Free-running in Berlin

Not a lot to say here. I’ve seen several French videos of Parkour, but it’s nice to see it being done in Berlin. Usually our German kids are really sluggish, but these guys are obviously quite fit. I’d love to be a traceur, but at my age it hurts my knees just watching them.

Cookie Monster

Amidst the whole celebration around the wall falling twenty years ago, people can be forgiven for missing Sesame Street’s fortieth anniversary. I am fully of the Sesame Street generation. In one of my earliest memories, I distinctly remember my father coming home, at what was “my” first house on Seebergsteig. He declared excitedly that a friend had told him about a great show on television, and that it was on RIGHT NOW! We bustled over to the TV, and there it was on AFN, a local channel in Berlin catering to the military that was stationed in Germany. My dad had to throw a little toggle switch on the back of the unit to receive the NTSC signal on our PAL/SECAM unit, but we were able to watch it! I don’t remember what specifically was on, but I do remember feeling like I had won some kind of great prize – Television! And the grown-ups thought it was good for me!

It seems like I knew all the characters instantly, and that they stayed with me forever. I have three sons now, and tried to kindle in them the same love for the show, but somehow it didn’t take root. There are too many other programs on, there is no real story to follow on Sesame Street, and only the youngest are fascinated by the mundane stuff that is shown – let’s go buy shoes, let’s walk to school, let’s go to the dentist. Elmo, a newer character invented for the very young long after my time, definitely grabbed Isaac by the virtual lapels, but that passed quickly.

The show’s had a number of great celebrity guests on, including Michelle Obama. No coincidence, as her husband is considered the first President “from Sesame Street.” But slowly the show is losing its urban edge, as political correctness creeps into a program that was created by people completely outside of the system. The Southern Baptists suspect Ernie & Bert of having a gay agenda, some of the puppets have been taken out of circulation for being racially stereotypical or simply too scary, and the animated segments celebrating certain numbers or letters are considerably less psychedelic. Cookie Monster, the original addict and physical embodiment of pure unbridled desire, has been forced to pass up cookies in favor of healthier fare such as fruits and vegetables.

cookie_crap

Oh well, it remains a great show, and I still love watching it. As Theo begins his inevitable relationship with TV, I will sit with him. I don’t like the German version, it was a castrated show from the beginning, designed by German “Pedagogen” who have raised a generation of soulless, humorless Love Parade attendees… No, it will be the US version, preferably some of the older shows.

I also have the full Electric Company on DVD, but the kids liked that even less. But for those of you who remember the original Sesame Street, let me make one recommendation: go see Avenue Q. The characters have been changed just enough to protect the innocent, but to an experienced viewer they are clearly recognizable. Imagine our favorite characters growing up, retaining their sense of humor and ability to sing, and combine that with drugs, internet porn, and Broadway soft-shoe. Brilliant!

PC in the Kitchen

I have a computer in the kitchen. It’s a pretty useful tool, because Karen and I are able to check email from there, and as people who work from home it’s nice to be so close without having to wander over to the office all the time. The computer also serves as a virtual recipe book, and a general access point for planning kids activities, managing various schedules, and putting together the endless grocery list.

But it also serves as a gateway to the news, and to social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. These kinds of web visits are hardly mission-critical, but it’s hard to escape the allure of a juicy news story, or the tales of a friend’s weekend activities. Unfortunately we find ourselves checking it while the kids are in the kitchen… either having breakfast or dinner. Instead of paying full attention, we will just check out a quick story, read a funny thread of posts, or follow a link. We find ourselves giving half-answers to the kids, and setting a terrible example in general. Karen occasionally calls me on it, but she does it too if the content is sufficiently compelling or important.

We are the first generation to have that particular device in our life. In some ways it can be argued that it’s not much different than the absent-minded father who reads through the morning paper before leaving for work, his head buried behind a giant broadsheet of print. And there is something to be said for the productivity. An important pending issue can be resolved with a quick response, approvals granted, team-members managed, and the day can launch properly even before you’ve suited up the kids and mounted them in their car seats.

The same thing happens with the BlackBerries and iPhones. It is hard for the person across the table to know whether I’m dealing with an important business issue, a text-message from the nanny about a kid that fell and hurt himself, or whether I’m responding to a Facebook post. We take the kids out to lunch, and I find myself checking the incoming messages. I no longer respond to them unless they are important, in which case I always explain why I need to interrupt the conversation to take care of the pending issue… but I would never tolerate one of those sullen teenagers at my table texting away, so I better make damn sure I’m not a parent who is doing the same thing.

There is something positive about the kitchen computer though: the screensaver spools our life past us, one image every six seconds, and it’s a wonderful way to keep our family memories alive, and to be reminded of all the friends we have across the world. The boys have a high awareness of their extended family, and it constantly triggers questions from the kids about people and places that we know.

Nu Disco

Dance music and I go way back. In England I listened to a lot of Punk and New Wave, and for a couple of years I got lost in the whole Jam Band thing in the US, but the garage ethos co-joined with the psychedelic side when I returned to Berlin and discovered the Techno scene. While most kids were still trying to figure out college, I actually started D’Vision Records, a dance label in Berlin in the early 1990s – an outrageous time in a crazy city. Case-study alert: being 22 years old, I made every business mistake I could, but as my father pointed out: it was better money spent than any business school tuition, and I got my investment back.

I absolutely love dance music, but it requires a certain amount of research, and some good guidance, to find exactly what you want. In Berlin, we are incredibly proud of our Techno, House, and Trance roots, but it’s always been very “underground” to a fault. It seems as though the entire scene expends a huge effort ensuring no one can join the fun. Admittedly, we fumbled it once before. What started as “our” movement, the first real German thing that wasn’t somehow trying to be American or English ended up growing really huge really fast. The Love Parade (as the most obvious symptom) grew from a few hundred dancers, to a really fun crowd of 40,000 ravers, to 1.5 million drunken hooligans before collapsing under a garbage heap of beer bottles and plastic rave wigs. Worse, no one in Berlin figured out how to earn any real money off it, while people from everywhere else made a killing. I guess the scene is intent on avoiding a version 2.0.

I recommend Tobias Rapp’s “Lost and Sound”, a book that nicely chronicles the current club scene in Berlin – a perfect storm of cool, available spaces, a ton of creative types focused on variations of House music, and the EasyJet-Set, which rolls in and out of Berlin every weekend for the kind of full-on fun that makes any experienced Hedonist blush with envy. The sound coming out of Berlin over the last three years has been dubbed Minimal, and for good reason. As the name implies, it’s pretty straight-forward, actually more focused on the after-hour set with reduced bass, and none of that hands-in-the-air rave favored by American aficionados of Trance House. Minimal is somewhat hypnotic, with its sparse loops and nuanced variations, and it’s easy to see how it plays gently in the background of a river-side concrete café in Berlin on a Sunday as people are slowly coming down from (and gearing up for another) long night.

If you want a taste, download three recent samplers that give you a TON of music for eight bucks each, including two hour-long mixes per compilation. Check out Sound of Berlin Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3

…or just check out Rodriguez Jr.’s track Kids of Hula by clicking below:

Record stores in Berlin have always been difficult. There are few left that have any expertise, and the really important ones don’t want to sell you anything, unless you’re part of the in-crowd. It certainly isn’t a friendly place to go and learn about what’s new and interesting. The big music retailers have left the playing field, and Amazon is great if you know what you want, but their recommendation system is too wide to help with the endless nuanced sub-genres. So where do I go for help? Beatport.com, an online retailer that focuses on dance music, and is a treasure trove of well sorted music. Most DJs nowadays just download music and play it back via digital devices. Check out what Pioneer just brought to market to see what I mean!

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Beatport also has great articles. One that really caught my attention recently was called 2009: The Year of Disco? It was a well-researched and cross-linked article about the Nu-Disco scene. Karen had made it pretty clear that she had hit the wall on Minimal House, and needed something more organic. Hand-claps and cow-bell to the rescue, baby! I strongly recommend the Horse Meat Disco compilation, as well as the Selected Works from Permanent Vacation. But what really blew me away was the three tracks from Tensnake’s recent EP called I Want You to Cry. Like any good dance number, it builds slowly, and it takes more than one track to close the deal.

Tensnake, In the End (I Want You To Cry)

…and of course, I have a vested interested in the scene, as I suddenly find myself back in the music business. Together with my old business partner Chris Zippel, here is one of the current releases, a Nu Disco compilation capturing the mood of my restaurant in Amsterdam. Get yourself a copy of the Park Hotel presents Momo CD, available now via Amazon and Beatport.

PH Momo CD

… and we even snuck in a Minimal track 😉 Hey, gotta wave that Berlin flag!