Sunday, March 27, 2011

Build Your Own Berghain

"Boing Poum Tchak!" is a French techno website that has recently started publishing a zine. They invited me to contribute an editorial to the most recent edition and I was happy to accept. If you speak French, I'd encourage you to buy the zine, but for the rest of us, here is the English version of what I wrote. Keep in mind, I tried to write this in 'editorial' style, so the language and tone might be a bit different (then again, it might not). I am not sure if I even agree with everything, but the main purpose is just to throw a few ideas out there... Thanks to Pierre-Nicolas for inviting me to contribute to the zine, and to Luis who commented on a draft.


Build Your Own Berghain

Across the globe, people talk of Berghain in reverent tones: the techno Valhalla where Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock play marathon sets to a crowd of genuine enthusiasts that have made it past the equally legendary bouncer. It is much more than simply a Berlin institution; each week Easyjet and Ryan Air flights fill with clubbers wanting to get their fix. And for those poor souls that have yet to make the pilgrimage, Berghain becomes ‘Berghain’, a kind of magical techno wonderland that you can only dream of. In a recent RA interview, the Italian techno producer Obtane announced it was his favourite club, despite the fact he’s never actually been there. He is hardly alone. In techno circles, Berghain has increasingly taken on an almost mythical status, the place where the music never stops and all your techno dreams come true. And, of course, there are many very good reasons why Berghain is held in such high regard. Nonetheless, I think there is a danger of idealizing Berghain, misunderstanding it, and drawing the wrong lessons from it. When people from outside Berlin talk about how amazing the club is (and it seems like outsiders talk about it much more), they usually do so – either explicitly or implicitly – in reference to their own scene, suggested as inferior and lacking in comparison. In a certain sense, this may be true: it is hard to rival either the talent at Berghain’s disposal or the unique constellation of factors that have allowed for its creation and existence. Yet (implicitly) complaining about the lack of a local Berghain is hardly a productive attitude. Likewise, jumping on the next Easyjet flight and heading to Berlin as often as your paycheck allows for is potentially a pretty corrosive solution, both for your own scene (if there is one) and for Berlin’s.

Rather than uncritically valorizing Berghain, I want to suggest that a more productive approach would be appreciating it for what it is (on its own terms), and thinking about what generic lessons can be learnt from it. For starters, one element that distinguishes Berghain from many other clubs is the amount of emphasis placed on their resident DJs. At most places the role of the residents is just to keep the decks warm until it is time for the international guest to play. Berghain tends to be the opposite – while they get a constant stream of big name guests, the locals share equal billing. If anything, it is the residents that are usually the highlight. The immediate response to this might be: ‘Yes, but their residents are Marcel Dettmann, Steffi and lots of other amazing DJs’. Sure, but these DJs developed in a symbiotic relationship with the club itself. This emphasis on nurturing and supporting their own artists has played a vital part of their success, and I think it is a lesson from which many scenes could benefit. Another important point that can be taken from the example (rather than symbol) of Berghain is recognizing the way political, economic, social and cultural factors shape the possibilities for techno. Quite simply, it is hard to imagine Berghain existing anywhere outside of Berlin. On one level it is the distillation of a unique confluence of permissive factors combining with agency, opportunity and presumably some luck that has given rise to Berghain. There are not many places in the world where something like Berghain would be possible. So rather than wishing/hoping it could somehow be recreated, I think it is more useful to consider what opportunities and constraints are present where you are, and how these can be channeled productively. Organizers like Beyond Bookings in New York with their Bunker parties, the Bleep43 crew in London, the previously longstanding Optimo night in Glasgow, the Labyrinth festival in Japan, are all successful examples of people creating something important and special that is unique to their environment. Of these the one I know best is Labyrinth, and there is no way it could exist anywhere else in the world besides Japan. It is an event that productively engages with its environment, recognizing both the constraints and opportunities that exist. Ultimately what I am saying is that for the most of us that don’t live in Berlin, we should stop pining for Berghain and counting down the days until we can afford to jump on another flight. Instead, we should think of it as a positive role model, not to emulate, but a place to draw inspiration from. Quite simply, the aim should be to build our own Berghains, whatever they may be.


Speaking of Berghain, this coming Thursday 31 March they are having a special benefit event featuring Steffi, Nick Höppner and many others. The DJs are playing for free and all proceeds are going to Doctors without Borders. This is a really excellent idea and I wish I was in Berlin to be able to support it. Try to get down there Berlin ssgs and support a good cause!


  1. accept on everything you said..
    jetlag club:))
    here we are getting more and more clubs (bars) but nobody gets their share and people who do/did something special and not standart cant hold for longer than lets say a year, if you do party too rare, the rental prices gets too big, when you do it too often people choose some other places as they dont want to stick to one place.. whenever i get an oppurtinity i try to talk with germans about berghain and most of them dont even go to berghain themselves (only occasionnaly) and if not the easyjets it would half empty (as it was when the volcano hit last year) so i think that the only thing why berghain can be so succesfull is the travellers, but on the other side, thats not a bad thing at all as long as people go there for music and not for the myths..
    oh and btw captcha for this post is 'berli' ..

  2. Definitely agree with your suggestion to consider a location's specific opportunities and constraints. I see so many promoters straining to portray their parties as endlessly "berlin" as possible, as if promoters simply can't believe it's a real party unless it stretches over the course of 72 hours. I'd like to see more people viewing their location's limitations as a badge of honor...sometimes planning a party outside berlin takes more effort and imagination, and people trying to adopt a unique strategy for their city should be lauded for their efforts. And I agree, Chris, beyond booking, labyrinth et al. are great examples of this.

  3. but there must be somebody to come first of all and while it can happen in london, japan or other big cities, but not in smaller countries.. unless youre only talking about big countries, then yes...
    all i wish is that people would come to partys more for music, ofcourse drugs is a big thing in electronic music, but come on, all i see is either 20 people on the dancefloor or 200 with sunglasses..

  4. the idealized image of an endless party is going to ensure that techno is attractive first and foremost to the drug crowd...

    people being on drugs at parties is not in and of itself a bad thing, but there should be some balance between hedonists and music nerds (an image berghain has cultivated rather successfully). i think that balance is so hard to achieve primarily because of this "druggies" vs. "music nerds" dichotomy. it's just as obnoxious navigating an entire club of k-holed fools as it is having the entire floor constantly pushing towards the dj booth, their eyes glued on the DJ like he's some arena-rock spectacle.

  5. well said chris

    personally a bit tired of this whole berghain thing. i love berghain the club, the residents, the moment in history it defined a sound, a wave. what a fucking amazing space. what amazing line ups. very often a good bunch of people in there too (less so panorama bar). i look forward to getting back there (although the next time i'm there it's a homo-only sex-party with whips n stuff, so not sure I'll make it, although i guess the chances of a group of males getting in will be higher, right?).

    what i am fed up with is this whole on the road thing. as a friend pointed out to me, it's better than the minus bandwagon, but it is becoming almost as grating as that unfortunate mess for me.

    they don't have a cube, instead they have a klock. i still love hearing what these guys play, they knew their music then, they still know their music now. but the whole bullshit that goes with their label nights is definitely grating. "A night in Berlin" proclaimed the Leeds night. Why not "A night in Leeds" for fucks sake? Berghain in Ibiza. What the fuck? Berghain in London - thousands flock....where the fuck are all these techno heads when the london promoters that sweat their balls off to put together interesting line ups need them? as if the music isn't just as good and better still. instead they charge silly door prices to fund overly paid djs and attract punters that seem more intent on climbing up the dj's arses than listening to the music. so in effect, berghain has created a kind of techno tourism in your home city. these one off travellers out for a night in berlin. just like the berliners hate - how ironic.

    i'm not sure exactly what i'm trying to say here, but i think you get my point. or maybe i will spark some debate here, as this thread has lots of potential for good discussion.

    maybe i'm just one of those annoying people that complain once something is no longer 'underground'. (no maybe about it!)


  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. If you knew me you would know I am a VERY bitter man..

    I applaud the artists for their music

    Your points are valid but there's something annoying about this Berghain bandwagon I find hard to articulate

    I just sense a slippery minus slope - fame is a bad thing

    I have raster-noton tickets for their forthcoming London showcase, but find it hard to link that to Essex boys queuing up for their fix of ostgut

    My arguments are flawed I'm sure, but I think you know what I mean Eric ;-)

  8. really nice article ...

    also highly amused by Jonny's quite articulate if you ask me musings. you tell em!!!

  9. @jon...

    we do a bunker / panorama bar rotating residency at the bunker in nyc, but its really just that - a residency with their resident.

    that being said, the door price is the same as any other night, we feature the guests from berghain and panorama that night, one in each room of the venue, with extended sets, and, all in all, the general consensus of the night has been overwhelmingly good - and not just from our crowd, but from the ostgut guests as well.

    from what your saying, you really just don't like the concept of a showcase set. which, by that account, you must hate everyone doing a sandwell district showcase these days, or a klockworks showcase, or perhapys a raster-noton showcase.

    all that aside, can you really be that bitter over someone being famous because of not only how he or she plays, but because of the affiliation they align themselves with. i see no harm in either, and actually applaud people for getting to that point.


  10. Great post, Chris. I pretty much agree with you 100%.


Say something constructive, bitte. Or if you're gonna take a swipe, at least sharpen your nails.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.