OK, this is a long one. Although I still haven’t managed to pull of a full, two-night party the way that many Berlin denizens can, I did set something of a personal record for non-stop partying.
But before the party, the preparation: I slept in until about 14h00 and then got up, took a shower, and started working on my blog notes from the previous night. I also had a fair bit of correspondence to take care of, including assigning homework to my students and managing an online French proficiency test for the students that are arriving in the winter. By the time I had taken care of all of that and showered, it was nearly 18h00.
I had a date to do a bit of shopping and drinks with a friend of mine, so I called him up and we agreed to meet at the Muji shop Hackischer Markt. He took care of some Xmas shopping in Muji and then we went for a little walk around the stores in that area, including my favourite Scandinavian fashionista store, WoodWood.
We eventually made our way over to this excellent ramen shop called Cocolo Ramen, over on Gipsstraße near Auguststraße. I was really impressed with the quality of the ramen: the noodles were fresh-made, all the broths were home-made, the smoked chicken was house-smoked, and the cooks really seemed to know what they were doing. The ramen bar was staffed by a Japanese woman and a German man, who spoke to each other in Japanese most of the time. My friend had a ramen bowl with smoked chicken and bonito flakes, while I had one with ground pork, smoked tofu and hot peppers. Delicious stuff, and just right for a night of dancing (i.e., not too heavy).
From there, I headed home and prepared myself for a night out, planning to head over relatively early to avoid a long lineup. The weather was cold and there was a chance of rain during the night, so I wanted to avoid standing outside if at all possible. Just before leaving for the club, around 1h00, I looked up tonight’s event on Resident Advisor and found that two French friends of mine from London were also attending tonight. Talk about coincidence! I had been in Berlin the last two times that they came to visit, so it was a great coincidence that we had just happened to plan our visits to Berlin on the same weekend. I sent them a quick message through the website, but I doubted that they would be checking it before going out tonight, so I planned to look out for them there.
Cassy’s B-day Party @ Berghain
So, as it turns out, my friends found me in the lineup. I got to the club around 1h30 and there was a relatively small lineup (about 50 people). I got in line and started casting about to see if any of the bouncers working the lines were ones that might recognize me (and pull me to the front).
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see one of my Franco-Londonite friends, with the other following close behind. After some effusive greetings, we settled into the age-old Berlin clubbing game of watching people get turned away at the door. We all seemed to agree that the logic of the Berghain door policy is hard to fathom. There are certain tips that are passed around orally that generally apply—don’t look younger than mid-twenties; don’t overdress; don’t present yourself as a large group; don’t appear drunk or high; avoid speaking any language but German when within earshot of the bouncers; it’s primarily a gay club, so gay men have a better chance of getting in (same goes for trannies)—but nonetheless the bouncers sometimes make surprising decisions. Most of the time, I can predict whether someone will get in (for example, that night back in the summer when there was a group of 10 Irish guys and gals guzzling beer in line and proclaiming loudly in English “This better be the best fucking club in the whole world!”; they didn’t get in), but sometimes the bouncer will let in a group that I totally expected to be tossed out, and sometimes he’ll reject someone who’s entry seemed entirely assured.
We got in, passed security, paid our entry and headed to the coat check, where we admitted to each other that there’s still always a moment at the front of the line when you are terrified about being let in. Even though we’ve never had the slightest problem in the past getting in, the fuzzy logic that determines who gets in or not implants a seed of doubt and anxiety that grows while you’re in line.
So we enjoyed the moment of relief and took care of checking our coats. In the process, my friends found 3 other friends from London that had shown up for the weekend, so we became a 6-person party team. As it turns out, one of them had been reading my blog this summer, as she had been living in Berlin at around the same time. How’s that for coincidence?
0h00-4h00: Margaret Dygas
We climbed up the stairs, past the Berghain level (which already was playing pounding techno) and up into Panorama Bar. Panorama Bar starts very, very late and runs very, very late, so at 2h00 the place was still largely empty. There were people in there, but they were all standing around the bar, ordering drinks and waiting for things to fill up.
We went with the flow and bought some drinks, standing around and chatting while the crowd continued to grow. At some point, we reached some sort of critical crowd density and a small clot of dancers formed near the front of the room. As the dancefloor began to fill, we moved up and joined in the fray.
I had met Margaret Dygas at the Techno Parade in Paris, riding on the float for the Le Rex, as well as after the parade in the “Artists’ Lounge” and again at Le Rex itself that night. I thought she did a great job both on the float and at Le Rex, and she was one of the more adorably friendly DJs I’ve met in a while. So I was looking forward to seeing her spin here at Berghain, in her “home territory” (she’s actually Polish, but based in Berlin).
Her set started off rather low-key, which is entirely to be expected from a warm-up set, but it soon picked up intensity. Overall, her set was “meatier” than the sets she did in Paris; there were heavier bass patterns and a thicker texture than when I had seen her in Paris (or the few times I had seen her spin at Club der Visionäre in the summer), but the overall sound was still clearly “minimal.” It was probably more minimal house than minimal techno, but that’s sort of what makes the difference between Panorama Bar and Berghain, anyway.
4h00-7h00: Steve Bug
Steve Bug’s set was FANTASTIC. I’ve always enjoyed his sets, even way back in the early 2000s when I saw him play at the ElMo in Toronto. But this set was particularly extraordinary. I’m not sure what distinguished it from his other sets, but his technical skills were great, his transitions between tracks were smooth but also avoided being too dense, his selection and sequencing mixed recent releases with classic tracks, and his pacing showed a great grasp of crowd dynamics. There wasn’t a low point in the set, at least to my ears.
I absolutely refused to leave the dance floor for any reason (except water) during Steve Bug’s set, so I was eager to pee and rest my legs during Cassy’s set. However, since this was Cassy’s birthday party, the folks at Berghain had arranged a special “event” for her at the beginning of the set. A couple of tall bouncers brought up a sort of pyramid frame sheathed in white tissue paper, which they placed on a stage set up near the windows on the South side of the dancefloor. Right after Steve Bug’s set, someone from the Berghain staff put on a somewhat more ambient minimal track, and a set of spotlights shone on the pyramid. Something started moving from within the pyramid, first flashing lights from within, then pressing against the tissue paper, and then finally breaking the paper and beginning to tear apart the pyramid. Shiny black-gloved hands poked out of the pyramid, with arms covered completely in disco-ball mirrors. After a few minutes of choreographed stroking and tearing and gesturing, the full body of a dancer, covered head to toe in disco-ball mirrors, emerged. A pair of bright white spotlights shone directly on her, casting a brilliant sunburst of light around her and off the wall behind her. For another 4 or 5 minutes, she danced slowly, sending of constantly-shifting patterns of light around the room. At the end, Cassy faded out the music, the dancer took her bows, and then Cassy started her set in earnest.
After finally taking a much-needed break, I made it back to the dancefloor. I have to admit that I haven’t been terribly impressed by Cassy’s sets in the past. She has tended to lean heavily on classic or “old school” house tracks with a lot of vocals. Also, she seems to like to long, downtempo, low-intensity “voids” in the middle of her sets, which tend to make me lose interest. I think this was particularly the case for the MixCD she had released to inaugurate the “PanoramaBar” series on the OstgutTon label.
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by her set tonight, which was much more solid and more consistent in intensity and pacing. While there was certainly a lot of house influences and a fair share of vocal-house tracks, the overall sound was still very punchy combined with a touch of atmospheric washes.
At some point toward the end of this set, my two French friends left to crash at a friend’s place, with the plan to take a nap, shower, and then come back later in the afternoon. At around the same time, I made two new friends. A small, dark guy with large ear piercings and a grey cardigan poked my shoulder and asked, “Sei italiano?” (“Are you Italian?”) I do speak a bit of Italian, so I told him that I was Canadian. That conversation went on hold for a while, as he chatted with another Italian compatriot of his.
In the meanwhile, there was a muscular German-Turkish guy to the right of me who kept looking over at me. I wasn’t quite sure if this was supposed to be flirting, since he currently had his arms around a small-figured woman with long brown hair. On the other hand, he had his shirt off (which is something practiced almost exclusively by gay men at this club) and he was looking straight at me.
I eventually noticed that his eyes were half-closed and his pupils were frequently jittery or rolling back under his eyelids, so I figured out that he was just high and probably staring into space. Nonetheless, the prolonged eye contact eventually triggered something in his head, and he nodded at me. Later, he asked me if I could help him find some drugs. And yet later, he was sharing drinks with me. We only spoke a few times during the whole night, he was a bit too high to articulate himself coherently, and my German was too rusty to attempt anything but the briefest of conversations. Nonetheless, we spent the next several hours dancing next to each other, communicating mostly through touch. Most of these gestures were a mixture of questioning and reassurance: “How do you feel?” and “I feel it, too,” mixed together. The occasional stroke or grasp along the forearm, the half-embrace around the shoulders and waist, and even the occasional kiss on the cheek all seemed to be animated by the desire to mark a moment as significant (or ‘touching’) as well as by the desire to pull that other person into that moment. So, perhaps there’s an overwhelming climax in the music, or the buzz or high you have comes to a peak, or you’re just caught up in the circuits of energy pulsating through an exuberant crowd; for any of these reasons and more you might find yourself inspired to reach out around you and seek confirmation of your own experience. Even if we’re not feeling exactly the same way, these gestures of touch seek to confirm that we’re witnessing the same thing, and that we’re in agreement as to its significance.
10h00-13h30: Miss Jools
Miss Jools is a London-based DJ who is apparently signed onto Mobilée records, although this is the first I’ve heard of her. Her set was good, although I could’ve imagined her set being better-suited for the Berghain room downstairs. Her set was certainly within the “minimal” genre as it is broadly defined in Europe, but the sound was closer to the pounding, big-room techno that you usually hear in the Berghain room. There was really almost no house influence to be heard in the music, nor a real lightness of touch. I think her set was probably fantastic for the sort of person who likes their minimal to approach straight-ahead techno, but it was a bit heavy-handed for me.
At some point during this set, the little Italian guy next to me chimed up again and asked me where he could find some drugs. I didn’t know anyone, but he seemed convinced that I would have a better chance of finding something, since I spoke some German. So after a bit of pleading, I headed out with him and did a circuit of the club’s various spaces. We didn’t have any luck, but at the very end, we passed another short Italian guy in the toilets who I recognized as a long-time denizen of the Berlin scene. I left the two of them to negotiation and headed back to the dancefloor. When I got back, my shirtless buddy made a series of gestures that said something like “Where were you?! I was so worried!” and then he kissed me on the forehead and went back to dancing.
I haven’t seen Zip since the middle of the summer, but every time I’ve seen him spin I’ve been very impressed. So I was a bit concerned when he started his set with a series of low-intensity, deep-house tracks with lugubrious vocals and and a fuzzy, unfocused texture. About half an hour into his set, my two Frenchy-Londonite friends reappeared, just in time to hear his set take a turn for the better. The rest of his set was superb, placing an emphasis on a forceful but pointed sort of minimal house. He made good use of the sound system at Panorama Bar, which seems to allow the use of very active or “mobile” bass patterns without seeming muddy.
By about 15h30, my body started to revolt against me and I had to head home. There were DJs scheduled all the way into Sunday night, with Josh Wink running from 17h-20h, and then Cassy back-to-back with Ricardo Villalobos from 20h – whenever they decided to close. I was tempted to take a short nap and then return at 20h00 to see the Villalobos set, but as soon as I put my head down on my pillow at home, I knew I wasn’t getting up again anytime soon.