samedi, novembre 15, 2008

Cassy's B-day Party @ Berghain

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.

7h00-10h00: Cassy

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.

13h30-17h00: Zip

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.

vendredi, novembre 14, 2008

Crêpes and Watergate

After a relatively long night of partying, I slept in until about 13h00 and then got to work. I stumbled down to the lounge in the hotel and bought a crappy coffee and a KitKat bar, and then went back up to my room. I spent the next couple of hours blogging and answering emails.

By about 17h00 I had taken care of everything and by 18h00 I was showered and changed and out walking around. Erika was also in Berlin this weekend, a friend from Canada who is in the same program as I at the University of Chicago. She was in town with her boyfriend, and the two of them were staying with a classmate of her boyfriend and his wife. All four of them were out on the town getting the girls’ hair cut, so they told me to meet them for dinner around 20h00.

I had some time to kill, so I decided to try visiting this language-learning exhibition going on in Mitte. I was starving, as it was 18h00 and I hadn’t eaten anything all day—except a KitKat bar and some coffee. So when I got off the Friedrichstraße S-Bahn stop, I decided to look for some quick food in the sizeable mall attached to the station.

I came across a Leberkäse stand, which intrigued me. “Leber” usually stands for “liver” and “Käse” stands for cheese, but as far as I could tell this Bavarian dish involved a large meatloaf. When I ordered one serving, the guy carved a huge, 1cm-thick piece of this massive meatloaf, stuffed it into a far too small bun, and then jammed some sauerkraut on top.

The Leberkäs tasted alright, but the sheer density of all that meat and sauerkraut nearly killed me. I was all sluggish and crampy, so I walked it off as I went along Friedrichstraße. I eventually found the exhibition I was looking for, only to discover that it was in the process of closing. Ah well, maybe tomorrow.

I took a tour around Gendarmenmarkt and then dropped into the nearest U-Bahn stop and headed toward Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg. From there, I walked along a main street towards Wittbergplatz and the KaDeWe department store (Kaufhaus des Westens). I reasoned that, in a city where stores tend to close very early, a large department store and tourist destination like KaDeWe was likely to stay open later.

I wandered around various sections of the store, spending a lot of time in the book sections and the food sections. Of course, I bought a ton of gourmet chocolate. I also saw the greatest thing I think I have ever seen: a Karl Lagerfeld teddy bear by Steiff. It’s 1000€ (of course), but it’s a hilariously accurate imitation of Lagerfeld’s style.

I finally got a call from Erika and her crew, and she gave me directions to the restaurant, called Manouche. It turns out that it’s a sort of crêperie / bar along Grimmstraße in the corner of Kreuzberg near my old neighborhood. I was rather glad that we were eating late (it was nearly 21h00 when we sat down), because that Leberkäs had taken a long time to digest.

Nonetheless, we all ate very well at the restaurant, each ordering a set of galettes (savoury crêpes) and dessert crêpes. The staff were entirely French in origin, it seemed, so ordering dinner involved a mixture of French, German and English. Their crêpes were all named after songs and the menu was written on music manuscript paper, with the ingredients written between the staves of music like lyrics. It was a cute idea, although a pain in the ass to read.

We also went through 3 bottles of red wine, so by the time we left the restaurant, we were all a bit buzzed. It was nearly midnight when we left and headed home, and I had a date with another friend to go to Watergate tonight at around 1h00, so I headed back to my hotel, freshened up, dropped off my shopping purchases, and then headed right back out.

Diynamic Night @ Watergate

I managed to catch a cab after walking a few blocks, and I arrived at the club while the line was relatively short. I jumped in line and fired off a text message to my friend.

She arrived a few minutes later, with two young Italians in tow. Apparently, they had stopped her on the street to ask her where Watergate was, and she just told them to come with her. Anyway, she knew the bouncer, so she considered asking the bouncer to let us directly into the library, but there were only 10 people ahead of us in line, so she decided it wasn’t worth calling in a favor to him. The group ahead of us got turned away at the door, but the same bouncer took one look at my friend, asked, “How many are you?” and then waved us all in. I don’t know if the two Italian guys that she had brought along realized that there was a good chance that they wouldn’t have made it into the club without her company.

When we first got inside, the main floor wasn’t open, so we were more than a bit disappointed. However, after about an hour of hanging out in the lower-level WaterFloor, we noticed that the dance floor suddenly cleared out and my friend saw people going upstairs. We headed up and saw that the main room was finally open. Yay! Watergate’s famous wrap-around LED panel (click on "Gallery" for pictures) is as beautiful as ever.

0h00-3h30: Solomun & H.O.S.H.

These two DJs are both signed to the Diynamic label (one of them is the label manager, I think) and it seemed like they were assigned to provide all of the “filler” for the evening. They started off the evening with a 3.5-hour set, then they provided 30 minutes of music between the two main live sets of the evening, and then they continued spinning after the final live set.

Their sound was pretty solid minimal, but more minimal house than minimal techno. The tempo was a bit slow for techno and had a more open, relaxed feel. It was definitely good and they made good use of the sort of rolling basslines that I am so fond of, but I was increasingly eager to hear the next act.

3h30-4h30: Isolée live

Isolée has made some very beautiful and melodic minimal techno, but his sound tends to be very atmospheric and downtempo, often blurring the boundaries between minimal techno and ambient/lounge music. All of this, in the end, makes for a lackluster live set, especially in the context of a high-intensity Berlin nightclub. It was still quite lovely music, but it felt out of place in the headliner slot at 3h30.

4h30-5h00: Solomun & H.O.S.H.

I’m not quite sure why they needed to provide 30 minutes of filler music here. I imagine the next act could’ve started at 4h30 instead of 5h00, especially since they both had their gear already set up on opposite ends of the stage / DJ booth. Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to grab a drink and claim a better spot on the dancefloor.

5h00-6h30: Stimming

So this was the guy I came here to see. I listened to the podcast he made for Resident Advisor last July and LOVED it, and then I saw him perform at the end of August and also loved it. This set was also lovely, although it wasn’t consistently solid throughout.

Stimming structured his set by “songs”—that is, by the tracks and remixes that he have released recently. Obviously, since it was a live set, he manipulated the elements from each song to create something a bit different, but nonetheless the progression live set went from one recognizable track to another.

He was smart enough to start with his strong tracks, opening with “Safari” and passing through his current hit, “Una Pena.” From there, he went through a few other tracks of his that have become well-known. He then passed through a series of tracks that were less exciting and somewhat generic-sounding. This low period in the set lasted too long, and the crowd started to thin out.

Near the end of the set, however, he (very wisely) returned to some intense and exciting tracks, finishing with a bang. The crowd went wild and demanded an encore, and so he played for another 10 minutes or so before handing it over to the next DJs. Although the pacing of the set wasn’t perfect, it was a significant improvement on his set from this past August, and it was miles better than Isolée’s set earlier tonight.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, by 2009, he’s going to be headlining on a lot of world tour destinations. This guy’s music is good, and his live performance skills are improving every time I see him.

6h30-???: Solomun and H.O.S.H.

They’re back! These two guys took over the reins again and presumably played until the end of the night, although I didn’t hang out much longer. I grabbed a drink to refresh myself, said goodbye to the folks I knew that were still straggling about, and then I headed out and caught a taxi home.

jeudi, novembre 13, 2008

Tepid Times at Weekend Club

I woke up at around 16h00, a bit dazed but at least rested. I went down to the reception and bought some access time to their wireless network, and then headed back to my room and checked my email. Seeing that I hadn’t received any mail from my Berlin friends, I decided to head out for a walk around “my” corner of Berlin while my friends finished their workdays.

I made a couple of phone calls to them as I headed out to the nearest U-Bahn stop. One of my friends was free but finishing an afternoon bowl of soup somewhere, so I told him to call me back when he was ready. In the meanwhile, I headed down to Hermannplatz, the U-Bahn station that I used when I was living on Weserstraße in Neukölln this past summer. I wandered around my old neighborhood and then headed over to my favourite döner kebab place, Güney Grill, and got myself a big-ass döner. God, they know how to make’em here.

Allow me to pause for a moment and make a clear contrast between Parisian and Berliner kebabs. In Paris, you get a sort of hot-dog bun or pita bread, split open and stuffed with meat; you get a smear of harissa or tzatziki sauce, and then you get some lettuce, tomatoes and wilted onions. This is your sandwich. In Berlin, you get a large and thick rectangular-shaped piece of flatbread (called “shingle” bread), split open and filled with a LOT of meat. You can get a white mayonnaise-and-herb sauce or a “spicy” sauce that looks like harissa but has much, much more flavor to it; it seems to have a base of tomatoes and grilled peppers, with some herbs and garlic. The “salad” for your sandwich involves cucumbers, red cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, parsley and sometimes yellow corn. This has nothing to do with the crap you get in Paris, I tell you. I may have to get another one tomorrow and take a picture or something.

After stuffing myself with the sandwich and a drink, I wandered around my neighborhood, heading down my old street and then past a series of bars that had been growing like mushrooms in this area over the summer. I eventually made it over to another U-Bahn stop, Schönleinstraße, and decided that it was too cold to keep walking.

I had heard by now that my friend was in the neighborhood of the Haeckischer Markt, so I headed over there and started walking around and waiting for his call. Again put off by the cold, I walked over to Alexanderplatz and hid in the well-heated Galeria Kaufhof, which is a huge department store. I killed time wandering through the men’s perfume section.

My friend finally caught up with me and we wandered through Mitte until we came upon a bar called the Blaues Band (The Blue Stripe), where we settled in for a few drinks. Two other friends caught up with us there and we spent a good couple of hours chatting. From there, we decided that we were hungry enough for a late dinner and headed over to a Russian restaurant / bar near Rosenthaler Platz called Gorki Park. The restaurant décor was all Soviet-Era kitsch and the menu followed the same theme: “Peasant”, “Proleteriat,” “Intelligenstia,” “Builder” dishes, etc. My friends all had various sorts of soups, including a rather tasty-looking one called Solyanka. I had a sakuska, which is apparently a plate of cold items with a shot of vodka. The plate included salted cucumbers (lightly pickled), roasted potatoes, eggplant caviar, lightly pickled onions and dark rye bread with butter. It was really quite delicious.

Another bottle of wine later, my friends were feeling tired and some of them had to work the next day. So off we went in our separate directions. I got back to the hotel, changed clothes, and started heading out to Weekend Club for my first night in Berlin.

Tobi Neumann & Matthew Styles @ WeekEnd

I got to the club around 1h00, which seemed a bit early, but I wanted to avoid waiting in line. There was actually no line to speak of when I got there, so I was spared trouble of waiting out in the cold. I was almost spared the trouble of getting in, though, when the bouncer asked if I was on the list.

Internally, I was rolling my eyes. Of the three major clubs that I go to in Berlin—Berghain, Watergate, Weekend—this is my least favourite and the one that has the weakest music programming. Nonetheless, this is the only place where I get hassled about entry if I show up alone (with that one obvious exception at Watergate this summer).

Anyway, I said that I wasn’t on the list and he asked me if I knew which DJs were spinning that night. I rattled off their names and he let me in. Even though I got in, however, the unpleasantness at the door put me in a sour mood, which only worsened when I got to the dancefloor on the 12th floor of the building (did I mention the club is in an office building?). I looked around the dancefloor and found myself playing the “Why did he/she get in, then? Did s/he have trouble getting in?” game. This sort of thing can never end well, as the answer to all of these sorts of questions is: no those other people aren’t as cool / hip / underground / etc. as you and it’s an insult to your coolness / hipness / etc. that you were questioned on it at the door.

I set about putting myself in a better mood. I grabbed a beer, stood near the DJ booth and started dancing. The crowd was still a bit sparse, so I had a fair bit of room to dance about. Matthew Styles and Tobi Neumann seemed to be doing one long back-to-back set for the whole evening, so it’s hard to say much about their particular styles. Neumann’s mixes tended to be a bit rougher and his selection involved a harder sound, while Styles seemed to be smoother and lean more towards a refined / restrained minimal techno.

Nonetheless, their overall sound was very recognizably “Berlin,” which was all the more clear to me after having been partying in Paris for the past two months. There was that same emphasis on forward-driving motion, resonant and melodic basslines, sparse but intricate textures and an empty mid-frequency range that creates a feeling of space.

By about 3h00 the crowd had finally filled in enough to feel like an actual crowd, but by 4h00 it was already clearing out substantially. Clearly, this summer was long gone and the massive crowds from that period were gone as well. Mind you, Weekend isn’t the best club to gauge the vitality of the techno scene; I’ll wait to see how things are going at Watergate and Berghain.

My hotel was on the same U-Bahn line as my old apartment, so when I got on the train I slipped into automatic pilot mode and spaced out. I managed to miss my stop for the hotel and had to turn around, which added a fair bit of time to my trip (the U-Bahn trains come very rarely at this time of night). Regardless, I got back to the hotel and finally got a good night’s sleep. Yay!

mercredi, novembre 12, 2008


This was supposed to be a short and quiet day of preparation for my trip to Berlin (yay!), but instead turned into a rather long one. I got up a bit late in the morning and headed over to work, where I printed out my plane tickets and hotel reservation, submitted my timecards, and had a meeting with some of the teaching staff. From there, I dashed off to a colleague’s house to help him set up his telephone and internet at his new apartment (I don’t normally do house calls, mind you), and then over to the Ecole des Chartes to teach English. From there, I headed home, stopping at the Monoprix near my place to grab a couple of things to eat and drink. By the time I had cooked dinner, cleaned up the apartment and packed my bags, it was already midnight.

This was a bit of a problem, as I had a super-early flight out of Orly at 6h30. This meant I had to be at the airport at 4h30. This meant I had to be leaving my apartment at 3h30. This meant that, at midnight, there was no point in going to sleep. So I drank some caffeinated soda, did some reading, and watched some CNN.

At around 3h00, I lugged my stuff down the 6 flights of stairs in my building and started walking along the nearest main street, looking for a taxi. 3h00 is sort of the “dead period” for taxis, as most of the evening shifts have finished and the morning shifts have yet to start. Nonetheless, I did manage to catch someone in a few minutes and then we were off to the airport. The cab driver was talkative, which I appreciated, as it kept me from dozing off.

The whole flight was tiring but uneventful. I waited for a while to check in, then waited longer at the gate, then got onto the plane, slept during most of the flight, stumbled off of the plane in a daze, found my luggage, and headed for the train station. I knew that Berlin was going to be colder than Paris, but I had totally underestimated just how cold it was going to be. I wish I had brought a heavier coat.

At nearly 9h00, I was pretty hungry and there was a very typical German food stand in the train station, so I stopped for a moment to have a currywurst. This one was surprisingly good, with a rather generous dose of spicy curry powder. From there, I bought my train ticket and got on the S-Bahn, heading toward Ostbahnhof to find my hotel.

From Ostbahnhof, I crossed the river Spree and headed along Köpenicker Straße to my hotel, which is actually a combination of hotel and hostel, A&O Hostels. I’m a bit too old to be sharing a hostel room with 6 other students, but the single hotel room was actually pretty cheap. I presumed that my room wouldn’t be ready and I would have to wander around the city, sleepless, until at least midday. Thankfully, the room was ready, so I headed up to my room, unpacked, sent of text messages to my friends in Berlin, and then fell asleep.

mardi, novembre 11, 2008

DJ Luciano and Sorrow at Le Rex

Since Tuesday is going to be a quiet day (and I had already filled up Monday’s post with my Andouillette debacle), I’m actually posting about Monday night’s outing to Le Rex here. Considering that I didn’t even leave my place until 1h00 in the morning, I suppose all of this happened on Tuesday, anyway.

I had been originally signed up for the Com2Daddy guestlist for tonight, but I got an email from them a couple of days ago saying that there were so many people on the list, they suggested getting there even before the club opened to ensure that you would actually get in before the guestlist closed (at 1h00). I wasn’t excited about waiting outdoors for hours just to get into the club way earlier than I would want to, so I made a few emails and managed to get added to another guestlist that was good all night.

So I waited until about 1h00 before leaving my place, thinking that the people waiting to get in with the Com2Daddy guestlist would’ve either gotten in or given up by now [this was not the case]. It was raining in alternating waves of light and heavy, so I waited for a moment when it seemed to have calmed a bit, put on my leather (i.e., waterproof) jacket and headed off to find a vélib. The bike ride over to the club was actually not too bad, I was only a bit wet when I got there. Nonetheless, I consoled myself with the certainty that the storm would pass by the time I left the club [this was not the case, either]

When I got to the club, the lineups were still massive on both sides of the entrance (i.e., both the cash and guestlist lines). I sighed, resigned myself to a fate of getting rained on for an hour, and got in line. At the back of the lineup, I ran into a cluster of friends, who were also on a non-closing list and confused at the throngs still remaining in line (despite the fact that they were no longer getting in for free). Thankfully, Molly’s boyfriend was among those of us in this group, and within a few minutes, Molly appeared and took us directly into the club with her. Thank gawd.

Inside, I ran into another friend who was…well…far more drunk than I’ve usually seen him. At first I noticed it in his intense tactility when talking to me (he’s not usually one to be very touch-feely, even in club contexts), and then in his slowed—but not slurred—speech. As we were leaning against the bar and ordering drinks, he said to me, “As you can probably tell, I’m…totally drunk tonight. I needed to release all of the tension from this past week. You see, I lost my grandfather this weekend.”

What the !@#$ do you say to that in this context, immersed in a space designed for play and surrounded by revelers? Sorrow is certainly one of the more “inconvenient” or “awkward” affects of nightclub scenes (or nightlife in general). Is there a way to comfort and console that is also appropriate to the modes of nightlife? Caught without a socially-appropriate script to read from, I did what I would’ve done on a day-lit street: I said, “Ah non!”, let my dismay show on my face, and then gave him a hug in a gesture of compassion.

It may seem like a silly anxiety, but I was worried that these sorts of gestures would mean less in this context, where everyone was touching and hugging and being warm. The gestures of comfort and conviviality are both very similar if not identical, and both are kinds of intimacy and solidarity; so I was worried that the significance or efficacy of my gestures would be lost in the sea of public intimacies in the club.

He immediately minimized the impact of the event and the intensity of his feelings, saying, “It’s OK, I’m fine. I’m having fun tonight.” The corners of his mouth were turned sharply down and his eyes didn’t look very happy (in fact, they looked somewhat glassy), but I supposed that he was convincing himself more than I. We shared a moment of silence together, surrounded by the blaring music of the opening act tonight, and then he saw somebody he knew and disappeared.

The music for the night was a bit inconsistent in quality. The opening act was Los Updates from México. They were more of an electro-pop performance group, of the sort you would usually hear at a concert hall, and certainly not very well suited for the crowd that had shown up for Luciano the headliner for the evening. Their set was decent, so I felt bad that some of the audience booed at the end.

From about 1h30-3h30, DJ Wild came on a did a set, which was not bad but not excellent, either. The track selection was sort of “best of the summer of 2008,” without really a sense of overall organization. His technique was smooth and the tracks were good (if a bit overplayed), but it felt like he had just chosen 20 tracks at random from his library and mixed them together.

Luciano’s set started out a bit disappointing and made its way up to “underwhelming.” Again, it wasn’t bad. Certainly, there was no question about Luciano’s skill as a DJ and his set was much more cohesive than the DJ that came before him. However, I had come to expect a certain kind of sound from the standard-bearer of the Cadenza label, and so I was a bit surprised to find him leaning heavily on dubby-vocals and a sort of classic deep-house sound. I suppose you could call this “minimal,” but this was very much at the borders of the style/genre. Anyway, I hung out until about 5h00 and then started heading home. It was raining harder than ever, it was really cold, and climb up 6 flights of stairs to my apartment felt pretty long.

lundi, novembre 10, 2008

Andouillette vs. Andouille: Never Again

Okay, before recounting my night out tonight, let me just make a Public Service Announcement:


I was aware of the distinction, but I clearly had them backwards. After spending 6 hours straight at the BnF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the national library of France)—which will merit a separate blog post one of these days—I was clearly a bit tired and confused. So when I stopped in at my local Monoprix to pick up some sausage to cook with some vegetables as dinner, I looked at a package of Andouillette de Canard and thought two thoughts:

  1. Oh good, this is the one that isn’t made of pig’s poop-chutes.
  2. 2. And it’s “de Canard” (“of Duck”), so there’s no chance that they would include pig colon in this thing.

I was wrong on both counts. Andouillette is, indeed, the sausage made of the pig’s entire digestive system (stomach, intestines, colon) and an “andouillette de canard” is just a regular pork andouillette with some duckmeat added; the pig-guts are still in there.

Now, I have eaten some scary and/or gross stuff in my life, and I will admit to loving the taste of stinky cheeses of various sorts, but this stuff is really, really unbelievable. Although the pork chitterlings (a southern US name for pig colon) are obviously well-cleaned before being stuffed into the sausage, there’s something in the actual tissue of the colon which the human nose identifies with the smell of pigshit. To be more precise, pigshit gets part of its aromatic “bouquet” from something in the pig’s colon, and that smell persists in the colon itself, regardless of how much you wash it.

So when I opened the package (as the vegetables were already sautéing) and got a whiff of the contents, I balked. “Surely that odor will disappear once the meat is heated up,” I thought. When I put the slices of sausage in the pan, the odor of shit got so strong, I had to open a window and let in the glacial night air. “Surely the odor will cook out after a few minutes,” I thought. The odor got stronger and stronger and took on an acrid overtone. It didn’t just smell of pigshit anymore, it smelled of pigshit and overcooked liver and blood sausage and dirt.

Thinking strategically, I thought that the tannins of a red wine would probably dampen the odor and cover it with a similarly “earthy” smell, so I de-glazed the pan with a half-bottle of wine and cooked it down to a thick sauce.

The final product was inedible for most palates. The vegetables turned out tasty and even the red wine sauce was pretty good (if a bit iron-heavy), but the sausage still smelled like shit. The actual taste in the mouth was more like eating tripe that had been flavored by liver and kidneys (not exactly delicious), but the odor was omnipresent. To my credit (I think), I finished all of it.

But I am never fucking eating that disgusting shit again.

[considering that this post is already a bit long, and considering that Tuesday is going to be a quiet day for me, I think I’ll post my review of my night out as my Tuesday post]

dimanche, novembre 09, 2008

In response to Judith Butler's "Uncritical Exuberance"

So I’m posting here something that I had written in an email in response to an essay posted by noted philosopher and gender/queer theorist, Judith Butler, on the election of Barack Obama. She expresses worry about the enthusiasm for Obama for several reasons, which include: the risk of personality cult and fascism; optimism and the likelihood of disappointment; the political necessity of antagonism vs. the “we are as one” slogan; the hypocrisy of those who supported Obama but retain their racist / classist / homophobic positions. You should really read her essay rather than my paraphrase, so you can find it here. Also, Lauren Berlant, a scholar who works on English literature and public culture—including political emotions—published a response to Butler’s essay here. Also, Cathy Davidson has posted a thought piece that is a response to the sort of anxieties expressed in Butler's piece (even though it doesn't reference Butler's essay directly). Anyway, here’s my response:

[NOTE: This was posted on an e-mail discussion list, in response to a whole series of responses by other members.]

I'm chiming in late, but here's my $0.02:

My first reaction to Butler's essay was something along the lines of: "Really? Now? You couldn't give everyone a week to feel good?" I already presume that those complex textures of Obama that had been buffed smooth by this campaign's optimism will begin to grow back quickly, so I don't see the urgency in shitting in everyone's (every Obama-supporter's) cornflakes.

Part of Butler's reaction, as others have already pointed out, is due to a presumption that disappointment is the only proper political affect, and that happiness can only be stupefying—a modern-day political "opiate." Political depression, disappointment, cynicism and pessimism can all also make you stupid and uncritically over-critical, when cynicism blunts and undermines positive change, when defeatism suppresses voter turnout and political engagement.

But Butler's position also represents the difficulties of shifting critical gears at full speed. Throughout the entire Bush administration, scholars were playing the Adornian game of "spot the emergent fascism", concerned that his post-9/11 popularity was a sign of a "charismatic" leader (an adjective that has become euphemistic shorthand for "charismatic like Hitler"), and then concerned that his increasingly forceful defense of his position in the face of declining public opinion were the first steps in the suppression of political dissent. None of these fears were entirely unfounded, that is certain, but after expressing apprehension and dismay at the religious right's elevation of Bush Jr. to messianic status, it's hard not to apply the same lens to Obama's current popularity.

As someone who works on popular music, this is a good moment for me to make the case against pathologizing popularity. We still carry with us the intellectual a priori of mass culture critique that what most people like can't be good for them. As a speaker pointed out at last spring's meeting of the Int'l Association for the Study of Popular Music, the term "fan" had its origins in an attempt to make a distinction between the perceived dangers of attachment to popular musics and the more salutary appreciation of art musics. The first few academic studies of popular music in the first half of the XXth century treated popular trends as a problem to be fixed, discussed in the rhetoric of deviance, epidemic, criminality and education/reformation. And so this speaker—speaking in April, well before the emergence of Palin onto the political scene—felt that the common practice of describing Obama supporters as "fans"/"fanatics" smuggled in a whole cluster of anxieties about class, age, violence, race, gender and 'mob mentality'.

If I had been inspired to write a similar essay to Butler's, I think the message wouldn't have been "be suspicious of your happiness" but rather "this level of elation can only be sustained for a while, so enjoy it while it lasts and prepare yourself for more complicated times." Antagonism may be constitutive of politics (an argument that I find less and less compelling), but that can't constitute the limits of politics. And if Obama's win is as terrain-changing as Butler has said, maybe we'll find a way to do politics with positive affect—at least for a while.

p.s. I also forgot to mention that I think Butler vastly oversimplifies the attachments of Obama supporters, and she assumes that the only kind of complicated attachment you can have to Obama is one of disavowal. I think political subjects have more options of attachment than "support", "oppose", or "support while in denial."