A queer club for hedonism unrestrained, Berghain is often described as either a church or a sea.
The former is governed by the ritual: Sundays spent queuing, then convulsing in submission under the sermon of the night’s DJ; the latter is governed by the moon and the anonymity: a foam of smoke and darkness cloak digressions and expressions, which are cast under a protective shadow. Both offer their own form of intimacy – the church is prescriptive, reliable, and therefore an absolution of autonomy, whereas the latter washes out the undercurrents of the individual, leaving a sea of bobbing bodies indistinguishable in their actions and thus their consequences.
Kylie Minogue’s much-discussed performance marked a new form of closeness in the club, however – capped at around 600 people, the venue sold out within minutes of tickets being released, and ID verification at the door placed a tourniquet on ticket scalping. Whereas a spot at a sought-after show would usually go to the highest bidder, the one-night-only special collected a crowd of die-hards who’d fought together for admission.
— kylie minogue (@kylieminogue) March 20, 2018
The club itself felt smaller than usual: Kylie performed in the main hall within the Berghain labyrinth – the nave, so to speak – but tamed the stage with a red velvet curtain framing a glittery heart punctuated with vanity lights and a silver K. A web of rose-hued bulbs were strung like vaulting above the crowd, offering a warm glow in sharp contrast to the rough and notoriously industrial architecture. “You better put your phone down,” she said within the first three minutes of being on stage. “Even I can’t take photos in here”.
Eschewing heavy wobbles of her behind-the-beat basslines for a seven-piece band, this was Kylie’s way of giving her most eager fans a taste of forthcoming album Golden. Following a very public breakup, Minogue had hit the studio in Nashville for a two-week writer’s retreat and come back with a set of twangy, Dolly Parton-tinged heart melters. It was more than convincing, and at points, her voice soared over her band to drown the floor in duelling heartbreak and ecstasy. But that was perhaps part of the set’s greatest appeal: for one night and one night only, Berghain was governed not as a church or the sea, but as a cosy open mic with a bubbly dusky blonde excited to share her new songs.
For decades, Kylie has sold out arenas around the world with her glycerine hits and helium-high bangers. At Berghain, however, the atmosphere was pared down to that of a cozy dive with a local favourite taking the floor rather than one of pop music’s premiere princesses. She strode on stage and launched into an eclectic mixture of hits; there were the new: hip-swinging hoedown Golden, road-trip ready Raining Glitter, and lead single Dancing; the old (an acoustic version of All the Lovers was a surprising swell in emotion); and the unexpected – Minogue dipped deep into country classics for a rousing performance of Islands in the Stream. The night was a Grand Ole Opry dream: it was sweet, it was sentimental and it was sincere.