By: Isabelle Brättemark
Photos by: Shannon Heenan (Instagram)
Organizing club nights in Berlin 2023 is more challenging than ever. Rental costs and artists fees are skyrocketing. The accelerating gentrification of the city and competitiveness between in-different parties is especially difficult for smaller Queer collectives who are putting themselves at huge financial risks when putting on club nights for their communities.
Queer collectives Bleak, SUBVERTED & BRENN. sit down to discuss how nightlife in the city has evolved over the past few years, the pressing need for more collaboration and community focus, and what the future may hold for organizers of Queer events in Berlin.
“Due to the commercialisation of the club scene and the rising prices in general, also due to the inflation, people with fewer resources (which structurally include BIPoC, Queers, trans, non-binary, inter and disabled people and the intersections between them) simply cannot afford to go out anymore”, Hybral from SUBVERTED explains, and continues;
“We are also facing the challenge of finding the right club that does not only have open dates, but also isn’t too big or too small and that is in addition willing to invest in new (Queer) event series to give them a space to help them grow.”
BRENN. co-founder Flemish Fetish agrees “Everything has gotten so expensive, especially rental prices of clubs and we barely get something in return... Also artists are forced to ask for more money, due to the economic consequences of COVID and the war. This has forced us to raise entry prices and then even still we barely get any profit. Sometimes we organize a party and DJ's earn more than we do for 2 months of work.” “There are other challenges as well” Whattis, co-founder of Bleak, adds “these are more cultural. We're living in this shallow and hollowed out era where value-driven work and substantial attempts at transforming the scene isn't necessarily appreciated, but social media activism is somehow "good enough" for everyone. There's a lot of performative allyship going on, which creates a sort of mass-delusion that real change is happening, while the reality looks the same or worse for those in the most vulnerable positions.”
One way promoters are fighting this is through increasing collaborations through events. While sonically collectives don’t always align, Queer promoters care more about aligning values between partners they plan collaborations with, and actually see bridging different musical styles as a way to bridge Queer people who normally would not meet in the city.
“SUBVERTED has done a few collaboration events so far, primarily with the aim to reach a broader audience and to bring different (Queer) communities together who would usually not meet in club spaces because they simply have a different taste in music. The collaborations were not only very beneficial in terms of community building and exchange but also in terms of creating new exciting concepts as well as mutual learning regarding event production.” says Hybral.
“Of course working with another collective isn't always easy. First of all from a curation point of view but also personality wise. We all have our ways of doing things and that can cause challenges sometimes, but so far our experiences have been great and super rewarding to see the final result.” Flemish Fetish adds. Whattis jumps in “Despite the challenges that comes with working together with other people, organizing bigger club nights across seemingly different sub-communities is a good reminder of that we’re working towards the same thing; liberation and recognition for all Queer people on the dance floor and in society.” The competition within Berlin’s nightlife overall and in-between Queer collectives is another factor that makes event organization increasingly more complex. “Even big Queer events are challenging for the Queer scene because they rather became a place where cis-heterosexual couples can „experiment“ and „explore their sexuality“ than a place where Queers really feel comfortable.” says Hybral, and continues; “Next to all money related challenges as well as gentrification, huge commercial events that are happening in the scene is a big factor why underground spaces are so precarious and threatened and is also the reason why there is so much competition in the city: every promoter/club wants to have the most famous line-up, and maybe even needs one to keep everything running and attracting enough people.”
Flemish Fetish has tried to find solutions to make that part easier. Besides just event collaborations, they have tried to make communication easier between Queer promoters so they can plan accordingly.
“The fact is, there are A LOT of parties, collectives, clubs and especially the Queer promoters are all "fighting" over the same audience. I started an initiative last year with 30+ promoters to have a shared event calendar. Here we put in our dates and then when planning our next event we can see who is organizing what & when. This has helped me a lot with choosing when to do the next BRENN. and I heard it has helped others as well.”
Whattis adds “There's this mentality that you might lose if you don't guard what you have, but that's a huge lie we tell ourselves because that's what capitalism has taught us. BRENN.’s shared calendar for event organizers is a great way to break these imaginary walls we put up in between us. Something we do at Bleak is to actively share other Queer collective’s events on our channels. It's a tiny act of mutual support that costs us nothing but might help the organizer, if only a little.” Collaborations can also help spread the financial risks of throwing events, while connecting Queer communities and introducing people to new music, collectives, and people. By reaching a wider audience, as well as sharing costs, promotion, and bookings, promoters have found that both the work and finances are more plausible. While the pay-out may not be as great for any single collective, it makes potential losses easier to handle. “People don’t seem to be aware of how much a club night costs. One event at a club in Berlin with two floors and a break-even around 500-600 guests costs around 10.000 € to produce. This includes paying: club rent, club workers, awareness teams, artist fees, booking fees, transportation and accommodation costs, design, digital and analogue promotion as well as catering (drinks and food for team and artists). What’s not covered in that is the work of the collective/promoter, something Flemish Fetish mentioned already.” Hybral explains. Ultimately, making Queer events both financially sustainable and accessible will require a lot more communication between promoters, clubs, DJs, audiences, and funders. Making organizing events more affordable is important, but systemic changes within Berlin’s policies to curb gentrification and combat the rising costs of the city are necessary as well. “I think the only way to make it more affordable is funding or cheaper venues. But both aren't easy to find or access.” says Flemish Fetish. Whattis agrees “Trying to get funding to organize events currently seems like the best option, but that in itself requires the luxury of time as well as the ability to write an application. Making funding more accessible is definitely something that needs to be considered.”
Hybral notes that “To address the existing threats to these spaces, communication with politicians and political discussion on a broad level is crucial. Every actor and participant in Berlin’s club scene has to participate and to speak up.”
While the Queer scene in Berlin is increasingly hard to navigate from a financial perspective, it is as important as ever. Members of all three collectives and the communities they are part of serve as testimonials as to how crucial it is to protect not just LGBTQIA+ spaces, but Queer specific spaces which are more experimental in theory.
“I feel that the Queers honestly rule Berlin and hope we as a community feel empowered to do more things, fight for more safer (institutional) spaces and can walk the streets safer.” says Flemish Fetish and continues; “Berlin HAS had and STILL HAS a big influence on my development as a Queer person. I feel that it gave me space to develop my true self a lot! Becoming more aware of topics, issues, etc. But moreover also my identity. Just recently I discovered that I actually don't identify with He/him pronouns anymore and prefer to use They/Them. Something I probably wouldn't have felt comfortable communicating back home in Belgium.”
“Since moving to Berlin 7 years ago, I finally felt like I belonged and could explore myself as a Queer identifying person. To be surrounded by people who had come further in that exploration definitely fast tracked my self-acceptance and opened up possibilities that I hadn't even thought of. It's liberating as f*ck, and it’s something we must preserve.” says Whattis.
Bleak, BRENN., and SUBVERTED all see major changes that need to come in the nightlife space in Berlin. Ensuring equitability both at events and outside of them is increasingly important, while also focusing on Berlin based communities. Part of this requires reverting the pervasive need to grow with smaller events and venues that can adapt to a growlingly anti-underground ethos in the city. So what does the future hold for Queer nightlife in Berlin?
Flemish Fetish says “For BRENN. our focus will actually be to decrease the amount of club nights and focus more on cultural events. This depends on external funding. Also I think the future of nightlife in Berlin lies more in bringing our nightlife culture to OUTSIDE Berlin, with the hopes of attracting more out-of-towners.” “The future needs to bring more equitability and justice to the table, where those in power hold themselves accountable and focus on transformational change and not just surface level “activism" that silences the oppressed. Historically, change doesn't come from those who benefit from their privileges, however, but from those who do not enjoy said privileges.” says Whattis and adds; “I see that Queer nightlife in Berlin might be forced to become more anarchical and DIY to sustain itself for now. I already see a revival of more underground and low key parties, and I think that's the path more and more organizers, including Bleak, will be following.” “I feel like Berlin’s club scene needs a complete reset and restart: We have to create new spaces outside the commercialized big clubs. We need more smaller spaces rather than a few big spaces. We have to go back to a culture of unannounced lineups to make it less about names, fame and business culture, and more about community.” says Hybral, and continues; “In terms of finances, there not only has to be more transparency but also more redistribution practices inside clubs between different events and promoters: big, successful parties compensate for the smaller, community focused events. Solidarity and allyship are widely used terms in club culture, maybe it’s time to start practicing them again.”
Join Bleak, SUBVERTED, and BRENN. for their collaborative event “Queer Chaos Theory” at OXI on May 13th, 2023: