Some months back while killing time in yet another Altstadt, I realized I needed a project. Downtime was beginning to become a doozy. Years before—on my first tours—I was excited to be in Europe, to visit the sites and to take in the culture. But lately I had not been feeling very inquisitive. My TV intake began rise, I was getting into the salted peanuts a lot earlier and seeing a town consisted of a pre-gig excursion to the hotel bar. The original sheen had faded.
That said, I was also beginning to travel further, to more "exotic" destinations where my senses were still teased and my inquisitive nature was still being piqued. I knew exploring was still a passion; I simply needed something new to pass the time in between making and playing music while touring.
So I began to write.
Right away, new opportunities began to develop. I began to look and laugh at things that had previously driven me bonkers. Queues, luggage, food, etc. I now found humor in the mundane. And I also somehow began to feel the spirits of DJs, in the airports, waiting rooms and hotels. I also began to realize something else: That it wasn't all about me. Well, I mean it is. (Sorry, we DJs are a narcissistic bunch.) But I wanted an angle with a bit more depth than the common DJ twitter. ("In the Gold Lounge, flight delayed, drinking orange juice.")
That, in the end, simply came from talking and listening more intently to the people I was meeting. Promoters; club owners; people with a history that is intrinsically tied to the city where they live, a city I happened to be visiting. Unlike DJs, promoters are often rooted in day-to-day reality. They are not jetsetters, they deal with the truly tangible and concrete. They have a home life. And, most important of all, they usually know where to get the best damn lunch in the city.
We are off to Japan. Tolga and I. We have a full agenda: Tokyo, Osaka and everything in between. It is my first big trip with Tolga, my second to Japan. We have a lot to talk about, and quickly settle into the fact that we are set for a great time.
We are flying KLM, which means we must transfer in Amsterdam. Fine for us. Having packed quickly, we are missing a few key items. Berlin's airport is on par with an Alaskan corner store, so we are happy for some choice in Amsterdam. We have an hour to grab travel goods: A new inflatable pillow, a glass of wine (for enjoyment and sleep assistance) and some magazines for reading. The flight is 12 hours—long but not unbearable; we have good seats and there's a bevy of decent movies on the in-flight entertainment center. Tolga is sitting behind me, as we both wanted window seats. Every hour I glance back to see that sleep is also evading him. How frustrating if we're drained on arrival: It's Tokyo for Christ sakes! We need energy!
We arrive and the heat hits us like a sweaty Sumo wrestler. The city is a humid 30+ and we're soon dripping wet. We're also in one of the world's most crowed metropolises where everything is automated, air-conditioned, moving and ON, so a couple of extra urban heat points get thrown into the stew. Surprisingly though, even with the massive cluster of overpasses, underpasses, bridges and cars, the city appears meticulous.
This being Tokyo, Tolga and I are in sight-seeing mode. On the way in to the city our hosts deliver us to our first stop: Aqua City, a theme park mall on the outer fringes of Tokyo. Every floor is packed to the rafters with costumed characters, vending machines, rides and, of course, kids. It's the middle of summer holidays and the children are e-v-e-r-y-where. Being jetlagged in 300 degree heat wearing un-socked shoes (a horrible mistake) among swarms of screaming kiddies in a foreign land might not seem like a fun time, but we are here for a reason. I'll get to that later.
First though, it's time for lunch, a fact we have not had to push on our gracious hosts. To be hungry and want to eat is a given in Japan, we just need to clarify what it is we wish to devour. "I eat anything" is Tolga's answer. Oh sweet Tolga! I want to hug him. How awful it would be to travel this far with a DJ that is fussier than a four year old. As it happens many are, and DJs can be an ungrateful bunch. If you're going to be a DJ, then learn how to eat! In Japan, it's an easy task—you just need to point. There are pictures of every item on the menu and it's almost always good. We decide on Tonkotsu ramen (egg noodles in a thick broth with slices of pork) ordered from a vending machine in a "themed" ramen restaurant.
This has all the makings of a culinary disaster, but in Japan, might must match wit and the soup ends up being delicious. (Ordering food from vending machines is common practice here and usually has no impact on the quality. It is important to understand that the machine is NOT cooking your food. You are simply ordering from it.) We finish up lunch, head outside and make our way to our real destination.
So far in my life, there have been few "material objects" that have blown me away: The first time I saw an iPhone. Google Earth. Today, though, Tolga and I are fully blown away, sockless shoes and all. Hiding off in the shadows of Aqua City stands a full-scale Gundam robot towering mightily over Tokyo! Not only is it a beautiful tribute to how seriously the Japanese take their comic characters, but it is an amazing engineering feat. Gundam, for the uninitiated, is a Transformer-like robot similar to Optimus Prime (pre-Michael Bay). The Robot will soon be sent off to protect the front lawn of the Sony office, publisher of the Gundam video game for Playstation. Throughout the weekend, the robot is a much enjoyed conversational topic: I excitedly show people my pictures, only to have them show theirs back as a parent would with children. Like Batman or Darth Vader, Gundam is a timeless character who spans generations.
As I stand and stare at the underside of what is Gundam's full-scale crotch, I realize the kids are getting unbearable and my shirt is soaked. We decide it's time to get into town and rest for the evening.
Shibuya, like Japan itself, is an exercise in contrasts: Huge shopping avenues co-exist with small side streets. It is one of the world's most densely populated neighborhoods, yet its side streets are surprisingly quiet and house many of the city's famous Love Hotels. Womb, the Gundam of Tokyo clubs, is located on one these small streets and is surprisingly non-descript from the outside. Inside, though, it is a loud, cavernous three-floor complex shelled by thick walls and solid doors, thus protecting the many lovers that might be resting (sic) (3500 yen) or staying (5000 yen) at the nearby tropical or sci-fi themed hotels.
The club fills quickly and soon all three levels are pumping. Our friend and tour organizer, DJ Pige, starts up and plays a smooth mix of classic minimal and modern gems. Pige is a superb DJ and has quietly built a dedicated following in the city. Bringing in the likes of Ben Klock, Mathias Kaden and many others, he has a close affinity to much of Europe's talent. By 1 AM, the club is full and it's time for Tolga and I to play.
Harry Klein. For now.
There's no better feeling than to return to a club where the promoters have also become friends. The clubbing landscape is one of constant flux, and it's necessary to re-connect with people you respect. Recently I feel that a new breed of promoters are again on the rise, ones who have taken inspiration from old concepts and built their own. Cityfox and the Alte Börse crew in Zurich, for example, have created a beast of a club out of their expertise from previous ventures. Throughout the world I find it invigorating to speak with visionary promoters with a sense of purpose; to hear of new undertakings, learn about local clubbing history, discuss the concepts of application. Tonight I'm off to Munich with Seph and Pablo Denegri for our Dumb-Unit night at Harry Klein. Tonight we will take over the club for the entire night, a privilege considering the caliber of the usual residents—ANA, Dario Zenker and Julietta, three DJs with a personalized sound which is also indicative of the club as a whole. Harry Klein is also where my booking agency resides, making each trip there a chance to meet face-to-face with my good friends and partners.
After checking in and loitering in the hotel bar, we hook up with Alexander and Tanja, my bookers, as well as Peter (one of the club's owners) over a stupendous Bavarian meal. After a few Weitzen beers, the dinner conversation inevitably turns to the big news. Harry Klein will be closing, and a new club in the center of town will soon take its place. The team has already moved their offices from the Optimolwerke where the old club resides (a huge parking lot complex filled with various venues on the outskirts of Munich) to their new digs downtown. As Pablo and I fight over our huge mountain of meat which has arrived in something akin to a chalice, we begin to dissect the myths of the old club and talk about visions for the new.
The original Harry Klein has been in its present location since 2003, taking its place after the legendary Ultraschall closed. It was here that Peter along with partners David Suess, his brother Peter and Jochen Schuecke decided to take over a small space they had come across: an 11x11 shed that fit roughly 400 people. (Klein means small in German.) After crunching some numbers and establishing that it was economically possible, the four met and Harry Klein was born.
Although small, HK is not minute and there is definitely enough space to have a party. What the original lacks in size, it makes up for in vigor. When filled, HK is similar to Studio 672 in Cologne in that the energy cannot be attributed only to the music, but also the sheer inability to escape from the debauchery. At HK there is no chill-out room to rest in, no second room to go snoggle in and no lounges to pose in. The only real space is on the dance floor, and it always fills up quickly.
"The opening was a little nightmare for us. The club wasn't ready at all. It was this super hot summer in 2003, and we worked for three months through the night while the builders did the same during the day. At the opening a lot of friends showed up. But after that night it was empty for some weeks. We had to change some ideas and then eventually we found our way," Peter tells me.
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The new space will also continue with the tradition of immersive video installations. The club prides itself on a roster of capable VJs, deemed as important as anyone else in making the night a success. Many of the VJs that present their art in the club are actually on the booking roster too: "At Harry Klein we have wraparound panorama projection—18x3—this means that two complete walls are a full light installation. So the VJ does the job of the light jockey and interior architect," says Peter.
The other big challenge is dealing with sound and noise complaints in the downtown core. For this reason the new location will feature a room-in-room concept of sound proofing. It will not only keep Munich safe from the club's hedonism, but will also keep the reality of a Sunday morning from the clubbers inside.
Munich is not Berlin. It is in Bavaria and the city, the people and the establishment are cut from a different cloth. This eventually leads Peter and I to begin taking about bureaucracy, a favorite German pastime, one that Germans take pride in, but also one that I often remind friends might not be as bad as they often think. Peter agrees, and while Bavarians are known for being far stricter than Berlin, they are also more efficient in seeing things come to fruition, including clubs. "Some of the elements in our Munich city government are really liberal and open—they want to have a lively nightlife here. The Bavarian bureaucracy is very detailed. But they are able to push the strict observance through. There is no sense in running a club in Munich for fun—or as a leisure time activity. Most of them would collapse."
There is a feeling that it is time to get down to business for everyone sitting at the table tonight. Our meat plate is bare and sound check is calling. Our only worry now? To see if our bodies, stuffed with Bavarian meat, will fit into the tiny DJ booth. There's always something to think about when opening a new club.
The Lunar Module and Moon Vehicle on the launch pad in Jeremy P. Caulfield's Berlin apartment.
New York City EWR
I pull into NYC extremely tired and worn out. Last night's antics at Harry Klein, and a quick turnaround from the hotel to airport have left me feeling weak and irritable. The drive into the city seems unusually long, but it only takes a glance at the crystal clear skyline to wash the apathetic feelings away. For all the chaos that inhabits New York at ground level, the skyline is forever magically calm and serene. It's about 9 PM and the streets are still alive, but not maniacal. We pit-stop at a gas station on the New Jersey side and I grab a pack of Combos from one of the overstocked shelves. I proceed to show Cesare (my traveling companion and label mate) how the magical combination of a stale pretzel and fake cheese can taste so damn good. Together with Taco Bell and a few other unhealthy essentials, Combos is desperately needed in Germany.
Cesare is otherwise known as Cesare vs Disorder and we are in NYC to play the Resolute after-party for the Electric Zoo festival. We joined up in London, where Cesare is based, and where an extremely tight connection and change of terminal and airline has now left me without luggage. Monday is a holiday in States, and so I am calmly assuming I'll be without everything until Tuesday at the earliest. A few days in a big city without all the necessary crap for living.
Nothing makes me feel more useless than having to re-purchase things I owned a week prior.
Ask any traveling DJ and he or she will tell you that more often than not we are only a few steps away from chaos: total meltdown. No matter how much one tries, cables and baggage get lost, time code records wear out, vinyl goes missing and sweaters and shirts disappear into a cotton and wool heaven. While I try to bring doubles of everything, it's getting to the point where I feel I might need to hire a Sherpa for future expeditions. I am also beginning see bits of my father—a film electrician and a man who can fix anything with duct tape and clothes pins—seeping into my set-up. We could get into a conversation about colloquialisms right now, but I'll spare you all but one: If it can go wrong, it eventually will. You must pack with that in mind. (And always try to fit it into your carry-on.)
So here I am in NYC. A little tired, but rather rested. The sun is out, and although my shopping list is lengthy, it could be worse. To the best of my ability, I always arrive with everything I need to DJ. I pack it all into my carry-on, usually with a couple of extra t-shirts and some toiletries. (As a DJ you can never have too many t-shirts or too much deodorant.) As with most frequent travelers, I have my system (and quirks); it's an art and a science, and it's never perfect. Recently though, I have begun to refer, jokingly, to my carry-on baggage as the lunar module—a smaller breakaway system from the larger Luggage Rocket. The Luggage Rocket that I suspect is now somewhere in the Atlantic.
The Lunar Module is about having as much as you can with you at all times. But because the Lunar Module is usually stowed in the overhead compartment, it therefore has a Moon Vehicle (laptop bag) which goes under my seat. (Yes, I know I have too much time on the road.) Putting the laptop under the seat makes it easier to get stuff without having to disturb Aunty Able and Uncle Walter from their Ambien-induced coma. This, therefore, must include all the items that can help you shut out the flying zoo that surrounds you—earplugs, eye mask, noise-canceling headphones, sleeping pills, book, magazine, euthanasia injection.
Doing the math; that makes two carry-on bags, a touch-and-go situation with various airlines. The art of making your carry-on "look" light is, therefore, essential in avoiding having it weighed. A diversion tactic also works. Jake Fairley often likes to carry old duty free bags and pack them with his cables and other sundries and says they go unnoticed. Here the rare, yet inevitable, human aspect of airports comes into play. Though much of today's airline industry is thankfully automated, the make-or-break points of any journey are still interactions with real humans—passport checks, security, etc. It's important to play the part regardless of how tired you are. Trying to look somewhat sane and not smelling like an ashtray is a good start. (Easier said inbound than outbound.) Check-in clerks are usually sympathetic to traveling professionals, so looking pro even without sleep will get you points. I have two types of friends: Those that look normal without sleep and those that fucking DO NOT. You therefore might want to reconsider labelmates, girlfriends and tour managers based on this criteria.