26.8.12

Opinion: The Beat Goes On?

In the first couple of hours that I spend at Fuck Parade this year, I come to the conclusion that there are four reasons why I always go to it:

1) It's free.

Free!! What better reason could there ever possibly be for going out??

2) It's got variety.

Zuruck zu den Wurzeln, Dienstagswelt, ZMF, Brunnen 70, and Seismograph are some of the floats I see lined up here, and sunny Subland’s hosting the after-party. Even the likes of Death Rave are present and accounted for, complete with dark gabba sounds. Gabba hasn't been my cuppa tea since the late 1990s but it’s hardly changed since then, so I can still get into it. And as an upside, its naked aggression seems to be keeping all of Berlin's pesky hipsters at bay*.

3) It's political.
 
This year I see banners protesting right wing extremism, GEMA club fee hikes, the dismantlement of Mauer Park as a freiraum (e.g. free creative space); the incarceration of Pussy Riot… etc. Which puts me on another train of thought: is it the parade's politics that scares the hipsters away? And if so, what does that say about their relationship to the droves of proles (working class kids) that we spotted dancing behind some of the floats?

The thing is this: techno wouldn't still be so popular today without its political significance. From the early 90s onward, it distinguished itself from house music with a more confrontational sound. Acid house was the sound of massive, escapist raves that were basically adult playgrounds (think Bar 25 times ten) but techno was the soundtrack for illegal warehouse parties, alternative festivals, demonstrations and yes, even the occasional riot. Techno was (and often still is) chosen by activists wanting to pump up the volume at their protests, and that's the same reason that it’s all around us at this year’s parade: because it has attitude.

Techno has served this dual role in the underground for as long as I can remember. I've seen it boost flagging morale at demos just as effectively as it riles up punters on the dance floor. Its multitasking, rabble-rousing nature is probably what earned it so much more underground nous than house ever got, lifting it out of the ‘just another dance trend’ niche. It may also be the reason why techno has never really been successfully tamed and turned into another club-consumer product, like house was so early in the game. Even now, with minimal techno slowly commodifying techno for the mainstream, there are still plenty of labels and parties that refuse to play nice.

Take the attitude away from techno and really, all you’ve got left is a zombie rave: people wearing slightly extreme clothes, listening to slightly extreme music and going through slightly extreme motions, hoping to convey an illusion of slightly extreme change (but only the illusion, because the reality could get them into slightly extreme trouble). This is the vision of techno that I am seeing more and more often at clubs in Berlin’s minimal scene. It’s possible that the commoditisation of minimal techno says more about the increasing pressure on the scene to conform to the vision of Berlin authorities than it does about its own vision. Unlike the raving, rioting techno generation that came before it, the minimal scene only has one option: to live and work within the system. Too many squats have been closed, too many benefits cut and too many civil liberties taken away for real changes and real extremes to be undertaken lightly. So, by and large, Berlin's minimal techno scene plays by the rules. But does it believe that it can win the game, or just that it’s the only game in town?

While you had to be at FuPa from the very beginning and hear the organizers’ speeches to get a better feel for their views, the music was a fairly effective protest in itself: fast, defiant, reckless beats dominated. Which brings me to the fourth reason why I love this parade...

4) The music there is Proper Techno.

It's way better than the stuff you hear in minimal techno parties: faster, more complex, more resilient and energetic; basically, it’s the sound of survival. Berlin's underground techno beat has gotten more urgent over the years, as if it's racing to keep one step ahead of the local trends that are threatening it: apathy, individualism, conservative politics and rising property prices. The same trends still threaten it now but the connection between the music that Berliners dance to and the world that they live in has mostly been severed. Not only that, but the two things seem to be going in opposite directions.
Again I find myself wondering: is the minimal techno beat so slow because the scene thinks that it’s no longer racing against the system for its survival? Does it think that the concept of techno as activist tool is simply redundant - that the system no longer needs fixing? If so then it is being as dangerously optimistic as a motorist who dumps his emergency kit just because his car is currently parked somewhere safe.
Berlin's minimal techno fans are mainly young people who are facing a future filled with injustice. Internships, 1 euro jobs and full-time 400 euro job contracts have all but legalized wage slavery. These kids may also end up paying extra taxes to save the same financial systems that screwed up the Greek, Spanish, Italian and Irish economies. And then there's the emerging, 'new' realization that climate change is man-made; the fallout from that will need to be dealt with somehow, using whatever money is left over after being underpaid and overtaxed. As the people who are in line to pay the biggest price for the current system, today's teens and twenty-somethings are asking surprisingly few questions about what the system is doing for them. Is that because they see it as a friend, or because they see it as an unconquerable foe? It's hard to decide which answer would be more worrying.

I can't blame the city's glitter-coated, techno-hipsters for not wanting to confront these realities head-on, though, or for turning the minimal scene into a na├»ve fantasy world where they can dissociate from it. Being able to shut out one's problems is a luxury that only some can only afford, though. Many of this city's clubbers are just barely hanging onto their middle-class status, and only because they still have middle-class parents who they can turn to for help. If current global trends continue after their parents have retired, there simply won’t be enough dough to keep their artificially-inflated party spirits 'high'.
For today, Berlin's young clubbers are okay but they may need to fight the system for their own survival soon. And, without any of the older techno-activists to turn to for support, they will be starting from Square One. The Occupy movement is a good illustration of what happens when a large body of inexperienced activists come together to achieve something: in-fighting and rapid loss of vision often tear the whole thing apart, leaving everyone more uncooperative and mistrustful than they were to start with.
Suddenly, my friend Katja looks at me with amazed eyes and asks, "Can we go check out the Dienstagswelt float? The music there actually sounds pretty awesome." We fall into step behind the van and dance all the way to Wienerstrasse, following seamless beats that are strung together with hissing snares and black-clad dancers, a darkly-charming snake. Katja makes me promise to take her to Dienstagswelt with me next time I go; I suggest we try and find out who this DJ is, so we can keep an eye out for him on the play list. I ask the guy riding shotgun in the front of the van and tells me the DJ's called Marcel Clueso; I jump up for a look at the decks and glimpse of a very fresh face behind them. He can only have been in this scene for a year, two at most.
By the end of the parade we’ve danced with a lot of people to some awesome sets, met old friends and only seen one minor fight (caused by a passing Asi who clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into). Overall, it’s been a unifying day, though the dominance of the music does seem to have reduced the message to the spectrum of sound. It's true that techno rarely 'speaks’ about politics in the same way that, say, punk does, but that's because the techno scene has usually been more unanimous in its beliefs than punk.

Early techno fans found freedom, peace and equality on the dancefloor and they wanted to transfer those things to the rest of the world - through parties and through politics. They decided early on that the party wasn't going to stop until they'd succeeded. I get the feeling that same determination is what drives FuPa from one end of Berlin to the other each year, without breaking its stride. So for one day every August, the defiant beat of techno goes on… but where is it going? And when will it get there?

*Despite the recent rash of anti hipster comments on this blog, I don't actually hate hipsters. Some of my friends and neighbours are even hipsters. I may not always agree with it, but they're still allowed to do whatever shallow things they enjoy doing ;)

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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, streetart, left-wing activism, social media trends and green issues. Other publications that I have written for include: Urban Challenger Blog, Siegesaeule, Shlur, Alternative Berlin, Sensanostra.