Berghain's soulless simulation of cool
Happy spooky season, ghouls! While in Berlin I recorded an episode on my fave galaxy-brain podcast New Models, where we discussed the changing landscape of drugs—from legalization grifts to “spectrum sobriety” and the gentrification of club drugs. I got so caught up with the report on weird club drugs last time that I forgot to share it here (oops!) so here’s a recording so you can listen to it in full.
PS: Doing spooky sale on annual subscriptions for 40% off—this is your chance to float across the paywall into the hallowed inner sanctum of techno sluts and designer drug fiends. If you’d like to help me continue sprinkling spicy sauce on the rave discourse, hop on the gravy train!
Earlier this week, I whined about the nightlife vibe shift on social media and was surprised by the chorus of replies in my DMs when I woke up the next morning. From elder DJs to deep scene homies, it seems like a lot of ya’ll are similarly disillusioned by post-pandemic rave culture as it ricochets into the mainstream. (Interestingly, ravers in Washington DC, Tbilisi, Montreal and other party zones outside Establishment Nightlife argued that their undergrounds are keeping it raw…) I’m hoping to synthesize these percolating thoughts into a longer thingy soon, but for now I wanted to jot some quick thoughts down on my rather bleak time partying at Berghain before I head to my next destination: Texas, where I’ll be popping to this kunty warehouse ki + Freq System’s bunker rave in Austin this weekend while reporting a story on abortion.
I know, I know. I’m wading into eye-roll territory here. No one needs another Berghain take, especially not the heads, who’ve already endured years of insufferable discourse about whether the club has jumped the shark. So I’m sorry to break the first cardinal rule of Berlin nightlife—you don’t talk about Berghain—but when I pull up to the club and see a factory line of black silhouettes wearing the exact same BDSM harnesses from Amazon.com … biiiiiitch! I cannot resist going in. I mean, come on. That shit looks like a meme.
Besides, memetic Instagram culture is partly to blame, isn’t it? Berghain is housed in a former power station that looks like a socialist fortress, and for a brief window, it felt like the club would be able to withstand the flattening weight of the internet—the way social media distorts the richness of reality into a clout-chasing arena of curated identities, algorithmic aesthetics, and total context collapse.
But ultimately it didn’t matter how many stupid stickers the comically dour security guards put on your phone cameras, or the infamous lack of mirrors in the putrid, animal trough-like bathrooms. We are now feeling the effects of social media as the invisible hand of culture, and after Berghain went viral and became dance music’s biggest meme, the club’s culture became codified into a set of cliches—and a self-consciousness performativity set in.
I am sure there are still moments of anarchic freedom to be found in Berghain. The club remains at the top of many DJs’ bucket lists, and its institutional power is arguably the strongest it has ever been. But Berghain’s virality has reduced a culture that developed organically over the last 18 years into a caricature of itself, with this cringey conformity amplified by obsessive TikTok/Reddit guides on how to get in, what to wear, how to act, right down to the facial expressions you should copy-paste on your face. Its ascension into the public consciousness as the ultimate symbol of techno hedonism over the past few years has finally pushed it out of the fringes of the avant-garde—what once stood as a vision of post-Wall utopia is now fodder for cheesy creative director moodboards.
I hit the Berg three times during my trip, and every occasion felt like a hollow simulation, like taking a soulless ride through techno Disneyland. It was as if a meta-level of self-consciousness was hanging over the club—an acute awareness that THIS IS BERGHAIN. Half the dancefloor looked like they stepped off the Balenciaga runway, and the bug-eyed models stomping around out of their minds on designer amphetamines were actually terrifying. Debauchery didn’t feel like a liberating act of debasement, but a way of fitting into a proscribed lifestyle that is currently trending.
“Stay Hydrated and Take Care of Each Other!” read the cartoon stickers above the clown-car bathroom stalls where hordes of people are always packing in to hoover rails of chalky white powders—taking their time, cocaine-chatting as if they were in private, piss-covered lounges while willfully ignoring the long lines of people anxiously waiting to pee. The cheerfulness of the club’s stickers felt like the faux-friendly corporate-speak of a faceless brand on Twitter—disingenuously imparting a sense of care that stood in stark contrast to the dogged meanness of the bouncers at the door, the druggie selfishness that stinks up the toilets—and the fact that the club doesn’t even offer free water!!!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we think of clubs as fantasy utopian spaces where we can not only imagine, but actually embody, a new way of living and relating to each other—the clinical conformist coldness of Berghain, where everyone is teeming with status anxiety and you’re made to feel shitty from the moment you step in line… babes, this is not the rave future I want to live in.