A personal-analytical journey, narrated to smashing four-to-the-floor drum beats at 130 bpm.
I turn left and lean against the thin metal wall next to me, the cool stainless steel nestling against my overheated skull. I’m dizzy, sweat running down my forehead. “So, what are we doing?” the familiar, rough female voice has this authoritarian and determined sound to it. A flash of light illuminates my vision—the dusty yellow light bulb’s reflection on the shiny, sterile surface of a mobile phone. Snow gently trickles; seven sweaty, half-naked bodies in a confined space, in need of a clear mind—or wings to fly again. The bass wafts underneath our feet, the sound of a toilet flushing next door.
What am I doing?
Looking at it superficially, I lost control over my life—yet, from a deep analytical point of view, I’m doing everything just right.
“What does nightlife mean to you?
“There’s something deeply human about the thrill of being in hot nightclubs, and this frames how we have partied for the last hundred years and beyond,” scholar, journalist and techno DJ Dr. Madison Moore writes in the chapter on club culture in his book ‘Fabulous—Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric’.
A year before Madison puts these words on paper, I sit across from him on a mild July evening in a bar in Kreuzberg, sipping my third Margarita in a row. At this moment I’m just astonished that someone like him—33, a US-American professor from London, in his current techno summer exile, and I, student in that ‘Sturm und Drang’ phase of my early twenties in search of… (?) Hm—would actually like to have an adult conversation with me, and, retrospectively, I didn’t even realize what influence this conversation would have—not only on me but on both of us. “What does nightlife mean to you?,” after a one-hour Kiki about dicks, dreams, and drama, Madison fires this question at me like a gunshot in that piercingly analytical tone of his, while his glassy look gives way for scientific concentration.
A question that hasn’t let go of me ever since—week after week, underneath glistening spotlights, captured in between rattling bass lines and reverberating high hats.
Nightlife history is queer history
Nightlife history is queer history, stresses Luis-Manuel Garcia in his essay on queer club culture, published on Resident Advisor in 2014—a text that would also help me, later on, to fathom my inexplicable fascination for the night.
“Already in New York in the 1970s, queer people and their allies came together to create small spaces in the rough, urban setting of the big city,” the professor at Birmingham University and organizer of the queer Berlin party collective Room4Resistance writes. “Spaces where they could be safe, where they could be themselves, where they could be someone else for a while, and where they could be with others in a way that was not allowed in the ‘normal’ everyday world. Music was an integral part of these encounters.”
Up in the Club
The mind is free again––but no wings to fly. Our group leaves the bizarre, bazaar-like hustle and bustle of the club toilet towards the dance floor. We pass muscled monsters and petite figures, sweaty bodies entwined with leather straps and metal chains, and eccentric creatures bedazzling us with their outfits out of gleaming velvet and silk, while lustrous glances out of deep black pupils stare at us from all sides. The smell of the night creeps into my nose––warm sweat mixes with fresh perfume, cold cigarette haze and that scent of sex.
And in another moment down we went into the rabbit hole—never once considering how in the world we were to get out again…
“Through nightlife we seek transgression; we’re pressing up against cultural restrictions and norms, and we’re creating experiences,” Madison continues in the chapter ‘Up in the Clubs’. “We transition out of our domestic, private selves and go in search of a ‘wider life’.”
One of my best friends—think eccentric diva in platform high heels and sequin flare pants, with characteristic curly mane—was attracted to the city’s dance floors in his first year in Berlin like a moth is to the flame. Growing up in a strict and conservative household, his move to Berlin was a stroke of liberation and the city’s nightlife enabled him to live out a version of himself he had to keep behind bars for a long time.
“There I can release energy and express myself″
One year ago, in a series of interviews for iHeartBerlin, I asked the city’s club kids about their relationship to nightlife. The answers were episodic insights into the psychology of the dance floor—”If you want to be seen, you can dress up and go out and be seen! But if you just want to be part of the crowd, you can just disappear in the crowd,” writes Alyha. “There, I can relieve energy,″ Souad replies, ″express myself, my feelings and emotions.” “It’s like sorcery. Raw, primitive and instinctive energy where I connect the most with my true self. Through the intensity of the music and the others.” Nayme describes dreamily.
Being part of the nightlife community leaves traces—sometimes these traces are physical, but for the most part, the experiences of the night dig deep into our minds and break down normative walls to create unimagined free spaces. The night turns the shy but fancy little boy with frizzy curls into a disco diva, and the grey mouse in badly fitting cotton shirts into a rave princess in skin-tight lingerie.
Drift into the energy of the masses
Back to this Berlin midsummer evening, which would change so much: The evening when a formative friendship began, before Madison and I would start our own party series ‘OPULENCE’, and before I would experiment myself behind the decks to understand what it means to orchestrate a night …
I take a deep sip of my margarita, the salt on the edge of the glass burns on my tongue and the Kreuzberg summer air blows gently into my face––warm asphalt, burnt tires, and that promise of a long, busy Friday night. I smile a tipsy smile and look out at bustling Oranienstraße. Madison is still waiting for an answer.
“In the middle of the dance floor, when I let myself drift between bass and lights into the energy of the masses,”I put my glass down and look him in the eyes, “that*s when I am no longer insecure, anxious, or aimless––on the dance floor I am!”.
We push ourselves through the sheer sea of bodies, a bassless synthesizer buzzes through the room and spreads an expectant, melancholic melody. On a long-lasting tone the synthesizer disappears gently as we reach the center of the dance floor—a dramatic moment of tranquillity, the light flickers tensely. As the bass fires out of the speakers with full power, the dramatic synthesizer cries out once more to the crowd’s ecstatic screams.
I close my eyes—I’m at peace.