In 2015, I was at Internet Xplorer, the heaven-on-earth, now-defunct warehouse club in Berlin. The tracks were slappin’, the bag was full and a man in his late thirties would not shut the fuck up. “Berlin is over,” he yelled into my ear as a generous helping of spittle migrated from his chapped lips to my face. I nodded and smiled, hoping this would end our encounter, but it seems that a DJ taking a selfie mid-set was too much for him to let go of. “Fuck all of this Instagram shit. It used to be about the music, about having fun.”
Ironically, this guy was the only thing keeping me from having fun that evening. I went to “grab a drink at the bar” and although I assured the lamenting fellow I would return, I left him on the dance floor to ruin someone else’s night. Less than a decade later and I have crossed the threshold to become a Club GIHT (Guy In His Thirties) and every now and then I catch myself shaking my cane at the new generation.
I’d like to preface this next part by saying that I have TikTok. I use it. I love it. And sometimes I feel powerless in my addiction to it. So no shade to the app. Sure it was developed with nefarious intentions to control people’s minds and spy on them, but that’s a small price to pay for limitless hours of entertainment and on-demand distraction from the fact that I’m a Club GIHT. So I don’t blame TikTok for infecting the club scene I love so much. After all, it was originally an app for children to post videos of themselves dancing.
Recently, I was queuing to enter a club which starts with a “B” and ends in “erghain”. As I was enjoying the last few minutes of silence I would have for the next six to 18 hours, a group of youths in front of me began “composing” a TikTok about getting into the club. Several times I locked eyes with the more seasoned veterans in the line, as we gave each other a reassuring nod that these kids don’t stand a dark-room’s chance in heaven… but they fucking got in. As the bouncer tried her best to find where on my person I had hidden my drugs – ya that’s right, I got in too, this ain’t my first rodeo – I reflected on why the admittance of the TikTokers was so upsetting.
There’s the obvious “no photos” rule, which reflects the Berlin scene’s traditional mentality that a club should be a space where people are free to be themselves (their extremely high selves) without worrying about being caught on camera. But I think it goes deeper than that. So much of the perception of club culture is based on authenticity, that everyone can go to the club to “be themselves”. And making a TikTok is a very inauthentic process to witness. Watching these youngsters break character to check if they looked cool and nonchalant enough in the video really rubbed me the wrong way. Me, an extremely authentic 30-year-old man.
But is there really even an audience for this on TikTok? According to my algorithm, TikTok is a place for simple soup recipes, vinyl record recommendations and male pattern baldness treatments. However, after a thorough, 10-minute journalistic investigation, I was shocked to find how big some of these folks on ClubTok are. There are step-by-step instructional videos for all the latest techno dance moves – a tutorial for “The Italian Stomp” has racked up three million views?! There are also enviably fresh-faced content creators in H&M harnesses and Matrix-esque sunglasses advising you on how to talk, how to act and what to wear to get into Berghain.
But just as I was getting ready to shake my cane in indignation once more, something caught my eye. It was a section of TikToks about how to club safely: which drugs don’t mix, what an overdose looks like, awareness around spiking.
I’ve long held on to the idea that getting rejected from a club for wearing the wrong fit is a humbling experience that every new clubber should have. But maybe having access to the information so many of us learned “the hard way” isn’t so bad. I’m sure someday the Berlin public school system will pilot a “Raving 101” course, but until then maybe it’s to my advantage that the new generation of club kids have a head start on how to party. At the very least it will make them less annoying to interact with on the dance floor.
Which begs the question: am I turning into that social media scrooge I encountered back in 2015 – the disgruntled club goblin I so deeply loathed in my youth? No, fortunately I’m not that busted just yet. Besides, it doesn’t matter what age you are when you and four friends are piling into a toilet cubicle. All phones serve the same purpose at that point.