If you’re planning to visit Berlin for the first time, take this mix with you on the plane. You’ll have had a good solid dose of Berlin’s vibrant, experimental spirit before you even touch down at Tegel.
Boogybytes Vol. 4 is the latest in a series of mixes put out by the Berlin electronic label Bpitch Control, and the first to be conducted by Ellen Allien herself, the label’s founder. With it, Allien continues her career-long sonic love letter to the city that continues to inspire and fuel her. She calls the mix “emotional, noisy, trippy, weird, and sexual," and it’s a testament to both her deejay skills and to Berlin’s music culture in general that it is in fact possible to make emotional, sexual music out of the dry, almost surgically clean palette that dominates the city’s collective musical endeavors.
This mix — as well as the output of its curator and her label — is resolutely the sound of Berlin. Allien claims that one of the main inspirations for her music is the culture of reunified Berlin, and her 2001 album Stadtkind is dedicated to the city. Berlin is a city of deejays: Mix culture is woven tightly into the fabric of the metropolis. It seems any spare space — in hair salons, cafes, bookstores, bars — seems to have been outfitted with a pair of Technics.
Berlin is also inordinately large, around eight times the size of Paris, having begun its life as a cluster of smaller villages that eventually condensed into one. As a result, it’s not hard to believe that if the city didn’t have an absolutely stellar public transportation system, it would cease to exist and dissolve again into an urban mishmash. Not only are the minimal beats promulgated by Bpitch Control excellent sonic counterparts to the rhythms of an urban culture whose blood is pumped by the Berlin metro system, but like the trains, those beats also keep the city moving and keep it together.
Stylistically, there’s something about Berlin-style minimal techno that loves to hide in this city that’s almost too big and empty to be a city, and to be discovered in the most unlikely places. It loves to spring on you in full-party mode after you’ve wound through five flights of an abandoned factory overlooking the Spree river and made your way to the rearmost corner of the roof, where at two in the morning it’s just starting to slip into high gear.
Boogybytes Vol. 4 isn’t going to transform minimal techno, a genre that has been in need of new ideas for a few years now. That’s not to say that the mix is predictable: Allien’s intuitive song selection and curveball mixing style both ensure against that. Although there are some techno producers, in whose most recent offerings one can detect a sense of stylistic unease with the genre’s contemporary limitations, if this mix senses that something’s rotten in the state of minimal beats, it’s not letting on.
Instead it’s engaged in a strident affirmation of the Berlin sound, and concomitant with that, of the way that cultural identity can be artistically manifested, actively participating in the artistic experimentation that allows Germans today to assert a kind of cultural pride without the negative trappings of patriotism that have understandably haunted them for sixty years.