Monday, June 28, 2010

Techno Prisoners

Berliners are quite rhythmic. At nearly every street party and public event there are groups of drummers; Germans are champion, marathon dancers; and the omnipresent techno beats are highly, purely rhythmic. But Berliners seem to scarcely acknowledge any form of music other than the percussive. Rock and roll is a rarity. You do hear teenagers playing guitar in the parks, but they're usually Russian. "Germans don't play guitars," says my new friend Everett, matter-of-factly. Parties are maddeningly techno-oriented, a Berlin cliche whose truth must be ceded. The beat goes on--and on, and on, the bpm never-changing, a relentless thump-thump-thump that eventually overpowers all resistance.

To belabor the point: I think of disco's golden years in the States. Disco was in many ways survivor's music, its grooves a steady and reassuring antidote to the tumult of the 60s. I will survive, sang Gloria Gaynor--even if it meant only, to cocaine-snorting revelers, surviving until the end of the night, riding the groove 'til dawn's first light. This German techno music makes a similar impression, an endurance-soundtrack for a whole nation of survivors whose recent history is indeed tumultuous. What do you do, really, having emerged from a century of warfare, terror and disintegration relatively intact? You party!

Saturday was Transgenialer CSD, the politicized alternative to last weekend's big-bucks, Ikea-sponsored Christopher Street Day gay pride parade. Considerably younger and grimier, the tCSD march snaked through Kreuzberg, fueled by heavy techno grooves, the party pausing periodically for impromptu speechmaking on the oppression of trans people or homopohobia in World Cup football. In lieu of any constructive contribution to the parade, I pick a bouquet of flowers from the median as we amble down Kottbusser Damm. I'll hand them off to some cute boy, I figure, or just to anyone who looks lonely, like they could use a bunch of freshly-plucked blossoms. The parade continues, settling in at Oriennenstrasse for an epic street party. The hours drift by, more speeches are made, the techno music continues blaring and the indefatigable fags keep dancing, the street a massive disco-floor. I wander through the crowd, clutching my rapidly-wilting bouquet--I can't seem to find anyone to give my flowers to, no one that quite fits my stringent criteria. The sun beginning to set, I try to pawn off my sad bouquet on a cranky two year-old, but she's spooked and won't accept them. I wander back through the crowd, my hand-picked blossoms by now virtually dead. In what feels like a grand symbolic defeat, I end up leaving them in the gutter. I can't spend my life trying to give away flowers! The dance party beckons, the sweaty throng huge and orgiastic. Thump-thump-thump--I will survive!

I dance my heart out. Everywhere you look people are succombing to the all-powerful groove. Even old ladies--especially old ladies--can't help themselves; shopping bags and all, they dive into the fray, sporting rave-worthy dance moves. And there are certain lifers, tanned and shirtless men with a manic, burned-out aspect which says they've been partying non-stop since at least '89. Already drunk, they throw their arms up toward the setting sun as if in supplication to the Techno Gods. Yes, Lord, keep on with that Almighty Groove!, they seem to say, eyes closed in total bliss. Is this the march of history, this pitiless beat that varies only slightly, always returning to the thump-thump-thump of the human heart? Antisocial as I am, I can't help hoping for some malfunction in the DJ booth, some computer glitch that will throw a wrench into the groove. Please don't stop the music, begs the refrain from a mid-00s hit which haunts dancefloors to this day, as if even a moment of silence would be the ultimate bummer. But please do!, responds the contrarian in me, even as my own feet continue moving. Please do stop the music! I'm trapped in a techno Hell and I can't seem to escape! Someone stop that fascist DJ!

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