"London's not the center of techno anymore. It's definitely in Berlin!"
...said my friend, Mel. This was not your usual hyperbole coming from a tourism board PR rep whose never been clubbing in his or her life. This was coming from a 20-year veteran of London's deepest, darkest underground parties and a kickass artist, to boot. She was shouting the words in my ear in the warehouse techno room at Sisyphos, in Rummelsburg.
Back when I first moved to Berlin, the clubs here were kinda boring but those days are hard to remember now. You would never have found proper banging techno or house playing in places like Sisyphos. It was all slow, drugged-out and commercial; the sound of someone limply writhing in Ketamine and glitter (not as cool as it sounds). There weren't any techno openairs like those that Sounds For Berlin, Reclaim the Gorli and so on have been doing. The temple of bass called Gretchen did not exist and Stattbad hadn't yet started up its Boiler Room sessions. Even the F*ck Parade used to have half a dozen boring floats. The shunkel music sound was as inescapable and annoying as that loud ringing noise it left in your ears the next day.
But that's all changed. These past few years have been like that boiling-frog analogy, in reverse. Berlin has gradually crept toward a richer convergence of its various dance music styles, but it's done so in such tiny increments that we didn't even realize it was happening. It was only when I brought my friend Sisyphos that I suddenly felt the heat. Finally, Berlin is living up to its hype: this scene is in a full-on boil. Not just in Sisyphos, either. But it's a good example of a club that has come into its own, blending the surreal elements of Renate with the atmospheric warehouse techno of Berghain and the house music intensity of Wall of Sound into some sort of perfect Berlin all-in-one experience. They even have a massage parlour and a sweet shop. And a lake. (The chickens aren't there anymore, though, unfortunately).
It wasn't hard to see why my mate was blown away.
I was relieved that it's not just me who thinks things are improving, here. Most Berlin promoters used to seem like were only interested in finding a misguided shortcut to glamour and fame. Now, they're doing parties for a purpose, as a concept, as a protest. They're doing them to change things now, and more importantly, for a good time. And they seem less inclined to use the industry's coke-covered credit line to judge how good the night is, instead going by mood on the dancefloor.
My friend and I went outside and stood under the lampshade trees by the lake and she said, "Yeah, I reckon this is what would happen if one of the squat parties in London kept on going on for years. Why don't they do something like this in London, in fact?'
The answer is always the same: the authorities don't let it. At the slightest sign that some group is putting down roots, the government goes into overdrive trying to uproot them, or (if they go legal) forcing a profiteering mindset on them. It bogs their ideals down with licensing fees and absurd health and safety regulations. This way, it constantly seals up those untapped veins of creativity in red tape, so only the most obsessive bean-counters can succeed at a game that was created by and for an autonomous and anarchistic elements of society.
"They always have to kill the golden goose, don't they?" Mel lamented.
"Yep, that's England for you." Insist on the impossible. Slash and burn all your potential for an immediate return on your investment. Expect more potential to simply arise from the ashes, fully-grown, somewhere down the road without any investment or support. Write off as worthless anything that takes time. Kill off as a pest anything that is slowly growing toward a more promising future. You have to wonder how these people raise kids. You have to wonder how they even raise gardens. (Or are those all covered in concrete, in anticipation of becoming a fourth runway for Heathrow...?)
How does Berlin avoid this same fate? In part, it's the history - no one knows what to do with a vast, underpopulated city, so people here get a lot of slack from the officials. But mostly, it's because the government here concedes the German people's right to direct their own cultural evolution, vis-a-vis the Eingetragener Verein (or e.V. for short). Germany's Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch or civil code enshrines the right for its people to create community-interest groups which bring people together in some way. Any way at all that you can imagine. If more than seven people with a shared set of ideals and goals get together, they can legally run almost any kind of venue as a non-profit organization - along with all the attendant tax deductions and exemptions that that entails. Just as long as it brings people together and profit isn't its primary aim. That's why it's rare to find anything grassroots going on in this city without that mysterious suffix e.V. at the end of its name. (Schokoladen, Megaspree, RAW Tempel, Supamolly... even Holzmarkt and Kater Blau have an e.V. underlying their existence). The majority of Berlin's 'squatty' venues rely upon their e.V. status to survive without too much interference from the officials.
Virtually all of the smaller venues and organizations that fight for Berlin's right (including the right to party) are categorized as e.V.... and one day, any one of them could rise up to be the next counter-cultural complex. Someone in government seems to know that there are limits to what bureaucracy and capitalism can achieve on their own. And a large segment of Berlin's population is constantly reminding them of that fact!