the berghain column – september 2012





Live PA

Berlin, Neukölln South. Kondio is about to take the stage at Club Baikal Sunar: former boxing champ, chalga star, prison inmate of two years. “A musician doesn’t feed a home”, goes the saying in his native town of Sliven. Discharged early for good conduct. It’s his comeback tour. Only three people in the whole place, apart from those wearing the black leather jackets saying ‘security’ on their backs. We feel distinctively out of place in this money-laundering dive.

He’s looking healthy, sitting at a table with two pimps and an over-excited former hooker, eating mezeta and drinking whiskey cola. He probably ruled in jail like Stefanaki Bey Pasha back in the day as governor of the island of Samos. Good conduct my ass! Around 1 am (the flyer said 8 pm) he put the fork to the side and said “Aide, let’s start it.” CDR wallet, wireless mic. A young man with gelled hair, authoritative bling bling and clad in Adidas gear enters the DJ booth zealously. With an elaborate gesture Kondio hands a CDR across his shoulder and instructs: “Track 3.” A greasy ballad raises from the speakers. His eyes fixate the woman behind the bar and he starts singing at her as if she was alone in this room, with him (which is almost the case). She thaws immediately. After the second verse she’s joining him singing, hands in the air. After the third she’s in tears. Only they know why. Next CD: ‘Doko Doko’ – the classic. Standing in front of our table, he lowers the mic for a second to greet us more personally – “cheers geezers.” The two pimps and the ex-hooker are flexing some göbek moves on the tiny dancefloor. Kondio delivered. He took the place like only a pro can command a shithole with only three paying clients. Anybody could shine in front of an ecstatic crowd, willing to party at any cost. A true master also knows how to work an empty room. Knowing how to spark it when all the odds are set against you – that’s all there is to know.

Oni Ayhun, Panorama Bar. A mix between Nosferatu and Flat Eric is headbanging amidst a hilarious setting composed of Turkish kitsch and 1930’s Chicago office furniture. It’s probably just pre-recorded tracks playing from Ableton, but who cares anyway. The bold freak, wearing a baroque costume covered in white powder and something that looks like mold, has the audience under a spell. Pure show. On the other hand there are those live acts whose skills almost explode. No regular guy with techno ambitions would afford himself the bizarre amount of practice time it takes to be as “live” as Elektro Guzzi. Each click also corresponds visually, while it’s almost incredible what you hear. It’s actually a matter of true self-discipline to avoid pulling off fusion solos in this setting. Then again others hide behind gargantuan LED displays. Is the music just a file streamed from a laptop? Who cares.

Some people have that special charisma and that’s all they really need: Kondio, Sven Väth, …  Spinning or playing or singing is almost an accessory here. A look in the eye is all it takes. In the early days of Tresor UR did a show wearing ski masks, standing lost in the fog. Maybe they played, maybe not. No one could really see anything. Photos of a sweaty Justice performance show there were no cables connected to the controllers. Full play back and jumping around.

Is this a bad thing? There is a persisting ideology that all art needs to be hand-crafted and laborious. We want to see effort, and the more effort there is to see the better. Once (well, probably not just once) a DJ got caught when the time display on the CD player showed 52 minutes into the “track.” When you pre-mix at home you can actually give the audience your full undistracted attention and, for instance, pick up sexual partners for later while the music does its thing. Rumours say Luciano once played the same set everywhere for half a year. The little outrages such news never fail to evoke show how deeply we are still caught in a rock’n’roll mindset, not to say one built around the 19th century virtuoso. Under its rule even machine music is supposed to come with a little bit of discernible manual effort. Masterfully implementing future standards today: the bartender at club Barfüsser in Schwäbisch Hall drafts beer and spins David Guetta’s entire oeuvre, perfectly mixed, at the very same time. While not forgetting to pour some Jäger in between. There’s a laptop with Traktor and its synch button. Who needs DJs anyway?

The live techno problem is that it makes no sense to take a perfect studio production apart, just to rebuild it ‘live’ in the club. That’s precisely why we have records and DJs. Live PAs (that’s from ‘personal appearance’) may exist because they probably transport something beyond ‘just’ the music. That can be anything, really. Only one thing has failed for sure: standing behind a laptop and staring at the screen. Some people jump around. Others bring hardware that can be tweaked live. When you see someone swinging her waist in a circle of a meter behind the screen, that’s really not because of the music. It’s to compensate how boring laptop acts look on their own. Sometimes it sparks, sometimes it doesn’t.