The Techno Jet-Set: Tourism, Mobility, and Money in Berlin’s EDM Scenes
s I was conducting an interview a couple of nights ago, I realized that I didn’t have a publicly-accessible and easily-readable description of my current research project on so-called “techno-tourism.” If you read my article on the Spreepark party in Resident Advisor last fall, you probably already have an idea of what this project is about: the waves of travelers coming to Berlin for its nightlife scenes, many of them enjoying a kind of international mobility that used to be the exclusive domain of wealthy “jet-set” elites. The framing of my project is pretty much directly indebted to Tobias Rapp’s book (Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno und the Easy Jet Set, 2010) and his coining of the word “EasyJetSet,” which highlights the similarities to and differences from an earlier era of luxury “jet-setter” tourism.
There’s a lot to be said about this project, about the earlier research that has been done on tourism, the economic and social factors, and so on, but here’s a concise summary of the most relevant points.
My current research project, entitled, “The Techno Jetset: Mobility, Tourism, and Class in Berlin’s Electronic Dance Music Scenes,” focuses on “techno tourism” in Berlin (i.e., tourism primarily attached to nightlife and the city’s electronic dance music scenes). I also tracks the accompanying rise of the so-called “EasyJetSet”: a group of relatively young reveler-travelers that have taken advantage of changing economic circumstances to enjoy patterns of leisure travel that had been previously limited to wealthy “jetsetter” elites. These changing circumstances include the emergence of “budget” airlines (such as EasyJet and RyanAir), the low cost of living in Berlin compared to other European capitals, the centralization of much of the EDM industry in Berlin (e.g., DJs, producers, labels, magazines), the high proportion of university students in the city (and, for many European students, the availability of state financial support), the increasing earning power of post-rave-era clubbers as they finish their schooling and start their professional lives, and the growth of online communities supporting nightlife scenes (and tourism) such as Resident Advisor or Data Transmission.
But this rise in nightlife-tourism to Germany’s still-underemployed capital has been met with ambivalence: for all the revenue and jobs Berlin’s EDM scenes generate for the city, they have also contributed to the gentrification of the city by saturating the housing markets of poorer neighborhoods with visitors, temporary residents, and “creative class” immigrants. For example, Johannes Novy, in an article from ExBerliner about a year and a half ago, suggested that well more than 10 000 apartments in Berlin have been removed from the property market and converted into vacation rentals. And yet, the gentrification of neighborhoods often brings with it an increasing intolerance for the nighttime activities of EDM scenes; young, yuppie families don’t want hot nightlife right next door. Added to all this are the concerns of “local” scenesters about the impact that a constant stream of visitors could have on the integrity and stability of their music scenes. All of these factors frame a group of reveler-travelers with new and interesting relations to locality, mobility, money, prestige, and community—which points to twenty-first-century transformations in tourism and international economies.
Part of what’s new is a (relatively) new form of tourism, which has been developing since at least the 80s, but which has become a major movement in the early 2000s: “post-tourist” tourism. There’s already a diversity of new, unconventional forms of tourism (e.g., luxury tourism, mass tourism, eco-tourism, genealogical/heritage tourism, disaster tourism, “alternative” tourism, sex and/or drug tourism, music tourism, sports tourism, etc.), but I’m interested in two broader patterns that have been emerging under the heading of “post-tourist” tourism. I’ve come across a variety of terms that use “post-” or “neo-” or “new” to describe these patterns, but they nonetheless seem to point to the following two developments (in my view):
“Post-tourists” as anti-tourists (or maybe critical tourists):
- Many travelers have absorbed the classic critique of the conventional “tourist experience” of guided tours, group packages, museums, resorts, sightseeing, and so on (i.e., it’s inauthentic, artificial, exploitative, commercialized, etc.). Instead, they engage in a sort of sideways search for the “authentic experience” of a city, site, or some other kind of place. In Berlin, for example, this takes the form of a kind of “hipster tourism” or “neo-bohemian tourism” that prefers activities like “hanging out” in alternative neighborhoods (e.g., Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, and more recently Neukölln and Wedding) and absorbing the atmosphere of daily life rather than visiting museums, shopping centres, landmarks, and so on. While they seem to strive to access the “true” feel of a place, post-tourists of this sort tend to have an ironic stance to authenticity itself and are also attracted to kitsch, camp, and anything else that might be associated with local inflections of mass/mainstream culture (but let’s not forget old-fashioned cultural “slumming”).
“Post-tourists” as postmodern tourists:
- This refers to travelers who care less and less about the authenticity of their tourist experience, per se. Instead, they’re open to highly-mediated modes of tourism, such as simulations, multi-media spectacles, internet representations, virtual-reality recreations of historical places, and so on. In some ways, these tourists seem to have contrary tastes to those of the “anti-tourists,” but they both avoid conventional forms of tourism.
For my research in Berlin, the first definition is more relevant, as this seems to describe well the ways that techno-tourists approach and consume Berlin as a tourist destination. My methods for this project focuses primarily on interviews with these so-called techno-tourists as well as attendance at EDM events in Berlin where techno-tourists are supposed to be present. But there are also a lot of non-Berliner clubbers here who identify differently, as locals, expats, regulars, visitors, and so on; so, I’m also looking to interview folks who come to Berlin frequently for the music (or have moved here), even if they don’t identify themselves as tourists. Over this coming winter, I’m planning to approach and hopefully interview a few people involved in the techno-tourism industry in some way (bar staff, nightclub managers, hotel/hostel managers, travel agents, the kebab stand next to Ostbahnhof). Of course, I’ll also be paying close attention to the ways that various businesses advertise to techno tourism (or not) and the way that local media discusses its impact on the city (mostly through debates about gentrification, it seems). Finally, I’m also trying to find any concrete statistical data available on how many techno-tourists come to town, how much money they bring to the city, how they spend their money, where they stay, etc.; this is tough, because a lot of post-tourist activity involves bypasses the mainstream tourism industry (e.g., staying in a friend’s apartment instead of renting a hotel room), so we don’t have an easy way to measure it.
Well, that summary was maybe not as concise as I had planned, but hopefully it explains what I’m up to! Feel free to ask questions in the comments below. And if you’re somehow involved in this phenomenon and would be interested in participating in an interview (or just providing information and contacts to other people), please don’t hesitate to contact me!