In defence of ephemerality

Berghain doesn’t allow photos to be taken on the dancefloor. And rightly so. Does anyone really want those moments to be captured on a cameraphone anyway? Perhaps – but I did not grow up with a device surgically attached to my hand. I recently saw pictures (in an art gallery, no less) of myself at a rave in the late 90s, and even though it was outdoors and on a coastal inlet, not a single person had a mobile phone on display, even as the sun came up and made for a glorious Insta shot. I suppose due to my advanced age I do not have expectations that everything must be captured. The desire to point the camera at everyone and everything just isn’t in me, and I can probably count the number of “selfies” (toe curl) that I’ve taken on one or two hands. In fact despite having a fairly decent camera on the phone, it seems to resolutely stay in my pocket at many social occasions, even though afterwards I have pangs of regret at not taking some photos, and reminding myself to do it in the future. But there are some occasions where I am happy just to let the memory be the memory.

I have never been to Berghain, and I don’t know the reasoning behind their policy, but I think I can understand the logic from several different perspectives. If you’re out and getting messed up on drugs until eight in the morning, or getting hot and heavy in a dark fetish room, you don’t necessarily want your employer / parent / partner seeing you on the front page of the lifestyle section of the Sunday newspaper. If you’re a venue like this and you want to build a reputation and attract the influencers or famous, but still maintain your underground cred, then similarly you don’t want these people snapping pictures of themselves as a marketing exercise in cool; or even having paparazzi clowns hanging around outside waiting for their moneyshot either on the way in or out. Not having any pics from the inside creates a mystique, an inquisitiveness in people – what is actually going on in there? What is it like? And where every possible space on earth is more or less catalogued and classified on Street View, having these intentionally blanked out pixels is a break from the depressing ubiquity of the eye of big tech.

But also, and bear with me, I’m getting there – the construction of memory is also shaped by the human capacity to forget. Entropy and decay are an intrinsic part of the universe. If everything is recorded, captured, logged, detailed – then it becomes far harder to let the bad stuff drift away into dead neuron pathways. Think about the best day or night out you ever had. It might be some time you went to a festival, and then went to an afterparty. Your friends were all there, the sun was shining, the music was great, maybe you met someone new and felt a first flush of attraction, or maybe things even went further than that. You look back on it and think yeah, that day was just perfect. Except, of course it wasn’t really absolutely perfect at the time. You might have had to queue for an overpriced drink for a while, or the toilets stank, you couldn’t find your crew for an hour, there was no signal, the afterparty was crowded and hot, you were wiped out by the end and had a massive headache. All that of course melts into obscurity because these quibbles are inconsequential compared to the primary happy memories of you being with friends, dancing, sharing jokes. But what if you could go back somehow years later, and revisit every second of that day. The sounds, sights, queues, and so on. Would it colour the experience? Of course, because all of the negative emotions and experiences had been forgotten. You rose tinted everything with time. Decay of the reality of the experience lived. Yeah it was great, but maybe it wasn’t so amazing after all. And everything we do is pretty much like this.

In that respect, I like what Berghain do with the photography ban because people are forced into creating their own memories rather than being stored on a film / device / cloud, and that will have to be it in terms of a visual record. And the fact that people are conscious of the ban as they are queuing up I imagine makes for the brain being more active to record the surroundings and various interactions. Until the stimulants kick in and turn it all to watercoloury impressions.

In terms of music / audio / radio in the context of the above, I’ve been thinking about ephemerality as a quality that doesn’t appear to have much currency these days, in terms of what you can listen to. The Bermondsey Lido show has been running since March on Aaja Music. I stopped making the shows available afterwards on Soundcloud a few months ago, and then fairly recently asked the station managers to delete the half dozen or so shows that had been archived for “Listen Back Laterers” (copyright Big Nick D – still makes me laugh that one). And I’ve stopped responding to requests from friends or others asking for links to the show too. Why, you might ask.

I have memories – hazy, all merged into one amorphous blob – of listening to pirate radio late at night through my teenage years. Falling asleep with those shitty metal band walkman headphones on, waking up in the middle of the night with the static in my ears after the transmitter had been turned off. In many ways these nights formed a basis of my musical enthusiasm now, possibly by osmosis. There was one station in particular that didn’t switch off the signal when the last DJ clocked off. They had a 90 minute deep house tape (Masters At Work style vibes rather than the morose stuff I listen to these days) on one of those double-direction decks which could just play over and over. I sought out a handful of those tunes many years later on Discogs or YouTube rabbit holes, several of which you may have heard being butchered with my karaoke style “overdubs” during the Bermondsey Lido show. To me that 90 minute mix stands out pretty much as the foundation of me absorbing myself into house music in the early nineties. Did I record that 90 minutes? No, and despite it supposedly being a cornerstone of my musical journey, honestly I can probably only remember maybe six or seven of the tracks at most – the ones I’ve acquired.

What was the rest of the music, how was the mixing? As much as part of me would love to hear those 90 minutes again, another part of me doesn’t. It’s entirely possible that it’s out there in the sprawling, near-infinite cloud, in all its glory – and its warts too. I haven’t searched for it, even though I now know the name of the DJ that put it together. I met the station manager out one night and asked him about the tape, he remembered it straight away because it was always on when he opened up the studio the following day. I’m happy for the memory of it to be the memory of it; not listen back to it on sound/mixcloud and hear what might be some bad tunes or train crash transitions.

My radio show has ended up going in a markedly different direction than I intended, as I mentioned in last month’s post. Rather than ending up as something I intended to pair musically with this blog – which was certainly the case with the very first show and April’s blog post when I had recovered from covid – it’s turned into a messy party, an outlet to talk with people in the chatroom, a chance to let loose and enjoy the freedom of not having to show up the next day in a coherent state at work. It’s been the only social outlet I’ve had at times during this fucking pandemic lockdown, and I have treated it as such. It’s not that I don’t take the show seriously, each one has been practiced fully at least 3 or 4 times in advance, with any necessary pitch changes and mixing pitfalls noted on a jotter, so I’ve got the blends already done in my head and don’t have to think too much about it on the night, so I can interact with the chat room attendees, and have a beer too without too much risk.

In my daydreams I cling on to the notion of being a paid DJ in small clubs, playing at a reasonable time of day though to get proper sleep, but with a totally up for it mixed age and race crowd hanging on my every selection, dancing and trainspotting in awe as I pull out the next slab of authentic vinyl. But I’m realistic and self-cynical, and of course I’m just a tiny minnow in a massive ocean. I understand others will have their own motivations for doing shows, but at this stage in the game I think I’m not interested in developing a brand or getting gigs or building my “socials reach and impressions” with it, I just want it to be a radio show that you tune into, and not archived for ever.

I remember hearing an interview with Weatherall when he was putting together a 7″ releases club on Moine Dubh, and justifying not releasing the music digitally. There would only be a limited number of copies and no represses. If you didn’t get it, you didn’t get it, and he was OK with that. And that he wasn’t trying to create hype, it was just something intentionally low key.

So I guess with the show I am intentionally creating or trying to create something low key and ephemeral. The lazy four or eight bar transitions, or with breaks in the music or waiting almost until the run out; the train crashes; the incessant unconscious ums and ahs as I’m talking; the cringeworthy singing over the top towards the end of the show when a beer kicks in; the back and forth with the chatroom comments; the bad language and various drug references. None of that needs to be preserved for posterity, and just doesn’t translate into a listenable recording a few days or months later. I don’t even keep my own recordings on the Mixlr backup now, they get a full delete.

Might I regret this in later years? Perhaps, but life is full of regrets anyway, another one piled on top won’t do much harm. I’m happy just to do the show in the moment, treat it as an opportunity to (re)make connections with others locked in, and let that be the experience. It will be the decayed memories of the show that me and others will take forward rather than the actual messiness and unpleasantness of the recording of it. If you miss it, you miss it – trust me there are other far better opportunities for listening back to deep house music out there in the ether that are not my show.

So ending on that positive note – see you this evening at 9pm.

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