the berghain column – september 2012



September’s column for Berghain’s flyer: Live PA

Berlin, South Neukölln. Kondio is on the program: former boxing champ, chalga star, two years in prison. Something related to women trafficking and assault – “a musician doesn’t feed a house”, goes the saying in his native town of Sliven. Discharged ahead of sentencing for good conduct. It’s his comeback tour. There are only three people in the whole place. Black leather jackets labeled “security.” We feel distinctively out of place in this money-laundering dive.

He’s looking good, sitting at a table with two pimps and an over-excited hooker, eating mezeta and drinking whiskey cola. He probably ruled in jail like Stefanaki Bey Pasha over the island of Samos, back in the day. 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 in Adidas gear enters the DJ booth zealously. Kondio hands a CDr across his shoulder – “Track 3.” A greasy ballad raises from the speakers. His eyes fixate the girl 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 glimpse – “Cheers geezers!” The two pimps and the hooker are trying some göbek moves on the tiny dancefloor. Kondio delivered. He rocked the place like only a pro can rock a shithole with three paying clients. Everybody can 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 – 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 30s Chicago office furniture. It’s probably just pre-recorded tracks playing from Ableton, but no one gives a fuck. The bold freak, wearing a baroque costume covered in white powder and something that looks like mold, has the audience under a spell. 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? Nobody 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 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’s this stupid ideology of hand-crafted art. We wanna see some effort. The more effort 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 a year or so. The little outrages such news never fail to evoke show how deeply we are still caught in a rock’n’roll mindset. Even machine music should come with a little bit of visible human effort. Masterfully implementing future standards today: the bartender at club Barfüsser in Schwäbisch Hall drafts beers and spins David Guetta’s entire oeuvre, masterfully mixed, at the very same time. And pours some Jägers in between. There’s a laptop with Traktor and its synch button. Why booking DJs?

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 why we have records and DJs, no? Live PAs (that’s from “personal appearance”) 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 two meters 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. Unfortunately, now I have such a laptop too.