So I just finished up a month of living in Berlin, and I’m still struggling to catalog its full impact on my identity. Living in another country changed my opinions on bicycles (everyone should be issued a free one at birth), sauerkraut (delicious), and geopolitics (goodbye to being a Democrat, hello to…something left of that). But perhaps the biggest “WTF WHO AM I” moment came when I realized that I am no longer a person who hates techno music.
What? I know. Everyone who knows me knows that I like pretty much all kinds of music, with one big asterisk. Okay, so I like rock and roll the most. But I listen to a bit of everything…except for techno. What kind of techno is it that I hate, you ask? Do I look like I care enough to learn the names for the different kinds of techno?! You sound like an annoying Burning Man person. I hate anything that sounds even vaguely like rave music to me, okay? Or at least, I used to.
As DJ music has become an increasing presence in both underground and mainstream culture, I’ve struggled to understand why kids go so nuts for Deadmau5 and Skrillex. Is it the pounding, repetitive nature of their sound? The way it makes you feel like you’re having a panic attack? The way there are no real vocals to connect with? Or that shitty up-and-down dance you get to do to it?
As a last ditch effort to understand how people can fall in love with this stuff, I even tried the popular club drug known as “ecstasy.” Despite it not being the nineties anymore, I did it for the first time at my 26th birthday party, right before a DJ friend of mine started breaking out the house remixes. Do you know what I did? I asked him to stop with the remixes, because I wanted to be surrounded with only my most favorite of things at that moment, and that kind of music was not one of them. I was never going to “get it.”
At least, not until I went to Berlin. Although a lot of “big” indie rock bands play there, Berlin doesn’t have much of a rock scene of its own. What it does have, however, is a fucking amazing club scene, or at least that’s how I think of it now. When I arrived, I was annoyed at the lack of guitar music. When I left, I was annoyed at the lack of good techno clubs in New York.
What happened in the interim? Well, figuring “when in Rome,” I went to some clubs. They are so different there! First, the sound is better. It’s definitely loud, but it’s perfectly mixed and bass-heavy, so you can still talk to people without having to shout. Second, I saw some very good DJs. No offense to my friend, but the people they book at the biggest clubs in Berlin are way better than the average dabbler with a laptop. Third, I started to get to know a little bit more about it. For instance, I still hate dub step, but think acid house is pretty great. And fourth…I know Deadmau5 is straight edge and drugs are bad, etc., but I’d be lying if I said the pharmaceutical grade MDMA didn’t help at all. (Test your drugs!)(Don’t take too much!)(Don’t forget to drink water!)(Know your limits!)(Don’t do drugs!)(Other obligatory warnings!)
And then there were the people. They were so nice! Granted, it’s easy to be nice when you’re rolling your face off, but people do just as many drugs in New York, if not more, and they are…not as nice. For example, when I went to techno mecca Berghain, I found they let people in with a mind to creating the best mixture possible. It wasn’t about being cool (ravers aren’t cool). It wasn’t about who had the most cash to throw around (the door is exclusive, but affordable). Besides keeping out the Eurotrash in muscle shirts and the drunk 18-year-olds, the door guy seemed to have a sixth sense for who would behave properly once inside. I didn’t stick to my boyfriend the whole time, but not a single skeezy guy tried to dance up on me. Anyone who’s taken their vagina clubbing knows that’s quite impressive. It was very gay-friendly (as the sexy things I saw inside would attest), but not a gay club. And it was couple friendly, but not really big group friendly, because they want you to mingle and make new friends. I even saw a group of jailbait-y looking girls get turned away for being too wasted. Do you know any techno club in America that does that?
Subculturally speaking, it was all over the map. There were shirtless leather daddies in bondage straps, glittery androgynes, old school Goths, dreadlocked hippies, and some people I might tentatively identify as “hipsters,” even though it hurts my fingers to type that word. But the majority of the people just looked kind of normal. I know it sounds simplistic, but they really were just there to dance with strangers and have a good time. People don’t really do themselves up to go there, because they know their makeup is going to go to shit one hour into their twenty four hour stay, anyway. Did I mention it doesn’t close between Friday night and Tuesday morning, and that absolutely everyone dances? Out of respect for the sweaty revelers, there are no mirrors in the whole cavernous place. The coat check costs 1.5 euros and has tags that are fun to chew on yet indestructible. There are snacks and places to lie down if you get tired. They really did think of everything!
I don’t mean this as a dis on the Brooklyn rock/experimental/D.I.Y. scene, which is full of amazing people and will always be my favorite scene in the world. And I’m not about to start doing MDMA and listening to house music when I’m chilling at home. But in terms of the entire Listening To Techno Experience, I now understand what it is people find so magical about going to clubs and doing the up-and-down dance. And as with most things, the Germans do it perfectly.