Without Resistance, No Underground.
I could feel that something wasn't right. Even though it was a crowded dancefloor, someone was bumping into me a little too regularly in time with the music, as if they were mirroring my moves. But I still wasn't prepared for what I saw when I turned my head: a little troll of a man, grinding his pelvis as close to my ass as he could get without committing an assault. But actually, he had already crossed that line a few times; it was just that the intentional nature of that assault had been camouflaged by the general mayhem happening around us.
The smarmy expression on his face made it pretty clear that this wasn't just an accident, though, as did the fact that he didn't back away once he was caught - not until I 'assisted' him with a sharp shove and the suggestion to stay well the fuck away.
He vanished, and I thought the message had been received. But then, a few minutes later and just a few feet away, I saw him rubbing up against yet another woman in the same creepy, auto-erotic way. Her back was turned and she seemed unaware what was happening, so I went over and warned her to watch herself. She looked vaguely shame-faced about it (why? She hadn't done anything wrong). A few seconds later she had left.
This, to me, is an example of what happens when ethics are removed from a scene that used to be underground: the questioning and yearning for self-reinvention that made it so relevant in the first place - that gave it the 'people power' at the grassroots level that it needed to thrive - vanishes. It becomes a microcosm of the society around it, warts and all, rather than an alternative.
Maybe that's why more and more people in the music press are talking about the alienation of women, blacks and even queers (the longest standing demographic in all party scenes) from the modern techno industry. That's all very well, but the majority of articles take the tone of "why aren't straight white men inviting minorities into the scene" when the fact is that we have always been part of it. We are just being erased by the media and driven away by the newcomers that have embraced its rather materialistic, new definition. Techno is fast becoming (or has fast become, depending who you ask) a 'zombie' underground. It carries on without any real purpose because it no longer challenges the status quo, and is therefore less threatening for the faceless masses it's aimed at.
Maybe that's why quite a few people in Berlin have told me that they see techno clubs as being necessarily apolitical. Even when they, themselves, are spending two days a week at said clubs, they claim that they can't ever be relevant; that they can't make any lasting changes to the way that people think or act.
Saying that to a person like me is a bit like telling an Inuit that the sky can't light up with beautiful colours in the middle of a long, dark Arctic night.
Pitchfork's Andy Beta has written that Detroit's Underground Resistance label was "a reaction to inner-city decay," and I can definitely identify with that statement. Techno as I first experienced it was a reaction to, and a revival of, all the dereliction that made areas like Detroit (and similar parts of the urbanized West) seem like no-go zones.
Note that I say 'experienced' and not 'heard'. That's because techno was very much unleashed from the restrictions of being just a 'sound' at that time (1998). Everyone there presumed me to be their equal and a partner in the scene's creation, rather than a vehicle to some selfish, disconnected state of enjoyment. As an equal, my freedom to change what was around me was as great as theirs. That's an experience that no DJ or artist, no matter how edgy, can create all alone.
Random acts of self-expression were everywhere I looked: the now-standard fire eating acts and impromptu art 'installations' made out of scraps, plus less standard things like people scaling the wall with their bare hands. Because people were allowed to go to any extreme they wanted, they tended to take off on tangents that weren't already well represented in the mainstream. Sexism, racism, theft and assault were just too damned predictable to waste time on. (It wasn't just an effect of creativity - many people drawn to free parties had a left wing slant, but the parties themselves weren't seen as a place to preach about it).
And techno, the sound that's now so well defined by anoraks, was a random meshing of frantic tensions and clashing factions; a controlled sonic explosion, a demolition that the DJ would skillfully weave back together into something resembling mental structure. The 4/4 beat was a baseline that could be manipulated as needed to match the mood, a way of conjuring whatever it was that people felt their cities lacked, but that authorities fell short of actually creating.
Techno's format wasn't ever intended to be a holy dictum, un-corruptible and complete - it was the sound of change and versatility. Maybe the venues that play it should better reflect that fact.
But how can they recreate that mentality these days?
That's the real question. I've seen two crews in the club scene that have managed it, seemingly effortlessly: the people at Mensch Meier and at Zuruck Zu Den Wurzeln. Both have a clear, "If you see something, say something" policy that states any bad behaviour, especially against minorities, gets a negative response. Both have crews that are made up of women and men as well, which certainly helps.
But what seems to matter even more than the rules they've made, is the setting. Each of these crews creates a stable space that keeps changing with the people in it to accommodate their needs. In a place like that, everyone really IS an equal and a partner in the party's creation. As a result, they treat it with greater respect.
Clubs that have a static 'product image' that they enforce un-sentimentally seem to have far more aggravation at them. Maybe that's because they tend to let people in for the wrong reasons: either 1) because they're able to play by established rules (which also tend to be unfair and antiquated rules) or 2) because they can unquestioningly follow the herd (and therefore lack any moral compass). Asking everybody to check their brains at the door seems like it requires a lot more effort and stress than simply altering the way that clubs behave.
In Berlin though, there are already certain venues that can generally be relied upon to keep their parties relevant to the cause of resistance. Here are a couple of suggestions of where to go to find them in the coming weeks:
The Koepi cellar has two benefit parties with wicked underground tunes this weekend, one on Friday that is in support of free migration. Starts 23:00 and features Tekno Tribe DJs.
On Saturday they have another benefit party for Needle‘n‘Bitch, a queer-feminist project in Yogyakarta/Indonesia that aims to "provide safe, secure, and comfort feeling for anyone who are not able to access it in this sexist, patriarchy, and homophobic society." Starts at midnight and they're playing D‘n‘B, Breakcore and Hardtekk.
This Saturday Mensch Meier has a benefit to help out the Rigaer Strasse campaign against forced evictions and police intimidation (read more about that here and here). Plus there's a Tattoo Station. It's 8-12 Euros to get in with a donation.
Next Friday is yet another Invasion party featuring Spiral Tribe and Latitanz DJs, also at Mensch Meier. The Invasion crew aims to bring different free party systems from around Europe to every one of their parties in Berlin. Every event they've done has been intense and diverse, but different in some fundamental way from the last one. This crew really keeps me guessing... even though I sometimes think I already know it all, when it comes to underground parties. How nice to be proven wrong!
And on Saturday the 8th there is a very timely forum about sexual violence called Fear Makes No Nois" at Mensch Meier, starting at 14:00, plus an after party. It's organized by a member of the Am Boden crew, so it should be strong on ethics and musical integrity.
Next Saturday October 8th, About Blank is doing a party called "Under Techno, There's Punk" (my translation). The aim there is to reconnect some of Berlin's clubbers with the rebellious roots of punk. How they'll achieve that radical transformation with a club full of writhing glittery dancers is an interesting question... but I'm curious to find out!
The emphasis on the material aspects of the techno scene - style, technology, rankings - seems like a neat way of avoiding any discussion about the revolutionary associations that the scene previously had, and what the best way to keep them alive in this day and age may be.
But maybe some people are just afraid to face up to these aspects of techno because they're less tangible, less easy to nail down and describe. It's a bit like being afraid of the dark. The answer isn't to ignore what happens in the murky corners, either on a dancefloor or within one's psyche: it's to shine a light on them and ask if everything is all right.
- Miss E
- Berlin, Germany
- ...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, streetart, left-wing activism, social media trends and green issues. Other publications that I have written for include: Urban Challenger Blog, Siegesaeule, Shlur, Alternative Berlin, Sensanostra.