Resonances: Music, Affect, and the City

The header from the poster for the "Resonances" conference.

Header taken from the “Resonances” poster

Last week, I organized a two-day conference here in Berlin, which took the affective dimensions of urban soundscapes as its central theme. Running November 7th–8th at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the conference featured a mix of scholarly presentations and discussion panels that included professionals out of Berlin’s local music scene, as well as  music/sound-related evening events  (see the conference program at the end of this post).  I’m still recovering from the whole thing (as well as from an opportunistic flu that jumped into my body as soon as the conference came to a close), but I wanted to post some of my impressions of the conference, while they are still vivid in my memory. Considering the vanishingly small operating budget and a similarly tight planning period, I’m somewhat amazed I was able to pull it off at all.

Plans for this conference first arose last July, (more…)

New Berliner Stereotypes in Translation

Graffiti at the Schönleinstrasse stop on the U8 line.

A couple of months ago, the magazine Zitty Berlin posted an online article entitled, “Berlin, deine Feindbilder.” Feindbild literally means something like “villan-image,” but the meaning here is more like “bogeyman” or “negative stereotype.” And so, Zitty, which is a supplementary magazine to the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, offered a surprisingly long list of stereotypes of Berlin’s denizens. While not as funny as caricatures, these Feindbilder capture something essential about the debates and tensions that are alive in Berlin right now. None of these images are entirely true or false, but they represent the way Berliners imagine each other when they’re fighting about something.

Naturally, the original article was in German. But, since there are a lot of English-speaking ex-pats in Berlin and since there are a lot of people outside of Berlin who would be interested in learning more about these stereotypes, I’ve translated a handful of them here. Out of respect for the authors of the original article, I’ve only translated 5 of the 24 profiles. I also haven’t re-used the cute caricature drawings that accompanied each profile in the original article.

The Neukölln Hipster (more…)

Happy Calendar-Reboot!

Despite having just flown back from Canada two days ago, I’m already back into the nocturnal rhythms of Berlin. In fact, I used jet-lag to my advantage: I got home in the early morning, slept during the day, got up at 8pm, and then got ready for a night at Watergate (the Vakant + Dumb Unit label night). And then, the same routine the next day for the Final Friday night at Panorama Bar, with Margaret Dygas, Cassy, and Dinky (and Matthew Styles). Now, I’m making use of a brief pocket of quiet while my houseguest sleeps to post this message. In a couple of hours, we’ll have dinner, count down to midnight at a friend’s house, nap until 6am, and then head out to the insane Silvester party at Berghain/Panoramabar. The line-up features primarily the nightclub’s resident DJs, but there are also a few guests (e.g., Soundstream, Deetron) and even a few surprises (i.e., Andrew Butler of Hercules and Love Affair). The whole thing runs from Saturday midnight until late Monday, and will require a couple of cycles of dance+go home+nap+eat+dance.

It’s been interesting to see how the massive influx of tourists has impacted Berlin’s nightlife in these past days. Thursday night at Watergate involved a ridiculously long line (for a Thursday) and a crowd that seemed to be primarily populated by tourists (including tourists from other parts of Germany, mind you). I made the acquaintance of two guys from Munich, one from Beirut (Lebanon), one from Chile, and several American ex-pats (now living in Berlin). And, of course, there were French- and Italian-speakers everywhere, mostly making themselves noticeable because they can’t seem to resist the temptation to try to jump the queue for the door, the bathrooms, the bar, etc.

Friday at Panoramabar was similar but different: there were tons of tourists in the queue for the door, but proportionally less of them seemed to make it in—or, rather, only certain kinds of tourists seemed to make it past the bouncers. The queue was insanely long when we arrived around 1am (which was admittedly far too early for Berliners and part of the reason why the proportion of tourists was so high), running all the way back to where the taxis were. The wait would probably be 1.5-2 hours. I was with 3 friends, so I left two of them at the back of the line, and then I went to the door with one of my friends and approached the door. Since I’ve been something of a regular at the place, I was relatively confident that I could walk directly to the door and the doormen would wave me in, but I was less certain that I could bring in 3 other people. So, my strategy was to approach the door with one other person, and then ask if I could bring in two more people. As I expected, the doorman Andrej saw me and waved me in. “A quick question,” I said in German, “I still have two other friends stuck at the back of the line. Could I bring them in with me?” “Only two?” he said, sternly. “Yes, yes. Just two more people.” “OK, fine.” And, with that, I ran back to the far end of the line, picked up my other 2 friends, and went in. The rest of the night was too long and crazy to relate here, but suffice it to say that I met a lot of locals, non-local Germans, local ex-pats, frequent visitors, and tourists.

OK, time to go gird my loins! I have a lot of hard work ahead of me.

The Techno Jet-Set: Tourism, Mobility, and Money in Berlin’s EDM Scenes

Yes, there's a company dedicated to techno tourism. In fact, there are several. This was taken at the FLY BerMuDa party in early November, 2011

As 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. (more…)

Chapter 4. Thickening Something: Music, Affect, and the Sense of the Social

Detroit Electronic Music Festival, 2010

Detroit Electronic Music Festival, 2010

Okay. It’s been nearly three months since my dissertation defense, two months since my graduation, and two weeks since I moved to Berlin. Things have been crazy busy, but I’m still determined to finish this series of chapter summaries. It’s a surprising amount of work to summarize this gigantic, sprawling thing as a series of “plain English” blog posts. Anyway, here comes the affect!

(NOTE: This is the seventh installment of a series where I summarize my dissertation through blog posts. You can find the inaugural post here.)

This chapter is about tracing the connections between intensity and togetherness. The full version of this chapter wades into a fair bit of theory, but I’ll try to keep things streamlined here. Essentially, this is how I go about tracing the connections: (more…)

Checking in from Berlin

My name in graffiti on a mail box

I think that's my name as a graffiti tag, on some sort of electrical box on Sonnenallee in Neukölln.

OK, OK. I know that it’s been a while since I’ve checked in on here (since Grenada!) but here’s what I’ve been up to in the past month or so:

  • Travel to and from Grenada
  • Attempt to sell off most of my furniture and my car
  • Get my !@#$ing PhD diploma and attend Convocation with my parents
  • Pack my entire life into boxes, load it into a U-Haul truck while some guy yells at us about blocking the alleyway, and then drive it 8 hours to Canada
  • Store most of my crap at my parents’ place and try to shove the remaining articles into 3 pieces of luggage
  • Remind Canada’s bureaucracy of my continuing existence
  • Spend a week in Toronto seeing friends, visiting old haunts, and having meetings at my alma mater
  • Spend about 20 hours in 3 flights taking me from my hometown to Berlin-town. Screaming babies were a bonus feature
  • Eat roasted chicken from City Chicken (Neukölln) and get plastered on wine and Sekt before finally crashing on my friend’s floor
  • Make a deposit at my Hauptmieterin’s (sublessor) bank account and retrieve the keys to my apartment
  • Schlep my numerous bags to my new apartment and settle in
  • Begin the long process of announcing my presence to the German bureaucracy
  • Struggle endlessly to unlock my iPhone 4 so I can use a reasonably-priced German SIM card
  • Re-stock the kitchen
  • Oversee repairs to the bathroom of my new apartment, which seems to involve plaster and sweaty men (not the sexy kind)
  • Orchestrate and attend reunions with overlapping circles of friends (and attempt not to alienate anyone in the process)
  • Sleep, eventually.

And now I’m in Berlin. (more…)

Chapter 3. Liquidarity: Vague Belonging on the Dancefloor

Mutek, Montréal, 2010

Yes, I know that it’s been more than two weeks since I defended my dissertation, and yet this chapter-by-chapter series on my dissertation is not even halfway finished. This is partially due to the fact that I had to take care of post-defense revisions and re-submit a final draft to the university before an immovable deadline. But this is also partially due to the fact that I partied and relaxed and partied and relaxed for quite a few days after the defense itself. I regret nothing.

(NOTE: This is the sixth installment of a series where I summarize my dissertation through blog posts. You can find the inaugural post here.)

So, this chapter expands the analysis of intimacy from the previous chapter to the broader scope of nightclub crowds. Whereas the previous chapter thought about intimacy primarily as contact between a pair of strangers, this chapter focuses on the loose social bonds that hold together a crowd of strangers at an EDM event (a party, a nightclub, etc). I develop a concept that I call liquidarity (more…)