Berlin: Datacide conference and party 31 Oct 08

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.


  1. Fucking good writing as always, but a few things I didn’t get – “young people with ideas”? Isn’t that all young people? Also, and this isn’t a dig at anyone, but never understood this thing about how it isn’t possible to live differently under capitalism. I try my best, even if others disagree about my methods (which I give less of a toss about every day)…just seems better than sitting tight waiting for some patronizing ‘prole uprising’ that isn’t going to ever fucking happen. Differently to what, anyway? What’s the normal way of living under capitalist relations?

  2. Great article John — enjoyed it. Interesting to hear about Stewart’s role too.Re Stewart’s point about everything under Capitalism being mediated/commodified eventually — I think he’s right, and it’s a pain to admit it.

    Even discussing the minutiae of how that process occurs sounds banal,cliched, or hackneyed by now,but I feel it’s true — Knowledge and “wisdom” can remain ghettoised within capitalism, and just be disseminated through ( suspect on many levels to many people ) like Freedom Press, or the same “radical” concepts can be packaged differently and wrapped up in shiny new covers — and sold in Borders.

    Which ever way you choose, it’s still commodified/reified/fetishised ( I told you discussing it reduces it to almost laughable cliche! ).

    As Home says, until findamental relations between people are radically altered — I can’t see any way round it. Unless one becomes a trappist hermit monk, living in a forest or mountain….which, on many levels, is about as real and anti commodity as you are going to get, but I don’t know many people who’d want to choose that path….

    Rant over — better get down to Borders to buy “Spectre of Marx” or The Sun or something….

    Great column John….

  3. Sorry to post a lengthy quote John, but I think it’s relevant to some of the ideas discussed here —

    “(Trivialization in our existence is partially due to ) an end of realism, the end of a belief in absolutes, the end of belief that the world is ready made to be our home, with all the rules to be kept already laid down and built in. People are becoming de-traditionalised, nomadised, casualized, as the old fixed points of reference disappear — Instead of marriage a series of relationships, instead of a home, a series of addresses, instead of a career, freelancing, instead of belief, whatever one is currently “into” ,instead of stable identities , pluralism and flux; instead of society, the market and one’s own circle. Culture seems to have become all fringe and no mainstream. Popular (and essentially trivial) beliefs multiply exceedingly; but it’s all a fad. None of it is to be taken seriously, because it is not clear that anything is, or can be taken seriously anymore. There is a complete break with the past along with the rapid movement of capital, people and ideas around the world. There is a pervasive sense of groundlessness and outsidelessness. “Is that all there is? You mean this is it?” This loss is becoming so complete so quickly that very soon historians will find it very difficult to re-imagine what it was like to genuinely believe in something

    ( c/f “The Time of The Angels” Don Cupitt 2003 )

    “In the old consciousness, identity was something metaphysical — now it increasingly has become simply a corporate ID — not a substance but a sign. Reality itself has become only an effect , something conjured up within and by the motion of signs. The line between drama and documentary,reality and fiction has become blurred.” ( “After God”, Introduction, ix )

    “in modern, media led culture , we have in effect a return of the Middle Ages: it used to be the church that supplied everyone with an imaginary world in their head — now the media do that job,with celebrity as the new sainthood– in the all encompassing anonymity of the new global culture.” “This change has ruptured Europe and America, but also other cultures — In the new high rise post modern cities of South and East Asia,the wipe out of tradition is breathtaking –without any obvious resistance or regret,and within a single lifetime — It is perhaps the most severe and sudden cultural rupture in the whole of human history.The new global technological culture brings with it a very naturalistic cast of mind. The world is like a communications network. Everything is open,public,accessible and all on one level. Nothing is deep and nothing can be kept hidden for long. There is no secure privacy — the world of signs is a flowing , one level continuum with no one outside and no secret places.The presumption is that we can draw at least one clear line between the public and the private, between objectivity and subjectivity ,or between the dominant culture and the counterculture — But post modernity as a cultural condition has been constituted precisely by the erasure of these very distinctions. The public realm, the sea of meanings — is outsideless and and endless,nothing is fixed;everything moves and shifts together. It engulfs everything ,incuding values , private life,selfhood and the counterculture. There is no way of hiving off a little cluster of meanings ( absolutes, certainties, or fundamentals) and preserving them unchanged. On the contrary, –as the long history of religious esotericism demonstrates — meanings and truths kept unchallenged and out of the public view very quickly deteriorate into simple nonsense.”

    “Eveything nowadays is beginning to float on a free global market — not only money and prices — but also linguistic meaning , religious truths and moral and aesthetic values.” “In the new understanding of culture as a system of signs in motion ,the world of symbolic meaning in which we live is an unanchored floating continuum. All reactions against it must use its vocabulary and are therefore part of it, and will be engulfed by it. You cant really drop out. There is nowhere to drop out to. Your protest against the system remains a part of the system.”

    INTRODUCTION vii — xv ) Chapter — “The Time of the Angels” ( 74–79) “(Nietzsche asserted that) once central authority broke down — he imagined Bacchanalian revel: with the end of realism, all free spirits run riot.”

  4. Marin – I guess I mean “artists/creatives/activists”. That sounds a bit wanky though.

    I think “living differently” is a statement about the utopian idea that it is possible to somehow escape capitalism by (for example) living in a squatted commune, or producing commodities which are anti-capitalist in some way (like an economic form of anti-matter?). So yeah everyone tries to do the best they can, and look – here are a whole new set of products for you to spend your wages on to help you have a good time…

    Greg – I will have to get back to you later 🙂

    Hello to both of you!


  6. Great piece John.

    “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,…”

    Was it Saldanha’s Psychedelic White? I’d be curious to hear how that talk/discussion went. I chatted with him when he spoke in Montreal last year. Interesting link to Mr. Goodman’s forthcoming project too.

  7. thanks for the article.

    especially the hint to the gentrification pioneers (artist, but as usual squatters as well, see what has happened in london… i remember the times when i have been in london at the end of the huge squatting scene in brixton, which just moved to the next quarter shortly before this was ‘developed’ as well, anyway.)

    i played a show in K9 on the opening of the by that time new concert room…by then it seems to be a weired place to me, totaly different of the athmosphere of the squat you were describing. it was almost sterile and i remember being shouted at for putting up some stickers in the basement… also some elements of the audience sabotaged my set by pulling some speaker cables, cause they couldn’t deal with the industrial drone noise and wanted some consumer friendly tunes (although there was a dancefloor some where else).

    all the best.

  8. and, by the way:

    wasn’t most of DECODER shoot in hamburg. exept the riot footage from berlin, i think the rest was shoot in hamburg… the office building in which ‘jaeger’ gets the order to kill f.m.einheit, is just next to my trailerpark… great inspiration, this film was.

Comments are closed.