Thursday, 21 November 2013

Diary Of A Lonely DJ In Berlin

TEA's haphazard Diary Of A Lonely DJ is the sharing of personal anecdotes, memories and accounts from enjoyable or not so enjoyable times spent with electronic music, which this time comes from a four day weekend in Berlin.

Going out and witnessing DJ sets and live performances first hand is probably the best research you can do as a music writer, and what better place to do this than Berlin. Yes it’s the old cliche; techno in Berlin, but what many people don’t appreciate about the city is it holds more clubbing opportunities than what you'll know is on offer. My weekend began on Friday night where I caught the second half of a panel discussion hosted by Will Lynch that put Berlin record stores and their micro-habitat under the microscope. Speakers included Finn Johannsen of Hardwax, OYE-Records owner Markus Linder, Christian Pannenborg of Recordloft and a young Parisian, Etienne Dauta, who’s recently moved to Berlin and opened his own so far successful record store, Bass Cadet.

Finn Johansen made the point that record stores, such as Hard Wax, have become a trusted music filter for customers, while other topics included the growing rate of females' involvement in these retailers, the genesis of Max Graef at OYE, successful labels, Discogs and other idiosyncratic nuances of the record industry, such as Hard Wax banishing the phrase TIP! from their website. Later that night I saw Emptyset play at a Raster-Noton themed Berghain, and after being hit square in the chest by a super-charged sonic pulse of sine wave delivered direct from Paul Purgas and James Ginzburg, I remember thinking how foolish it was to think I had earlier contemplated not going because I was tired. For more than a hour the Emptyset billowed Berghain with a powerful live show, visually enhanced by the synced (random) dot patterns of (Ryoji Ikeda-esque) television static playing on two large screens.

My late arrival meant I missed Atom TM’s live show, whose first track, I was told, referenced Bob Dylan’s iconic music video to “My Subterranean Blues”. Pop HD indeed. Upstairs Panorama Bar played host to Laurent Garnier and a lot of fashionably queer characters. It had the vibe of how I picture Innervisions parties to be in several years time, which was quite the contrast to the crowd Raster-Noton pulled below. 

The last DJ set downstairs came from Credit 00, an Uncanny Valley affiliated artist that closed the night (of what I saw) suitably with a selection of techno that sounded like Aphex Twin covering Livity Sound. I didn't recognise a single track and enjoyed a lot of what I heard (which is always a good sign). 00’s jerky movements in the booth were also interesting to watch. One track I did take home with me though was “Channel B” by Mono Junk, which entered my ears after reverberating down Berghain's stairs into the cloak room as I was putting on my jacket to leave.

Saturday night presented Tresor, which before then I’d only experienced through a few poorly subtitled techno documentaries. Standing out the front was like being somewhere I’d only seen on TV (like Mount Rushmore or something). I remember hearing a conversation in the line about the difference in etiquettes between Berghain and Tresor, but contrary to what some people say, not everyone gets into Tresor; the two males in front of us were denied entry with a semi-empathetic shake of the doorman's head.

Inside, the club's walls are either black, or a raw, grey-cast concrete. The club’s lined with coloured lights which evoke a feeling of Trainspotting, but also a Hollywood movie recreating the night club experience badly - the cloak room playing irrelevant psy-trance for example. Before checking out Marcelus and Juan Atkins downstairs, I first experienced the spectacular sounding Globus, Tresor’s other room. Dutch label Clone were in charge and 2562 had just taken over from Dexter's opening set. 

After several funkier tracks from 2562, a labyrinth of stairs and a dank, dusty tunnel led me to Tresor where Marcelus was booming out slab-after-slab of heaving 909 techno. Down there it felt like I was never too far from the sound of breaking glass, which didn't seem to bother people; prompting me to realise that I, nor anyone else, had been patted down entering the club. The bar service however was some of the best I’ve had. My change, drink and redeemable 50 cent Tresor token were handed back to me faster than I could casually pay their respectable prices.

Tresor's not really a club that lends itself to trainspotting, but a white splattered record being put back in its sleeve by Marcelus was my hint that JC's then unreleased Endurance EP, on Deeply Rooted, had just given the newly installed Void system an enjoyable workout. The sound in Tresor initially came across as coarse, but the more I settled into the club, and its dark dwellings, I learned how suitable a rawer sound was for the space; tough and scraping, but not painful. 

Back in Globus, 2562’s set came to an end with some UK garage sounding melodies, and other keys and chords shone brightly through the system. The highs were crisp, the mids were clear and the bass was more physical than audible. Alden Tyrell followed up and delivered the night's highlight, a hour and a half (or so) of highly danceable, high octane club tracks. It was Clone's Basement Series live in the flesh and hearing Tyrell's “Rush” from his CBS 12” couldn't have been a better way to experience this. All that was missing was a basement. 

Completing Clone's takeover was label owner Serge, who from afar looked liked Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger playing west coast electro. He was cool looking, composed and well dressed in a royal blue shirt, and his mixing was executed with the clinical precision. Early into his set however, mid-mix, either a needle skipped or a CD jumped, or something, throwing Serge's seamlessness way off the tracks with a clutter.

He didn't make it obvious, but after killing that mix short, it was apparent he was upset at the unfortunate glitch and as a result lost the full dancefloor left by Tyrrell. Literally hot under the collar, Serge stripped down from his smart blue number to a brown T-shirt and worked on rebuilding his dancefloor, and over four to five tracks, won the punters back with some rave. It was professional DJing at its best.

As difficult it is to watch someone lose their cool, it's twice as rewarding to watch someone earn it back, like a footballer that’s scored an own goal, who then scores two more at the right end to win the match. The rave card proved a masterstroke for Serge and his hard work, and renewed composure, payed off. A wave of clubbers made their way out of the clubs cracks and crevices, whooping and cheering to this unidentified hit. Serge was back and he fist pumped the air in recognition/gratitude of his returned dancers, which was doubly reciprocated.

Shortly afterwards I caught what was left of Juan Atkins set back in Tresor, which was loud, fast and melodic. Some lone characters wearing D(etroit) baseball caps were scattered around the perimeter and it felt all the more real to think Detroit was in the building. The wild card of the night however was german DJ Manuel Münster. Wearing a Mastodon T-shirt, he'd signalled his intentions before playing a record, and when he did, it was ferocious and non-stop. At irregular intervals the room would fill with so much smoke that all you could see were strobe lights flashing in thick grey fog. A serious (and surreal) clubbing experience not really fit for the faint hearted.

A 6pm flight home on the Monday meant I had the excuse for one more night out, and walking through Friedrichshain, passing some words of anti-gentrification, I made my way to see the Giegling crew play an unannounced gig at Sisyphos, a club or commune looking place that's like something out of Easy Rider. This was another new Berlin club for me and I arrived early, about 12:30am. My entry was a comedy of awkwardness. I was about as cool as a dropped pie. Clipping my foot on the step in, I was then pin-balled around by the several unimpressed door men, ignored at the cashier by someone cradling a cat in a blanket, and I chose the wrong, locked door, to actually get in the place.

Sisyphos has three rooms. The first, on the left as you enter the club, is a small Hawaiian-like hut, which that night was filled with a musky aroma of stale love, poppers maybe, soundtracked by the type of music you’d expect to hear at a Wolf & Lamb after-party that's gone on for too long. Room one, as I dubbed it, was like a basement club you'd expect to find off the beaten track in Tijuana during Spring Break. Inside was a large fan blowing department store hot-air on to the dancefloor drenched in terrifying (and very disorientating) blue strobes and equally frightening music. I spent my time at Sisyphos in the wooden rotunda ('Room 2'), which to enter involved crossing a makeshift bridge of wooden palettes floating on mud.

To my pleasant surprise John Osborn was playing. It was a set of pumping appreggios, progressive builds and big mixes. And although I'm still yet to connect with John Osborn’s music and DJ sets, the long and technical mixes the Tanstaafl Records boss pulled out were impressive. One moment in particular saw Osborn look up in appreciation to a room cheering his longest mix of the night, that, if it were him surfing, would have looked something like this.

Afterwards, Giegling co-founders Dj Dustin and Konstantin joined Ateq in providing Sisyphos with six-plus hours (I left at 9:30am and the party was far from over) of super dry minimalism; for the majority captained by Ateq. Dustin and Konstantin took turns cutting in with snippets of calypso house, Russian Torrent Versions and an endless supply of other minimal and housey essentials for a Monday morning's clubbing.



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