How a masseuse got me into Berghain.
11th of April 2014, Tokyo.
I was having the time of my life travelling for 3 months in Japan. A few weeks into my trip I noticed a party in Tokyo where Function, the resident DJ of Berghain was going to play a 2-hour DJ set. That night I had a truly great time, but Function was not the highlight of the party by a long shot. The DJ that followed him, who went by the name of DJ Nobu, was the one who made such a profound impression on me that I would not forget for an incredibly long time.
After his set I was in a state of bliss, while already yearning for my next dose of DJ Nobu’s music. At the time he was very unknown in the European scene, hence I figured that it would be highly unlikely for me to catch him back home in Amsterdam. After my travels in Japan I returned to Amsterdam and I had been waiting for a few years before he would gain popularity in Europe.
March 2nd, 2017, Amsterdam
Wandering the streets of Amsterdam, as a message on my phone appeared. It says: ‘’Do you know DJ Nobu?’’ Sent by my father. I was quite confused as to why my father sent me this message. He is not into techno music at all and never mentioned any DJ by name before. As a huge DJ Nobu fan, having seen him back in 2013 during my travels in Japan, my curiosity to why my father sent me this random message peaked enormously.
I immediately responded by telling my father that he was my #1 favourite DJ ever since I had seen him play the most mesmerising set in Tokyo, in 2014. My dad replies: ‘’The lady that just gave me a massage is close friends with DJ Nobu.’’ My jaw dropped to the floor. What are the odds that my favourite DJ, who I have been wanting to see in Europe for a very long time, is close friends with my dad’s masseuse? Hence, I decided that I wanted to meet this woman to see if this all was true. I told my dad to let me know when his next appointment is with her, so I could meet her.
Interestingly, a few days before I got the message, I noticed my absolute dream lineup at Berghain. It was a lineup that was dominated by some of the biggest names in deep techno from Japan; namely, Wata Igarashi, Takaaki Itoh and DJ Nobu. Ever since I saw that lineup, I knew that I needed to get inside Berghain for that weekend one way or another. Yet, I knew that it was going to be extremely difficult, as I have had bad experiences in the past trying to get into the legendary nightclub.
The last time I attempted to get into Berghain was in August 2016, for the Ostgut Ton Nacht. I ended up waiting a total of 7 hours in line, while getting denied entry twice. At that point I was extremely demoralised. I made the decision to not try to get into Berghain anymore without being on the guest list.
Not for a second did I actually think that Ona, the Japanese masseuse, could put me on the guest list. This idea for some reason seemed too good to be true in my head. ‘Surely, something would cause me to prevent to attend this event. It would be too perfect if I could get into Berghain for my first time for such a dream lineup.’
At the end of their next appointment, I showed up at my parent’s apartment and meet Ona. We had some difficulties communicating, as Ona’s English was quite limited. With the help of some of the Japanese I picked up when travelling there and the little bit of English Ona knew, we were able to communicate to a basic degree. I found out that she is indeed a close friend with DJ Nobu and they communicate quite regularly. We chat for a while, and after some time I try to ask her if it would be possible for her to reach out to Nobu and find out if there is a spot on the guest list for me for the Berghain party.
I realised it was perhaps too soon to ask such a thing from someone I just met. The party at Berghain was already taking place in 2 weeks, I knew that if I didn’t ask at that moment, it would be too late. So, I decided to simply be direct and ask her, as I had nothing to lose. She said that she would contact Nobu and let me know if it was possible.
Having travelled in Japan for 3 months during my gap year, I learned that when a Japanese person says they will do something, they will follow through. I felt very confident that she would at least get back to me. Yet, I knew the chance for me to be on the guest list would be slim. The whole situation just seemed to good to be true.
One day later, I see an email in my inbox from Ona. It says: ‘’I asked DJ NOBU, he says Sam is guest. He will play March 18 at Berghain, 10 hour set.’’ When I read that email feelings of ecstasy were running through my body. I was absolutely over the moon with joy. I would have the privilege to see DJ Nobu play a closing 10 hour set at the legendary Berghain. A place I have been trying to get into ever since I started getting into techno.
The fact that I would be able to see DJs that are on the deeper spectrum of techno music (e.g Wata Igarashi, Takaaki Itoh, Nobu) during my first visit to Berghain made it even more special. My taste had been shifting more towards deep techno in the year before this party. Right after the confirmation, I immediately texted my friends Kevin and Tim from LA and DC and told them that I managed to get on the guest list. I explain the whole situation of how I managed to get it and immediately they knew how special this was. Not much later they had booked their flights. (Yes, their passion for techno runs that deep)
March 18th, Berlin.
We decided to enter Berghain quite early. The first DJ that we wanted to see was Wata Igarashi, he was playing around 8 am on Sunday morning. We were just too excited to wait until 8 am, so we got in several hours before his set. Tim and I went in together and waited for Kevin at the end of the staircase leading up to Berghain. We were slightly worried. ‘What if Kevin got denied?’. That would surely cast a shade on the weekend. Luckily, not much later we see Kevin heading up the stairwell to the dance floor. A feeling of profound relief emerged. We were in for a weekend of our lifetime.
During the opening DJ, Norman Nodge, I was just simply in awe of the club, the grand magnificence of it all. The aesthetics, the sound, the crowd that danced like there is no tomorrow. I had never experienced anything like that in my life. Where normally clubs were a treat for the ears if they had good sound, Berghain felt like a treat for all the senses. I would just look around the huge concrete building for minutes at a time and realise that the hype around Berghain was 100% justified. There is no place on earth like this.
After a while we decide to check out Panorama bar, where nd_baumecker was playing. At this point I was not as occupied with the music as I usually would be at a club night, I was still discovering Berghain and processing all the sensory images I came across.
The DJs that followed Norman Nodge downstairs were Vatican Shadow and Ancient Methods going b2b. They were playing aggressive industrial techno with what sounded like machine gun samples among other abrasive sounds. It was not the style of techno that I came to Berghain for. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see what that kind of music was like in that setting. The collaboration between Ancient Methods and Vatican Shadow was also a fascinating thing to witness. Ancient Methods would just calmly mix one track into the next, whilst Vatican Shadow is screaming and waving his flashlight to the people in the crowd. Regardless, Tim, Kevin and I were counting the minutes until Wata Igarashi would go on.
Berghain started to empty out a bit once Wata started his DJ set. I was wondering ‘Is it emptying out because of the style Wata has, which is in stark contrast with the industrial Ancient Methods b2b Vatican Shadow?’ or ‘Is it just due to the time slot that Wata is playing?’ The latter explanation made more sense to me, because during weekend-long parties in Amsterdam the time between morning until early afternoon on Sunday is always the least busy time.
Wata managed to take us on a journey in a state of bliss with his soothing, subtle, hypnotic tracks and mixing them ever so eloquently. He was pushing the Funktion 1 sound-system to its max potential with the subtleties, hypnotism and the great depth that lied in the music that he was playing. At a certain point during his set, he played his own track Void on Svreca’s imprint Semantica. This was one of the most memorable moments that weekend for us. Kevin, Tim and I really loved that track and had been talking about it quite a lot in the weeks before the party. We were sincerely hoping that Void would be played that weekend. The fact that it was, made a perfect weekend even more perfect.
As Wata was finishing up his set, I was starting to feel my legs getting more tired. Takaaki Itoh was the DJ on after Wata, so there was no chance I was going to miss that. I drank a few Mates and pushed myself over my own fatigue.
Itoh played a 3-hour DJ set and followed Wata in style, playing a driving, trippy hypnotic set. The way he was DJing made it sound like the entire set was one track. Every track followed the next flawlessly. I was able to identify more tracks during his set than Wata’s, as he played quite a few well known tracks in the style of deep techno. The danceable groover P2ME by Peter van Hoesen was one of them, as well as Red Pool and A Shell of Speed by Anthony Linell. About 2 hours into Itoh’s set I started to feel extremely tired. I decided that it was time for a rest.
After an 8 hour rest, I went back to Berghain for the grand finale of it all. A closing set by DJ Nobu. I arrived about half an hour before his set and caught glimpse of him standing near the DJ booth and approached him. I told him that I was Ona’s friend that he put on the guest list. He smiles and gives me a hug and thanks me for coming. I told him that I was super excited for his set, how special the entire weekend was to me and thanked him from the bottom of my heart for making it happen.
From the start until the end of Nobu’s set, I was dancing almost non-stop. I knew that Nobu was a versatile DJ who could go many different directions. However, as he was playing a closing set like the first time I saw him in Japan, I expected him to push the BPMs up a bit more than usual. This ended up being true. Nobu played very driving techno, in addition with a few more upbeat straightforward bangers like Dax J – The Invisible Man, which made the crowd go nuts. Nevertheless, Nobu did stay true to his sound.
The 10 hours flew by so astoundingly fast. It led me to fully understand what is meant when someone says ’time doesn’t exist in Berghain’. Over the course of his set, Nobu started to also go into deeper territories, as the crowd in Berghain got smaller. About 7 hours into his set Nobu transitioned into the mesmerising track Zulu Vortex by Voices from the Lake. This was one of my favourite tracks to date, ever since I heard Peter van Hoesen mix it into his own production Breach, at De School one year prior to this moment.
During the entirety of Nobu’s 10 hour set, his Japanese DJ friends who played earlier; Wata and Takaaki Itoh would stay and support, as well as IORI. IORI did not even play that weekend, but happened to be in Berlin that night. It goes to show how special this weekend was at Berghain.
Comparing the Nobu set I experienced three years before in Japan and his Berghain closing is difficult. The duration of both sets differed greatly. Nevertheless, the energy he created with his set did remind me a lot of the first time I saw him. A ruthless driving set that is impossible not to dance to. Even people that were not really big techno heads were dancing intensely. This became evident when the closing set at Panorama bar ended and Nobu was still playing downstairs. The more house oriented people joined us on the dance-floor and were dancing as much as everyone was throughout Nobu’s set.
The last few hours the lights in Berghain switched on. Was the party finished? No, Nobu played a few more tracks as all the lights were on before finishing his set. Eventually the music stopped and a great applause followed from all the people that managed to stay until the very end. I see Kevin and Tim at the wardrobe and we clearly have to process all the astonishing things we experienced in the past 30 hours.
Dreams do come true, sometimes helped along by a shiatsu massage.
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