The best spot on the dance floor is right in front of the bass tower. That’s where I always go because I love the feeling of bass moving and shaking my body around. There, it’s sort of like the bass is fucking you. Sometimes I’ll face the DJ as she or he is working their magic, and others I’ll turn my back to the DJ, facing the crowd, back pressed right up against the speaker so I can feel the music as much as I can hear it. It’s a challenging spot to be in: too loud for some, too aggressive to others. But no matter what club you go to or in which city, pretty much anywhere in the world, the techno fiends are usually the ones dancing by the DJ booth or as close to the speakers as they can get without actually climbing inside.
A lot of people hate techno, and for the life of me I can’t understand why. They say it’s boring because it all sounds the same. Techno is the literal worst because it’s just untz, untz, untz, untz over and over again. Techno sucks because it’s monotonous and doesn’t really go anywhere. But the beauty in techno is that you have to listen to it — really listen. It doesn’t give itself away like pop music does, and you have to be aware of changes in bass, changes in phrasing and structure. It’s louder, sure, but it’s also a lot more subtle.
I like my techno dark, hard, and foreboding. The more doom and ribcage shaking the better! It’s music that challenges you to keep up with it and that’s why it’s so exciting. A great techno record or a great techno DJ set makes you forget where you are, makes you forget the rent is due, or that your dance moves look a little foolish and plus you’re out in society so maybe you shouldn’t be literally dancing down the sidewalk (but dis bass doe), or that you’re dancing next to two gay dudes, or that you’re straight, or that you’re gay.
Techno strips away all of that because it’s music for the body. Any and all bodies. It climbs into you like a spirit, and the only way to get it out is to dance. Unlike pop, which has verses and choruses and hooks and things to sing along to, techno doesn’t give you much. When I have a Beyoncé jam like “Drunk in Love” stuck in my head, I can sing it to help coax the ear worm out. With techno, there’s usually nothing to sing to, so the only way to squeeze the song out of you is to dance to it, to move to it.
I didn’t really know what techno was until I went to Berlin last summer, a city that since the 90s has been a global techno destination. One of my favorite quotes in Tobias Rapp’s excellent Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno and the Easy Jet Set is a line about how there’s no industry in Berlin, only club culture and government. New York has fashion, finance, real estate, Los Angeles has Hollywood, Washington, D.C. has government. But in Berlin, club culture is to the city as Hollywood is to Los Angeles.
Like most techno tourists nowadays, I went to Berlin specifically to peep the techno scene I’d heard so much about. As soon as I got there — I think it was a Saturday afternoon/I was blacked out the whole time idk — I went to a party at 2 p.m. that was HOT. I couldn’t believe there were so many people out on a Saturday afternoon dancing to this music during the middle of the day. It was exciting! It was life! The whole time I was there I went from one club to another, and the music got louder, deeper, fuller. I went to one club that completely changed my life and the way I think about dance music. I stayed for hours. I was drenched in sweat, I didn’t know what time/day it was, and every time I tried to leave the DJ would yank me back inside with another awesome track.
Since that Berlin trip I’ve found myself going to see DJs a lot more than I used to. I’ve always been a show queen, meaning I’m a regular at the concerts of all my favorite bands and performers, sometimes seeing them twice or more — like James Blake, who I have definitely seen three times live. But now I go out for the music. I go out to hear awesome music on powerful, expensive sound systems.
And it’s a problem, because now I really can’t go to gay clubs. I was already averse to them to begin with, mostly because of music, but after that Berlin trip, and after going out in the techno scenes in D.C., Chicago, and New York, the last place on earth I want to be in is a gay club — at least not one where the only music you’re guaranteed to hear is what’s on the Top 40/remixes of what’s on the Top 40. For the life of me I don’t understand why people will pay a $10 cab to pay a $10 entry to buy a $10 drink to hear music that they probably already heard in the cab on the drive to the club/already have in their iPods!
Anyway. My favorite thing about techno is how different the dance floors are from other types of clubs. You go to a Top 40 club, gay or straight, and people are grinding on each other like they will never be able to jizz again. At a techno club, folks dance separately-together. The crowd moves together like a giant mass, separately but together.
The dance floor is a beautiful place. It’s hard to resist the constant pulse of a steady beat, even if you don’t know how to dance to it, and even if all you can do is tap your foot to it. A few weekends ago I was at Smart Bar in Chicago and even while I was dancing I loved watching how people worked to the beat — how they danced, which songs they danced to, and how hard they worked. One girl came with a hula hoop, stood in the corner and basically went nuts. She was so awesome. There we were, all of us in our own little worlds but united under the shared promise of the beat. Bass is a magical thing.