The decadence of Cocoon, the danger of sleepwalking and a lost Brazilian DJ.
Touring scenes is a feature series on RA in which we ask a DJ or live act to tell us the story of what happens when the music isn't playing. It isn't a tour diary. Nor is it a travel essay. Instead, we're simply hoping to offer glimpses of a life often unexamined. For our latest edition, we welcome the DJ/producer team Slam in advance of their appearance at South West Four 2011.
Top: "Don't do it Stuart! All will be good in the end!"
Middle: Sushi in Sven's club
Bottom: Us at Cocoon in Frankfurt
The last four weeks have been pretty intense. We've been preparing and making the final tweaks for our current spate of live shows, and it all starts with Time Warp in Mannheim. Talk about throwing yourself in at the deep end! Ideally we should have had some kind of warm up show beforehand. And we wanted to test out the set at Pressure the week before, but as per, it's down to the wire, and we're still writing and preparing the bloody thing right up until the Thursday night.
To add to this stress, our manager Dave Clarke (not the DJ) has made us aware that the maximum hand baggage allowance for Lufthansa is less than 10kg. This is usually achievable, but as we are playing live as well as DJing this weekend, it's down to some serious Machiavellian tactics and foul play to get everything on board, without giving the foolhardy baggage handlers a chance of destroying our equipment, or worse, losing it.
Once through security with our team we have just enough time for a quick cup of coffee before we're on the plane. This is probably the first time I've had to relax in what seems like a while. But rather than vegetate I pull my laptop out and put some new tunes into a crate for tonight's DJ gig at Cocoon. Before you can say warum wir das warten sind, we land with a proficient thump at Frankfurt airport—on time of course. When we collect our bags and come through customs, our driver Chris is already waiting for us, so we can wholeheartedly confirm predictable clichés about German efficiency.
With the reception desk on the 22nd floor at The Hotel Innside, vertigo is not an option. When you enter the lift area it's like a spaceship with four lifts adjacent to each other, all with glass walls and panoramic views of Frankfurt. These bad boys aren't easy to operate, though. You need some kind of code, and you can't just go to any floor because it will only take you to the floor which you are staying at. Needless to say, I come a cropper with this several times in our short stay here. As soon as we check in I go to Dave's room to collect my controllers and I promptly scare the shit out of him and his girlfriend Emma by hanging out the window on the 28th floor.
"Hey! Don't do it Stuart! All will be good in the end!"
He's thinking that all the stress of the last few weeks has finally made me crack and I'm about to jump, but there is a double window and a short space of about six inches between windows. After a quick glass of wine I finally make my way back to what I think is my room. But because of a receptionist's bad handwriting, I'm stuck outside a room that isn't mine. In desperation, I sit on the floor with my hands on my head. Of course I try and make my way to reception before I realise I've forgotten which floor it's on. Lucky for me a rather trusting young German couple let me back in and I swap the one for a seven and, bingo, I'm in.
Cocoon looks—from the outside—like a rather inconspicuous office block rather than a world class night club. Once inside, though, it's easy to see what all the fuss is about. An ultra-cool design labyrinth, it's possibly one of the nicest clubs ever built. With its famous Cocoon wall and various chic restaurants and bars, it more than lives up to expectations. We have dinner booked at the Micro restaurant inside the club, with its amazing design and fibre optic streams hanging from the ceiling constantly changing colour and mood. It's food for the eyes as well as the soul.
Tonight Orde, Dave, Emma and I are having dinner with Petar Dundov, who is also playing live tonight, as well as Sabeen who works for Cocoon. The food is exquisite. Basically all we have to do is choose a main course from the menu and then we're treated to a whole host of sushi and other Asian treats and a lovely wine to match. I love this style of eating—sharing and lots of different taste sensations. It's something we try to do when we're lucky enough to be abroad somewhere. We simply ask the promoter to choose their favourite dishes for us to sample. With so much good food, we just have to eat it all. It would be rude not to, wouldn't it?
Feeling totally full, Sabeen kindly takes us on a tour of the club. (The last time we were here we didn't manage to see everything as we arrived just shortly before we were supposed to play.) Everywhere you look there are points of interest. Take the DJ booth for example, which has its own smoking room and toilet. It even has a seated area with couches inside and various fridges with beer.
"[Listening to Sven] we can already
hear the soundtrack for this
year's summer season in Amnesia."
Tonight is a very special night in the Cocoon diary, as it's the annual Timewarp warm up party. It's one of the club's many highlights of the year. We feel very privileged to be a part of it. The time is just gone 11 PM and already people are starting to arrive in droves. Ambient music pipes though the club's soundsystem as the crowd—people from all over the world—are here to make a special pilgrimage to Timewarp. They mill around and check out the club's aesthetically pleasing décor. I take this opportunity to set up my Traktor in a DJ-free environment, as I know it will only be stressful later.
With Traktor set up, the wine from the meal makes us question the idea of actually going back to the hotel, and like the weak-willed little men we are, we decide to stay for the long haul. We still have three-and-a-half hours to go before we have to play. Usually that spells disaster, but I'm careful to drink some water in between the alcohol. When Sven arrives at 11:20 and puts on his first record, the club already looks quite full. As he steps up to the decks a massive cheer goes out from the crowd and the night has well and truly begun. He introduces us to Roman Flügel and some other friends. As time marches on, the booth becomes busier with Japanese promoters and various friends. Johannes—Sven's right hand man—is there, and he does an amazing job at being the perfect host. Sven is a true master at his game and Planetary Assault Systems' "Sucktion" sits comfortably next to Steffi's Ostgut vocal anthem, "Yours." We can already hear the bare bones of the forthcoming soundtrack for this year's summer season in Amnesia.
When Petar starts it feels like it's time for us to gear up for our set, so we open the bottle of Jack Daniels. Despite setting up early we have sound problems, as our second mixer is not connected properly. This is quickly rectified as we connect the two (luckily no dead air) and we are now ready to start. We have an amazing time and the club stays busy for most of our set, with hands in the air and whoops and cheers. Our German friend Mark and his girlfriend and crew all dance about in the booth, and I have to say that it's one of the year's highlights already. We stop playing at around 8 AM with the people wanting more.
We finally stumble outside and sit on the steps outside the club in broad daylight and wait for a taxi. Clearly the driver we picked, though, hadn't done the Frankfurt Knowledge. We get lost and we suddenly become early morning Frankfurt sightseers by default. Add to this the stop for a petrol station, when we finally arrive back at the hotel it's after nine. We only have one thing on our collective minds—sleep. AHHH! That damn lift! What's the code again?
Top: Sleepwalk prevention.
Bottom: Collecting data at Timewarp
I'm dreaming there are men with sledgehammers trying to break down my hotel room door, but it's not the hotel. And I'm not dreaming. Someone is actually trying to break my door down! Slowly I realise I can hear the voice of an irate woman shouting, but it's not in English. Suddenly I start to hear what the voice is saying. I can hear shouting. "You have ze driver outside downstairs already... Idiot!" OK, she didn't say idiot, but the raised aggression and slightly pissed off nature of her voice suggested so. I look at my timepiece of choice, which is in this case an iPhone. 11 missed calls. Sheiße. Better get up.
If there was a medal for speed showering, I'd have of won it. Slowly I realise that I just might have a hangover and in fact I still feel a bit squiffy. Probably the residual amounts of Jack Daniels still in my system. Everyone is downstairs waiting and we don't want to be late, as there is a tight schedule with sound checks, so we have to make our spot. We climb in the van, and everybody is wearing sunglasses. Just as well. The weather is good. We arrive at the sound check with sore heads, but ready to rock.
This is our first point of contact with the now legendary Time Warp, an annual must in the calendar of thousands of techno lovers from all over the world who congregate in a large industrial town called Mannheim. When we are greeted by event owner and organizer Stephan, our immediate feeling is of friendly efficiency. We feel at ease in the cavernous industrial hangar of Room One. As the sound of our "Night Train" record (the track selected by the Time Warp crew as the first track to be played at this year's event as the doors open) pumps out over the massive system, a strangely calming ease comes over us. The sound system is so good that's its almost overwhelming.
We decide to leave some of the equipment plugged in for later, but take our laptops and controllers with us for a last minute rehearsal in the hotel room. We arrive back at the hotel from the sound check at about 5:00 PM and it's a comforting feeling to know that this will be our base until we have to leave on Monday morning. I order a steak and a glass of red wine from room service and try to chill out. Against all odds, I manage a two hour disco nap. When I awake I rehearse my parts of the set over and over until I believe it can be done in a somnambulistic state. We congregate down in the lobby with our German friends Mark and Tanya, Scott and his girlfriend, Dave and Emma. We all eagerly jump in the van. The moment has arrived.
We arrive a good hour before our show and reset everything and line check to make sure everything is working properly. The room is already packed, and the people are dancing to the big room electro sound of Moonbootica. We have stiff competition on slot times, and suddenly we feel very humble—and to be honest just a bit concerned—that people might leave our arena and go see Ricardo or Dubfire or Seth Toxler who are all playing at the same time in other areas. But it stays really busy and the vibe is amazing. What we had planned seemed to work in all the right places. Words cannot describe how good this event is, from the visuals to artist liaison. Everything is done just to perfection. We all hang around for a couple of hours after our set and catch sets by Ricardo Villalobos, Carl Craig vs. Luciano and Sven, but we decide to try and cheat at raving and catch some sleep, with the plan of coming back before the end... fresh.
Once back at the hotel, though, Emma and Dave decide to bring all the plants that line the hotel corridor and put them in my room. I'm now attempting to sleep in what appears to be a greenhouse. Not only that, but the window in my hotel room opens right up with nothing but me and the ground. Unlike Frankfurt, there's no safety net here. Jumper's bloody paradise! Given that I have somnambulistic tendencies, I have to put a table against the window, and a chair over the room door, so if I decide to sleepwalk I don't end up going out the window or opening the hotel room door and running down the corridor looking for the toilet. This has happened a couple of times and, believe me when I tell you, going down to reception in nothing but your pants is more than just embarrassing.
"The hotel was closer than the
afterparty... and the hotel won."
The fact that our beds were so damn comfortable meant our rave cheating plan was foiled by too much sleep, so we decide to grab some lunch in Mannheim and then hit the afterparty at Club Zimmer. When we arrive Nick Curly and Mathias Kaden are playing a nice back-to-back set of deep house, and it's starting to fill up with friendly faces from the night before. We stay for about an hour or so and decide to go and get some dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street from the hotel with the full intention of going back. As time drags on and the wine kicks in, though, this weekend's activities start to catch up. The hotel was closer than the afterparty... and the hotel won.
On Monday morning I'm reminded of just how much uniforms make me nervous. Not only because of the way people behave when they're wearing them, but because of what they imply—order, control, etc. Airports are full of people wearing uniforms. There's the guy at immigration who looks at you, then your passport, over and over again, as if you're some international criminal wearing a false beard. Then there's the people who check you in. If they don't like the looks of you, they can touch a button that puts you in a shit seat and spoil your trip. And then there's the security staff. When we go through security this time, it's again as if we were trying to smuggle vintage rifles through the scanning machine. The lady looks very serious—no banal bomb gags here then.
My bags go through the machine then its contents go back through on their own. Then she stares at me with a frosty expression and declares that I need to go into "that" room for a special search. Special search? We enter a little room with all kinds of technology and they proceed to probe and swab our bags. What are they looking for? Drugs? Explosives? Fortunately it tests clear. As I'm leaving the guard on the door leans over and, in his deep baritone German accent, simply utters the word "Elvis." Huh?
Top: One of the finest clubs in the world.
Bottom: Breaking it down and building it up at Rex.
I don't know what it is about Ryanair staff. They must indoctrinate them to hate their customers in the same way they show propaganda movies to soldiers to make them want to do anything to kill the enemy. They hate their customers. Can't farking stand them! I realise this is turning into a self-indulgent rant, but I've been given the chance to write about our travels and I'm going to use this golden opportunity to vent some anger and aggression against the bastards who have caused me so much pain in the past. Maybe, just maybe, others feel the same.
To put it simply, Ryanair flights are a real test of human nature. There's the way that people edge toward the gate, trying to better position themselves for the final sprint to aircraft. And why? Once onboard, Ryanair do everything short of putting a spike in the back of your seat to make your journey as uncomfortable as possible. (Even if they did put a spike in the back of your seat they would probably charge you to remove it. "Did you ring the buzzer, sir?" "Spike removal was it, sir?" "That will be £20 please, sir.") Then, of course, there are the garish yellow plastic head rests.
O'Leary in a board meeting: "What colour can we use to wind people up? What's the most unrelaxing colour? We want it to spell out 'cheap experience.'"
"Yellow, sir. It induces panic in the customers and keeps them awake so that we can then try and sell them shit for the whole flight."
"Even mouldy sandwiches?"
"Yes, sir, even mouldy sandwiches."
Ryanair is the perfect antagonist for us, as we possess absolutely nada patience. That's why we gladly pay the extra tenner for priority boarding. Believe me, it's the best tenner you'll ever spend. We blag an exit row with the middle seat free every time. The trick is to behave a bit weird so that no one sits beside you, but not so weird that they think you're incapable of operating the exit door. This comes quite natural to me this time, because my doctor has given me ear drops. With these in one ear, and my head tilted, it appears as if my head is stapled to my shoulder blade. I've also pretended to have the flu in the past. These are the things you are reduced to when you fly Ryanair.
Beauvais Airport is more like a shed than an airport. On the positive side, though, this means we don't have to walk 10km just to get through customs. It's off the plane, past a disinterested passport control guy and, bingo, the bags are going round the conveyor belt at the other end. That was the easy part. We then jump in a pre-paid taxi for the hard part. The ride from Beauvais to Paris. We have this theory that if someone tells you in certain countries that something takes 30 minutes, you should immediately double it. Our driver tell us that it'll be about 40 minutes into Paris at 6 PM, so naturally we arrive at 8 PM.
We pull up outside Mama Shelter Hotel with an hour to ourselves before Eric, the promoter, comes to pick us up for dinner and sound check. Mama Shelter is a quirky one. Designed by Philippe Starck, it's a mixture between kitsch and contemporary—so you'll see a little naff Eiffel Tower in a glass case next to a really cool piece of furniture or an über-modern chair. They both somehow sit really well together. I normally don't care about aesthetically pleasing décor that much. Just as long as the room doesn't smell of another man's piss, and it's fairly quiet. But what I've noticed about this place is that the staff are really well-trained and can't do enough for you. In my mind, that's the making of a hotel every time. It's something that is always overlooked, but is so simple.
"One of the other DJs has disappeared.
Gone. A.W.O.L. in the middle of Paris."
Eric arrives right on cue, but looks a bit distressed. One of the other DJs—DJ Jollan from D-Edge in Sao Paul—has disappeared. Gone. A.W.O.L. in the middle of Paris with no phone, and no one has any way of contacting him. We presume / hope that he will eventually turn up at The Rex later, but we have no way of knowing. Strange thing is, the last time we played at the Social Club in Paris a similar thing happened with a couple of guys from Portugal. What are the chances?
We head for dinner at a restaurant that is very old school French that lies just across the street from The Rex, and is in fact owned by them as well. We've eaten here a few times over the years. The owner—or waiter, I'm not sure which—is a bit of a character and at every opportunity tries to fill our faces with shots of this and that. There is no menu to speak of, and certainly not one in English, so I order the two things I love to eat when going for a meal in France. The controversial foie gras and filet de oeuf. We proceed to the sound check and set everything up minus NI Maschine which we have spec'd and—you've guessed it—which DJ Jollen is supposed to bring. (There's still no sign of him.)
We fully intend to go back to the hotel again before the gig, but realise that most of that time would be spent in the taxi just travelling. We've spent too much time in taxis already today, so we decide to stay. Eric asks us if it's OK to do an interview with a guy called John. He has an amazing story to tell. Basically he has travelled—nomad style—from festival to festival, club to club, staying on people's couches, making a documentary on electronic music, purely for the love. I love this story, and I admire his tenacity and commitment to the scene. After the interview we are just about ready to start our set when Master H appears. Because of him and his involvement with Soma in the past—and our history with Daft Punk—we always feel we have a bit of a connection with Paris. It's great to see Master H as he is a great guy and a real friend. I am really, really proud of what he has achieved with his Komplex De Deep label.
The club is starting to fill up nicely and the dance floor is completely full shortly after we start playing. The missing DJ Jollan finally turns up, and I'm glad to say after all his trauma, he hasn't forgotten the Maschine. We're DJing tonight as well as playing live, which is nice because it means we can control what happens before we play the live set. The vibe in the club is amazing. To be honest, though, I can't remember ever having a bad gig at the Rex. It is undoubtedly one of the best clubs in France, if not the world. When we finish our three hour stint we don't want to stop, but there are other people who have to play, and we have—in all fairness—had the best part of the night. So we head outside for street crepes and wait about half an hour desperately trying to flag a taxi until we finally get lucky. Mamma Shelter and sleep are in the not too distant future.