There's something profoundly disorienting about leaving a nightclub and being blasted with sunlight. More baffling still, perhaps, is pushing open the club's heavy door and stumbling out into a morning soupy with fog, with its weird, diffuse light wrapping everything in an almost pointillistic blur – the world as seen through frosted glass. The way your ears ring only contributes to the sensation – for the first time in 8 hours you are outside, yet you feel cocooned in some kind of invisible bubble that separates you from the breathing world. There is only hum and distance.
In the cab back to the hotel, the cabbie – a kindly, unshaven, slightly bedraggled man in his 30s – listened to heavy metal on the radio, quietly. "Good music," I croaked, and he turned it up, getting the hint. It was Sabbath, and its pump and churn sounded not unlike the Sender records I'd played the night before, or the similarly rocking tunes that Ellen Allien was caning as I made my way outside around 8 a.m. (As I made my exit, she was playing Kraftwerk, which I figured was a cue that the party would soon be over, but no – the next night, at Moskou's Bpitch/Tigersushi party, she tells me that she stayed behind the decks until after 10 a.m. Berlin is hardcore!)
I have a friend who came to Berlin and of the city all she could say, in charming Argentine slang, was "Berlin es un flash," and I suppose she's right. Not flashy as in glitzy, glamorous – although the gentrification and upscale joints dotting Mitte surprised me – but rather as in overwhelming, mind-blowing, impossible to process. (Other words she used: halucinante, flipante – as in "flipping" – both of which also apply.) But it's quietly so. It's not turning out to be the warren of artists' ateliers and squats-turned-cafes that I expected (though I may still find them). Rather it's the concentration of people, especially people that I already know, or at least are familiar names. It must be easier to name the musicians who don't live in Berlin than those that do.
Today, suffering from the melancholy bred of too many bedtimes in the 6-to-8 a.m. region, an insufficiently nutritious diet, and generally grey, lazy Saturdayness (it felt much more like a Sunday, but then I've been out for the past three nights in a row), I set off in search of the legendary Hardwax shop, certain that a good bout of bin-flipping and a $200 dose of retail therapy would sort me out.
(My melancholy also owes to the fact that I've been on the road for over a month now, and at a certain point towards the end of any trip, the mind tends toward home, towards a cozy bed and take-out Thai food and a succession of Hollywood films on DVD. Yesterday this was compounded by a minor run-in on the street – I had just left my hostel and was walking down the sidewalk when a pigeon flew bang into my face, its filthy wing actually grazing my eye. Beyond unpleasant, I wondered for a good half an hour if it was actually an omen.)
The trip to Hardwax worked wonders upon my haggard soul. Hazily navigating the U-bahn – and being confronted, the moment I sat down upon the train, by a ticket inspector who only rolled his eyes when I turned out to be too dumb to have figured out how to stamp my ticket – I found my way to the proper stop and located the store's obscure entrance without too much difficulty. Whom do I see upon entering the shop but Perlon's Zip, standing behind the turntables. It felt like home. Record stores always feel like a refuge, of course, but this was different. "Ah, I need you to give me your email address," said Zip, in reference to the directions to some secret, sub-sub-underground party he had mentioned a few nights before. (Don't pretend you don't envy me.) A few minutes later I heard a familiar voice and looked up to see Luciano standing where Zip had been a moment before. We embraced, spoke Spanish, talked parties and records. It's strange, this life – here was someone I'd interviewed before, met up with in Chile and Spain and Montreal (I'm not sure about the latter, actually, but it seems likely), and saw just the other night at the Volksbühne Theater – and now here we were again, shopping for records. In fact, I had one of his, Cadenza #4, in my hands.
It's hard, actually, not to be a little star-struck sometimes. The night before I had been invited to a pre-gig dinner by Daniel Meteo, the promoter of the party where I was playing. When I arrived, there were only two people at the table – Monika Enterprise's Gudrun Gut, whom I had met briefly in Barcelona (a striking, nay stunning woman, looking a bit like a less weathered Kim Gordon), and a bald man in a black suit: Thomas Felhmann. Thomas Felhmann! Not long thereafter others trickled in – Meteo; the Cologne musician and singer Niobe, who fronts most of the best tracks on Mouse on Mars' new album; la Chica Paula, sister of Martin Schopf aka Dandy Jack; Max Loderbauer of Sun Electric. More guests arrived – I was introduced to someone, failed to catch his name on the first try, and it turned out to be Ekkehard Ehlers of März ("Ekki," he says, beaming), a long-ago interviewee and email acquaintance. "We saw what you wrote about März on your website," he said. I winced, hoping that my not-quite-a-review wasn't too, well, gushing. "No, it was perfect," he replied, patting his collaborator Albrecht Kunze's knee. Albrecht, apparently, had been pleased with the personal, even sentimental, approach. The Cologne guitarist Josef Suchy was with them; there were others whose identities I never determine. I tried, and fail, not to gush to Niobe about her work on the Mouse on Mars album (and immediately felt chagrined that I don't know her solo work). Fehlmann, excited that one of their songs is playing on daytime Radio 1, sang a few bars of it to her to confirm its title ("Send Me Shivers"). Send me shivers indeed. Being a music journo is always a strange position – in close proximity to so many people you admire, and occasionally even becoming friends with them – but this dinner was even more confusing, given that I was here not as a journalist (in fact another writer, from De:Bug, spent most of the meal interviewing März), but as an "artist" or sorts, having been included on the bill to DJ the night's Oceanclub party. From fanboy to critic to peer in a short succession of complicated steps. Another glass of red wine, please.
The gig itself went off hitchlessly. It's a bit odd to review an event with which you are affiliated, but I'll try to keep my comments pertinent. Karaoke Kalk's Strobocop kicked off the main room with a mellow set of gently pulsing 4/4 music accompanied by video projections of undersea vistas and otters splashing amidst the waves, in keeping with Oceanclub's marine theme. At first, the mass of clubbers kept themselves just out of range of the speakers, standing in a near perfect line at the periphery of the dance floor – a rather tidal formation, really, given the oceanic imagery. And then, within 10 minutes, the floor filled. It was a strange crowd – ravier than you'd expect for an hour slotted with Strobocop and März's acoustic pop, no doubt due to Miss Kittin's placement on the bill just a few acts later. The ravers were restless – one walked up in front of the stage and made "pick up the pace" motions before scowling and making the universal naptime gesture of closed palms beneath an angled chin; Strobocop ignored him. März, kicking off with "Forever Never," sounded luscious and lovely – Ehlers on laptop, Kunze on laptop and mandolin and vibes and harmonica, Suchy adding filigreed guitar lines in the background – but the main floor's overdriven bass and muddy midrange did no favors to their sound. Fehlmann, after them, sounded more appropriate for the room with a pumping set of shifting syncopations, but I heard less than I wanted to, moving to the back room to catch Chica and the Folder and wait out my own set.
In back, Gudrun Gut kicked things off with a set of Monika-style quirk; after her, Niobe proceeded through a dozen or so torch songs while her DJ played her instrumentals on decks and CD units. Her Vegas-style headdress faltered, but her voice was strong – almost too strong, in a strange way; one longed to hear more processing, more live tweakery – in short, perhaps, more Jamie Lidell. Chica and the Folder – la Chica Paula, Max Loderbauer, and Argenis Brito – ran through a set of oddball melodies and queasy keyboard counterpoint. Computer crashes hurt their flow, and a drunken audience member storming the stage in mid-performance (later screaming "Das ist scheisse!" from the crowd) didn't help things, but their Eno cover was impeccable.
And then I went on. It was a chance to build the floor from scratch, taking the room from listening to dancing; and I'm pleased to note that it went off well. I began with a handful of Musik Krause records and WB bootlegs, moving swiftly into stormy Sender territory. I remember very of the actual sequencing, though I know that current staples like Minimal Man's "Chicken Store" were in there. (How can so much effort turn into such a total blur?) Alter Ego's "Rocker" elicited whoops, though it wasn't as big a tune as it might still be in some quarters (still, I was afraid it would be totally passé here, so all was not lost). The Kelis/St. Plomb bootleg worked wonders; a grinding, hard-techno version of "Take Me Out" fell curiously flat. I finished up with Luciano's remix of Tim Wright – as always, brilliant and effective – and ended with Isolée's remix of Recloose's "Cardiology," slowing things down and sending dancers into a gritty, hypersexed groove. Track of the year.
Missed Miss Kittin; Ellen Allien was playing by the time I stumbled out front, playing total stompers at maximum volume, egging her crowd on with her selections and her own body language. Someone threw a red bandanna, which she tucked in her back pocket. I can think of few other DJs at the moment that know how to create Allien's particular brand of empathy – she may be on stage, but she's right there in the general communion. I didn't recognize a single track she played, at least until the Kraftwerk – the cue for my leavetaking, my private finale, the lightswitch.