the berghain column – january 2012




Club of the future

How could the club of the future look, feel or sound like? It’s a question that grabbed me after Ricardo Villalobos fantasized about it in an interview some time ago. The more I think about it the more I recognize it probably doesn’t matter that much how the space is shaped or what the sound system is like. The world’s clubs usually try to differentiate through means of architecture, location, access (who gets in and who doesn’t) or bar inventory. Astonishingly, the one thing that’s the same pretty often is the music itself. Of course there are styles, but they tend to be the same styles in more and more places around the world, with the same DJs playing the clubs of the world, and all those DJs having access to the very same pool of tracks.

Within this setting, of course every club has its profile but no one is quite unique once the music has been streamlined. What’s successful in Berlin can be exported to Austin, Bergamo and Dubai within a day (and looking into DJ listings, it is being exported). Watch Youtube, compile a playlist, download the tracks. Here’s one of the drawbacks which digital availability has facilitated: standardized means of production and distribution result in standardized experiences. Club preset.

A different experience might need to decouple the place from those unifying forces first. Imagine this: a bunch of producers and DJs jointly develop the tracks which then will be heard at one specific site only. We don’t need to envision a dump for the tracks that are too bad to be released regularly. Let’s rather think of shocking, strange, alien designs, so nobody misses that something different is going on. A whole night of 7/8 beats as a collectively experienced encounter of the unfamiliar, unique and site-specific, ready to be appropriated into a local practice. Location turns into something beyond just a stage for the known or exchangeable. “That exists only in Athens, Berlin, Kunming …” That would pretty much add onto the excitement of club travel.

That would be the big version. The smaller one would be a live set or a DJ’s record box full of tracks unavailable anywhere else. Some could use their own productions this way, others get hold of some. Maybe it’s about time our superstar DJs discover the “commissioned work” as a tool of differentiation for themselves. In orchestral music that’s the standard: an orchestra commissions a piece from a composer for the honour and pleasure to play its first performance. I always imagined that to hold the pleasure of individuality for DJs, knowing they are the only ones playing out a particular track for half a year? After that the track may well find its way into the world. The beauty and thrill of first encounter – that’s what may hold a lot of potential for all involved: audience, location, producer, performer.

For the producers that could also be a step away from just being a contingent tool merchant for anyone who can download an mp3, lost in an endless supply of pointless competition. Start treating your tracks in a way where you and your audience truly appreciate them: give the people who actually come to the club a unique experience. Compared to the internet services users the club audience still finds itself in an inferior position: they pay, but get only prefabricated experiences. If I can hear a set today which I can download as a podcast tomorrow I could have stayed at home, almost (that’s why most of the time I resist having my club sets recorded). Performance, shared exclusively between those in the actual place, is a deeply rewarding experience of intimate connection. That makes the web useful again since it would only transport an impression but not the thing itself (while the track-as-file is consumable in its entirety right there). Reading the menu is not having the dinner. Exclusive, locally or personally specific music has to be like the Loch Ness monster: surface rarely, impress the witnesses strongly and be available only as a blurry picture of doubtful authenticity to anyone else.