Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Sunday, September 11, 2005

#18 – Bedroom beats, a girl with a laptop.

“Aus Heiterem Himmel (Dntel Mix)” – Barbara Morganstern

It makes sense that Germany is both the birthplace (Kraftwerk) and a continuing hotbed---or at least warmbed (labels like Kompakt, Perlon, B-Pitch, Monika, etc.)---of electronic pop music: what country had more cultural impetus in the 20th century to push into the future and leave the past behind?

The Berlin Bedroom Beats Festival seems like the latest stage in the evolution of electronic music: people making “techno” that overtly refuses to do what techno generally does (make your pupils dilate and your legs twitch) the way indie rock---the sort I prefer, anyway---refuse to do what rock usually does (swagger, mack, pump its fist, wave it’s hard-on). Or at least this used to be the case; now, the line between ironic and deeply-felt rock posturing seems to have been erased.

Anyway, instead of making your head explode, the music at the festival is more head-imploding: dance music that looks inward, most of it probably made in apartments with touchy neighbors using laptops and headphones. Music for dancing in front of your closet-door mirror, or music about dancing rather than for dancing. Maybe that’s what made the dancefloor so unusual last night. Almost everyone, boys and girls both, seemed to have come by themselves, and happy to stay that way---this was not a cruising scene.

After thanking the festival organizers for the plane ticket and making some perfunctory chit-chat about my blog, I scoured the label booths in the record room for freebies, then went out to hear the music. There was not much to watch onstage, of course---basically interchangeable guys with laptops and other little boxes, with abstract video images bubbling up on the walls around them.

I began dancing with my usual on-ramp routine: head bowed down slightly, shoulders stooped, hands clasped together in low-expectation prayer mode (fingers interlocked, as opposed to upright), and shifting my weight from leg to leg with a bounce. This lets me peek my head up periodically, turtle-like, to scope the room, and drop it down again quickly so as not to appear too desperate.

I see a girl in a long-sleeve striped t-shirt and long pants---an impractical outfit she wears in spite of the heat and without any apparent sweating. She seems completely approachable, which I happen to think is one of the sexiest qualities a woman can possess.

I catch her eye and pick up my pace, lifting my head for a few seconds at a time, moving my upper body a bit more vigorously, unclasping my hands, raising my arms a bit and even doing a couple of Soul Train chuga-chuga hand-over-hand rotations. What the hell---I am probably one of the few Americans in the room, and therefore at least as funky as anyone. I throw my hands in the air, but pull them down before actually waving them like I just don’t care.

Suddenly I feel someone pressing against my butt, and I turn around to see a stocky woman of indeterminate age with a teutonic bob of blond hair. She grins in a strange way---not inviting me sweep her off her feet, and not looking to start a fight, but something in between. She begins a stiff, herky-jerky sort of dance, and her breasts, which are small but perfect, seem fixed and as impressively firm as the mattress in my hotel.

I am so flattered---astonished, actually---by this attention (I have never been hit on by a woman on a dancefloor), so I bust some moves in her direction, wondering what sort of sex she might be into and whether I might be into it, too.

Remembering the girl in the striped shirt, I turn and move away, doing a couple of coy, circling-the-periphery-of-the-room moves, trying lamely to roleplay a dancer being pursued. But she is gone. I turn back to find my butch fraulein and discover she has left too.

I walk outside. It’s a lovely night; the Maria Am Ufer club overlooks the Spree river, and the city lights flicker up and down its length. I keep an eye open for my dancefloor crushes. But then I smell good weed. I make a bee-line to its source, and attempt some lame conversation with a couple of stoned, broken English-speaking Germans that gets me a couple hits of very potent Berlin skunk.

Nightclubs. Like McDonald’s, they are pretty much the same everywhere in the world.

After thanking my friends and admiring the enhanced sparkle of the water, I walk through a door into the mainroom of the club and hear what sounds like a looped bit of Mozart swirling around some foamy beats. It’s beautiful. And there, up on stage, is the girl in the striped shirt, with a huge grin on her face, jumping up and down in front of a Powerbook G4.

Her name, I find out, is Barbara Morgenstern, and she records for the Monika label, a very cool indie electronic label whose roster is made up almost entirely women. This is unusual: there are very few women making electronic music, and the label’s aesthetic seems somewhere between abstract bedroom beats and singer-songwriter stuff. Musically, Monika is the most interesting outfit in Berlin at the moment; they are run by a terribly handsome woman named Gudrun Gut, formerly of the ‘80s post-punk band Malaria, who in fact has organized the festival.

Morgenstern is fabulous. She is performing with a guy who has a table full of chachakas, including a guitar, which he coaxes weird sounds from by rubbing various devices (a hand-held fan, a pocket-sized vibrator, a Magic Wand) across its strings.

Despite his use of electronic foreplay devices, I don’t pay much attention to him. I am transfixed by the music, and by the sight of this girl commanding an entire roomful of people (okay, half a roomful of people) by tapping and stroking a laptop computer. It’s like real-time blogging, storytelling with sounds instead of words. Her features morph as she jumps around: one minute she seems to be a woman, enveloping the crowd; the next a man, thrusting and jabbing. The music billows out like clouds. I don’t know if I want to have sex with her or be her.

Wow. I am extremely high.

When Morgenstern’s brief set is over, she closes up her computer and walks off stage. I debate trying to speak with her, then worry I will be too stoned to communicate, assuming she even speaks English. I eventually realize, per usual in this situation, that I would have nothing worth saying but “I love you music.” So I stay put, leaning against a pillar for the next two hours before walking back to my hotel as the night sky is just beginning to fade into morning.

Above (along with a shot of the Berlin Wall's East Side Gallery murals) is Barbara Morgenstern’s “Aus Heiterem Himmel,” remixed by Jimmy Tamborello (aka Dntel), the dude who did the beats for Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard on that wonderful Postal Service record. It’s from the excellent label comp Monika Force. The song title means something like “From Cheerful Sky,” and seems to be named for Besuch Aus Heiterem Himmel, an obscure 1958 West German comedy directed by Ferdinand Dorfler involving a rich American industrialist and ghosts. (Rich American industrialists being, I suppose, a perpetual bugaboo in European culture of the past fifty years.)

The title is familiar, but I can’t place where I’ve come across it. Needless to say, I must now add it to my long list of films to see, records to hear, books to read. Ars too damn longa, vita too damn brevis.


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