my first drink but not particularly “altered” in the way that absinthe is supposed to affect you, so I ran and grabbed another cocktail. This time I got their “Abspirinha”, which was a Caipirinha-type drink with absinthe instead of cachaça. Again, not a bright idea on my part. This was undiluted absinthe, with crushed limes and cane sugar, poured over crushed ice. I had to sit there and warm it with my hands so that some of the water would dilute the absinthe before it was drinkable. Meh.
As I clenched my teeth and drank my cocktail, the next group, Jahcoozi came on. This was a multi-national ex-pat Berlin-based trio that seemed to be working within the UK grime style. It consisted of two male beat-makers, one Israeli and one German I think, and a lead singer from the UK with Sri Lankan heritage.
Sound a bit familiar? Yes, the moment the lead singer, Sasha Perera, stepped on stage, I thought, “Oh look, M.I.A. has a sister.” Then I thought, “Oh, that’s not fair. Just because they’re both from the UK and both have Sri Lankan heritage doesn’t mean that one is a copy of the other.” Then I watched about 5 minutes of their show and thought, “No, wait, she really is a poor man’s M.I.A.” Her clothes, her way of moving around the stage, the cant of her voice and even the relation between the brown leggy front-girl and the whiteboy beat-maker(s) in the hoodie was a total echo of M.I.A. and her escapades with Diplo. Having said that, Sasha didn’t really have the kind of distinctive flow that M.I.A. has (like it or not, M.I.A. has worked out a flow all her own). [note: I've since heard that Jahcoozi had been doing their thing before M.I.A. appeared, which garners them some points.]
So after checking them out online I found a rant / critique by some guy posting in the comment thread of a video that I think makes some good points. I don’t agree with his intimation that Sasha looks tranny, and I don’t really like the idea of using transvestite/sexual/gendered labels as insults. But his critique of imbalance between press coverage of ex-pat Berlin outfits versus “native” Berliner artists such as the vibrant Turkish hip-hop scene is spot-on.
Also, there was one song they performed that was done in a more purely reggae/dancehall style where I could only catch snippets of the lyrics that included “batty man” (Jamaican vernacular for male homosexual with strong pejorative connotations) and “bumfucked in prison.” Goodness. I couldn’t quite make out if the lyrics were overall positive or negative, although I had trouble imagining a Berlin-based hipster trio singing songs that are homophobic, so I made a mental bookmark to look up the lyrics later. And so I did, and they’re available here, but the link is slow, so I’ll reprint the lyrics right here:Rainbow Coloured Rizzla (Blitz ‘n’ Ass, 2007)
Batty boy aint no bad man
Batty boy he just human
And the yardies bum fucked in prison are human too
And all of the bad man they be picking on the poor batty man
And all of the sad man they be singing lets shoot down that batty man
And out in Jamaica, it’s a witchhunt, they’re just like the klu klux klan
Yardies are waiting for the lynching of the next poor batty man
And when I dance and shake my booty to the sound of the Elephant man
While I’m dancing, he be singing, lets go kill the batty man,
And now I’m starting to feel guilty bout the poor ass batty man
So I thought I’d sing a song of praise now big up the batty man
Why are all this yardie folk so square just like the pope?
You’d think that they’d be chilled out now from years of smoking dope
But the next generation do not give me so much hope,
Grime kids spitting like their granddads lynch that batty with a rope.
me talkin’ bout rainbow coloured rizzla, me talkin’ bout the rainbow coloured rizzla, me talkin’bout the rainbow coloured rizzla ...
So there you go.
20h00-22h00: Sweet ‘n’ Candy
About halfway through the Jahcoozi set, I got bored and decided to check out the other stages, which were supposed to be open by now. There was one stage set up in the north-west corner of the citadel (if you look at the Wikipedia page [LINK], you’ll see that the building has triangular “bastions” at each corner) playing some decent techno, although the volume was turned down way too low. At the opposite corner of the citadel was another stage, apparently sponsored by Resident Advisor [LINK], with a grassy area, a makeshift wooden dancefloor, some concession booths, and some grassy slopes to lean against when you’re taking a break from dancing. As it turns out, this was the stage where Guillaume Coutu-Dumont would be playing, so I decided to stick around.
I actually didn’t hear too much of Sweet ‘n’ Candy’s set, but most of it was pretty solid minimal techno. My French friends caught up with me here and we put our bags down and settled in for the long haul. By now, night had fallen and it was a chilly 10°C, so we all had our jackets on as we tried to dance and keep warm.
22h00-1h00: Sasse (and friend?)
I had never heard or seen of these two guys before, but I was pretty impressed with their set. From what I understand, Sasse is only one person, so I'm guessing that there was a "guest star" accomopanying him or something. It was still “early” in the evening, but they managed to get the little group of dancers going with a minimal set that alternated between more abstract, mechanical techno and warmer, funkier house. Considering how cold it was at this point, it was something of a feat that people were dancing at all. They also did a great job of working with each other and the crowd, smiling, dancing and occasionally talking to the people around them.
1h00-3h00: Miss Fitz
I’ve seen this DJ listed more than once as a headliner for nights that I always seem to miss, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about. Her set sat somewhere between very deep house and a more minimal techno sort of sound, and she used a lot of long build-ups with an emphasis on sweeping, sustained sounds. Generally, her technique was very smooth and effective, although one of my friends pointed out that she was really “cold” behind the decks in comparison to the DJs who came before her. Perhaps she was just concentrating really hard on what she was doing, but she rarely looked up at the crowd and she never smiled. In fact, you could’ve imagined her in her own bedroom, practicing on her turntables.
During her set, I noticed this skinny, awkward-looking British boy, who I’ve seen around all over Berlin in the past month, with constantly half-lidded and somewhat crossed eyes. With his lanky frame, his collared shirt + pullover, his receding chin, his side-parted hair and his wonky eyes, he radiated “upper-class Brit” in a way that was sort of adorable. While I wasn’t finding anything sexually attractive about him, something about his character incited this sort of protective, paternalistic instinct in me—as if what I should do right now is hold his hand and guide him through the rest of the night, occasionally tousling his hair affectionately.
3h00-5h00: Guillaume & The Coutu-Dumonts
Sigh. I had really high hopes for this set. Coutu-Dumont was actually doing a solo act (he performs under a number of aliases, it seems), but it seems like an important part of the magic of Chic Miniature at mutek was his partner, Ernesto Ferreyra.
Now, the set was actually pretty good, so I don’t want to come off as panning the set, but the sort of crackling minimal house that I had heard in Montréal was nowhere to be heard. The set was instead a more rounded minimal sound with occasional housey flourishes; he almost constantly used resonant bass lines (which I like) and relatively complex percussion patterns in a sort of mid-range frequency (also nice), but it didn’t really stand out in comparison to what music had come before it.
At some point during this set, I ran into a guy that I had exchanged glances and high-fives with last night in Panorama Bar. We exchanged high-fives again and tried to catch up a bit. His English was pretty rusty and his accent was distinctly Mediterranean, so I took a guess and started talking to him in Italian. My guess was right, but I bit off more than I could chew, because he happily launched into rapid Italian, which I could sort of follow and barely respond to. At times, I just switched into Spanish, which seemed to do the trick. A bit later, he introduced me to a female friend of his who was Roman but had a Spanish name and spoke excellent Spanish. Between the two of us, we spoke a mish-mash of Spanish and Italian that seemed to work.
By about 5h00, the Frenchy Crew was getting tired of being cold and we were thinking that the lineup at Berghain wouldn’t be too long by now. We collected our stuff, said goodbye to the various friends we had made that night, and headed off. At first we were bracing ourselves for the 40-minute ride back into town by transit, when finally we broke down and got a taxi. The driver estimated that it would cost us about 25€ in total to get to Ostbahnhof, so we gave it some thought and decided that 15 minutes in a taxi was worth it.
On the way over, we talked a bit about the rather low attendance for the event. Although they had DJs scheduled until about noon the next day, there were maybe 100 people left at the Resident Advisor stage when we left and most of the concession booths were already closed or closing up. Most of the night there felt as if the party was just starting—as if at any moment there would be a “rush hour” and finally the huge space would fill up with people—but instead it just petered out. Partially due to rather cold weather, I bet. Still, I hope they managed to break even.
One of my friends, nonetheless, really enjoyed the atmosphere at the party, saying that it felt like a party among friends. Although it didn’t seem like everyone really knew each other in any substantial way, the half-filled space, the relaxed party atmosphere and the general friendliness of the people there made it feel like we were at a small local-DJ night somewhere in a lesser-known bar, populated entirely by “regulars” or “those who know.” I thought it was interesting that this sort of medium-intensity, sparsely-populated space could’ve produced such an intimate feeling, considering that most of my work so far has concentrated on how intimacy emerges out of contexts of high intensity. I’m going to have to think about that one a bit more. At first glance, I think it has something to do with the sort of smoothness of social interactions that are made possible when there is more space and a decontracté (lit. de-contracted, relaxed) atmosphere. This might go well into my chapter on smooth and rough experience.
Bar 25: Swing and a Miss
Although we were going to Berghain, Bar 25 was having some sort of 10-year anniversary party Sunday night, so we decided to hit Bar 25 first to pay the cover and get our stamp, so that we wouldn’t find ourselves barred from entering later on Sunday when the place hits capacity. We got in line and put on our best German looks, pushing the most Germanophone person of our trio in front as our spokesperson. The two people in front of us wanted to bring in another five people, which the woman at the door didn’t like at all. She kept on saying that it was just impossible to bring in such a large group, but the two people kept on pleading with her and dropping names, until eventually she let in a couple more people from their group, and then eventually she conceded to letting in the entire group of seven.
As soon as she was done with that, she looked at us and said that a group of three people would be “ganz schlecht” (“no good”). “Really?” our spokesperson said, “And that huge group of 7 people that you just let in?” “That was a different situation,” she said, “but there’s no getting in as a group.” “Should we try later?” “No, at no point this weekend will you get in.” “But we’re here to see [insert name of someone that I can’t recall but that was spinning that night].” “I’m sorry, but it’s my decision.”
It went on like this for a few more volleys before our spokesperson gave up and we moved on. As we headed over toward Berghain, we held a little post-mortem and thought about what had happened there. Considering that the group in front of us was a mish-mash of non-Berliners headed by one or two locals, we doubted that we were bounced because we didn’t look German enough, especially since the only one of us who spoke had excellent German. We weren’t a large group, we weren’t all boys, we weren’t particularly young-looking, and we were dressed in what you might call standard Berlin party garb. In the end, the only explanation we could come up with was that she had been so embarrassed / annoyed by being coerced into letting in that large group before us, she felt the need to reassert her authority by refusing the next people in line. Well, either way, we weren’t going to Bar 25 this weekend.
Berghain/Panorama Bar: Bpitchcontrol night
We got to Berghain and found that there was still a pretty sizeable line, although not as crazy as some of the lines I’ve seen here in past weeks at this hour (5h00). We stood in line and tried not to let the cold kill our mood.
About 15 minutes into waiting, the Black bouncer from New York, that I’ve seen and talked to in previous weeks, came down the line and saw us. He leaned over the rail and asked us, “How many of you are there?” One of my friends said, “Drei.” (three) He shook his head and said, “Oh hell no. Come over here,” and then he sent us up the guest-list line. We hesitated a bit, but he was adamant, saying, “It’s alright, just go up there and stand next to the door.”
We tentatively passed the barrier and stood on the other side of the door, unsure of how to present ourselves to the bouncer doing the selection at the door, who I happened to recognize as the bitchiest one. There was a sort of disorganized clot of people on this side of the door, as the New Yorker send up a few other people from the line.
As we huddled at the back of the clot and strategized how to approach the door, the New Yorker bouncer came back up to the front of the line and started chatting with us again. “Hey, where’s that Irish guy I’ve seen you with? I saw y’all at the Kantine and he was going on about how this club is tha shit an all that, but I don’t see him here tonight. Y’all don’t think that we notice, but remember everyone’s faces.” I’m pretty sure he confused the friend I had gone out with last night with the Irish lad that I spent the rest of the evening making out with, which maybe had something to do with the fact that both were wearing plaid shirts or something. Anyway, I wasn’t about to explain that to him in detail right at the door, so made some friendly noises, chuckled at his remarks and agreed that, yes indeed, you bouncers sure know a face when you see it.
As soon as he disappeared, one of my friends turned to me and said quietly in French, “Dude, he totally busted you about the Irish boy. What did he just say? I didn’t catch all of it.” This was overheard by the guy standing in front of us, who quickly turned around and said loudly, “Hey, you guys are French, too?” “No, I’m Canadian, but these two are French.” “Cool! I hear that Montréal is fucking great.” “Yeah, it’s really nice.”
Ugh, this was getting dicey. This guy was clearly already drunk and speaking French loudly, so he wasn’t likely to get in. We were within 2 metres of the bouncer, so this conversation was both outing us as non-Germans and possibly creating the impression that we were with this guy. Finally, one of my friends came to my rescue, cutting in, “Listen, we’re going to stop talking now, OK? They bouncers in Berlin don’t much like foreigners and especially not French people, and I’ll be really angry if we can’t get in because of you.” She delivered this in a style that only a French woman can get away with, but after a couple of sarcastic “Oh really?” retorts from him, he shut up and turned around.
When he came to the front of the group, the bouncer roughly pushed him back and said in English, “No, I already told you, you’re not getting in tonight.” “But my other three friends are already in there!” he said in French. “No, you are too drunk, you’re not getting in like that.” Still answering in French, “It’s OK, I’ll buy a beer when I get in there!”
The bouncer was having none of it and eventually pushed him to the side and pulled us forward. He looked at us expectantly and our spokesperson (again) said in German, “There’s three of us.” “Yes, but whose guest list are you on?” “None. You see, that man from New York over there pulled us out of line and told us to come here.” “Him?” “Yes.” “One second.”
And with that, he reached over and grabbed the other bouncer, who came out and looked at us and said, “Yeah, they’re OK. These two and that guy behind him, they can come right in.” And with that, the bouncer nodded and let us in.
Phew! It clearly pays to make friends with the bouncers here, but that drunk French guy nearly cost us our night. We all felt pretty bad for him as we waited at the coat check. There wasn’t really anything we could do to help him, other than to tell him to go home and sleep it off. Considering that he had stuck around and bugged the bouncer, there was a good chance that he wasn’t going to get in again while that bouncer was working.
5h00-7h00: Sascha Funke
We made a beeline through Berghain and up into Panorama Bar to find a few more people from the Frenchy Krew hanging around near the DJ booth. It was totally packed at this point, so we pressed our way to the front of the DJ booth and set ourselves to dancing.
The fair Irish lad from last night was supposed to be here tonight, but I had no idea where he would be and I wasn’t about to trawl around at the high-traffic point of the night looking for him among the thousands of people there. If last night was any indication, he’ll still be around later in the morning/afternoon.
Sascha Funke’s set was great, playing the “best of” many tracks off of the Bpitchcontrol label (it was their showcase night tonight) within a sort of minimal set that was intense and loud, but not quite as fast-paced as what was going on downstairs. At a certain point during his set, things just got too intense and sweaty, and so I headed out to do a spin around the club.
7h00-10h00: Ellen Allien
As both the founder and manager of the label and a prolific producer, Ellen Allien is highly regarded in most circles for the work she does. So I was a bit surprised when I mentioned to one of my friends that Allien was about to start spinning and she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh shit.” When I asked why she was being dismissive, she said, “They should never let her spin so late in the night; by this time of the night, she’s trashed and she mixes a shit set.”
Well, as the French would say, en effet.
That is, her track selection was as good as could be expected, but her technique was just absent: tracks were only roughly beatmatched and sometimes led to all-out trainwrecks; the succession of tracks didn’t follow any discernible organizational logic, but sort of coagulated one onto the other; the “structural downbeats” (i.e., the beginning of larger groups of 8, 16, 32 or 64 beats) of tracks weren’t aligned, so changes in texture often happened at unexpected moments; she would indulge in long episodes of building anticipation, where she would twiddle knobs and cut out the bass and play with FX and so on for so long that she would miss the high point of the track. In other words, it was the sort of set I might produce at home on cheap turntables and cheaper mixer in my living room.
To her credit, though, she was clearly having a great time. She was constantly smiling and engaging the people around the DJ booth, and when she would put on a long-playing track to run to the bathroom, she would stop along the way to say hi to some of the people in the crowd. Also, she had on a totally adorable dress. Anyway, the crowd seemed to (mostly) forgive her sins and keep dancing.
10h00-14h00: Bpitch control all-stars
At around 10h00, the other Bpitch control folks (Zander.VT, Lee van Dowski, Sascha Funke, Kiki) who were there joined Ellen Allien for a constant round of ping-pong DJing. From what I could tell from their constant frolicking behind the decks, there seemed to be two themes to this long set:
- who can still spin when drunk/high? (not Ellen Allien)
- who can engage in the most homoerotic play while still attracting screams of desire from the girls? [Also, a sub-theme for this set was:]
- What are those faces Lee van Dowski is making? Is he having a stroke? Constipated? Having an orgasm? Just really, really high?
Anyway, their collaborative set was mostly great fun, although at one point Allien insisted on trying to put on another record—which was a total disaster—after which she left the turntables to the other DJs and focused on being the life of the party.
I have no idea who was spinning after the all-star set, but at around 15h30 something clicked in my head and I was suddenly ready to head home. I wasn’t totally exhausted yet nor did I have a headache, but I was certain that it was the right time to leave. I think it was a good decision on my part, since I was able to make it all the way home in a good mood, not too tired, and still feeling in good shape.
By about 16h00 I got home and took a shower and got ready for bed. One of my roommates threatened to stage an intervention if I kept coming home halfway into the next day.