Forget for a second industrial and techno and “queerness” as social media fashion and commodity. Don’t even worry if you particularly like the music on this EP. Berlin’s Gegen remains a bastion of opposition to norms – and in spite of that, perhaps its greatest feat has managed to be successful anyway.
“Gegen” literally means against in German. It might not be immediately apparent what sets this party apart, particularly as the queer and fetish-laden party format and these fast-and-hard industrial sounds have grown in popularity. And not to lose sight of reality, it is still a party, with all the usual hedonism and frivolity that implies. Otherwise, no one would come.
But Gegen is a standards bearer for a more visceral sense in the underground at large – for a feeling, and some genuine thought around resisting labels. Over its ten-year history, I’ve watched it as the party served as a space for exploration, often interwoven with long chats into morning hours alongside KitKat’s infamous pool. And the organizers’ complex screeds about resisting labels have come to add up to genuine culture-jamming even as big industry has grown up around a lot of what they represent.
So it’s great to see that embodied in music releases. The 30-track epic opus Gegen put out last year, and now a 4-track vinyl, are earnest and personal. I’ve followed these artists through various trends and fads and they’ve always retained their voice and passion. Cristian Marras, JoeFarr, OCD, Codex Empire – I mean, these are artists who bleed these grooves and breathe these distortions.
Cristian Marras delivers a scorching opener, slammed hard dynamically but still crisp and clear and with the reverie of a vocal pad floating over top like a gentle apparition. JoeFarr is classic industrial as always, here in an absolute banger that lives up to its “timeless” promise. It manages to sound current and vintage simultaneously, a combination of modern production values with stately 90s-ish composition. OCD’s outing is dreamy, even tinged with melancholy, but contains her unique approach to rapid-fire groove. It’s fast, yeah, but comfortably so. It’s at home up in those higher BPMs, like its producer. Codex Empire makes a perfect B2 with a clangorous, triumphant closing. The whole EP could generally serve as a SoundCloud demo for a maker of distortion pedals or plug-ins or percussive sound design. (Gio from Artefacts Mastering managed to land all the peak-hour destruction in the same space, pushed appropriately hard for the material without losing lucidity.)
They’ve also taken the bold and beautiful step of making one video for each track with extravagant dance choreography. These aren’t models – they’re Gegen regulars. So in an age when we get lots of dance moves that are copies of a copy of a TikTok reel, here’s a chance to give the whole focus over to dance that was born with the mobile phone checked at the Garderobe. (That itself can be a liberating feeling at Gegen during KitKat. Friends somehow find each other in the flows and eddies of the body’s course through the night.)
And hey, if this seems like peak Berlin, well – here’s the OG peak Berlin. I hope we take it as a license to present our own music and body in all the music we put out and not worry about if it fits in with a scene or … anyone else at all, for that matter.
Ha, apparently Google wants to keep my site child-friendly. (It is actually safe for work; it’s about as racey as a standard 80s aerobics video. I mean, safe for work, someone at work might wonder what the hell you’re doing watching this at your office.)
And lastly – fortunately, Google does not consider the fez to be a NSFW fetish item – and damn I love this track:
We live at a peak time for the commodification of nightlife and queer identity. It can be a great way for folks to earn a living, which is a matter of survival, and accessibility also gives a wide variety of people a place to start.
But it’s worth revisiting the mission statement of the party that instructs you to “be the enemy of yourself.”
To emphasize this bit:
We are not selling you the possibility to be “queer” for one night. We want to expose you to your own fears and pleasures by pushing you to understand how your own power mechanisms are produced.
I mean, yeah, it’s lofty stuff. But it’s also an idea with some context – look to the championing of “brave spaces” instead of just “safe spaces.” (That phrase can be credited to Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, who devoted a chapter to the topic in their 2013 book The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators. Here’s some good background reading.)
So if all the discourse is hard to swallow – maybe that’s part of the point, too. Here’s their latest description:
>< Gegen is a complex word in German because it has two opposite meanings.
Historically speaking it means “against”, signifying all the counter cultural movements since the very beginning of youth cultures but if you apply the word to time, it means “around”. One meaning is closed, defined in terms of space. The other is open and undefined in terms of time. In the contemporary moment the idea of “enemy” – in which a thought and an action can be identifiable as “against” – is not there and is not clear anymore as power relationships changed through the development of post-modernism. And this gave space to markets to regenerate themselves through the queer-counter cultural movements by producing an oligopoly of empty events repeating themselves until their fast extinction and in the same time by crystallising the institutionalisation of big “queer meccas” which exercise more and more power on the scene. This process is verifiable in Berlin as the incubator of new world trends in the arts of entertainment.
This basic tension gives the spaces and the times for a new proposal to blossom from the ashes of the historical and infamous queer techno party called “SABOT°AGE BERLIN” which characterised fades of mutation in some of the wildest Friedricshain nights. The aim is playing with the solitude of the political meaning of GEGEN as a suicidal mechanism of the “self” or the sublime crisis of enemy subtraction as the aggression of dialectics. A linguistic game of pop art where the semantic putsch of “Gegen” becomes the broken mirror of its own impossibilities. The electric fear to find oneself multiple by being against oneself and unrecognisable. The dangers of being desireful in a psycho dramatic performance. The political practice of hallucinatory love to defy hate as antagonistic, identitarian mechanism.
Perceiving the idea of community as a demagogic form for bigger powers like religions, societies and markets to exercise their violence with the fake flag of politically correct participation, we do not wish to design a party just to give you a safe space and protection. We are not selling you the possibility to be “queer” for one night. We want to expose you to your own fears and pleasures by pushing you to understand how your own power mechanisms are produced. This is why we invite you to be GEGEN by performing your psychosis, by being the enemy of yourself, by thinking and being out of b/order and by destroying every rational thought.
Don’t miss their full outing last time, too – in three parts: