The last time we were at Berghain it involved keeping up appearances at the beer stall a short walk from the entrance—reserved for rejects and those that have had too much already—following a short, sharp, "Not tonight, lads." It was a trip defined by no toilet roll, a McDonald's cubicle, and commuters staring disapprovingly in Ostkreuz train station.
This expedition was slightly different.
Thump have been fans of the Houndstooth crew for some time, so naturally we jumped at the opportunity to follow them around with vague professionalism for their third birthday celebrations. Home to artists like Call Super, Paul Woolford in his UK pirate radio-inspired Special Request guise, Marquis Hawkes and plenty more, the label's roster, as featured on new compilation Tessellations, veers everywhere from proto-dnb to beefy, squelching techno, and pure oddness.
The sister-team to London's Fabric, it's fitting things kicked off with a bash at the Farringdon institution. With the label taking over the venue's infamous Room 2—a space engineered for techno if ever there was one—we arrive to find standard mayhem. There's more of a local flavour to the crowd than often seems to be the case here. Maybe it's the fact this is a hometown imprint that's built a loyal following in the right way—through quality output, rather than overblown marketing. Perhaps it's mere coincidence. Potentially we're misjudging matters. More than likely nobody should give a shit because everyone's here for the same thing.
Several runs to the nearest bar later and we're locked in to Call Super, as he does the business, thundering through muscular beats in a manner we weren't really expecting. Those looking for track names might want to move on, though, this one's all about introducing us to fresh material somewhere between the realms of Andrew Weatherall or Ewan Pearson on upbeat bouncy tips, and solid techno. Followed by Clarke, who serves lashings of electro low ends with plenty of stomp, we finish the session fists firmly clenched.
Hackney's Shacklewell Arms is where we're taken to next. Pulling together a bill composed solely of live acts, this is a very different side to the Houndstooth stable, one primarily aimed at listeners, as opposed to wide-eyed fiends. That said, there's a surrealism that comes with watching Soft As Snow in the flesh. The space age attire and piercing-yet-beautiful siren-like vocals of female member Oda Egjar Starheim are enough to make anyone feel as though they've taken something—even on a Thursday. There's stiff competition on the night, not least from London-based Guy Andrews, who stops just short of blowing the speakers by way of powerful, near-cinematic tunes which sound as if a synth orchestra with a penchant for discordance has crawled into his kit—the likes of which litters his own debut LP, Our Spaces, that has just dropped.
"The Shacklewell gig was pretty intense," explains Soft As Snow's Monsen, when we eventually catch up with them. "Oda was ill and had been throwing up earlier in the day, and on the sound check the Juno decided to have a break down. Luckily it was fine during the gig, but we had to borrow another one for the Berghain show." Friday-into-Saturday may not be what Berghain is best known for, but it's impossible not to recognise something is afoot when we get inside 24-hours or so later. And that's not a reference to the near-complete absence of tight leather. Experiencing Soft As Snow for the second time in two days, in a situation that couldn't be more different from the last, accentuates the talent on show. From pub backroom to internationally revered club, without so much as a falter.
"We were a bit worried," admits Starheim when we ask about performing somewhere with a reputation for purist techno. "But we just decided to do what we do and give it our all. We're thinking it would be amazing to come back and do an even more club-oriented set, maybe earlier in the morning too. If they let us."
The distinctly British flavours of Special Request are then unleashed, and a few surprised faces can be seen beneath the deep blue hues of Berghain's lights. Filled with junglist beats and staccato UK bass tempos, it's not quite the stereotypical sounds of Germanic parties, confirming one thing: this is a takeover in the truest sense. Houndstooth couldn't have arrived with more personality if they tried.
"I don't worry about what other people's tastes can or can't deal with. There's plenty of people that find the really dark jungle end of things way too much," says Paul Woolford once the dust has settled. "But that's only one side of what Special Request is." In an environment like Berghain—no stranger to the more extreme sides of modern music—there is no point in watering down the message.
The night draws on, Shift Work's staccato arpeggios and slamming live rhythms blend into the booze and cigarette smoke that are now permanent fixtures. Heads are like wasps in jars, hypnosis is beginning to set in as wave after wave of quality tones emanate from the venue's blisteringly good rig. Suddenly, the mood changes again. Call Super is polishing the Berghain bill off, and with longer to play in Berlin, things approach the ethereal, or more accurately prog-trance-inflected. The result is many a distorted shape pulled by those holding the room down. It's not packed, but far from empty, resembling those special moments at raves when only those still in to win are present and correct.
"The atmosphere was much more euphoric later on than I normally experience in there on Fridays, which was great," Super explains. "I really enjoyed the set at Fabric too, and I don't normally play so structurally simple but with short sets it's important to maintain the clarity and get what you want to get across concisely. The Berlin set was really pinned around a Nissenenmondai record. After that I just had fun and let things go to a warm, melodic place."
Unsurprisingly, from here it all becomes somewhat sketchy. What should now be the following day is a hinterland between then and there—as is often the Berlin case. Venturing upstairs, Panorama Bar is still heaving to the sounds of DJ Richard, who many of our comrades were particularly keen to see. And not without good reason. His inviting, percussive, driving rhythms round things off nicely. Many people who have been involved in this seven day adventure are here, as punters now their job is done, making for a fitting end to a trip akin to an extended family outing.
"Berghain approached us back in late summer of last year, and we were gob-smacked. I mean, it's Berghain for fuck's sake," says Rob Booth, Houndstooth label boss. "We asked if it was cool to tie it into our third birthday plans, three parties over a week, and they were completely accommodating to that idea...so yeah, chuffed basically."
"We had no idea how the night would go as they don't sell tickets in advance, but seeing over 250 in the queue when the venue opened was something I will never, ever forget."
We're just glad we got in.