III. Representing Berlin: Masses, Repetition, and Time-lapse Clubbing
Figure 7: Films set in Weimar-era Berlin
EDM has played a decisive role in constructing post-reunification Berlin’s urban ethos. The urban ethos of EDM as a lure to Berlin, especially in its representations through the Love Parade, reflects many elements of the “abstract city of fantasy” (Krims, 18) that Adam Krims examines in the tradition of pop disco. In its hedonistic, camp, and queer representations, EDM has appropriated themes from one of the most prominent historical cities of fantasy: “Weimar-era Berlin,” supported by a selective memory of freedom and glamour as depicted in films like Cabaret (1968). This urban ethos has become especially important for German musical practice because of the problematic associations that celebratory representations of nature and rural life have with Blut und Boden and romantic associations tainted by Nazi ideology. Though every bit a modern movement, Nazism is often not associated with city life in cultural memory as much as it is with German romanticism and nature. The city offers the potential of overcoming this past precisely because many old German downtowns were destroyed and new downtowns were constructed in their place. This postwar history differs strongly from the Anglophone cities of Krims’ focus. The potential for constructing a modern urban ethos in Berlin has been particularly strong, as its close association with the Weimar period proves; though as we have already seen, the Prussian, Weimar, Third Reich, and Cold War periods remain in constant tension as Berlin’s most influential historical palimpsests.
How Berlin is represented in EDM takes on various forms both synchronically and diachronically. In this section, I will first explore a number of tracks with either titles or lyrics that invoke Berlin, before proceeding to the film be.Angeled, a filmic representation of Berlin techno. Earlier we observed the relation to Berlin that a pop-techno track like “Meet Her at the Love Parade” offers; its melodic hook promises trashy fun and partytime in the city. This pop anthem inspired many of the Love Parade anthems and videos that followed.
Figure 8: Cover of Ellen Allien’s Stadtkind
Figure 9: Other female DJs and label owners in Berlin: Marusha, Monika Kruse, Anja Schneider, and Gudrun Gut
However, tracks from other Berlin subscenes offer different possibilities. For example, the urban ethos of a track like Ellen Allien’s “Stadtkind” (City Child) evokes different associations.
The slick electro track with Allien’s distorted vocals and melancholic tune represents a woman free to move in Berlin, but one who is self-reflective, calm and independent in ways different from the girls gone wild referenced in “Meet Her at the Love Parade.” The track can further be placed in a long line of female musicians and performers who have represented the urban ethos of Berlin as a progressive, feminized space, opposed to the “Fatherland.” Berlin EDM DJanes have been particularly successful in continuing this tradition — from the stardom of the “Rave Queen” Marusha, to label owners like Monika Kruse, Anja Schneider, Gudrun Gut, and Ellen Allien herself. Allien’s lyrics are reserved and spare, borrowing on the vocal tradition of Kraftwerk, while the track remains an example of Allien’s trademark crossover between Berlin identity, techno, and tourism. It also looks forward to the more refined digital sound productions for a “design-intensive city” (see Krims, 127–62) through its slight tints and carefully modified timbres and soundscapes.
A further representation of Berlin is offered in Alec Empire’s 1994 track “Blutrote Nacht über Berlin” (“Blood-red Night above Berlin”).
Example 2: Alec Empire, “Blutrote Nacht über Berlin” (“Blood-red Night above Berlin”)
Figure 10:Einstürzende Neubauten’s album Palast der Republik
Here the uses of the distorted 909 bass and chromatic theme indicate histories of war and alienation. However, it is important to note that such a track is not necessarily an anti-Berlin track. It has the potential to provoke a paradoxical form of “anti-touristic tourism” similar to post-industrial industrial tourism. Not an abstract city of fantasy of the pop disco kind, it offers an industrial city of fantasy that is coded masculine, attractive to punks and other counter cultural elements who yearn for the aesthetics of trash, ruins, and industry to accompany the politics of urban warfare, resistance, and Leftist protest. Such an industrial city of fantasy, or a destructive city of fantasy, is offered in the video of Atari Teenage Riot’s “Destroy 2000 Years of Culture,” (Video 7) which can be read against Krims’ discussion of the city in Kylie Minogue’s video “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” (15–19).
Video 7: Atari Teenage Riot: “Destroy 2000 Years of Culture”
Alec Empire, Atari Teenage Riot, and indeed much of the hardcore and techno/house scenes, work here within a tradition of Berlin city representation that was pioneered by the industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. In the very title of the band (meaning roughly “Collapsing New Buildings”), the relationship of architecture and music are made apparent; the tracks “Kollaps” and “Steh Auf Berlin” from their 1981 album Kollaps remain key examples of architecture and music crossover.
Example 4: Einstürzende Neubauten, “Steh auf Berlin” (“Rise up, Berlin /I Like Berlin”) Click here for lyrics
Figure 11: The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche
Regarding subcultural associations, the very notion of underground is a geographic one. Associations with abandoned buildings and bunkers recall the Second World War, thus distancing the musical city from its preferred historical associations with Weimar freedom and decadence. The reference to urban warfare and destruction similarly reference the mass bombings of German cities in World War II. The specific history of East Berlin, which left many facades unrenovated and bombed ruins exposed for decades, reminded one of a history that was directly preserved only in few points in West Berlin, such as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche.
We saw how such conflicted representations of Berlin’s urban history played out in the Love Parade’s ironic practices discussed earlier, and this also finds echoes in the film drama be.Angeled (2001).
I find exploring the Love Parade and Berlin in the medium of film to be especially important because of Berlin’s rich history of intermedial representation through music and film — from Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) to Der Himmel über Berlin (1987) and Run Lola Run (1998), and most recently in the techno film Berlin Calling (2008).
Figure 12: Cover art from Berlin-themed films
Figure 13: DVD cover art for be.Angeled
be.Angeled takes place primarily on one day, July 8, 2000, at the 12th Love Parade. Though not a commercial or artistic success, the film has become a unique document of the Love Parade’s second stage. It is also a significant contribution to the post-Trainspotting (1996) EDM film genre; in particular, be.Angeled is comparable to the films Human Traffic (1999) and Groove (2000). These three films function somewhat like fictional ethnographic studies of EDM scenes in their respective cities, each offering collective narratives of a single party in the time span of 24 hours; however, in many ways these films differ radically.28 Groove recounts an illegal rave through the lens of subcultural ideology, highly affirmative about the San Francisco rave underground. Human Traffic portrays characters committed to the ideology of the Cardiff EDM scene, though they remain far more cynical about their possibilities for agency. They attend a legal club, as opposed to a rave, and their sense of community is expressed more through a support network of friends and lovers than as members of a scene. be.Angeled, on the other hand, offers a disturbing narrative of a mass gathering of proportions unmatched in either Groove or Human Traffic. Especially in comparison with Groove, the film stands as an important example of the radically different place EDM holds in European pop culture; Groove recounts a party of a hundred or so people, whereas be.Angeled featues a party of over one million. Aerial shots and extreme long shots are far more common in be.Angeled, giving a sense of magnitude that is not present in the other two. In short, while the first two films deal with club crowds, this film deals with masses.
Figure 14: Covert art for Groove and Human Traffic
be.Angeled, like the other two films, is constructed as a collective narrative; it tells eight stories of love, disaster, and international travel that intersect at the Love Parade. The director, Roman Kuhn, claims the following regarding these narratives: “We wanted to tell stories that could really happen at the Love Parade.”29 This statement is particularly surprising. Given that there have been few incidents of death or violence at the Love Parade, the violence that occurs in the film is staggering. In the eight stories involving roughly fifteen main characters, there is one murder, one suicide, three rapes, and numerous acts of psychological and physical violence, including a scene where one raver pumps a series of industrial staples into the genitals of her ex-boyfriend as revenge for infecting her with AIDS, subsequently committing suicide herself.
The troubling narrative is reflected in the clash between non-diegetic ambient music and diegetic dance music, reinforcing the traditional divisions between a dancing and listening subject. The ambient music repeatedly serves as commentary on the party; it infiltrates the party atmosphere and transforms the diegesis into a space of tragedy. Usually the sonic accompaniment to chillout rooms at raves, it is reconfigured as the music of critique — it encloses the characters as monads, whose interiority radically breaks with the ostensible good vibes of the party community.30 These breaks reflect the volatile narrative threads of the characters, whose various paths jumble and intertwine chaotically. In this sense, be.Angeled further contrasts with Groove and Human Traffic, which ultimately follow teleological paths toward climax and release.31
I point out these aspects because the film profits from the sensationalized fears of German society that were connected to the Love Parade. Above all, these fears center around two issues: mass gatherings and repetitive music. I would argue that it was primarily the mix of these two aspects that caused the Love Parade to be the locus of such controversy. The Love Parade is certainly not the only mass event or concert to take place in front of the Brandenburg Gate; every year, events ranging from the New Years Day celebration to the Christopher Street Day Parade are found here. However, the fear of mass gatherings in Germany of any kind since the Third Reich and the long established tradition in European thought linking repetitive music to regression and marching meant that the Love Parade was viewed as particularly problematic. The critical writings of figures such as Theodor W. Adorno, Jacques Attali, and Wim Mertens on popular dance music, disco, and minimal music, as well as the popular reception of Freud’s theories of repetition compulsion and the death drive, undergirded fears and critiques of EDM. Attali writes for example, “The popular dance, which has in part become a concert, is a release from violence that has lost its meaning. Carnival without the masks and the channeling of the tragic; in which the music is only a pretext for the noncommunication, the solitude, and the silence imposed by the sound volume and the dancing” (118). The Love Parade and German EDM were caught here in the clash between a queer politics of jouissance and a Leftist dialectical politics of critique. While the critique of repetition has been an intense and especially Eurocentric phenomenon, recent scholarship has countered such orthodoxy. Though space and time do not allow for an appropriate recounting of the repetition debates, I would like to point to the writings of Mark Butler, Luis-Manuel Garcia, and Robert Fink, all of whom offer key new studies of repetition and, specifically, EDM. Butler focuses on listening pleasures of metrical dissonance, process patterns, and loops; Garcia counteracts regressive notions with the notion of “satiation, process, and creation pleasures” (Garcia, 3.4); while Fink employs the notion of “recombinant teleology.”32 All these authors point toward various anti-teleological notions of repetition as singularity, as process, as desiring production, as mathematical sublime, and so forth.
Beyond such sensationalized fears, two aspects are important with respect to the film’s depiction of music and the city: 1. The relationship of tourism and globalization to Berlin represented in travel (by train, car, and U-Bahn) as modern forms of pilgrimage. 2. The homology of monumental architecture and the political relation of the DJ star system to the masses.
Regarding travel, the characters in be.Angeled are constantly in transit: either toward Berlin as tourists, through the parade itself, or through the city. The post-parade travel through the city is a particularly important aspect, which reinforces the association of techno with all of Berlin. EDM is a music designed for massive sound systems; indeed, with the Love Parade and its specially prepared outdoor sound systems, one could not escape the feeling that whenever one was in the general vicinity of the parade, techno had become the virtual sonic architecture of Berlin. So while films and audio recordings can reproduce the styles, settings, and the “music itself,” they cannot reproduce the bodily experiences of being immersed in the masses and the fortississimo music. In this respect, a cherished characteristic of techno sound systems by many clubbers is the extraordinary reverberating effect of the basic 4/4 bass kick — for example, when one is waiting outside or approaching a club with an appropriately loud sound system, the bass has an especially distorted and unique sound that merges with the vibration of the building’s materials, especially its rattling metals. In the case of Berlin during the Love Parade, when one walked the streets, the distant echo of this bass drum could be heard virtually anywhere. The club tours of the characters in be.Angeled represent this to a degree. Such tours were part of the “Love Week” surrounding the actual parade — Berlin was packed with special club nights, concerts, and raves in the days prior to and following the parade. Groups of tourists or locals would establish makeshift DJ booths and sound systems throughout the city — in bars and cafés, on the streets, in the parks, and in their cars — and the U-Bahns and busses had special night routes packed with ravers. Thus, in practically all parts of the city, especially on the day of the parade itself, wherever one traveled, one was liable to hear the distant sound of 4/4 bass drum or see ravers somewhere — giving the feeling that Berlin was indeed a techno city.
Travel is further explored in the film through language. Reflecting the international draw and tourist aspects of the event, the film mixes between the German, English, and French languages, though English plays an especially prominent role as a marker of global pop culture. While this linguistic mix ostensibly critiques nationalism, it is important also to recognize that these languages are the privileged markers of bourgeois globalization and the official languages of the European Union. For example, Turkish and Polish are notably absent from the film. Nevertheless, this linguistic mix reflects a concern of the film: the possibility in a global city of genuine communication (whether through language, music, dancing, or violence) and genuine community (whether between lovers, ravers, friends, family, or foreigners).
Figure 15: Mark Spoon
Figure 16: Lexy
These problems of communication are curiously paralleled in the one narrative thread that deals both with the cultural divide between East and West Germany and the music industry: the conflict between the characters Mark Spoon and Lexy, real-life DJs playing “themselves.” Within the film, they play two DJ types: the first, a prole: old, fat, ugly, jaded, but also an experienced member of the first Love Parade generation; and the second, a yuppie: young, slim, sexy, stylish, inexperienced, idealistic — but transitioning rapidly to the jadedness of the former.33 Spoon and Lexy’s conflict is further reflected in their musical choices. Lexy represents the minimal/electro scene, while Spoon represents the pop techno scene, or in Lexy’s terms, “Asi-Scheiss-Trance-Proll-Musik” (roughly translated: “Asshole-shitty-trance-prole-music”). That Lexy comes from Dresden (the former GDR) and Spoon comes from Frankfurt am Main (the former FRG) is significant for the national narrative of the Love Parade. Lexy is trying to make it as a young Ossie while Spoon is already a well established Wessie — socially and geographically, East and West meet at the parade. While in Berlin, the parade indeed functioned as a symbol of what techno was performing daily in towns and cities throughout Germany: a way for young Germans to negotiate a newly reunited nation and a new Europe.
In their first meeting before DJing, Lexy insults Spoon, saying he is a sellout and has snorted away half his brain with cocaine. Their second meeting is at the DJ stage around the Siegessäule. To explain: the Love Parade schedule, as it developed and solidified in its second historical stage, divides into two halves. The first half, the warm-up, occurs between roughly noon and 6 p.m., in which the individual “love trucks” have separate lineups of DJs, and thus, each truck plays different music. The second half takes place between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., when night arrives and the lightshow begins. All the trucks become synchronized when the sound system around the Siegessäule starts up. From this point on, all the participants are dancing to the same music, which is spun by star DJs who alternate rapidly with 20-minute-long sets. The ideal of fusion into the party atmosphere is in this way sonically represented by the unification of the various sound systems.
Video 8: Marusha Live at Love Parade 1998
This performance takes place in the early evening, a few hours before sunset. Marusha was one of the few DJanes who regularly performed at the star DJ booth.
Video 9: Sven Väth Live at Love Parade 2000
The lightshow and onset of night gives a strikingly different feel to the Love Parade here versus the daylight performances. Sven Väth’s electro mix points to the rising popularity of this music in Germany and Berlin at this time.
Lexy’s and Spoon’s second meeting is comprised of two sequences that deal with their DJ performances. Each sequence begins with a low angle shot with symmetrical composition of a staircase leading up to the Siegessäule, worthy of the column’s monumental architecture. The discursive mix of the techno-stars with the Wilhelminian architecture is presented in ways comparable to the “Meet Her At the Love Parade” video. Lexy and then Spoon head up the staircase as monuments themselves: saints entering heaven, oddball politicians acknowledging their followers, or gladiators entering the arena. In the film, nondiegetic ambient music accompanies both Lexy and Spoon as they prepare for their performance. With Lexy, the sounds of a steadily increasing heartbeat mark the approaching terror of having to perform before a million souls for the first time.
Video 10: be.Angeled (2001): Lexy
In Mark Spoon’s case, the ambient sounds accompany a veteran from the first generation set in his ways, relishing the power he has over the masses. All we witness is his ironic smirk. Indeed, as Love Parade representative, Spoon is the most interesting character in the film precisely because he never speaks — he symbolizes the parade as the mute icon with the ironic smirk. Yet, as has been shown, this mute smirk was carefully calculated and discursively productive in its own right. What actually speaks is the dialectical clash between monumental architecture and the massive outdoor EDM disco; between Prussian militarism, a divided Germany, and Eurotrash; and between history and partytime — forever marking the Love Parade as one of the most important symbols of fin-de-siècle Berlin.34
Video 11: be.Angeled (2001): Spoon
When Spoon heads up, he appears to approach Lexy menacingly; but Spoon makes an offer of reconciliation. He even kisses Lexy on the cheek and celebrates Lexy’s first mix at the Love Parade. The joining of the hands of the Ossie and Wessie DJs as the crowd cheers is indeed a subtle, if tense, celebration of national unification. However, when Spoon takes the decks, a new ambient sound is heard — that of the record slowly speeding up. The crowd is wound up, but Spoon suddenly splits Lexy’s hit-record in two. His trance track “Storm” begins, and the pop party resumes.35 Timelapse photography follows, and the day quickly passes into night. This technique echoes the opening scene of Run Lola Run; however, this form of timelapse photography does not evoke Berlin in the excitement of change but one seemingly bored with its own spectacle after a decade of excitement. Indeed, timelapse photography was an appropriate marker of 1990s Berlin; the trauma of the wall and the unfreedom of travel for nearly 40 years resulted in a decade of images and experiences of movement — running and dancing on the streets. This delight in timelapse photography, the winding up and winding down of record speeds and film speeds, accompanied a city in rapid change — and simultaneously consciously constructing and reflecting on of that change.
The very fact that be.Angeled was produced indicates the historically self-reflective awareness of this event as “making history in the present.” The parade organizers were also self-conscious of this history. be.Angeled was filmed during the last year of the Love Parade’s designation as a legal demonstration; the 2001 video “You Can’t Stop Us” acted as a kind of summary of the Berlin history of the Love Parade as a means of challenging the loss of this designation. Including images from its early days to the present, the video is an anthology of the pop imagery that will always be associated with the Love Parade: go-go dancers, love trucks, Brazilian carnival allusions, Brandenburg proles and ravers on street lights, gay boys, dancing girls gone wild, and various Star-DJs (including some extra clips from be.Angeled). As far as Berlin was concerned though, the video’s claim “You can’t stop us” was not prophetic…
Video 12: The Love Committee: “You Can’t Stop Us” (2001)
28 Both in terms of the film narrative and the musical soundtrack, these films are entirely concerned with the issues revolving around EDM and raves. Trainspotting’s reputation as a rave film derives almost entirely from its soundtrack; it actually concerns a generation of drug addicts who are somewhat prior to the rave scene. Concerning be.Angeled, the “Making Of” section on the DVD emphasizes its documentary aspect, giving the perception that the entire film was actually shot at the Love Parade and claiming authenticity by showing shots of the actors in the Love Parade. However, from the lighting in the film, it is clear that a great portion of the film was shot in the studio. Thanks to Rembert Hüser for pointing this out.
29be.Angeled. “Making Of” interview: “Wir wollten Geschichten erzählen, die wirklich auf der Loveparade passieren können.”
30 Perhaps a subtler critique of the Love Parade and the dialectic of masses and isolation would include a long segment of the ravers at home, post-party, trying to go to bed — alone — with only the ringing of the ears, the fingers digging at the ringing inside the ear like some wax one cannot remove. The fingers would fiddle with the ear, close it up and hit it: but each time the ear canal would open, the ringing would return.
31 While there are some crises regarding party organization and relationships, Groove ends in a triumphant release of the partiers during John Digweed’s anthem “Heaven Scent.” Human Traffic is filled with numerous brilliant moments of social commentary; however, a main narrative thread runs through the story. It revolves around a young man who suffers from sexual anxiety or “Mr. Floppy,” as he calls it, which humorously mocks the notion of youthful sexual excess. However, by subordinating the narrative to the question of heterosexual love, the music is also subordinated to a traditional notion of Freudian foreplay. The story ends in climax and, presumably, marriage, when the man discovers his love for a female friend in a moment resembling Jane Austen’s Emma; the final music is fittingly that of a Hollywood musical as opposed to rave music.
32 Garcia’s essay, “On and On,” offers a fascinating literature review on the notion of repetition in Freud, critical theory, and musicology in the Twentieth Century. Fink critiques the writings of Wim Mertens in particular and describes and celebrates the distinct, anti-hetero-masculine pleasures that EDM forms offer (their pre-history found in disco and minimalism). He sees their “abandoning of the human scale” of pleasure as the source of EDM’s associations with perversion. He writes, “Recombinant teleologies tend to disregard the anthropic principle. They create musical universes in which tension and release far outstrips the ability of the individual human subject to imagine a congruent bodily response” (44).
33 As a cultural figure, Mark Spoon had a crucial role in the Frankfurt techno scene. He died in January 11, 2006 at the age of 39, resulting in his raising to a cult icon during the last Love Parade in Berlin. As a real life trance star, his person represented a mix of punk, futurism, and Eurotrash camp — trashing his records, his DJ sets, his audience, and his colleagues. See www.mark-spoon.com. This persona could be contrasted with the slick, cosmopolitan Berlin trance star Paul Van Dyk. Born in Eisenhüttenstedt (former East Germany), Van Dyk is now based in Berlin. He has garnered praise as an upstanding citizen and world figure for a reunited Berlin, receiving the Medal of Honor of Berlin in 2006 and producing a hymn to reunification “Wir Sind Wir” in 2004. See www.paulvandyk.de.
34 Notice, however, the misalignment of capital and cultural capital; Lexy, while a struggling Ossie, appropriates the images of global youth culture more readily, while Spoon, a rich Wessie, surprisingly mixes proletarian roots and the smooth trance sounds of capitalistic Frankfurt. Lexy’s eager embrace of and commitment to techno is also crucial as a representation of the role the former East played in the rise of the techno scene. In Modulations, Westbam describes raving as “the liberation dance of the East Germans.”
35 This track, from Spoon’s project of the same title, Storm, with Rolf Ellmer (the duo are more famously known as Jam & Spoon) was one of his few later hits during a declining career in the late 1990s. “Storm” closely resembles “Meet Her At the Love Parade” in terms of sound, and the track buildup and climax resemble the structures of “trance” that Mark Butler sites in Unlocking the Groove (221–32). However, Butler’s writings on trance are dependent upon a limited, indeed stereotypical, understanding of the genre as strictly one of pop melodic hooks and build-ups rather than, for example, an EDM genre marked by atmospheric timbres. I employ the term “pop techno” rather than “trance” with reference to the Charlottenburg scene, because the practice of conforming to the “prototypical form” (whether that is bad or cheesy in the first place) cannot be pinned down to any one style. Butler unfortunately recycles a staid genre battle through the biased glasses of the Detroit/Midwest techno scene. It is important to remember, however, that many genres have had respective successes in the pop world: for example, electro (Westbam), house (Daftpunk), minimal (Richie Hawtin), trance (Paul Van Dyk), breaks (Prodigy), and gabber/happy hardcore (Marusha).