Friday, July 25, 2008

Green Light/Red Light

There's only so far I can wander into the debate about minimal techno's lack of a certain sumbitch, because I'm in no way qualified: I don't dance, I hate clubs, and the last self-advertisedly "electronic" album I bought* was Amon Tobin's Supermodified. (My one snidely brief salvo: why listen to something labeled "minimal" then complain about its flatness?) But in his reading of minimal techno as a symptom of Berlin's - and perhaps Germany's - cultural listlessness, Mark K-Punk nailed it:
Berlin has in many ways become a capital of deterritorialized culture, a base for DJs and curators whose jetsetting lifestyle is indeed a "bizarre phenomenon". If hauntology depends upon the way that very specific places – Burial's South London Boroughs, for instance – are stained with particular times, then the affect that underlies minimal might be characterised as nomadalgia: a lack of sense of place, a drift through club or salon spaces that, like franchise coffee bars, could be anywhere.
Quite possibly as he was writing this, a British friend and I were busy slagging off Germany for not incubating any place-specific cultural idiosyncracies; there is nothing being created here that is innately of here, that couldn't be found in any number of other cities. I've met my fair share of creative types around both Berlin and Hamburg, but they're all either transients or have their ambitions and attentions focused elsewhere. Berlin in particular functions less as an artistic cauldron than a boho crossroads, a city-sized airport lounge where people encounter each other, debate ideas, exchange contacts, and then hustle off to where ever the real action is.

The Berlin mythology that seduces so many (Bowie & Pop, the Birthday Party, Blixa Bargeld, and Bruno Ganz with wings) was founded on an antagonism that no longer exists. Following the collapse of communism, it seems Germany swapped its aphasia for amnesia, forgetting how to speak as Germans, opting instead to speak as Europeans. Combine this erosion of self with the gentrification forced by an influx of "international 'creatives'," attracted to Berlin's cheap rents and scuzzy cachet (now minus any genuine danger) - that makes for one anonymously monochromatic playground. If this could be anywhere, then why be here?

* * *

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, an unexpectedly melodramatic exchange over at The End Times has Dan apparently "consider[ing] packing it all in." I'll assume the best: that this is a sarcastic jab at the defensive hysteria into which the conversation descended. As self-aware and ludicrously well-read as he is, surely Dan's not going to close up shop because of one dilettante with all the good grace, objective reason, and eloquence of a teenager who discovered Sylvia Plath and Garden State at the same time.

Nor should my second comment be misread as some P.C. plea for civility & offensensitivity. Wasting as much time I do online, I see way too many comment threads descend into coke-head-aggressive lobotomite name-calling of the "Fuck you!"/"No, fuck you!" variety. Reading Dan's deletion of the controversial link and denial of an ad hominem attack, it was refreshing to see someone who'll cool the rhetoric and commit to common courtesy to keep the conversation going while leaving identity out of it, in hopes that it doesn't come to shrill Stuart Smalley-esque self-affirmation and oblivious hypocrisy (e.g. "I'm hurt!"/"I'm strong!" and "I'm classless!"/"So what if I'm bourgeois?").

Didn't work that time, though, did it? Better luck tomorrow, Dan.

(*) Despite being a laptop musician, Tim Hecker's music is sufficiently vague, degraded, hauntological that I'd shelve him between Philip Jeck and My Bloody Valentine, not alongside Hawtin or RIchard D. James.


Dan said...

To be fair, the comment was intended as a casual remark, with no more substance than the suicide threats I made to friends when drunk. I actually thought the comments thread was remarkably well-mannered, certainly in comparison to some threads I've seen (such as on the former Antigram blog, where there was some real bile spilled in the time leading up to its closure) and Ms. Berger acted with a remarkable amount of diplomacy and restraint. She's certainly considerably smarter than yr average... um... whatever the term was I used.

Incidentally, Berlin was very much the sort of place I dreamt perhaps of living some eighteen months ago, when hedonic-depressive syndrome had me in its grip. There's nothing very 'homely', very welcoming and distinctive about it; but as I understand it, much of the unheimlich element has also vanished from the city. This is what happens when deterritorialised capital gets hold of a communist territory...

Seb said...

The conversation was certainly more civil than on the majority of bulletin boards, that's true. Ms. Berger came off a bit histrionic, though, and displayed that unflinching, unexamined self-certainty so typical on the web, where content can be filtered to fit one's hermetic subjectivity.

I'm also very tired of this ubiquitous self-martyrdom to being "hated" by anonymous hordes. No doubt there's a lot of sub-schoolyard namecalling for no good reason, but I often wonder if people who find themselves the target of an incessant stream of hatemail should, I dunno, reconsider how they advertise themselves?

As for Berlin... if Mark Fisher nailed the atmosphere ("like franchise coffee bars, could be anywhere"), then Owen likewise nailed the root cause: nothing is at stake. If art is what appears in the cracks of some metaphysical schism, then of course nothing exciting can come from somewhere so tensionless.* Ian Svenonius posited a similar thesis in his fantastic essay "The Psychic Soviet" (which no doubt you've already read as well).

Still, Berlin's an interesting enough city with curious enough scars that it's worth visiting.

(*) So what's the tension that leads so many bourgeois-bohos to produce in New York, London, etc? Good question. Perhaps self-loathing and class tension?

Dan said...

Hmm, interesting. It sounds like a textbook case of the 'cultural cache effect': civically devastated city with lots of room for under-the-radar activity (e.g. Leeds, Manchester or Berlin during post-punk, NY during No Wave, etc.) begins to attract artists, and the commercial industry that follows them; The boost to the economy ends up pricing out all but the most careerist artist, and wiping out the room for subterranean activity that interested them in the first place. In short, by saving it, techno killed Berlin...

Dan said...

Oh, and I haven't read that Ian Svenonius book. I did read an interview with him in Plan B about it, though, and it's on my reading list...