samedi, février 14, 2009

Singles Awareness Day in Berlin

Happy Valentine’s Day! Or, as I like to call it, Singles Awareness Day.

So, after getting home at around 7h00 this morning, I woke up at 15h00. 8 hours, that’s a good night’s sleep!...just in the afternoon. Anyway, Florian had been up for a while and working on proofreading a book for publication, so he took a break and we had some tea. From there, Florian got back to working on his book and I set about getting some blogging done. There was lots to catch up on.

ArtHouse TeaParty!

At around 18h00, Florian had an invitation to a “tea party” at an art gallery over in Mitte, so I tagged along with him. The theme of the event was Kinder Zoo (Children’s Zoo), so there were lots of odd and rather uncanny installations involving things child-like and animalistic.

The main piece was a table covered with birthday party napkins, paper plates, half-eaten cakes, and crayon scribbles. There were folding chairs half pushed-in at the table, as if the whole party had suddenly been taken up in the rapture during the party. Oh, and the whole thing was covered in confetti. Anyway, there was no framing device to make the difference between a normal object and “art” in this instance, so people were constantly trying to figure out whether they had the “right” to sit at the table, steal a piece a cake, or otherwise alter the scene.

There was also a “talking unicorn,” which involved a long pincer device (a “grabber”) covered in a crocheted unicorn head that opened and closed its mouth when you pressed a handle. That was kinda cool.

Florian, like a good host, introduced me to a bunch of cool and interesting people, including this one artist from Dallas (I think) who was totally fascinated with my dissertation project. Without much prompting, offered her own story about intimacy on the dancefloor, telling me that she turns from a mildly shy girl into an outgoing, risk-taking (NOT an euphemism for drug-taking) “life of the party” as soon as she’s on the dancefloor. I thought she was actually describing something interesting and pretty common: the ways in which our personality shifts based on changes in context that suggest what pleasures are available, what risks are affordable, and what rules have changed. I’d like to think that my daytime self and my nightclub self are completely continuous, but at the same time I wouldn’t be writing this dissertation if there wasn’t a oft-jarring contrast between behaviors on and off the dancefloor.

It was soon getting close to 20h00, and we had plans to meet a mutual friend (and former roommate from my Berlin summer) at a restaurant up near Florian’s place, so we dashed off to the nearest tram stop. We managed to get there in reasonable time, although our ever-punctual friend was nonetheless there waiting for us. The restaurant was called Amritsar, and it served some really, really good Indian food. Berlin can be a very…um…unpredictable place for dining out, so it’s always exciting when you find a restaurant that serves good food and good value. We ate really heartily for about 13 € a head, which is nothing compared to what you pay in Paris. They had these breads called “barata”, which were like deep-friend naan and came inflated like balloons. Tasty!

The night was still relatively early (22h00) and I wasn’t going to meet my friend Janine before about midnight or 1h00, so I headed back to Florian’s place and had some tea while watching the first episode of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, which actually shows some promise as a new TV series. An hour or so later, I finally started making my way to meet Janine. She was at a birthday party in an apartment over near my old place from last summer: Neukölln (or, more precisely the “Kreuzkölln” area between this neighborhood and Kreuzberg). The weather was fucking cold, so the trip over there was less than pleasant; I thought I was going to lose an ear to the cold before getting there.

Birthday Party!

The party itself was really nice, and a pleasant change of pace from the usual routine of “arrive-clubbing-sleep-depart” that is a weekend in Berlin. There were two birthday kids, who lived with four other people in this massive, 5-bedroom apartment that apparently used to be a doctor’s office / apartment. Janine and her friend (one of the birthday kids) gave me a tour of the place, which filled me with apartment-envy (this is a common experience if you live in Paris and visit Berlin). The party itself was packed with a mix of Germans, Spaniards, Italians and even an American, so the conversations were pretty multi-lingual. I managed to practice my German comprehension a bit while Janine chatted with a German friend next to me.

By about 2h30, it was time to get moving. Isabelle left with me, but she didn’t accompany me to Berghain—at least, not right away. Claiming fatigue, she decided to head home and sleep, and then get up at around 10h or 11h and come join the rest of us at Berghain. Such is the Berlin party schedule.


So I hopped on a bus that ran straight to Ostbahnhof, and from there headed over to the club. The lineup was mercifully short, not much longer than the metal stanchions near the door, but it moved slowly. I was insanely cold by the time I got to the front.

It didn’t help that I had three profoundly drunk girls behind me in the lineup. They were drinking beer in clear sight of the bouncer (generally a good way to be refused entrance), and they were talking loudly, stumbling around and colliding with other people in line (like me). However, they were doing all of this in German, and so they got in without any trouble. I had been aware that appearing to be a foreigner / tourist is usually a strike against you at the door, but I didn’t realize that appearing German actually got you so much leniency. I would’ve presumed that no messily drunk person gets into Berghain, regardless of language or ethnicity.

4h00-5h00: Damián Schwartz live

I got up to Pano just as Dinky was finishing her set, so I only heard her final track. It sounded like it had been a good set, but I wasn’t too bummed, since I’ve seen her spin numerous times before. By the time I had gotten a drink, Damien Schwartz had started his live set.

Schwartz’s live set sounded pretty good, but it wasn’t really a proper live set. I could see from where I was that he mostly had complete tracks loaded into Ableton Live, and then he had a few “DJ Tool”-type loops (simple bass kicks, etc) that he used to suture them together. It made for good music, but it sounded like a really short vinyl set, rather than a live set. I imagine I’d feel a bit cheated if I was a promoter, since the idea behind live sets is that they only last 1 hour: they take a lot of work to prepare from scratch, and they require a lot of intense concentration during performance. I’ve become more and more sensitive to this issue with live sets ever since Fantômette pointed it out to me a few weeks ago.

Near the end of the set, my two Frenchy friends from London (let’s call them Bob and Donna) arrived. They had been at Watergate to see M.A.N.D.Y. and Craig Richards and others, but they said that the sets had been crap, so they came to join me over here. Yay! They’re always fun to have around.

The bathrooms upstairs were still under construction, so everyone was forced to use the bathrooms on the Berghain floor, which tends to be rather “rich” in gay men having sex in the bathroom stalls. Good times, good times.

5h00-9h00: Matthew Styles

Overall a very good set. He leaned heavily on tracks that had more active, mobile, rhythmically complex bass lines (especially bass kicks that are pitched and occur on more than just the 4 main beats of every bar), which is totally what I like about the “Berlin minimal” sound. The set started really, really well, but it sort of flattened out in the latter 2 hours; there wasn’t as much of a shape to the set and I felt like he had gone through his best tracks at the beginning.

The Story of the Two Maris: So this guy stops me in a hallway and says, “Hey, we know each other; you know Mari, right?” Now, that’s the name of one of my roommates from this summer, so I was replied, “Yes, sure!” But I apologized and admitted that I didn’t recognize him. He said that we had met before at previous nights out. Then, he said that Mari lived in Lichtenberg now, which made absolutely no sense to me, since she had moved to NYC at the end of last summer. So I told him that we were probably talking about different Maris, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was totally certain that we both knew the same woman and that that made us friends. I eventually acquiesced, said it was nice to meet a friend of Mari’s, and moved on—but I was impressed at how he had been aggressively recruiting me to his intimate world. There’s something really interesting about these scenes of insistent friendliness, like it was trying to conjure into existence an intimate relationship from scratch.

Random friendly dude: Next to me on the dancefloor, near the DJ booth in Panorama Bar, there is a guy in a white tank-top, slightly stocky build, a fauxhawk and glitter on his cheekbones. He makes eye contact with me while we’re dancing next to each other, and we spend a moment mirroring each other’s gestures: fist pumping, finger pointing, etc. After a minute or so, he grabs his beer, has a swig, and then offers it to me. I grab it and say thanks, and he leans in and says “Trinken ist wichtig!” (“Drinking is important!”) and keeps on dancing. About 4 hours later, I’ll offer him my drink and say the same thing back to him.

9h00-13h00: Boris / 8h00-end: André Galuzzi

I know that he has a pretty ardent following here, but I just couldn’t get into the set. He does what he does well and with lots of skill, but his preference for noisy and vocal-heavy house left me cold. If the sound had been closer to microhouse or some other minimalist strain of house, I think I would’ve liked it more. Nonetheless, it kept me dancing. On the other hand, I went downstairs for a while to watch André Galuzzi, who’s set was really good. His style was strictly on the “techno” side of the “minimal” genre, but it wasn’t as pounding and thick-textured as most of the stuff one usually hears in the Berghain room.

The friendly and talkative guy that I had met last night through Bob and Donna shows up during this set and hangs out with me for a while. He loves Boris’s set, so I leave him to it while I check out Galuzzi downstairs. In the meanwhile, Bob and Donna had gone home for a nap, to come pack for Kiki’s set at 13h00. I had told them that I better see them at 13h00 or else.

As I passed through the smoking area between the two floors, these two boys from Bavaria struck up conversation with me. One had long blonde bangs over one of his blue eyes, a small lip ring, black cargo pants, and heavy yellow boots. The other had similar pants and shoes, but he had a non-spiked Mohawk and a tongue piercing. They both appeared to be feeing very good (read: high) and I guess they wanted to make new friends. The two of them actually made a great effort sustain conversation with me while I struggled to express myself in German. Another example of persistent friendliness, I guess. They weren’t being as insistent as the other guy, but they were really committed to staying in the scene of the conversation, despite the awkward pauses as I tried to speak.

I think I saw them again briefly later in the afternoon, but that was about it.

13h00-17h00: Kiki

Great set. Good track selection, great pacing within the set. The set was heavier in style and texture than what I’ve heard from him in the past, but nonetheless there was fineness and sharpness to the sound that really pleased me. As usual, I think it had to do with my preference for a sound with fewer active elements, a strong bass, and more intricate activity in the upper-mid / treble range.

Ellen Allien, a DJ and also the label boss for bpitchcontrol, was totally trashed, again. She materialized next to me as Kiki was spinning, and soon she had taken off her bra and was swinging it around over her head. Then she and some friend of hers decided to roll around on the ground…at Berghain. Then, at some point, she showered everyone around her with beer. That woman is quite the party animal.

Bob and Donna reappeared shortly after Kiki started, and Janine finally showed up around 13h45. I was going to leave at 14h00, but instead I stayed on until 15h00 to spend a bit more time with her. She introduced me to her Swedish buddy and a German girlfriend, who exemplified the current look in Berlin of oversized 70’s secretary-glasses and super-high waists. I also got to introduce Janine and her crew to Bob and Donna and their crew of friends, and so two of my worlds finally met.

Janine was excited to discover that Kiki was actually Finnish, and so she cornered him after his set to practice her Finnish with him. I was surprised to discover that he was recently married to a woman. I totally had him pegged as queer a 3$ bill. *shrug*

So I finally left at around 15h00, despite Janine’s protestations. Janine walked me to the coat check, and from there I headed out. It was snowing, which actually sucked some of the cold out of the air. Nonetheless, I decided that I deserved to take a cab back to Florian’s place. I earned it, dammit.

17h00-end: Oliver Deutschmann

Wasn’t there, but apparently his set was good.

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