the berghain column – january 2012

January’s column for berghain‘s flyer:

How could the club of the future look, feel or sound like? It’s a question that grabbed me after Ricardo Villalobos was talking 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. Let’s think about the music. The world’s clubs usually try to differ from each other by designing means of architecture, location, access or bar inventory. Astonishingly, the one thing that’s the same most 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. There are not only the same DJs playing the clubs of the world, but also all DJs have access to the very same tracks.

Of course every club has its profile but no one is quite unique. What’s successful in Berlin can be exported to Austin, Bergamo and Dubai within a day. Watch Youtube, compile a playlist, download the tracks. Here’s one of the drawbacks digital availability has facilitated: standardized means of production and distribution result in standardized experiences. Club preset.

Isn’t this where the club of the future could take shape? Imagine things this way: a bunch of producers and DJs jointly develop the tracks which will be heard at one specific site only. I don’t mean a dump for the tracks that are too bad to be released regularly. I rather think of truly great, strange, alien stuff so everyone notices something different is going on. A whole night of 7/8 beats as a collectively experienced encounter of the new, unique and site-specific. Location turns into something beyond just a stage for the known or exchangeable. “That exists only in Athens, Berlin, Madrid…” Wouldn’t that be true value when visiting a place?

That would be the big version. The smaller one would be a live set or record box of a DJ containing stuff that is not available anywhere else. Some can use their own productions this way, others get hold of some. Maybe it is about time our superstar DJs discover the “commissioned work” as a tool of differentiation for themselves. In classical music that’s the standard: an orchestra commissions a piece from a composer for the honour and pleasure to play its first performance. Wouldn’t that hold the pleasure of individuality for a DJ, knowing she’s the only one 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 I think holds a lot of potential for all involved: audience, location, producer, performer.

For the producers that could also be a way to be more than just the replaceable tool merchant for anyone who can download an mp3, again. 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 web users the club audience still holds 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. Exclusive performance is a real experience. That makes the web useful again since it would only transport an impression but not the thing itself (while the track-as-file is completely consumable there). Reading the menu does not substitute the dinner. New, 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.