Today I decided to try something a bit different, as far as my schedule is concerned. While I’ve been here in Berlin, my typical weekday schedule has been to sleep until 10 or noon, then lock myself in my room until I’ve written my blog entry for the previous day, then use the remaining daylight I have to run errands and cook dinner, spend the evening surfing the net or taking a disco-nap, and then going out until 3 or 4am.
The problem, I thought, was that my evening time was spent in unproductive distraction, while my day was made more hectic by the fact that I often didn’t finish blogging until 16h00 or later. So, today I got up, ate breakfast, showered and went straight out to the Schwules Museum (Queer Museum), with the plan to work on my blogging in the evening.
Taking advantage of the slightly less rainy weather, I headed out by bike to Mehringdamm in south-west Kreuzberg and into the Schwules Museum. As I was parking my bike, I had a language-nerd moment where I realized that the word “schwul” (a reclaimed pejorative term, like “queer” in English) was being declined as an adjective the modifies “Museum,” rather than as an apposite noun. That is, instead of the name meaning literally “Museum about Queer People” (i.e., Schwule Museum) or “Museum about Queerness” (i.e., Schwuligkeit(?) Museum), this title was describing the Museum itself as being queer—thus the neuter “-es” ending tacked onto “schwul” to agree with the neuter noun, “Museum.” So the Museum is a bit fruity.
Anyway, the museum itself was very interesting and informative, if a bit dry. The main mandate of the museum seemed to be to archive gay/queer/lesbian life in Berlin since about the late 1700s until now, with occasional wider references to moments of queer history in other places of the world (particularly the US gay-lib movement). There was lots of documentation and even some hard-to-find pornographic drawings and caricatures from the 18th and 19th centuries, although there was also a lot of “here’s a portrait of a guy who might have been gay and was sort of important.” I really liked how they dealt with the ephemeral cruising spots of Berlin and other parts of Germany, using contemporary drawings, paintings and later photographs of these locations when direct evidence of the activities there were non-existent; it sort of invited the viewer to search the images for ghostly traces of previous queer men (and women, sometimes).
After that, I biked my way home, did a bit of final grocery shopping (my last orders of eggs and bread and sausage!) and then got ready to do some bloggin’. As it turns out, though, my brain is only good for channel- or web-surfing after dinner, regardless of my intentions. I opened up my Word document where I prepare my blog entries, and then within minutes found myself browsing through MetaFilter, BBC, etc. for hours. I found analysis and debate about Obama’s nomination acceptance speech at the DNC and spend hours reading the debates. I saw the posting about McCain’s bizarre but clever but maybe also short-sighted VP pick and read the commentary for hours. By midnight, I was getting a call from friends to go out.
Argy – Diynamic Label Night @ Watergate
I made my way (by bike, again) over to Watergate, parked my bike outside, and then grabbed a beer at a bar just next to the club. Within a few minutes, a pair of Frenchy friends visiting from London showed up and joined me. The plan had been to wait until maybe 2h00 or 3h00 to get in line, but by 1h30 there was already a pretty substantial line, so we finished our drinks and got in line before things got any longer.
The guy from Chicago that I had been hanging out with last Tuesday was up for going out tonight, and he met me in line with a friend from his German course. I was a bit worried about us getting in, since that made us a group of five, so we split up into two groups of 2 and 3 as we progressed along the line. The line was moving really, really slowly and it took us a good 40 minutes to get to the front of the line, but we eventually got in. I had also been worried that the friend brought along by the guy from Chicago would have trouble getting in, since she was wearing a schlumpy oversized army-surplus coat and her hair in a messy bun, and she was a bit older than most of the crowd here. In the end, though, we got in no problem.
As we were getting in, my friend from Chicago turned to me and asked, “Why did that one lone guy get turned away, and yet that huge group of people get in afterwards?” This was a fair question, considering that I had only a few minutes earlier given them the run-down of all the unspoken rules of getting into Berlin clubs. Certainly, groups are supposed to have a harder time getting in, and lone people usually get in no problem. In this case, however, there were several mitigating circumstances:
- the lone guy didn’t speak enough German to answer the question, “How many are you?”, which marked him as a certain kind of tourist
- he looked like he was already a bit lit / drunk, which is a general no-no for clubs here
- when the bouncer asked him (in English) who he was here to see, he couldn’t name any of the DJs
- the group, on the other hand, while mostly speaking French and English to each other, had a couple of German-speakers in the group to represent them
- the group was mostly girls, which helps at Watergate (but not so much at PanoramaBar/Berghain)
Anyway, we got in, checked our coats, I gave my Chicago friend and his pal a quick tour of the place, and then we settled in to dance in the upper floor area, waiting for Argy to take the tables from Solomun.
3h00-4h00 Mainfloor: Argy
So this guy is an up-and-coming DJ / Producer from Greece that is now based in Berlin (like all up-and-coming DJ/Producers), at a very young age of 23 or something like that. His set was technically very well-done (good mixing, good pacing, deft use of the technology), but my Frenchy friends and I were a bit disappointed at the fact that all the tracks he was playing were the sort of “best of” hits of summer 2008. There were no new tracks that I hadn’t heard before, nothing particularly interesting or unique to mark this DJs style as different from the other 10000s of minimal DJs in Berlin. So, good mixing but the set was a bit generic.
Also, considering that this was a vinyl set and he was the headliner, his set was really short. It may have run longer than an hour, but by the time I was back up there at 5am, the next DJs had been on for a while.
Another one of my Frenchy friends (the one accompanying me last Wednesday and Thursday) showed up later and immediately got dancing up at the front of the room with me. That kid’s a trooper. Apparently, he had been at a party somewhere else in town where Alva.Noto was doing a vinyl set. He usually does live sets, and my friend complained that the vinyl set was crushingly disappointing—the French phrase he used was “à gerber” (puke-inducing). Not one to mince words.
At some point during this set, I went for a walk downstairs and out onto the dock floating on the river. As I was wandering around, a hetero couple stopped me and complimented me on my shirt, and then chatted me up. It turns out that they were from Amsterdam, and they were having a great time, and they thought I should really come to Amsterdam for the balloon festival next week. They were sort of adorably friendly and talkative, asking me what I was doing in Berlin—which always turns into a discussion of my dissertation topic—and what the scene was like here. After that encounter, I kept on running into them around the club and we would always exchange hand-clasp high-fives, smile, and then keep on moving.
4h00-5h00 Waterfloor: Stimming live
I had been pretty excited about seeing Stimming do his thing live, since I had downloaded his podcast on Resident Advisor a month ago and LOVED it. As it turned out, that podcast had featured a lot of tracks that he had been working on and preparing to release, so unsurprisingly his live set re-hashed a lot of the material from the podcast. I didn’t mind in this case, since I really liked the material and hadn’t yet heard it through a club-sized sound system, and also since this was still new, unreleased material—I had just gotten earlier access to it through that podcast.
In particular, everybody went crazy when he threw in his upcoming track “Una pena,” which involves a lovely female latina vocalist singing a simple melodic line, surrounded by lush percussion and really thick bass kicks. I don’t have a link to the track, since it’s unreleased, but if you’re into techno you should keep your eye out for this when it comes out.
Once he wrapped up his set around 5h00, I headed upstairs to see what was going on.
4h00-6h00 Mainfloor: Martinez Brothers
As you might guess from the name, this is a DJ duo who are (as far as I could tell by their appearance) brothers. Their set was on the harder, techno-y-er side of minimal, preferring thrashing beats and busy textures to the more aerated, light, clicky sound of much Berlin minimal techno/house. Their set certainly worked as a high-point of the night, but I found their pace a bit tiring and their love of jacked-up treble frequencies a pretty painful, so I spent more and more time downstairs or just wandering around.
6h00-??? Mainfloor: Jerome Sydenham
I haven’t heard of this guy before, but I was pretty happy with what I heard of his set. He was still working in the uptempo, high-intensity end of things, but his overall sound and track-selection had a more refined and lighter feel to it. Whereas I felt that the Martinez Bros were constantly piling up transition after transition of SUPER NOISY RADICAL CLIMAXXX!!!1!, Sydenham’s style seemed to involve bringing in a track, letting it open up and evolve, tweaking it a bit with his own controls, and then pulling of a transition that blended together elements of both tracks without creating a loud mess. The whole thing was still pretty intense and loud for me, so I eventually headed downstairs with one of my French buddies and we hung out on the deck and sat in the sun. Sunrise at Watergate is always lovely.
After spending a good long time on the deck getting some sun and drinking some beers, we made our way into the Waterfloor area of the bar and got our dance on again. These two DJs are on the same label as Stimming, called Diynamic [LINK]. In fact, I think Solomun is the label-boss. Anyway, their sound was very much in the same vein as what I had heard with Stimming, emphasizing a sort of rolling, bass-heavy minimal house. The tempo was a bit slower than what was going on upstairs, and it was just right for an end-of-the-night shuffle. A couple of my other French friends (the ones I had met for beers) had moved over to Panorama Bar an hour ago to check things out there, but I wanted to save my energy for Saturday night, so I decided to end my night here at Watergate.
While we were dancing, there was this guy with chin-length hair, wearing a ridiculous-but-only-in-Berlin, pastel-patterned, off-the-shoulder batwing shirt and jeans that were constantly falling off him. He was, to put it lightly, totally high. He was mostly bouncing off his crew of friends, who were also pretty high but put-together enough to sort of look after him as a group. Nonetheless, he would occasionally do something hilariously inappropriate like run the fingers on both his hands all the way down someone’s body repeatedly (which he did to me) or bump and grind as if he were a porn star (which he did with this adorable Swedish girl).
Anyway, I was sort of surprised and impressed with how gentle everyone was with him, considering that he was risking the forms of intimacy and contact that could turn into accusations of violation or violence. At one point, he grabbed the little lamp sitting on the DJ table—now useless as daylight streamed through the windows on the Waterfloor—and mimed taking a shower with it. Nobody did much about it for a little while, until he was pulling the lamp far enough that its cord was starting to disturb the other audio cables. Then, another nearby DJ (Stimming, actually) came by and slipped it out of his hands, gesturing to the cluster of cables and making a comical “oh noes!” face. The boy, blitzed out of his mind, smiled and drifted back into the crowd. The DJ who was actually spinning seemed completely unperturbed.
If this had happened at the RexClub in Paris, this boy probably would’ve been dragged right out of the club by stern-looking African bouncers. And it’s not like Berlin lacks stern-looking bouncers, but there seems to be a high level of tolerance for the sort of impulsive, messy and risky expressivity that this boy was exemplifying at this moment. I guest that part of it was that it was already 7h30, and at that time of the morning the only people left still dancing are those who are either a) also very high; or b) used to being around high people. Anyway, there was something really interesting about the fact that this boy could come a bit undone and be disorganized and the community around him was able to cushion him and absorb his sometimes jagged gestures.
Well, by 8am I called it quits, gingerly climbed onto my bike, and zipped home.