Datacide is a magazine which emerged out of the more political techno subcultures in Europe in the 1990s. It has been characterized as a breakcore magazine but its sonic spectrum also covers industrial, speedcore, ragga jungle, dubstep, mash ups etc. But it is the political and cultural aspects which are most interesting for me – they take in an even broader set of influences. The spectre of left-communism / autonomism / situationism haunts the scene but Marxist theorists hold hands with surrealism, punk, squatting, psychedelia and of course raves. That interplay keeps everything interesting and fresh.
The venue ended up being K9 in East Berlin. Two previously announced venues were closed down – not because of this event but because the area seems to be slightly in flux all the time. There is a grimly serious bohemianism going on with squats, political posters/stickers/graffiti, more arty graffiti, young people with black clothes, black eyeliner and colours in their hair. I fucking loved the atmosphere, personally (tho there is no way I could function there on a more permanent basis – too grim and not exactly family friendly). I have no idea if all the trappngs actually mean that things are happening or whether it’s all a radical veneer, but it certainly reminded me how conservative London seems these days.
Wider Berlin seems to be in a weird transition point – there is a lot of building going on (of office blocks, shopping centres etc) but also a lot of areas which are still holes in the ground, or really run down – especially in the former east. Some of the more fucked up areas have rents cheap enough to attract young people with ideas. Obviously this phase in most cities is a brief one in the larger process of transformation – artists being the stormtroopers of gentrification in previously run down areas. I do wonder whether the financial crisis will delay the increases in rent and yuppification in this instance. Let’s hope so, but let’s also hope that the people playing Nirvana really loudly at 4 o’clock in the morning in the block I was staying in develop some taste and consideration. Kids, eh?
K9 is former squat which is now owned by the occupants. The venue bit consists of a café on the street with a subterranean passage leading to a dancefloor room, with a 1st floor bar / meeting room some way back from the street. It seemed well run and fair play to them for allowing the event to go ahead at such short notice. The main rooms were kept clean, there were functioning toilets, the bar was well stocked, you can’t ask for much more really. The corridors were a bit graff-tastic and I have never seen so many anti-fascist stickers grouped together in the same place. This is fair enough as apparently the venue has been getting some grief from far right elements including the laughable national “autonomists” – the latest attempt by fascists to rip off left wing radicalism (cf national “anarchists”, national “bolsheviks” etc).
The talks were by and large excellent, though some suffered a little from being texts that were then read out (complete with references to theorists etc). Also it felt a bit weird them all being in English, but at least that meant everyone present could understand them. Hopefully they will all be online shortly so you can see for yourself – some of them are also published in article form in the new issue of Datacide.
There were some very good contributions from the floor, especially from some guys who I think are involved with techno soundsystems (Hekate was mentioned?) and the peerless DJ Controlled Weirdness.
In addition to the language being used there was a slight kow-towing to London and the UK as an epicenter for free parties and rave music. Possibly this is an inevitable result of the subculture which surrounds the milieu and it is of course very important to note events like Castlemorton and the Criminal Justice Act.
Personally I preferred the talks that took a broader view, such as Lauren Graber’s review of a book dealing with race in trance raves at Goa, and Neil Transpontine’s historical overview of jazz ravers and other hedonists throughout early 20th Century Europe.
I’m conscious of fetishising Berlin in my own mind (I blame the film Decoder and that Tom Vague travelogue) but I could have done with a bit more local history and a bit less London, maybe.
There was a also an underlying theme of subversion being bought out and turned into a commodity and I got the feeling that some people really wanted to wish into existence a scenario in which a sub-culture (their subculture) morphed into a counter culture and became a revolutionary force.
This was thankfully criticised by some other speakers – Stewart Home pointing out that it isn’t possible to live differently under capitalism and that it is inevitable that anything that can be turned into a commodity will be, until we get past this stage of human organisation. Neil Transpontine also contributed a great aside in which he pointed out that there is always a tendency for people to hark back to the good old days and compare them unfavourably with what is happening in the present. He went on to say that what is subversive is not the particular type of music or beats, but the communities of people around them and how they relate to each other.
I think I would add to this that subcultures generally only attract a very narrow demographic – indeed they are getting narrower all the time if you compare 21st century youth cults to those of the 60s/70s/80s. Whilst I have a fascination with such things I have been forced to recognise that political activity has to move beyond the subcultural and deal with people on a much broader level – for example locality. In that sense being able to talk to pensioners or people with children is just as valuable as being able to theorise about marginal musical subgenres.
Obviously I was guilty of London-centrism in my own talk – though I avoided techno for the most part and focused on reggae soundsystems -> jungle -> grime with a slightly odd deviation into inter-racial sex which I had only intended to mention in passing. It seemed to go down pretty well, though I suspect I did my usual trick of getting quite excited by the topic and gabbling through it all a bit. Now I’ve talked through it I can write up my notes and finally get an article published in Datacide!
Things over-ran slightly and I was knackered by the time Stewart Home delivered the final presentation – on the hidden aspects of sixties London (!). It was a pretty involved mapping out of various connections between bent cops, prostitutes, artists, LSD traffickers, situationists and Stewart’s Mum. Great stuff but hard to take it all in.
I ended up a bit dazed at the party, talking to people I already knew and getting progressively more pissed. What I saw of the DJs was pretty great but I was dead many hours before before dawn. There were a good few people I hoped to speak to more, but perhaps that will happen another time.
As someone who spends rather too much time thinking about music, politics, subversion, commodification, recuperation, counter and sub cultures, this event was a dream come true really – I was very honoured to take part in it and hope that these sort of discussions can continue and be developed.