Black clothes, poker-faced DJs, heads firmly down on the dancefloor: all these features are commonly found within the sphere of techno, dance music’s most serious genre. Meanwhile, internet memes are considered one of the more frivolous aspects of 21st century culture. Disposable jokes that exist solely for the minutes they cause mirth, before being cast into the obscurity of web cache folders.
And yet Berghain, the long-standing, revered centre of European techno, a club hosted inside a stark and imposing former power plant built in the era of Soviet-controlled East Berlin, has without doubt become the scene’s biggest meme.
That’s not to say the institution itself is the embodiment of a joke. There’s not going to be a *freeze frame* on the dancefloor if a record scratches in the booth (though you may find yourself clutching your fist in anger like Arthur after being turned away at the door). The club is at the bleeding-edge of electronic music, inviting everyone from Skepta to PC Music to The Black Madonna and its parties are some of the most energised and downright fun in the world. But it has become a very prominent subject of dance-orientated humour.
Cheeky homages to the German nightspot hit the internet with more regularity than a Norman Nodge kick. Last month a campaign was announced to fund the development of an unofficial Berghain card game, which sees players occupy the role of notorious doorman Sven Marquardt in vetting the clientele allowed entry, featuring characters like ‘leather daddy’ and ‘ketamine fiend’. It’s impossible to imagine anyone showing the slightest bit of interest in a playing card game based on any other club. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine anyone showing the slightest bit on interest in a playing card game outside of a casino. Yet word of Berghain ze Game has spread through fans of dance music faster than a 3am come up, highlighting the club's eminently viral status.
Popular Tumblr blog whenyoulivein.berlin has multiples pages of gif content caricaturing Berghain attendees’ behaviour. A Facebook page dedicated wholly to Berghain memes titled Just Berghain Things has garnered thousands of likes, luring in fans with content spanning image macros referencing hallmarks of the venue to famous artwork slapped over shots of the interior. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam becomes even more homoerotic when imposed onto a dark cubbyhole of the club. It was on the JBT page that we discovered the Lego Berghain mock-up that took social media timelines by storm, reaching new levels when one fan spent money purchasing the bricks to construct it IRL. Considering the infantile behaviour many techno fans relentlessly display in internet comments and @ mentions, it wasn’t too surprising to see this children’s toy meme come to fruition.
There was the Dutch festival, Beyond, that constructed a fake Berghain front purely to turn people away at the door, a par that people willingly queued for, over and over again, while actual artists they’d paid to see were playing elsewhere onsite. Similarly, Berghain Trainer, an online game that simulates the experience of getting past the club’s door staff proved an internet sensation, attracting thousands of players and coverage on the website of historic daily broadsheet The Daily Telegraph, as well as basically every dance music news site going.
The simulation claims to analyse your body language and voice through a webcam and microphone and make its entry decision on those factors. However, a keen-eyed Tumblr account called Raving Code reverse engineered the game and discovered the results are completely random, with entry only possible between your eighth to twelfth consecutive attempt. But still to this day people flock to play the game, proudly posting success screenshots to Twitter and videos to YouTube, despite these just proving they wasted a good 10 minutes or so of their life slogging through the arbitrary simulation at least eight times in a row.
The examples go on. There’s an app that crowdsources information on the queue length outside so you can plan your arrival perfectly. If you do get stuck in a lengthy line, then time can be whiled away playing the Berghain-themed spoof of addictive mobile game Flappy Bird. And if you’re more interested in real life avian animals, then this designer can be commissioned to construct a Berghain bird box.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Berghain’s position as dance music’s biggest meme is how it’s begun seeping into the mainstream. Hollywood actress Clare Danes name dropped the nightspot on international talk show Ellen in 2015; earlier this year r’n’b star Frank Ocean cited it as an influence on his album ‘Blonde’; and Conan O’Brien was spotted doing a comedy routine outside the entrance. This is representative of dance music’s continued rise to eminence in popular culture. Celebrities construct personal brands and sell themselves as people as much as their output, and commonly strive to exhibit the notion of cool. Adopting Berghain as an influence represents hitching on the coattails of the coolest aspect of an increasingly cool – and inspiring – subculture.
Richard Dawkins, who coined the term meme as meaning "an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture" in a Darwinian sense of gradual and unnoticed evolution, distinguished internet memes as contrived and traceably proliferated. Berghain is cool, understanding references to Berghain is cool, and proving this understanding to others is cool. The sharing of its memes is linked to this emotional response; a twinge in your cerebral cortex as you recognise the reference, smile, and click the RT button, re-asserting all three points.
Writing on the website PhilosophyTalk.org, John Perry noted the parallels between internet memes and genes, reflecting “like genes, [memes] compete with each other. The memes that win survive. The memes that lose, die off.” This highlights that the spread of Berghain memes reflects Berghain’s unparalleled position as the finest and most renowned institution in dance music.
Of course you won’t see a Lego version of a by-numbers basement dive, because no one would care. Of course a festival won’t construct a front resembling a commercial club, because no one would care. Of course an A-list actor won’t reference a chart-pop venue on prime time TV, because no one would care. And so on. The only time you’re likely to see clubs of this ilk in a meme is to Berghain’s left in a “you versus the guy she told you not to worry about” tweet.
I remember my first, and only, visit to the hallowed halls of the ‘hain. Staring hard-faced at Sven whilst my insides squirmed and my heart pulsated at a BPM faster than the one currently being pounded out through the club’s system (one does not simply get in to Berghain, after all). The elation as I was waved through. The electric thrill inside that never dips, with everyone so delighted to be there, having gotten past its famously picky bouncers and onto its life-affirming dancefloors. Berghain is fucking brilliant, basically. And so it makes perfect sense that it has become a meme: it invokes an emotional response like no other club can. Its meme status is of no detriment to its reputation, it just so happens that in 2016 cultural significance unfolds online in disposable-yet-celebratory internet humour. Now, can anyone name a more iconic duo than Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann? I’ll wait.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter
Eliot Wyatt is a freelance illustrator and regular contributor to Mixmag. Visit his website