As You Like It presents Scuba & Oliver Deutschmann
Friday, August 3 2012
Better than: Sleeplessness and 13 hour flights.
My week began stuck in a mile-long line, at 2am, trapped in a rainstorm waiting for a chance to enter a monolithic East German power station. We were in Berlin, and I was trying to gain a better appreciation for techno. Appropriately, we'd arrived with the only sensible resolution any dance music tourist could have: We were going to get into Berghain's infamous Sunday morning party and we were going to do it if it meant we needed to wait in the rain until our flight back to SFO the next day.
Luckily, it didn't come to that, and we found ourselves inside a short two-and-a-half hours later. We didn't have a lot of time, but the bit of the morning we spent there was instructive. To be inside, on its elevated dance floor, is to be swept up in an immersive and affecting atmosphere that borders on an altered state of consciousness. All distance is removed, replaced by the immediate, and subtly painful, sensory experience of the club's powerful soundsystem and seizure-inducing lighting array. Being there and dancing amidst the club's oddball cast of characters, techno begins to make sense much in the same way that New York house and disco does on Mighty's Paradise Garage RLA soundsystem.
Saying it was an intense experience is putting it mildly, and having gone through it I was eager to see if it would translate back with me on my return home. So, with a phantom limb still attached to Germany via jet lag, I figured it would only be appropriate to make the trek down to Public Works on Friday, to re-integrate into San Francisco's nightlife with help from Scuba and Oliver Deutschmann, two Berlin-based DJ/producers who were in town courtesy of As You Like It.
I was standing on the balcony looking down at a crowded dancefloor with a drink in hand. It was 12:30am and Scuba was on deck serving up a set that was, by many accounts, poppier than his set at the same party last year. This doesn't seem entirely surprising, in retrospect his career has been largely defined by a willingness to defy expectation. His latest album, Personality, saw him break from the experimental dubstep and ambient work of his previous two albums, in favor of a brash retro-tinged sound that explored the exuberance of '90s rave culture. This artistic freedom seemed to confuse some people in the audience. On the one hand, some had clearly come for dubstep, on the other, some had come hoping for a less melodic strain of techno. While I was at the bar I overheard someone next to me say, "Aw, well, he's playing a lot of tech house tonight. You should have seem him last time before he made his full switch. It was way more techno. I mean, this time he's playing Maceo Plexx."
However, even if he was pushing towards a more accessible direction, this didn't prove an obstacle for the club's enthusiastic dancers. They were particularly spastic last Friday, throwing kicks and spinning around like martial artists. For them, things reached critical mass right at the end of Scuba's set. Waiting all night to play his own material, he laid down a three-song sequence comprised of recent club hit "The Hope," followed by previous club hit "Adrenalin," and then finally into recent album favorite "NE1BUTU." Altogether it created a euphoric wave that swept through the room and even caused Scuba to break his set-long poker face for a short smile.
By the time Oliver Deutschmann got on, last call had arrived and the drinkers in the audience began to head for the door. Swaying behind the mixer with two full sleeves worth of tattoos, he created a lively contrast to Scuba's almost apathetically calm demeanor. Similarly, his music departed from melodic tech house, straying far closer to the kind of insistent and hypnotic techno more generally associated with the German capital. Leaning into the mixer, he drifted off into a mellow hall of repetition, blending long instrumentals into one another.
Yet, I couldn't help but think back to my experiences a week prior and feel as though something was once again absent. It was like I was trying to watch a 3D movie without the right glasses. Like before the trip, my mind began to work overtime, trying but failing to find the data behind some barely perceived missing dimension. But hey, whatever, at least it was a fun party, right?