The cultural tapestry of “Berlin”, as always, is ever-changing.
For those of us familiar with the texture of this asphalt for even only 10 years or so (and previously, perhaps by way of film and music), the haggard wraiths of nostalgia can loom intimidatingly large. Films like ‘Berlin Calling’ are fascinating case-studies in the über-revisionsm of a kind of homogenized ‘underground’ – filtered through the lense of extreme self-consciousness and wistful half-light, lubricated with nostalgia…
Posts on Reddit, Wunderground, Resident Adviser and countless other parody sites, attest to the fact that the cultural sands have long-since shifted from the mid 90s. The tropes of rave-transcendence rebuilding the “Kinderstadt” are no longer adequate in defining the cultural landscape – not least of all, as Germany’s role in wider Europe continues to change. And thank god for the shake-up, too – revisionism is cultural quicksand – mercilessly absorbing diversity and vital counter-narratives.
There’s an almost genetic-implanted tendency for the former cultural ‘gatekeepers’ to bemoan new models, financial realities, and new musical literacy (the sort which means that a Deadmau5 or Skrillex can knowingly site/reference Aphex Twin or Jamie Principle whilst earning their $100,000 a show paychecks.). Because no-one owns culture. Yet particularly in the face of Berlin’s radical ‘mainstreamification’ of club culture, the old gods scream as they feel themselves dying. But they are not dying – merely changing form.
The ‘dream’ that so many desired (a summer holiday in Berlin! A move to techno-city to become a dj!) is a salable reality – much like the ‘year in London’ which I recall being the post-graduation ritual in the early 90s for many of us in Sydney.
Buoyed by a new economy of young middle-class migration, Berlin now has a US Burger Joint serving imported 30 euro American steaks, an Australian café serving ‘flat whites’, and (finally) more than a handful of Japanese restaurants which actually serve Japanese food.
This ‘dream’ – this strange hybridization of semi-regulated capitalism and socialist ideals – has also transformed Berlin into something of a ‘neu-heimat’ for aspirant young professionals; for artists, designers, coders and musicians who have – for the first time – began flirting with the notion that one can ‘make money’ in this town. This quiet upsizing of the ‘poor but sexy’ orthodoxy is fascinating to me. Meanwhile, the wraiths rattle their chains…
Of course, for those of us blessed/cursed enough to have made a ‘home’ in club-land as djs/producers, the clarion call is sharp and clear – “adapt, or die, change, review, quit, burn the whole fucking ship to the ground, or just run…run…run”.
Lately, I’ve heard many dear friends speak of the the latter as a feasible option. Askew, out of place, confounded, I frequently flail with the question “what the fuck am I actually doing with my craft?”. Many pioneering friends are sweltering under the weight of a new rise in ‘aspirational’ dj culture – talented new waves of producers, djs – marked by a keen sense of competition, technology and great press-shots.
But this is ok. It’s honestly ok. Let’s loosen our grip again. Let’s practice this with every breath.
For many of us (myself most certainly), ‘electronic music’ was an accident which we just seemed to wind up in. A watering hole to gather around, an experiment, and confounding smear of color and light, promise and tears, terror and release and catharsis. We flirted with the notion of ‘career’… and then suddenly, ‘career’ happened. Or, moreover, our obsession transmuted into something almost economically viable. God knows how, or why. The years tend to erase much of the fine-print. The years also tend to ossify apocrypha into gospels…
“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.” – Hunter S Thomson
Like The Hacienda or New York’s Studio 54 – the formerly queer-culture walls of lauded “Berghain” fetishised club-culture have long since started to erode, too.
Different rules of engagement are at play.
Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ has long since re-cast (and as DJ Sprinkles plaintively observes) revised notions of the ‘outsider’, and of the role of club-culture in mediating this ‘otherness’.
“It makes no difference if you’re black or you’re white, if you’re a boy or a girl”.
Actually, it still seems to.
If only these ‘differences’ didn’t scream from the hetero-normative banners of Pasha, Ibiza, or reek like effluence from the new spin from messrs
Guetta and co. It makes ‘no difference’ if, like Madonna, like Guetta, you are white, slim and wealthy with an iPhone and disposable income.
But all of this is just what it is. And that’s ok, too.
There are still those from ‘the West’, aching to traverse this border – who need to find a home, a rebirth amid the rich earth of an ‘authentic’ sort of clubland, of deviancy, of the kind of pure ‘non-self’ experience which can be facilitated by nights spent amid heaving masses in dark rooms. These primal rituals and ‘safe spaces’ are one of the gifts of this city – and indeed, of the ‘scene’ (if we can even call it such) the world over. They are gifts we can share anywhere where imagination allows, and my recent visit to Poland for Unsound Festival served to remind me that a great, uncharted cultural expanse lies dormant and waiting to be explored.
…but our notions of of a purist ‘Berlin’, and its relationship with these spaces, this newly hyper-competetive ‘scene’ must change. We no-more ‘own’ a culture, than we ‘own’ a city. And I refuse to be owned by either.
As ‘artists’, I believe, we have no ‘special gift’ to share with the world. This notion is nothing other than evangelicalism, capitalism – feeding the myth and fortifying reactionism We do have – I believe – a call to present questions, to be risk being subsumed by ‘non-self’, ‘queerification’, fluidity, inclusiveness, failure, brokenness and…even joy. I often think its as simple and as complex as this – and that much of the rest is best discarded.
If nothing else, I’ve come to deeply trust the words of K Pattabhi Jois:
“Practice, and all is coming”.
I think, this is Patabhi’s not-so secret joke. Savagely understated, infact quietly ascerbic, and completely ridiculous – in a manner which resonates with my latent sense of German humor.
Ultimately, there is probably ONLY practice – and all else most likely stands in the way of practice. The coming and going, the smoke and mirrors. ‘All the rest’ is available – but perhaps its not what really makes us happy. But it is a choice – and herein lies a deep sense of liberation. A leaning towards, kindness, toward forgetting, towards death and release.
In a week or so, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall will be marked here – signified by the release of 8000 white balloons, along a portion of the former wall’s perimeter.
A release of the old order, dissolving into sky – into the Bardo of Clear Light. Into undoing, into deep, resonant laughter…