Berlin is the place to be for electronic music. This is a known. But even for the enthusiastic electro-aficionado, sometimes you’re just not feeling the usual minimal techno and house music varieties. You’re craving something different: something darker perhaps, something heavier. Maybe you’re in the mood for something a bit more deliberate, aggressive, dirty. Whatever your reason or compulsion, consider treading off the beaten party-path—consider a little underground place called Subland.
Situated on the fringes of Friedrichshain, this rough little gem lies just across the S-Bahn track, on the other side of Gürtelstraße, that imaginary, mostly-psychological outward bound that implies a passing from the familiar safety of the local ‘hood into the vast wilds beyond the Ring. It’s actually not that far. Proximity to stations at Nöldnerplatz, Frankfurter Allee, and Ostkreuz assure this. No, the journey is far from arduous, but the undeniable sense that one is moving away from Party-Central understandably increases the inertia-factor.
What if it’s lame there? Then everything else is soooo faaaar awaaaaay …
Tell your internal dialogue to cool it. You’re broadening your music horizons.
The folks at Subland cater to a harder sound, one that finds encouragement in the fact that, due to their industrial location, they have no sound restrictions. Thus they assemble a delightful bouquet of aural destruction including, but not limited to, genres like industrial, dark techno, hard drum-n-bass, breakcore, dubstep, and metal. This is their running theme: hard, dirty, bass-heavy.
1:30am: You pick your way along the heavily graffiti’d Wiesenweg, following an auditory breadcrumb trail of bass beats, growing in morselage as you draw near. But don’t succumb yet to the hypnotic compulsion of the four-on-the-floor beat. You’re premature. This nicely-lit gate with its line of supplicants belongs to Kosmonaut, a fine establishment in itself, but not the one you’re seeking.
Go further, further into that dark night—but not too far. You’re close.
Listen—your ears tuned to a subtle, off-kilter syncopation. A haphazard polyrhythm is unfolding, a not-so-distant beat pulsing another tempo to challenge the first. Follow this. It leads you right next door, just one seemingly-abandoned warehouse further. No lines awaits you here, and no obvious club entrance either. In fact, it’s not immediately obvious that a club is here, except the telltale 4/4 anthem being transmitted from the very foundation of the structure. It has all the semblance of an unguarded back entry, or perhaps a back lot where you don’t belong—oh, but you do belong.
Descend into darkness and bass.
Like many Berlin clubs, Subland finds itself inhabiting the crumbling remains of aged infrastructure, the likes of which underscore the stark, dystopian vibe of the music generated within. This club is a stripped-down, no-frills kind of place with all the warmth and charm of a subterranean bunker—it’s not a place for the claustrophobic. Décor is basic, functional: minimal lighting, dark walls, a few benches behind wooden partitions, netting on the ceilings—not sure if it’s intended for sound-dampening or for cosmetic effect. It doesn’t really matter. No one comes here for ambiance or artisan cocktails. People are here to chase the bass.
The pressure: they know exactly what they’re doing here, creating a soundscape which deliberately, almost gleefully, chooses to sacrifice quality and clarity for pure monstrosity. Giant bass bins squat directly on the club floor masquerading as ogreish tables. Drinks inevitably come to rest here, sonic waveforms manifesting as spectral geometric patterns in their liquid contents.
The sound system, at least on the main floor, is provided by Clear Sound, an eastern European company that boasts a sound on par with Funktion-One. Whether that’s technically true or not, you won’t be able to tell. The acoustics in this place are about only one thing: sheer bone-rattling sound pressure. Good or bad, they’ve got a low end like you’ve never encountered anywhere else.
Indeed, you become aware of sound as a physical thing, a bodily assault. Various organs and extremities are set to physical vibration with the changing tonalities. Breathing becomes altered. If you close your eyes you can start to feel the molecular bonds of your DNA crumbling away. There’s a place near the bathrooms, a sonic no man’s land where the sound waves wash up, an accumulation of wild vibrations, collecting like an island of lost things.
The dance floor keeps going throughout the night, bringing together an eclectic sampling of bassheads, metalheads, Goths, old-schoolers, and new-schoolers. After a while, dancing is the only thing you can do here. It’s the only thing you want to do. Would-be conversations are worn down, eroded into the most brusque of assertions, their most basic components, until nothing remains. Human contact falls away, no longer relevant.
Finally, you commune solely with the Sound, moving as if in a trance, perhaps experiencing a form of ego death, becoming one with the bass—I hope you remembered to bring earplugs. Even if the “no sound restrictions” bit is only a myth of marketing hype, it certainly feels true. Ear protection is a must. The sound here will punish you, will damage you. It will leave you feeling changed, smaller than you were.
An eternity later, you emerge, shaken, from that sunken kingdom. You trace your way back the way you came. Frail, trembling mortality beats in your chest, marking its quiet, terrestrial 4/4 cadence, anchoring you once more to the rhythms of reality. The sun is already coming up again.
Article and photos submitted to and published via Berlin Logs.
Update: my article and photos are featured in the July 2015 printed edition.