4 Berlin gatekeepers discuss door policies, changing crowds and underground club culture

Presented in partnership with Nike

In Berlin, clubs are more than just places to dance. Over the decades, they’ve come to represent freedom, self-expression and, of course, escape from reality. This is particularly true of the city’s underground scene, where sonic experimentation, a DIY ethos and progressive politics have always gone hand in hand.

But for all the mythology that surrounds Berlin’s club culture, the most compelling stories come from those who live it and work it, right here, right now. To get a handle of the significance of the city’s underground scene in 2018, we approached two essential components of any given club night – door pickers and DJs – to share their perspectives. One is the gatekeeper of the underground, the other is the creative force, and both are crucial to ensure a night goes off. Here, a few key figures fueling Berlin’s nightlife discuss how the city’s crowds have changed over the years, the reality of their jobs and the continued evolution of Berlin’s club culture.

Katharina Beitz,

How did you become a door picker?
I started at Stattbad Wedding as a bouncer body checking women [on the door] about nine years ago. Since you’re always hanging around at parties, you get to know a growing network. If you do a good job then people want you around.

Are there more women in your industry now?
There’s a new generation coming and the selectors are more female nowadays. I’m a true believer in female intuition. I think they communicate well. People react differently if they have a woman in front of them. If you have men in front of you acting like they’re the gods of the evening, you sure don’t want to dance next to them. Why let them in? It doesn’t mean that they act nicer. In fact, you get more people calling you a ‘bitch’ and criticising your decisions during the night. They wouldn’t do that to a man.

How have you seen Berlin’s crowds change over the years?
I think eight or nine years ago the crowd was friendlier, in a way. There was more dialogue in the club. Now clubbing is more isolated – inside the club you know what you’re doing, you’re not really interested in other people. That changed the atmosphere a lot. Now I get the impression that people try to get in, have their night, then that’s it. You go with your crew and you’re not really open-minded to other people.

How do you recognise when people are and aren’t there for the right reasons?
Tourists aren’t always the issue. I don’t like this attitude of ‘tourists are bad for Berlin’ – in a way they did something for this city. You just need a good mix of people in the club and be intuitive with who you choose so you have a party that functions well. If people stand in front of me and are inspiring and enthusiastic about the club, they’re more than welcome.

When you’re door picking, what’s important to you?
That’s a difficult question. Some people have criteria and it’s hard to say because you cannot give hard facts. Just be yourself, whatever that means. Try to be flexible enough to answer questions. It’s kind of a mirror – if I’m being too arrogant, you will be too. I’m aggressive, you’re aggressive. I try to be as open as possible to change the attitude.

What’s the biggest myth about your job?
In my younger years it was really cool to say you’re the one who decides who gets into a club or not. It was all about the ego, my ego. I was 21 or 22. What do you expect? I was way too young. Now it’s kind of emotional. I see and speak with thousands of people. With every conversation I’m having I try to get under people’s skin, and they can get under mine too. I don’t go home after work and say to myself, ‘People called me names and insulted me, but I could decide if they party here or not!’ This isn’t something I can stay above. You should never get used to that. We’re not stereotypes, not myths. We’re people. So are you, standing in the line. Let’s act like it.

No Shade

What does No Shade provide for your community?
The unique thing about us is that we focus on a small amount of people and follow through with the mentoring. We don’t just lose people after one workshop. I wouldn’t want us to become only an online community as we grow – I want to try keep the family vibes that we’ve got going at the moment. We nourish the collective and make sure that we have this intimate vibe.

How do you see the club scene evolving?
It’s a tricky moment because nothing is that fresh or new anymore. People move here all the time and are excited to come to the mecca of club music, but for the people that have been around for a while, it’s starting to get repetitive. There’s currently a bit of a frustrated atmosphere because everyone’s waiting for the next new thing but it’s very hard to figure out what that would be, music wise, when you can already expect basically any genre out there to be played at some point. That’s kind of what made this scene interesting to me in the first place.

Where do you feel the most creative and free while DJing in Berlin?
I love playing our No Shade parties because I feel like I can do whatever I want. I also really love playing Trade at OHM where I’m resident DJ. The Trade crowd is usually down for anything and every time I play I feel like I can take it anywhere I want with a great response.

What can Berlin clubs do to take culture to a more progressive place?
I think it’s happening right now. A lot of club nights are working actively to make clubbing a safer place by making better choices in bookings and safety policies. The clubs that don’t focus on this yet will get swept into this wave. There will be that pressure. I’m optimistic.

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Etapp Kyle,
DJ and producer

What initially sparked your passion for Berlin nightlife?
The freedom. People are really easy going and down to earth.

How have you seen party philosophies here change over time?
I started noticing some changes in the second half of last year. We’re going through a generation change. I started playing here five years ago and it was quite a different crowd. Berlin was super popular at this time, some people moved just to party.

Based on the values you have as an artist, how do you safeguard and uphold them yourself in the club?
Within production I always try to attach [myself] to what’s going on in the studio, through my feelings and heart. I would never push myself to sit down and make music. If it’s not there it’s not there. Special things are timeless. You always feel it in music and other art – doesn’t matter what’s trendy, if it’s good it’s good.

What do you think the future in Berlin holds for artists like yourself?
It’s not that I’m pessimistic, but I think this whole hype will fade away at some point because everything has a beginning and an end. We are going through the moment where a generation is changing. It’s interesting because there’s always a chance that something groundbreaking can happen. I don’t know what should happen to bring it to the next level – if there is a next level.

I played in Poland recently and these guys started this new club and after soundcheck they asked what they could improve. I said ‘think about this, would you be able to have sex with your girlfriend in your club? Like, not in the office,’ and he said ‘no’. I was like, ‘I think it’s bad because you don’t feel comfortable, and I want to be comfortable in this special place where I go for this special feeling’. Maybe that’s not a good example, but it needs to give you the feeling of being at home.

As far as I understand, Berlin is the best city in the world right now for clubbing. The atmosphere is different. I never feel cosy in other clubs [around the world]. I need this feeling that I’m home. Even if everything is bad, that’s sometimes why we go to the club, to escape. I’ve never felt it anywhere else.

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Richard Gabriel

Tell us about your experience of Berlin’s underground scene.
Growing up in Berlin for me meant growing up in a queer environment. The great Vaginal Davis used to chase me through the rooms of our apartment. My mother, Susanne Sachsse and her gay Lover, Marc Siegel, founded the “CHEAP art collective” and underground figures like Bruce LaBruce were often at the family dinner table. People like this, with their radical approach to culture, have contributed substantially to Berlin nightlife and shaped my perspective on it.

When it comes to Berlin’s nightlife, what’s important to you?
For me what’s essential for club life is that it’s queer and diverse. What is a good DJ or a ‘hip’ location without the right crowd?

Photographer: Peter Kaaden, H&M: Susanna Jonas

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