samedi, août 09, 2008

Primary Colours Festival, Berghain/Panorama

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:

  1. It was at least 40 minutes away by transit
  2. 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
me askin’:
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:

  1. who can still spin when drunk/high? (not Ellen Allien)
  2. who can engage in the most homoerotic play while still attracting screams of desire from the girls?
  3. [Also, a sub-theme for this set was:]
  4. 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.

14h00-20h00: ???

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.

vendredi, août 08, 2008

South Ossetia, Panorama Bar

Well, those who check my blog daily (thanks!) will have noticed that I’m actually posting this about 4 days after the fact. That should probably be a good indication of how my weekend went, eh?

Since I had gone to bed at a decent hour last night, I actually woke up around 8h00, which was going to completely throw my weekend sleeping schedule out of whack, so I forced myself to go back to sleep until about noon. Trust me, this is necessary.

I spent the day getting some work done and catching up on my blogging, as I knew that the weekend would bring with it “delays” of various sorts. In the early evening, I cooked up an improvised dish that involved pan-fried cauliflower, slices of Landjäger sausage, caramelized onions, garlic and some Spanish Mahon cheese; it was surprisingly delicious, although I should’ve deglazed the pan with some wine or something first.

One of my roommates was home at the time and he joined me for dinner, opening up a bottle of Portuguese wine he had bought earlier to go with the meal. As we enjoyed our leisurely meal, the topic of conversation ranged widely, discussing wines in detail and comparing wine-growing regions of the world that we were more or less familiar with. Since my roommate liked full-bodied reds, I mentioned the Georgian wine-growing region (i.e., the Republic of Georgia, not the US state), which got us talking about Georgian politics and eventually Georgia’s breakaway regions (South Ossetia, Abkhazia and formerly Adjara), where Russia has been arming and supporting pro-Russian separatists for quite some time.

We finished eating and went back to our respective rooms to check our email, when I quickly got a BBC news article forwarded to me from my roommate. The title read, “Russian tanks enter South Ossetia.” Wow, that’s odd timing.

Now, I knew that Ossetian separatists over the past year at least had been lobbing fire into neighboring ethnically-Georgian towns, and the Georgians have been returning fire. Russia had granted a lot of the South Ossetians Russian passports, which gave Russia the basis to claim a “humanitarian” interest in the region, and to strike a belligerent stance toward Georgia in the interest of “protecting our citizens” (this is not a new tactic: see Russia’s use of ethnically-Russian populations in the Ukraine and most of the Baltic states). Reading this news post, I assumed that this was a moment of daring on the part of the Russians, and that they would probably pull back once they had made their point and prevented the Georgians from regaining control over the separatist area. A bit later that night, as I was getting ready to head out for a night of fieldwork, I checked BBC again and saw a new article that claimed that Russian forces were conducting air raids into undisputed areas of Georgia as well, such as the military base in Gori.

Uh oh. This didn’t bode well at all, and the US, Georgia’s current ally (to the constant annoyance of Russia), doesn’t seem in a position to help. If Georgia had been accepted into NATO earlier this year (another thing that pissed off Russia), it would’ve been bound to come to their aid, but alas they’re on their own. It seems now that this conflict started when Georgian forces tried to re-assert control of the area and Russia decided to come to the aid of the separatists (i.e., “Russian citizens”), so it’s a bit of a mystery why Saakashvili (the Georgian President) decided to make his military move when the situation was so precarious. I’m not well-informed enough on the area to give a good analysis of the situation there, but MetaFilter had some surprisingly good commentary on a thread started shortly after the attacks began.

PanoramaBar: Gui Boratto and some debauchery

After dinner, my roommate had said to me, “I’m surprised you don’t take a nap before going out.” I’m not a very good nap-taker; if I sleep for one or two hours, I tend to wake up groggy. I usually prefer to sleep in a bit the morning of a big night out and then just power through the evening. However, I thought the idea was worth a try, so I decided to try taking a “disco nap.”

I set my head down around 21h00 and (aside from some interruptions from text messages) got up at midnight and started showering and getting dressed. By about 1h10, I was standing in front of Panorama Bar. I was supposed to meet a friend there at 1h00 so that we could head in together, but the bugger slept through his alarm clock and only woke up when I called him from the front of the building. He apologized profusely and started making his way to the club, and I started waiting.

There wasn’t really a line yet at the door (it doesn’t get busy until 3h00 usually), which unfortunately meant that the bouncers had a clear line of sight to me, as I waited for my friend to arrive. I wasn’t sure what they would make of it, but I imagined that loitering in front of the club for an excessive period of time might attract the sort of attention that could torpedo my efforts to get into the club. The advice that I’ve leared for getting into Berlin techno clubs: be inconspicuous (while within the club’s stylistic norms) and let the drunken teenaged tourists around you be the lightning rods of the doorman’s exclusion.

I was feeling more and more nervous as my friend took longer and longer to arrive. As I was waiting, I saw small groups of partygoers arrive, approach the door, and be sent away. I had been amusing myself (and worrying myself) by watching these people pass me on the way in and trying to guess whether they would be bounced or let in. All of the ones that I thought wouldn’t get in didn’t, but I was surprised to find a lot of seemingly “unproblematic” candidates getting turned away as well. I’d say about 75% of the people that passed me in one direction also passed me in the other direction within a minute or two. At 1h30 in the morning, that sort of selectivity didn’t bode well.

So when my friend finally showed up NEARLY AN HOUR LATER, I was anxious, filled with dread, and ready to blame it on him and wring his neck if we didn’t get in. By then, there was a short lineup outside, so I silently prayed that the bouncers wouldn’t recognize me as the strange boy standing in front of the building for an hour and we got in line.

By the time we got to the front (as we both stopped speaking French and started to put on our best “I’m not a foreigner” faces) the bouncers seemed to be having a moment of benevolence, as they had let the last couple of groups in without comment. However, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as other friends of mine have observed that bouncers tend to avoid long streaks of “in” or “out,” which means that it is possible that you’ll get refused at the door just because the bouncer hasn’t said “no” for a while.

Ugh, more tension. I was clearly still traumatized by my bad luck getting into Watergate more than a week ago. The guy at the door at that moment was one of the younger-looking guys with brown hair and a wide face that I’ve seen around but rarely seen at the door, which made me yet more nervous. I peeked through the door to see the older, burly, tattooed and heavily-pierced bouncer that is a fixture at Berghain and breathed a sigh of partial-relief; he’s seen me enter nearly every time and apparently he has a photographic memory.

I suddenly realized that he was looking right back at me, with a smirk on his face. With my now-nearly-delusional anxieties about getting in, I couldn’t tell if his half-smile was supposed to convey “how cute, you’re all worried that you won’t get in, but I know you and you’ll be fine” or “haha, you think this smile is friendly but I’m really smiling in anticipation of BOUNCING YOUR ASS OUT AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!1!” He was playing some sort of staring game with me, because he wouldn’t look away, and so eventually I looked nervously in some other random direction before looking back, since I also didn’t want to appear to be making any implicit promises to him that I couldn’t keep. This is no fun, dammit.

The younger bouncer looked at the two of us, leaned into the other bouncer and said something. The older guy, still looking at me, smiled a bit wider and said a couple of words to the younger one. They both smiled and made joked about something out of earshot, and then the younger guy walked back to the front of the line, opened the chain barrier, and said “Viel Spaß” (“have fun”).

Trying not to look too relieved, we gave the Unsmiling Hipster Headnod, a quick “Danke” (quick enough that our accents wouldn’t register), and then scampered inside to be searched and pay the cover charge. As we climbed the three flights of stairs to get to Panorama Bar (the Berghain section isn’t open on Fridays), I began to ask myself why I had gotten so wound-up about getting in. Part of it, I think, is that my encounter with denial a couple of Wednesdays ago reminded me that the bouncer system here isn’t entirely predictable: the bouncers can’t read minds but rather only outsides (attire, accents, posture, ethnicity), and although those affiliated with a particular scene do our best to display the right kind of outsides, the bouncers can misread us or have a change of whim that has little to do with established conventions. Also, I think part of the panic has to do with how precarious the “night out” is in these situations; the next 6-12 hours of your night will be decided by whether this person likes the look of you.

00h00-4h00: Mathias Aguayo

After getting drinks and checking our coats, we headed straight to the front of the room and started dancing in earnest. Aguayo’s set was firmly within a minimal-house sound, with a stronger reliance on vocal tracks than you would normally hear in Panorama Bar. In fact, about an hour into his set, he whipped out a microphone and started singing / shouting along with his tracks. Sometimes, this worked pretty well, especially when he was singing a short repetitive melody in Brazilian Portuguese or Spanish. Sometimes, he sounded like a drunk business traveler at a karaoke bar.

In my 13+ years of going to EDM events, I can say that the DJ-as-crooner schtick rarely works and most often careens into not-even-ironically-fun bad. Most of Aguayo’s set was pretty godawful in this regard, although I appreciated the spirit in which it was attempted. The result was that I spent most of the set simultaneously dancing and cringing; I would think “This track is great!” and then he would start wailing and I would thing “Oh great, it’s another fucking Matthew Dear act.” (To his credit, I don’t think he took himself nearly as seriously as Matthew Dear did for his vocal tracks.) Another lesson for today: just because you’re good in one domain of music-making doesn’t automatically make you good in another one.

4h00-5h00: Gui Boratto live

Gui Boratto’s set was definitely the highlight of the evening, offering a more abstract minimal house set with occasionally moments of “Latin” inflections, such as acoustic drum samples and complex percussion patterns. His build-ups were sometimes a bit overlong, taking so much time building up to the “return of the beat” that the feeling of anticipation began to deflate before something substantial happened. Nonetheless, the sound was great and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it.

I was a bit surprised to find Boratto also really hot, especially considering that I had seen him about a year and a half ago in Paris and he didn’t strike me as remarkable in the looks department. Looking back at the pictures I had from then, I don’t see a big difference in his appearance, but I guess something must have been different. Considering my previous inexplicable attraction to other DJs in this club, I beginning to wonder if there’s something about Panorama Bar that has an aphrodisiac effect on me. Either way, his set was great and he looked pretty damn fine to me.

5h00-9h00: Navid Tahernia

(I think Tahernia works for Kompakt, the label that was hosting the night.) Tahernia’s set was of a much harder, thumping variety that sometimes spilled into a sort of hard trance sound that I’m not really into. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I wasn’t paying attention for most of his set. A few minutes into his set, I noticed a cute guy dancing near me that kept on looking in my direction, and eventually we both maneuvered our way into dancing next to each other. I’ll be a gentleman (and a cautious ethnographer) and withhold the details, but this fine Irish lad kept me well distracted for the rest of the evening.

In fact, we didn’t leave the place until about 10h30, by which point I was completely unaware of who was spinning what. Nonetheless, good times.

jeudi, août 07, 2008

Animationfest! and a break from partying

Today I noticed that I was doing a very good job of avoiding the work I need to do by doing other kinds of work. My proposal and IRB protocols? On hold while I look for an apartment. Preparing my dossier for my apartment? On hold while I update my blog. Updating my blog? On hold while I spend hours on my German and Turkish lessons. And then I went grocery shopping and spent the afternoon making salsa and tzatziki. And then I went out for sushi with my roommate. And then we went to meet another friend at an outdoor film event to watch indie animation shorts.

So, not very efficient of me, but at least I got to watch some interesting animation pieces. A favorite of mine was a rendering of Charles Bukowski’s poem, “The Man with the Beautiful Eyes”, although I was also bemused by “My Happy End” and the high drama of water-shrew mating in “Our Wonderful Nature”. Very cute. Also, there was a short called “Nosferatu Tango” that had a really lovely color palette, but I can’t find a clip online for it.

After that, I was supposed to go to Weekend bar to see Loco Dice and Moby spin, but I needed to go home first and change. I was a bit tired and not especially motivated to go out, but since it was barely midnight when we got home, I decided to eat some chocolate, answer my emails and see if I got a kick of motivation.

Around 1h00, I got a call from a friend saying that the place was super-packed and the bouncer had turned him and his friend away at the door. Considering that this guy never gets turned away, I took that as a bad sign for the night. If I had already been out near Alexanderplatz having drinks, I would’ve maybe dropped by the club to see how things were going, but I’m not going to change clothes and cross half of Berlin for the chance to be sent away by some grumpy tursteher. Not for Loco Dice, nor for Moby.

So I decided to preserve my energy for the Friday and Saturday nights that were soon approaching and sent myself to bed.

mercredi, août 06, 2008

International Finance, Plastic Bottle Deposits, and Die BonVoyageNacht

My daytime activities were actually rather productive, but pretty unexciting. A bunch of phone calls to my banks in the US, a flurry of email responses, and an attempt to figure out the best way to transfer money from my American bank accounts to my French one. At first I was going to do what I did last time and transfer money between my US Paypal account and my French Paypal account, and then deposit the money from the French Paypal account to my account at LCL. However, Paypal is now charging fees for cross-border transfers, such that moving 1000€ would cost me a bit more than 30€ in fees. So I’ve tried setting up a Wire Transfer directly from my US account at Chase to my French account at LCL. There are still fees, but at least the fees are fixed, such that any amount of money costs $40US from Chase, and 16.50€ from LCL for the transfer. So I just have to transfer large amounts all at once to make it worth my while. Still, it’s a pain in the ass.

I also went out for an afternoon adventure, trying to return a bunch of plastic bottles so that I could get the bottle deposit back. A bunch of supermarkets have machines that take the bottles, but it’s not that simple. You see, there are some bottles that are thin plastic that will be melted down and re-shaped, and those you can stick into machines that will crush them and then give you back the deposit right away. But there are many plastic bottles that are mehrwegflasche (many-ways-bottle), which are made of sturdier plastic and are just washed and sanitized before being reused, which uses less energy. Anyway, these mehrwegflaschen have to be taken back by vendors and returned in the crates in which the were initially received; this means that stores will only take back bottles of products that they actually sell. You can see how this might get complicated. You can’t just wander over to the nearest corner store and say “Hey, here’s a bunch of plastic bottles, please give me my money back.” Instead, you have to remember where you bought each bottle and then go back to that store, OR you have to wander around your neighborhood and stop at each store, asking, “Do you take these bottles? No? How about these ones?” And, just to add to the fun, store owners will sometimes say, “Sorry, I don’t have any more crates,” which I take to mean, “I’m sick of taking back bottles, dammit.”

Anyway, that was my day. Then came night.

Step One: Kantine Berghain

Fantômette’s roommate was leaving tomorrow afternoon, so we had made plans to go out tonight and see him off. The plan was to head over to the Kantine Berghain (see my description from a previous visit here) to have dinner and drinks and then hang around till the end of the evening.

This was perfect except for two complicating matters:

  • The kitchen closed just after we sat down (23h00)
  • The outdoor patio (which is the primary reason for being there) closed at midnight and then we had to go into the Kantine and stand around in the club.

When we discovered that the kitchen had just closed, we managed to get a round of free shots from the server as an apology, but she wouldn’t take any more food orders from us. So we took turns going to the imbisses near Ostbahnhof and had ourselves some delicious greasy Turkish food. OK, so the dinner plans were a wash, but at least we found something to eat and now we can lounge around in the biergarten.

Then we found out that they were kicking us out of the patio and into the club at midnight. This was pretty much exactly what we didn’t want to do tonight. No crazy clubbing for us tonight, we just wanted to hang around outdoors, drink beers, smoke (not necessarily tobacco) and see our friend off.

After standing around inside the club miserably for a few minutes, we decided to move somewhere else.

Step Two: Club der Visionäre

We decided to hit Club der Visionäre, since we were guaranteed to have techno of some sort playing and the outdoor patio floating on the canal is always pleasant. For reasons that are completely foreign to me, we decided to walk all the way there rather than take a cab. It was a good 30 minutes at least on foot, but we got there.

CdV was exactly what we needed and we ended up spending the rest of the night there. We were surprised to find Sammy Dee, star of the Perlon label doing a ping-pong set with a female DJ that none of us could identify. After hanging out on the patio for a long while drinking beers and chatting, we migrated into the tiny dance space indoors and shuffled along to the music for a while, happily dancing until the wee hours of the night. I finally decided to head home around 4h00, having decided that that was enough of a night for Wednesday. The last time that I started partying hard on a Wednesday, I came down with a killer cold by Sunday…

mardi, août 05, 2008

Indochine and Cocktails

After sleeping in a bit and making myself breakfast, I headed out around noon to the Turkish Market, since I had absolutely nothing left in the kitchen. I’d like to think that I won the game of Turkish Market today, as I spent no more than 15 € and I came home with 1kg of ripe pears, 1kg of cherry tomatoes, 2 huge cauliflower heads, 2 large cucumbers, 4 stuffed grape vine leaves, 200g of olives, 1kg of red onions, 4 heads of fresh French garlic, 1 bunch of hot Thai peppers, 2 bunches of green onions, about 250g of strawberries, a bunch of mint and 2 bunches of coriander. I was especially excited about the coriander (Korianda in German, apparently), which I haven’t been able to find since I got here. The boy running the stand asked me what the hell people do with coriander, anyway, and I tried my best to explain salsa and pretty much all Latin-American food to him, but to no avail.

So I bought myself a cappuccino from the little coffee&cake stand at the market and sauntered home with my culinary prizes, very satisfied with myself.

I spent the rest of the afternoon finally writing up my notes from the weekend. Just before I could post the notes to my blog, 18h30 rolled around and I had to run. I had a date with friends at Monsieur Vuong, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Häckischer Markt / Rosa Luxembourg Platz area that is known for doing very good upscale Viet-Thai food. In many ways, it reminded me of the restaurant Spring Rolls in Toronto, before it morphed into a sort of chain of restaurants.

I tried the artichoke-leaf tea, which is was surprisingly subtle and a little bit sweet, and we shared an appetizer course of spring rolls (curiously rolled in panko bread crumbs, I think) and papaya salad. Very tasty, although smaller and not quite as crispy-fresh-crunchy as the same kind of rolls I would get in my neighborhood in Chicago. We all got the “lukewarm” fish noodles, which were really great; it included wide rice noodles, a fair bit of sweet soya sauce, chunks of pangasius catfish, crushed peanuts, onions, shrimp and the usual handful of fresh herbs that one finds in Viet food. Overall, very tasty and I think we paid roughly 18€ each for the meal.

From there, we took a long schlep over to a cocktail bar in Prenzlauer Berg called Fluido, which had one of the largest cocktail menus I’ve seen in a long while. We got a couple of rounds of complicated and exotic drinks, including something with absinthe, a classic Manhattan, a mojito of some sort, a frozen peach-mint thingy, and a couple of very boozy whiskey-based drinks that you could strip paint with. The drinks were all really well mixed and clearly used good quality liquor, but there was a price to pay. Two drinks each cost us around 18€ as well…as much as a full meal with appetizers and drinks back at Monsieur Vuong.

Conversation ranged from the Vast Swedish Pop Music Conspiracy, to Lars von Trier’s directorial style, to Linda Hutcheon and irony theory, to porn star memorials and other things that I’ve no doubt forgotten. After all of that, we each stumbled home in our respective directions and called it a night. I couldn’t quite get to sleep (despite the alcohol), so I kept myself entertained reading MetaFilter until my body decided it was time to sleep.

lundi, août 04, 2008

French Landlords and Fieldwork Ethics

After sleeping solidly through the afternoon and evening of Sunday, I woke up today around 8h00 with no option but to get up and move. Considering that I’ve been regularly waking up around 12h00 or later, I felt rather “productive” waking up that early. Yes, the version of me that was getting up to teach 9h30 classes on the other side of Chicago doesn’t recognize this version of me at all.

After making me some eggs (which apparently help with nerve repair…my facial control has been slowly returning!), I showered and changed as if I was going to go out, but instead I parked myself in front of my computer and got to work. Still, I felt somehow less of a shut-in by at least showering and getting dressed.

I spent a couple of hours looking at apartment listings in Paris, which made me realize that I need a LOT of paperwork if I’m going to get an apartment in Paris. French landlords are really reluctant to rent to people and demand lots of reassurances because French law makes it very hard to evict a tenant. So most landlords want one of two things: proof that your net monthly income is at least 200% of the rent; or 1-2 guarantors with substantial income. Also, they want lots of assurances from previous landlords that I’m not a jerk or a deadbeat, so then there’s that.

So I put a hold on my apartment searching (it’s too early in the month, anyway) and started emailing people for proof of income (from U of C), possible guarantor support from my mom (as much as I don’t like asking for financial backing from my parents at the age of 30) and reference letters from previous landlords.
I actually managed to find some cheap flights to Paris during the second-last week of August, so I booked them for Tuesday to Friday (that way I don’t miss the weekend in Berlin!) and started thinking about planning an apartment-hunting trip. One of the French websites dedicated to renting between individuals suggested that potential renters should prepare multiple folders of all of their financial documents to leave with landlords when they visit apartments, so that’s something I’ll hopefully be able to do in the next few days. Gawd, moving sucks sometimes.

I took a break from work to head out and buy my transit card for this month. The woman at the station didn’t quite know what to do with my credit card (I had “ask for ID” on the back instead of my signature), so I had to show her my ID and then explain in my broken German why my signature isn’t on the card itself. It took a while, but eventually I left with my transit pass in hand.

I spent the rest of the afternoon writing my Internal Review Board protocols, which are the procedures you intend to follow when working with human subjects. I need to describe everything I’m going to do in detail, and then submit it to a committee who approves it or rejects it, and possibly demands changes to the procedure. It’s depressingly pedantic, since you have to imagine every possible negative outcome of your fieldwork and then explain what you would do to mitigate it. So you spend hours thinking about how much your work can hurt the people you work with.

Also, the IRBs are designed primarily with medical / drug studies in mind, so a lot of the questions don’t make much sense for my work. Will my study have adverse health effects? Gosh, I suppose that if I’m talking to someone and I have a cold, they might possibly catch my cold. How long does the procedure last? As long as the conversation lasts, man. Primary benefits of experimental treatment? Um…a few minutes of friendly banter? Hypothesis to be proven? WTF, this is anthro-style ethnography; there is a striking and puzzling phenomenon that I want to better understand, this ain’t laboratory science.

In the end, filling out the forms isn’t impossible, just tedious and a bit awkward and lopsided. I’m certain that if I was preparing a study on a new experimental surgical procedure, my project would slot into the questions far more easily. Anyway, I eventually realized that I would have to include a copy of my proposal with the IRB protocols, so I put a pause on that and decided to get back to revising my proposal.

By then it was dinner time, so my roommate and I headed up to Paul-Linke-Ufer (the Northern side of the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg) and grabbed dinner at a café that was offering a series of chanterelle mushroom specials. The mushrooms were great, and the food was otherwise OK. We chatted about American politics and the intersection of race and economics, and then headed home for the night.

dimanche, août 03, 2008

It never happened if you slept through it

Got to bed at around 14h00.

Woke up around 18h00 with a splitting headache. Took some ibuprofen and drank some water. Went back to bed.

Got a text message from friends inviting me out for some after-partying around 22h00. Slept right through it.