17.6.16

Berlin Passes The "Acid Test"

Back in 2012, Unscene predicted the revival of the acid sound in Berlin, and it still seems to be going strong.  And better yet, it still seems to be entwined with the same radical spirit as ever.

Tonight's Anti Repression Soliparty at the Rauchaus in Kreuzberg (which aims to raise funds to help Rigaer Strasse's embattled residents) features acid techno DJ's. The MVMNT13#2 party at Urban Spree, which will collect goods and funds for refugees stranded in Idomeni, will play "house-acid-techno" among other styles.  Mensch Meier's Serendubity party on Saturday features "Acid Dub Foundation" at their party, which aims to "celebrate individual and cultural diversity while combining/interchanging various aspects of our personal identities, characteristics and rolls (sic) in today's society."

Even the more mainstream Klubnacht at Berghain will feature psychedelic house and an "acid workout" in the Panorama Bar.

There are plenty of places to get a dose of acid in Berlin if you want it, right now.   The only question is, can you pass the acid test?



New Post: The Right Way to Be Left

"In the past six years in Berlin, I’ve witnessed materialist anarchists bashing pagan anarchists; first-wave feminists being trashed by third-wave feminists; queers trashing trans people; vegans getting bashed by vegetarians.  But being left isn't just about rejecting things you don't believe in... it's also about enacting what you do believe in.  One has to find ways to transform intolerance and isolation into their opposites, of acceptance and unity.  All people hold the capacity to exist at both ends of the spectrum."

 


15.6.16

Ode To R19


Credits as per photo, via R19 Facebook page

Club R19 is closing.

Another phenomenon of the Berlin party scene is vanishing, leaving us grappling to describe exactly what it is.  Was  

The problem with R19 is setting yourself apart from whatever is happening there for long enough to describe it.  Pause for a second and someone or something will grab you and drag you along for another ride. Usually, I just show the place to people and let them decide for themselves what it is.  Their reactions vary from wowed to wary.  Usually it's closer to the 'wow' end of the spectrum.

I’m a big believer in party photos, as long as they’re taken responsibly and with permission, but I’ve never had time to even think about taking a snap in R19 - time or space.  Anything that you do there that isn't part of the present leaves a palpable vacuum that the people around you seem to feel and zero in on, and try to fill.  Besides, stepping aside to reflect would just take you away from the chat, quest or dance you're currently embroiled in, when you'd be better off letting it sweep you away.  (Just be watchful that there isn't a darker undertow leading you on, as at any party).

I can't sum R19 up, but I can tell you what you'll see there: one room is like your badass flatmate’s 48-hour living room party, the other's a sort of cosy techno dungeon (or brilliant psytrance sanctuary, depending on the day of the week). Just as the hours of dawn and dusk spread towards each other and pool into a marbled swirl, the two areas merge during the night and day... and the night and day after that.  You’ll see the same faces jagging around each space, cast in different hues by the changing aspects of the music and crowd.  

I can also tell you what you'll hear thereTripping psytrance or banging techno in the main room.  Monging acid twister house in the other, played for end-of-the-liners and sofa jockeys who'd otherwise find themselves dancing at a bus stop. They hang onto their collective last resort with a wishful intensity, gripping onto that slowing momentum with a forceful will to reverse it.

Oh, and there's also a luminescent, Martian replica of the Berlin skyline in the courtyard... and the ping pong... beach seats... kicker...  All waiting on that moment when you can’t handle the pressure to participate anymore. 



R19 is the kind of low-key, madcap, anything goes rave shack that Berlin claims that it wants.  And it has it, but it's vanishing even as the masses are walking past, asking 'How much would a flat in this Nightlife Mecca cost?' They need look no further than the newly-renovated blocks across the way that are pushing R19 out of existence.  

Check out R19 before it shuts forever. There are a zillion places in Berlin that'll give you room to pose and pick and choose whom you speak to. That'll let you glide out the door in an 'edgy' ensemble that’s still still as spotless as it was when you glided in. 

R19 isn't one of them

All that matters there is that you throw yourself through the door and into whatever’s happening on the other side - for better or for worse. That you participate.

When it shuts, R19 will definitely leave a gap in the scene, but I'm still not sure what shape it will take.  Maybe that's because the shape of the place changes with every new punter that it absorbs.  In Friedrichshain, I suppose the nearest thing to it will be Urban Spree.  And, although Urban Spree is a fantastic venue, it just isn't ‘open always’ like R19 is.  It doesn’t whisper at you when you’re coming home at a reasonable hour, heading to bed right on schedule, in a smoky voice that billows out the door and wraps itself around your feet, purring, "...one last dance…” 


R19's last dance will happen by August 1st - check this blog or @unsceneberlin on Twitter for more details. 
 

31.5.16

Berlingo: "May Day"



As published in Siegesauele, May 2015 edition.

May 1st is a time when the spirit of change grabs us. Across Europe, people used to celebrate the day by lighting bonfires to magnify the sun’s life force. From Beltane to Walpurgisnacht, modern versions of these same celebrations embody a pre-Christian tradition of burning out the old, bad energies of winter to make way for new ones in spring. As manmade systems slowly replaced nature as the governing force in our lives, these too were added to the list of things that people yearn to regenerate. Eventually, May 1st was even chosen as International Workers’ Day to symbolize the ongoing struggle for equality between the haves and the have-nots.  



That may be why authorities tend to pour cold water on the May Day spirit: they’re afraid that they may get chucked on the fire to make way for something new. That seems to be what happened in Berlin on May 1, 1987 when police brutally clamped down on a peaceful street party in Kreuzberg. People who had gone out for a day of fun with friends and family found themselves fighting off the police side by side, instead. Together, they drove the police out of the area and blocked the streets with burning vehicles. The next day, the Man came back for what seemed to be a revenge attack, randomly arresting and injuring hundreds in the process. People from the Kreuzberg queer scene also got caught up in the action raging on Oranienstrasse, as gay bars sheltering radicals were targeted with tear gas. Like many that day, they were confronted with tangible evidence that the police and government could snuff out Kreuzberg’s laissez-faire lifestyle at anytime. It was a wake-up call.



The lines between all sectors of Kreuzberg’s society were broken down that day, but the ensuing chaos freed them up to react in a creative, unexpected way to the pressures they faced. As a result, the 1987 riots left Kreuzberg more feisty and fearless, setting the stage for an annual feud over who gets control of its streets. That feud still gets resurrected every May Day, yet the issue is far from being decided. Maybe that’s because the modern May Day celebrations tend to divide the community whereas in 1987, it united them.



Today, May Day is divided into two events: the Myfest street party and the Revolutionary May demo. The people who attend each event seem to feel that their choice best captures the spirit of the day; that it alone can give them the transformative experience that they seek. Yet both events share the same roots.  Both existed in some form before 1987, but were only able to make drastic change happen after they had been combined, and combusted. They differ in their approaches to achieving change: Revolutionary May is black-clad, ideological and unafraid of confronting authority, whereas Myfest is creative, colourful and unafraid of having fun. Yet the same old yearning for change drives them both.  


In 1987, the boundaries between revelers, revolutionaries and many other groups were burned down and rebuilt, clearing the way for a more integrated identity for Kreuzberg. There is little chance of that happening again while they are kept apart; it’s having a lit match and a pile of wood but never putting the two together. 


Berlingo: "Overrated"

The adjective "overrated" is often used in relation to Berlin's clubs, especially during the tourist high season. It's the time of year when dozens of pop-up parties suddenly appear, run by people who are in it for nothing but quick cash, an ego injection or the chance to play God for a while.
 
To illustrate, I'm republishing this early party report written about an openair party I went to in April 2011.  The party happened on the site where Kosmonaut club now stands but it was under different management then, so any resemblance between the old club and the new one is purely coincidental. 
Be warned: this review is so bad that it's almost good again (if you know what I mean). Please don't bother reading past this point if you dislike that sort of thing!


20.5.16

Summer Preview 2016: Time to Dance!

From the "Time To Dance" series by streetartist SOBR

Here in Berlin, it's always "Time to Dance"... even if you're just waiting at the tram stop at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, and even if you're eyeing your bank account's minus-balance on a graffiti-covered cash machine screen at midnight.  After all, just because the party's ended doesn't mean your buzz has to.

The season when it becomes most evident that the beat never stops in Berlin is in the summer, when a series of street parties and festivals acts the main stage, turning the swollen ranks of the clubbing network into mere after-party and pre-party stop-offs on the way back to the great urban outdoors.   

And now that we've gotten past the most over-hyped outdoor parade of the year (not naming any names here but it rhymes with "barnacle of vultures." Sort of. If you're drunk.) it's time for the REAL outdoor party season to begin. From now on, the only place to be, assuming you're not lying prone in the openair section of some club, is a festival, street party or parade.  Here are the best ones I've been to... I hope that you'll try them and make you feel the same way!

Zuruck Zu Den Wurzeln Festival, June 9th-12th

This festival was meant to take place in Berlin, but due to authorization probs it is now taking place near the Baltic Sea... but I've included it anyway since it should be good.  This 'secret forest' party by Berlin's longest-running, still-active free party crew should be fun, silly, beautiful and hard in equal measures.  Expect chillout, techno and psy music of all stripes.  Also, expect a family-style welcome from the crew.  And expect to not want to leave! At 85.00 Euros per camping ticket for 4 days it's pretty reasonably priced too.

Fete de la Musique/Fete de la Nuit, June 21-22nd

Fete de la Musique is a festival concept that Berlin pinched from Paris and Lille, but Berlin seems to do it just as well as its French rivals do. Basically FdlM is a one-day open-air concert on the longest day of the year that sprawls across much of the city.  Or, to be more precise, it is a series of small concerts, most of which are free,  and most of which happen in the streets.  The areas where the air will be thickest with tunage will be Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain (of course), but musicians can be found all around the city.  Check the Fete's official lineup for exact locations and times.

At night on June 21st, many clubs throw open their doors and let people in for free - an event that's known as "Fete de la Nuit."  It's an unmissable chance to sample some of the night spots that you've never seen before in Berlin.

WARNING: It's so not a good idea to show up to any party on this night without your I.D., no matter how old you may think you look.  This not-so-young writer found out the hard way that Berlin's bouncers are even more anal careful about ensuring that you meet their anal high & exacting standards during the Fete de la Nuit!

Freqs of Nature, July 7th-12th

The experimental art & music festival seems to act as an annual meet-up for everyone from the 'fringe' communities across Germany. Although it does help if you're into psychedelia and/or dream of living in a yurt, the hardcore free festival and freetekno people seem to love Freqs just as much as the hippies do.  It's a great place to expand your horizons in whichever way you want: emotional, physical, psychological or, erm, chemical.  

Christopher Street Day, July 23rd.

Berlin's gay pride event is usually about free love but this year's parade is going to be more about tough love.  'Thanks for Nothing' reads the subtitle on the web page for CSD 2016.  Apparently, 2016 will be a time for the "end of gratitude for breadcrumbs."  Damn [the] straight it will!  But hang on, is the super-commercial CSD finally getting some of its radical fighting spirit back?!  Go there if you wanna find out. If nothing else, you'll find yourself in some good company (see below). And that's always something to be thankful for.


Zug Der Liebe

The organizers of Berlin's revamped, re-radicalised 'love' parade have cast their nets wide again this year.  If last year's anarchic street party was anything to go by they'll draw up to 25,000 pax who are in favour all sorts of things, ranging from the right to stay to the right to go (naked, dancing and/or drunk) anywhere they want.  Sure, it's more of a party but it's a party that aims to emphatically tell the world what Berlin stands for, not against.  We are all in favour of that!



Hemp Parade (Hanfparade), August 13th.

This parade is for all those with a need for weed so, unsurprisingly, the majority of Berlin is usually there.  The motto this year will be "Legalization is in the air!"  Not many visitors to Berlin realize it, but the city already has a very liberal attitude regarding Mary Jane. Here, personal use and possession have been effectively decriminalized.  Many venues allow smoking on the premises and you can carry up to 5 grams without risking arrest, I think (as a non-smoker I can never recall the maximum carrying amount).  Not to mention the fact that Germany's already a 'green' nation in the ecological sense, so hemp is also well loved due to its being one of the greenest crops (fast growth rates, high  resistance to pests, versatile applications as an alternative food and medical product, what more could you want?).  With the first legal Amsterdam style head shop soon to be opened (maybe) the Hemp Parade organizers have good reason to smell the legalization in the air.  Even if you don't smell it you'll still catch a huge whiff of the fragrant herb everywhere you go... either on August 13th, or any other day!

Silent Climate Parade, August 27th 

At the Silent Parade you 'rent' wireless headphones (a returnable deposit is needed) and dance down the streets of central Berlin as DJ's broadcast live sets to you over the airwaves.  The objective?  To call attention to the issue of climate change, using the surreal spectacle of a mass of people, silently 'avin it large.  The parade is one part flashmob, one part party, and several parts protest.

The aim of the Silent Climate Parade is to create an event where you can have fun and send a serious political message about climate change at the same time.  My only question there would be, "Send a message to whom?"  The world's tiny political and corporate elite only ever achieve anything with the help of the 6 billion or so 'little' people.  Maybe then, the message that could create the biggest change in the world would be one that we digest and act upon ourselves. 

It would be great to see this year's parade focus more on demonstrating to others how they can make change happen, instead of always expecting others to do it for them.  Taking part in direct actions, like those which recently blocked carbon intensive industries world wide during Break Free 2016, is one way to do this.

But that aside, I find it hard to fault this parade.  Young they may be, but the parade's organizers are so full of idealistic energy that I can't blame them for not knowing exactly what to do with it all.

Fuck Parade, August-September ???

In theory, the Fuck Parade is an anti-gentrification protest. In practice, it tends to be more like a mobile occupation that anyone's welcome to join in, as long as they have a no-holds-barred attitude and don't intend swipe the land that the party stands on, like your average property speculator does.  Despite having no real manifesto, or even because of that, Fuck Parade still attracts a radical left wing set that practices what it preaches (vegan, freetekno, egalitarian, etc.).  You can feel a kind of well-worn, anything goes freedom in the air at this parade that to me, beats anything that I've felt at the majority of Berlin protests so far.  It may be a party first and foremost but, even without the aid droning speeches, stale slogans and so on, the Fuck Parade manages to feel like it's advancing a real cause, which would be us.

The exact date is usually announced about a week in advance, so follow the group's page for stay up to date. 



Got any more cool open air events to recommend?  Feel free to send them our way!  In the meantime enjoy the sun... and the rain... and whatever else comes.  Who cares?  It's summer. 

14.5.16

Opinion: Reclaim the Fuck Parade




While I was in England recently, I heard that some anarchists in London were putting on a Fuck Parade on May the 1st (see video above).  Now, anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm well into Berlin's annual Fuck Parade.  So it seemed like good news to hear that, some time last year, London's black bloc anarchists decided to swipe the idea of using a techno parade as a way of challenging gentrification, and named the event after Berlin's infamous street party.  So far, so good...

But after watching the video of the London Fuck Parade, it seemed that the similarity between the two events didn't go much further than the fact that they share a name.  The Berlin version of Fuck Parade is big and radical and hard, but it's also madcap fun.  It has a stated set of politics but anyone's allowed to participate in any way that they want, as long as they're passionate about the harder musical styles being played - gabba, jungle, hard techno and acid tek. It celebrates underground creativity at the same time as it challenges the system. 

In theory, I suppose that anybody was allowed to participate in the London version of Fuck Parade too... but the definition of 'anybody' and 'participate' seem to have been heavily predetermined by the a rather restrictive self-perception. The main images that the organizers have featured on their website depict revelers that are clad in black, angry and standing around or smashing things.  As for it being a 'parade', well, there's little celebratory or creative action in evidence.  The participants in the video seem almost unsure what to do in the absence of a bad guy to attack.

I know it's early days for London's Fuck Parade, but so far, it strikes me as being pretty far from the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) that the original Fuck Parade, Reclaim the Streets and myriad other anarchist street parties have aimed for in their events.  As veteran London street activist John Jordan writes,

"A T.A.Z. is a liberated area 'of land, time or imagination' where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life."

The background of the Fuck Parade

When Berlin's Fuck Parade started, its aim was more or less to reclaim the revolutionary, liberating power of street parties from the Love Parade (1989-2003), which had more or less become shackled by its own branding and hype, by that time. 

But the Love Parade, in its own turn, also began its life as an embodiment of practical anarchy via the street party.  With people spontaneously turning them into a giant dancefloor without authorities' approval, it was a sort of TAZ.  At first.  Whatever it wanted to achieve, it simply enacted in the empty streetsAuthor and ex-Parade-goer Wolfgang Sterneck affirms this when he writes:

"I wished that the 'acid sound' pumping straight out of the speakers at a Love Parade party would flow through the streets every day. An endless rhythmic beat, instead of the urban barrage of noise that otherwise surrounds us. And, at the same time, people stepping out of the proverbial line instead of going to work every day, stony-faced, to serve as a cog in a giant machine.  This was undoubtedly a psychedelic vision, but it was also the image of a social utopia that became—at least at certain moments—a reality, without those dancing being aware of this potential."



Populism turns to conformism...

By the end of the 1990s, though, the Love Parade was dragging the revolutionary aspects of partying in the streets to a halt. It had reduced the phenomenon of free, open air parties to a series of static cliches: topless hot bods with bright hair and piercings, gyrating in mindless enthusiasm until the music stopped... at which point, business as usual was ruthlessly resumed.

Anybody could partake of a 'rave' without adding anything valuable & lasting to the scene... unless you count cash as being 'valuable and lasting,' which few people in the underground party culture did. As the principle of selling to the lowest common denominator for the maximum profits was applied to the rave scene, its ideals mutated.  It went from being androgynous to being about "sex sells".  The participants went from getting high to attain 'peace love and unity', to getting mashed up in order to shrug off any sense of personal responsibility. 

But luckily, by then the original spirit of the Love Parade had already been transmitted across Berlin and Europe, and other people had started enacting their idea of what street life should be like on the streets without waiting for permission.  Another expression of the street party's anarchic undertones could be found in the UK-based Reclaim the Streets movement (1995-2002).  I highly recommend watch the film that RTS made about itself here for a brilliant, first-hand view of the movement as it unfolded.




"Unlike regular carnivals and parades, RTS never asked for permission, leaving the event open to the possible and impossible, turning the world on its head in true carnival spirit." From the website for Beautiful Trouble, a handbook for creative activism.

Anarchism turns to conformism.

It's hard to see any trace of the carnival in the images from London's Fuck Parade, or indeed many of the faceless black block style events that typify anarchism these days.  The anger evident in the video is very understandable - London's property speculation situation is truly fucked up - but the group behind the event seems to have spent so long in a negative headspace that they are unable to enact "the impossible" and "turn the world on its head", even when they've reclaimed the streets.  The question of what to do with the space they've taken seems to have been left unaddressed, yet it's the only one that really deserves any anarchist's energy and time.

Because, as Sterneck points out, the vacuum that is left once an immediate threat has been removed cannot be filled with negation alone:

"In the long run, the Fuck Parade would've become a pure negation of the Love Parade that was always also dependent on it, thus becoming uninteresting in the process," he writes.  "Over the years, the Fuckparade managed to become an independent event that no longer made reference to the Love Parade, but instead pursued its own course for a long time. For all intents and purposes, it was even closer to the original ideals of the Love Parade in certain respects than the Love Parade itself."

This may be what happens to the London Fuck Parade - eventually - if it chooses to expand beyond a mere negation of gentrification.  But the black bloc approach is too limited to allow that, a kind of self-imposed quarantine that limits the whole movement to a narrow band of style and expression.  Black block is a tactic that only works effectively when it's part of a vast and varied network of action tactics.  As a standalone approach it just lacks any reason to exist. 

If the people behind London's Fuck Parade really believed in 'people power' then maybe they should use their 15 seconds of fame to send a message to the people instead of a message from the people - a message of inclusion, involvement and freedom. Seizing spaces for your community's diversity to flourish for free is one thing, but embodying that diversity is also a big a step in validating its continued existence.  After all, how can anybody else have faith in the value of street culture if the people that are demonstrating for it don't even think it's worth the risk, time and energy to engage in?




To be fair though, even when street parties are fun and hugely successful (as in the case of Reclaim the Streets or the Zug der Liebe in 2015) the same debate always arises; people always ask, "Are these parties really capable of making lasting changes?  Are they radical enough?"

I reckon the best change that these parties can achieve is to spark off a deeper transformation in each person that makes them question and change reality, that they can away and apply to the rest of their lives.  The change doesn't have to happen at a parade, just as long as the parade acts as a catalyst.

The balance between rebellion and revelry has to be pretty damn near perfect for an excited mass of people to create a temporary autonomous space; it usually has to happen intuitively and without rules.  I am not sure what anyone can do individually to help attain that balance, apart from being true to themselves.  What seems clear, though, is that spending too much time playing up for the cameras and trying to scare The Man, the way that they seem to be doing at the London FuPA, drains energy that could be better used elsewhere.

 
Taken by Jens Hohmann © the clubmap

It may seem like I'm picking on London's Fuck Parade, and I kind of am. But that's because it is not an isolated example of this tendency to turn everything into a symbol of a cause, at the expense of the actual cause.  Almost all anarchist groups these days - whether they're from London, Berlin or Prague - seem to be succumbing to this trend to hide their best side under a faceless mask, sidelining the very individuality that they claim to defend, and all in the name of "the cause". Too many left-wing activists these days in general seem to believe that relentless negation of a negative can have a positive effect. That's a fallacy.

Maybe it's because almost all of the world's most colourful, beautiful and fun countercultural trappings have now been absorbed into the capitalist system - in much the same way that Berlin's Love Parade was.  Transformed into shallow accessories.  Today, almost anybody can walk into a mall, hand over a wad of cash and transform themselves magically into a skinhead, hippy, goth, raver, or anarchist without bucking the system in any valuable or lasting way.  Anyone can buy a Banksy print to hang on their wall.  Anybody can wear a Che Guevera shirt without being called on to act on their beliefs.  Perhaps the organizers of the Fuck Parade in London have decided that the only way to be truly countercultural is to leave out all the parts of revolution that could conceivably be commodified... all the fun, style, diversity and pleasure. That just leaves the bare bones of a culture behind, wherein lies nothing to defend at all.


But, hang on: doesn't one have to believe that capitalism actually "owns" all of the countercultural symbols it's appropriated, in order to shun them in the first place?  The big brands never created any of those symbols. We did. The people did. No corporate marketing campaign can give them meaning, only people can with their belief.  To reject all that one enjoys and creates on the basis that it is 'a product of the system' and can potentially be 'sold out' is to buy into the worst lie of all: the lie of ownership.
It's great that London's anarchist scene wants to reclaim the streets, the same way that Berlin does as often as possible each summer.  Before it can do that, though, it needs to reclaim the idea that the street - along with all of its culture, music, style and life - has always belonged to the people. And it has to believe that no amount of money can take that away. To quote John Jordan (again),

"Corporations may have all the power in the world, but they lack the ability to have crazy, non-rational, creative ideas - lateral thinking and imagination are tools which corporate culture can never really develop, despite the slick aesthetics of advertising and the irrationality of the financial markets, corporations are fixed in a linear strategy of growth and accumulation. They are super tankers moving in straight lines - we are shoals of small fish darting under the waves and changing direction with the flick of a tail."