Last night, finding ourselves in an inspired and feisty mood, Orly and I hit the nightlife .
The day had been spent sipping juicy, but not sweet, tasting filter beans at a fantastic local coffee shop called WestBerlin Bar&Shop which is apparently owned by Australians. Orly got a flat white. The Ozzies mercifully had a house copy of the World Atlas of Coffee in which I indulged. A favorite I have sorely been missing since leaving my coffee roaster at home. Orly perused a unique and uplifting publication called the Monocle Guide to better Living, also a house copy, and a Berlin current events booklet. We emerged from the experience feeling elevated, keen on life, fresh, and topped up with good old fashioned intellectual inspiration. All surefire symptoms of a fantastic coffee house.
Recently inspiration has been tough to come by. Seeing too many cities in so many days has had an equalizing effect; same shit, different context. I’ll admit it, I’ve been jaded, time to slow down and get lost for a while.
Lucky for me Orly is always thinking and steered us towards Caida Libre a Flamenco-esk style trio playing at The Circus Hotel, no cover. They did not disappoint and came complete with camel inspired compositions, dusty and echoing cowboy whistling, fantastically dynamic and soulful percussion, double bass melodies, strong Flamenco fingerpicking and general sense of Spanish wanderlust. This type of thing being our cup of tea, and fuel for my my own musical inclinations, we spent much of the set thoroughly engaged with brief bouts spent scribbling down personal introspections The spark of inspiration that started with Coffee at WestBerlin had been fanned into a flame.
Before and after the Flamenco hour we availed ourselves of some sidewalk sodas (cheap and nasty beer), Germany has barely any restrictions on alcohol consumption in public, and generally had a light hearted and semi-romantic exploration of Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood. The parks were full of conversant teenagers listening to punk music and drinking cheap booze, the cafes flush with successful looking wine swilling evening takers, and the sidewalks flooded with wanderers just like us, sodas in hand and eyes drifting.
At some point during soda #2 came a tingling in the force followed by a crowded plaza decisively moving laterally, not un-like a flock of birds changing direction. Orly and I drifted matched speed and direction. Adequately lubricated I inquired loudly as to where the flock was going. A friendly though mildly brooding dude, whom we later learned was on holiday from Turkey, showed us his wristband. Orly and I were being carried downstream by The Original Berlin Pub Crawl. Before we knew it we packed ourselves Tokyo style onto the U-Bahn and were whisked off into mystery.
Unfortunately for me, but handled with unflinching aplomb by the crawlers, the next stop was a hip-hop club. Bouncers shoved teetering crawlers into single file along a puke stained brick wall, neatly spaced for a firing squad. Single clicks could be heard from the bouncers hand as we marched forward toward a black-lit and guaranteed to be sticky ramp. Orly just ahead of me, neither of us with pub crawl wristbands, slides in like the professional deviant Orly is. I was immediately singled out of the crowd and stationed off to the side. “You wait now” blurted the bouncer, these perhaps his first words as a child. The line behind him bounded and weaved at the delay. I awaited my fate like the good and decent civilian I was raised to be.
Of course this is nothing compared to proper Berlin clubbing scene where one should simply expect not to get in (unless you show up in your undies @ Kit Kat). For many Berlin clubs the key to entry is “don’t”: Don’t come in a group, don’t speak languages that aren’t german (maybe don’t speak at all), don’t look at your phone, don’t dress up, don’t have fun in line and don’t be loud. For some though exclusive access to their club transcends good behavior. Such is the case with the famous Sven Marquardt doorman at Club Berghain which is supposedly one of the best clubs in the world (and perhaps most difficult to get into). Some cheeky fellow has even built a website to practice getting in. Are you cool, original, awesome, quirky, fantastic, odd enough to club in Berlin? I couldn’t give a fuck.
It strikes me that the perfect bouncer must be both a dull slab of human meat and a psycho-emotive savant. How otherwise could such a base slag of mobile might be so freakishly in tuned with the intentions of so many individuals? Perhaps the brute force repetition learning curve should not be underestimated. It was as though my naked wrist did not matter… but that he could smell that I was different. I feel and felt then as though I had been born emitting defiant mental waves, as though I stink of trickery. Or perhaps I just didn’t have a wrist band. I was soon saved from purgatory by a magic piece of paper delivered by my new Turkish friend. Twenty minutes later one of the pub crawl organizers found me, introduced himself as Axel and made sure that I had everything I need. Great pub (club?) crawl service? A cunning lie by my new friend? I will never know.
It was an unforgivable failure that the depressing and simple exterior of the hip-hop club did not give way to a grand secret, stunning spectacle, or irreverent spatial experiment. These assholes were literally deafening an entire generation of youth while extracting 9 Euro’s a drink + cover to do it. They were cheap-asses about it too. Orly and I a ticket for a free drink which ended up being a funny little glowing thimble of sugar and lime extract and a rubbing alcohol rinse. Ordering a Jamison Red Bull landed me a whisky rinse in a sticky glass containing an upended can of Redbull.
The Bartendress and I literally yelled in each other’s ears for a whole minute to accomplish this mixological failure. This poor woman comes to work every night and literally has her ears screamed into until sunrise. I wanted more than anything to reach out and touch her tragus showing her a trick that I learned recently from some good Aussie friends in Bali. Through folded tragus I would have whispered magically through the eardrum shredding white noise that it didn’t have to be this way, and that I was going to need a little more whisky in my sticky glass.
I am known for doing a not-so-enjoyable thing in clubs like this. My higher mind shuts down almost entirely. The free thinking, fun having me waits outside somewhere and sends my body inside to blunder about and generally suck energy from things, people and Orly. It’s not that I can’t dance, though I don’t do it well, it’s that I don’t accept where I am. All mindful intentions fly out the window and muscles constrict all over my body. I know this because 1% of the time, due to a genetic defect no doubt, I do accept my predicament and proceed to act accordingly.
Not last night…
Mostly it’s that the sexual meat market vibe of clubs has never been comfortable to me. I am a vocal celebrant of individual sexuality and continually choose to empower myself and others to let their freak flag fly. As the Berliner Kit Kat Club puts it, in a fresh about face from typical clubs,
“Do what you want but stay in communication”
The text of my next tattoo I think think.
I try to actively confront my own inhibitions, support public sexual expression and generally to keep an open mind; most clubs don’t. The only the cool may enter vibe climbs my spine and explodes brain cells. The musician in me can’t fathom how music this bad or this carless is tolerated by anybody. I know that we are all supposed to just let loose… have a few drinks and dance. Don’t like the song? Don’t worry about it, it’s just catchy. You can still dance to it right? Look it’s already over.
Calmly, soberly, were we discussing this over coffee in between current events I would nod my head knowingly and even proffer something about life being too short to miss any opportunity to dance. I would even patronize my conversant by making some self aggrandizing statement along the lines that we are lucky to have the opportunities and leisure that we do. This is the person who calmly decides that clubs aren’t for me and hangs out outside in hopes of finding some other night wanderers who feel the same and perhaps want to talk about it, or even better yet might want to talk about other things entirely.
The me that goes inside the hip-hop club quickly boils over and wrecks the fun of anybody dumb enough to accompany me. Ever seen a video reel from the sixties where people dance by manically wriggling their limbs, smiling at each other and just generally rocking themselves to the music with a huge smile? Where is that today?! That’s what I want to do! But this is the antithesis of what I see on the inside. No doubt somebody is dancing just like that a few centimeters out of my vision but all I see is dead face, mean/’sexy’ eyes, you know you want to fuck me body movements all interspersed with OMG I FUCKING RECOGNIZE… Love… I mean LOVE… THIS SONG!
At some point in my youth the musician in me started to take insult with pop hooks. I don’t have anything against a good hook in and of itself but at some point the radio started to be nothing but hooks.. Even worse, you only get one hook per song these days. A hook does not equal a song. Club music (to be clear I am explicitly not talking about Techno, House, Trance, Goa etc… here. I am specifically addressing top 40 or rap DJs) spews out “hey know this hook!” followed by a terrible drum beat and an “unexpected” lead into “hey know this HOOK!” ad nasium. The Nasium is immediate. Worse yet the lyrics to these songs insult my quiet and sensible roots. All about fucking, drug abuse, sexual partners as a commodity, inhibition, and ego. Where has the love gone? Where has the mindfulness gone?
I know, I have done it, that I can let go and just have a great time at one of these clubs. But if I do then they win, all of them. The assholes who charge 10 euros a drink win, bouncers get to be important, dinosaurs dreaming of making million $$$ on deafening our youth with pop hooks designed to be relevant, catchy, mindless, win. Bad clubs wrap up the dream of exclusivity and dangle it front of our youth in a way that only makes them more vain and more insecure. You’re as star, you’re important, another red bull? How about bottle service in our lounge?
But maybe you just like to dance… and while some of this stuff may be true, it doesn’t really factor into you just wanting to have a good time. I too feel this way (1% of the time). In the end… if the music is original (you can tell because the actual composer will be playing it, try asking them about their work), if anybody is welcome at the door, if the place has any semblance of meaning beyond extracting your money, then by all means, let’s party.