I remember the first time i really got this music. Being a child of the 80s obviously i'd heard electronic music all my life, but it was at the age of 12 after reading an article in a computer magazine that i first understood all you needed to write a song was a computer and a synthesizer. That's the day i stopped playing guitar. The whole idea of techno was magic to me. Music with no vocals, music you could make without needing a band, music with such perfectly-arranged elements, sounds so clean and defined, so distilled... Pure music. That's what i wanted to make.
But i didn't make the connection with "acid house parties" at the time - i was still too young to put the big picture together. That happened later, when i discovered something we called "rave" music in Holland (essentially happy hardcore). Searching the term online led me to alt.rave and Hyperreal, wide-eyed teenage treatises on the wonders of the rave scene and PLUR, written with typically American extravagant zeal. It would be another 5 years before i went to an American-style rave - all big pants and ecstasy and soft toys - but the seed was planted.
Shortly afterwards i went out clubbing for the first time. This would turn out to be one of the most influential social discoveries of my life. In all my years of high school in Holland, i think i visited friends' houses perhaps 5 times. But literally every week we met up at the club. They only played about an hour of electronic music at the end - the rest was mid-90s alterna-rock, pop punk and hip-hop - but that was enough. I drank and i danced. And my friends teased me about how i danced, but i was drinking so didn't care. There were no obligations, no rules (or so it seemed), just pure enjoyment of the music with none of the superfluous distractions you have when you need to mingle, or talk, or behave, or think.
Once i'd trained my mom to accept me going out to clubs, i went to my first rave. I met up in a train station halfway across the country with some guy i only knew by his BBS handle and somehow we found our way to the party. This was before the days of cellphones, so i'm not sure how we ever found all those odd locations (much less each other). Walking through the doors was a gateway to another world. Many years later i discovered these were some of the definitive anarcho-punk tekno parties of the 90s, but at the time i just saw it as a place with even wilder decor than a nightclub, even less rules and hours upon hours of amazing electronic music. No one walked around chewing pacifiers or yelling PLUR, but despite the Dutch pragmatism and hard-edged DIY ethic, i had been primed by American naïveté and decided for myself that this truly was the wonderland those E-addled rave kids had been describing. In fact, it probably was. I had never done ecstasy, but i didn't need it to feel completely at home, at peace with my fellow man and - most importantly - free.
It's been 18 years since that first rave. Nowadays i meet kids at parties whose parents used to go to the parties i first went to. I'm not as oblivious any more - i know there are agendas and politics and drugs and all the same bullshit as every other scene. I know for a lot of people it's just something they do as a kid and when they "grow up" it's time to move to the suburbs and start listening to rock music and have kids of their own. Perhaps objectively it isn't really the wonderland it feels like when you first experience it. But then, subjectively... Subjectively, when you just let the music take over, gaze through parted eyes at baroque decor under swirling lights, when everyone you see gives you a smile or you feel that soft touch on your back as someone dizzily picks their way through the crowd, when you dance and dance... The wonderland is still there. The one place in the world i can dance and smile and listen to music i love and be surrounded by art and passion and people and not have to do anything or be anything for anyone. That's freedom.
Friday night i went to S's house for his birthday dinner. We got mighty drunk, went to someone else's house, went to some shitty hipster club in Neukölln, and then i said fuck it and left for the KaterHolzig. I came home sometime Saturday afternoon. Immediately after waking up again it was out to the Ritter Butzke to see S play. The crowd wasn't quite as loose at Kater (though there were a lot more Germans), and the music was a little less my style, but the decor is whimsical and the lights are sensational and it's as much a circus of delight. Even later i made my way to Rummels Bucht, tucked in some other abandoned building out on the Spree. A "ring the bell and a slot opens in the door to ask your business" kind of place. The music got slower, and deeper, and i propped myself up against a pillar and watched people rolling around a whole corner of the room covered in beds (complete with duvets and pillows), sat in a boat and looked at the moon and the stars hanging from the ceiling and realized i'd never be able to explain this weekend. I got back to my street just in time to grab a beer before the local convenience store closed for Sunday dinner, walked home and ate a sandwich and wrote some music and slept and dreamt.
This was way too excessive a weekend to manage if i was working, but exactly the weekend i need to be having before i start. This is why i'm here. This is why no other town will do. The music, the venues, the attitude of the people, the feeling of safety and community without having to speak a single word to anyone all night... The smiles, the magic. Maybe someday the bubble will burst, perhaps if i get to know too many people, or if i hear the same songs too many times... Or maybe not, because this scene has the built-in feature of burn-outs retiring and music being deliberately transient. Either way i hope i never again fall into that jaded hole where you know all the promoters and DJs and you know all their bullshit and start feeling disappointed at how many didn't come into this through a scene built by anarchists and squatters and artists and hippies who appreciate something more than just sitting in a bare room getting fucked up and listening to techno music. Or maybe they did and still somehow missed the point, which is to create a surreal temporary autonomous zone so packed with art and wonder that no one wants to leave - and no one has to - but when you do you'll be on cloud nine for days. Well, that's my point anyway. And for now i can remain under the illusion that it's everyone else's here too.