Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Existence Minimal

A thought: isn't one of the reasons for the apparent trough in the fortunes of that seemingly impregnable edifice, German techno - as anatomised by Mark, and Philip Sherburne along with supporting cast, to be found in Berlin itself? The really revealing passage for me is the following: I used to be enamored of Berlin techno's never-ending parties, but these days I wonder if the obligation to defer closure isn't hurting the music itself. Unless you're talking about a ritual music like gamelan, music isn't really intended to be consumed in 12-hour shots. A party culture (and drug culture) predicated upon parties that never end can only result in a music that thumps dully away without surprise or meaningful variation.

It rather pains me to say this, as Berlin - with its healthy contempt for the work ethic, and its still extant left activism - is a far, far saner city than London, and by several leagues more pleasant, more rewarding a place to live. And yet, when - as seems largely to have happened in much of Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg - an entire chunk of a formerly working city becomes a playground for an international of 'creatives', something odd happens. One often got the sense in Berlin that whatever was happening, it didn't really matter, nothing was at stake: pure pleasure becomes boring after a while, as does the constant low-level tick-tock of a techno designed seemingly for little else than just rolling along. German techno seems fastidious, but not glamorous. An executive music for people who can make a living off DJing or curating here and there is a bizarre phenomenon, as is a futurist cottage industry. The restraint of the music is the effect of a culture with no restraints.

Having said that - I don't know if I quite agree that techno, at least in this form, would be better off by returning to cheesiness and a war on subtlety. At least a stab at this was made in the form of the Schaffelbeat a few years ago (a Cologne thing, tellingly), which then rapidly scared the scene into a return to purism. Actually, in techno over the last decade, what has excited me most is (to resurrect a long-lost k-punkism) Neuromanticism: the neurasthenic, fastidious and wildly emotional music of Luomo's still shiveringly exciting The Present Lover (occasionally my favourite record of the 21st century so far), Michael Mayer's 'Falling Hands' and 'Amanda', early Superpitcher, Ada. I can't imagine Berlin techno returning to the fairground, but perhaps a possible way out of the inertia is by exacerbating the culture's own vices (anal precision, decadence, a certain sentimentality, the feeling of living in a city of scars and wastes) until they become virtues. There's no reason why the solution must lie in the grisly neocolonial shoulder-padded Vice magazine pick&mix of Diplo and his ilk. Bienahe Nichts need not be boring.

All images from Kosmograd's Mies set.


Blogger it said...

anal precision

Well, judging by Cafe Moskau, missed the fact that no one really dresses up and no one really dances either. It's all so goddamn laid back! Though saner, I agree. But perhaps sane is boring...Broken Britain vs Boho Berlin? Discuss...

12:24 am  
Blogger it said...

Oh, and Happy Birthday! x

9:35 am  
OpenID Jim said...

Au contraire (to the above comment) - definitely saner here in Berlin, but people are dancing, just not at Cafe Moskau. Three days of almost continual dancing at last weekend's Melt festival, from which I'm not yet fully recovered, surely supports this. (Let me know when you're next in town and I'll show you some serious clubbing).

As ever, I find yours to be the most thought provoking site that deals with both electronic music and urban planning. In Berlin.

And happy birthday.


7:13 pm  
OpenID architectureinberlin said...

PS comment not intended to sound as sarcastic as it did. Always enjoy a visit here!

7:37 pm  
Blogger it said...

There's dancing and then there's dancing. What I was trying to get at was something like: the grind and general unpleasantness of Britain compared to Berlin perhaps makes for a more, ahem, intense attitude to going out (hence the violence, drinking). There's no reason to go crazy if everything is just so damn pleasant. Damn, wish I were back in Berlin...

11:13 am  
OpenID architectureinberlin said...

Agreed! Moved to Berlin from London last year, and it's almost impossible to imagine going back. The parks, the bars, the opportunity to cycle the short distance home from my favorite clubs... hier, das Leben ist schön!

5:35 pm  
Blogger Seb said...

Honestly, of all the cities I've lived in, Berlin is the only one I'd qualify as a disappointment. But then I wonder if that has more to do with the fact that I don't dance and hate clubs than anything else...

1:56 pm  
Anonymous geeta said...

hey owen! interesting argument. i wrote up my take on this whole debate on my blog; have a look and see what you think.

2:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

think "neuromantic" was coined by tim finney sometime (2003/2004?) on ILM to describe the music of coloma

- czn

3:03 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Ah - I had a feeling it might have been a Finney coinage rather than K-P...

(Coloma were always very disappointing, though - I got one of their records on said recommendation and it was rather more Prefab Sprout than Associates...)

3:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:04 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I have that record, it's fabulous.

11:57 pm  
Blogger Cameron said...

Interesting observations, Owen. I saw Ellen Allien perform a minimal set in San Francisco a few months ago and I sensed a certain emptiness in the sound. It felt like I was listening to an assembly-line machine for hours on end - there's a bit of malaise where I understood some of the innovations but they didn't go anywhere artistically inspiring or promising. I wish to encounter more artists who attempt to deconstruct techno inside out, but that has already been done for the past decade (ex. Autechre, Oval, Raster-Noton, Ryoji Ikeda, etc.).

5:41 am  
Blogger Sabina said...

One day someone will namecheck those Michael Mayer records and mention they're Kylie remixes really...

6:16 am  
Blogger Transpontine said...

I've posted a reply to this, thinking about the immaterial labour dimension to this.

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