This post appeared originally on THUMP UK.
A few weeks back now, I found myself hurtling to east London on the overground. It would have just gone half ten, and as I swayed through a handful of timelines hoping to eradicate the actuality of the time that sat between me, four beers deep, and my bed, the relative silence of a quiet carriage was interrupted by the universal mating call of the pissed up British punter.
"MATE, MATE, MATE, MATE, MATE, MATE, MATE, MATE."
Swaying in my general direction was a gaggle of blokes whose arms were covered up to the elbow in wristbands of varying hue and thickness. It transpired that they'd spent the day, and a sizable chunk of the evening, at Printworks, the large-scale daytime venue that sits in Canada Water with a massive branch of Decathlon for company, and they seemed to have had a very jolly time of it indeed.
Fittingly enough for a club that evidently wants to be seen as a British equivalent to Berghain, in size and scale if not opening hours and door policy, there was only one DJ they wanted to talk about. In fact, so excited were they, so unbelievably amped by that they'd just seen, heard, and presumably taken, talking wasn't enough. No. Chanting was the order of the night.
"BEN KLOCK! WE FUCKEN LOVE BEN KLOCK!"
"HE PLAYS AT THE BEEEEERRRGHAIN!"
"SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA...KLOCK KLOCK...SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA...KLOCK KLOCK!"
I'd never heard heard any DJ get such a rapturous response outside of a club. Sure, I've stammered and stumbled through six-pint tributes to my favorite selectors, but largely I've kept them consigned to the beer gardens of South East London. There was something almost charmingly boyish about it—even if the loudness and physical domination of space that comes with groups of inebriated men shouting on public transport was as unpleasant and boorish as ever.
It was one of those moments in which the idea of a near total coagulation of the underground and the mainstream was made manifest: we were watching men in smart shoes chanting the name of a German DJ like he'd just slotted in a last minute winner against the local rivals in a playoff semi-final second leg.
A few nights later, in bed, an hour or two after I should probably have tried to lull myself to sleep, I was lamenting just how truly rancid Instagram's explore function is. For all the talk about it being a social media platform for people who want a respite from the polyphonic babbling of other social media platforms, the lifestyle-bragging service still exposes its massive user base—about 600 million people a month—to a multi-glottal assault; a kind of pictorial library of Babel, with less cabalistic reasoning and more weekend breaks to Lisbon.
With the flick of a finger I was thrust into Dante's seventh circle of hell. Down there in the dank darkness, amongst the minotaurs and harpies was Ketflix & Pills, an account which bills itself as providing followers with "comedy for rave and festival lovers across the world," imploring them to "TURN ON POST NOTIFICATIONS" to ensure that they "NEVER MISS A MEME"—because the thought of not seeing an image of a shirt that says "JUST DO KET" in the Nike font, before you've been tagged in it by 12 of your mates, is beyond what even the great Italian himself was able to conjure up.
Amongst the memes about the sesh and what happens when Ian Beale is on the sesh and realizes that the sesh is over for another few days, was something of an anomaly. Nestled between a video of a group of anodyne lads waving "ket shovels" in the air to the sounds of "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc., and an image which equates a winking Vladimir Putin to your best mate still having some drugs left, is a clip of two DJs playing a record. That record is "Freak Like Me" by DJ Deeon, and those DJs are Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann.
I was reminded of the lads brigade on the Overground, and suddenly it became clear: the two DJs have become mascots for a crowd entirely other from their Teutonic roots.
Let's make one thing clear: Klock and Dettmann do not have banter. They don't ride about in rickshaws, DJ in fancy dress, or release their own bottles of whiskey. They play stripped-back, mechanistic techno in and at some of the biggest clubs and festivals in the world, usually separately but every so often together, clad in nothing more outrageous than a t-shirt or a vest. And yet, this pair of po-faced techno titans have become embraced by even the cheekiest of the cheeky clubbers.
From Todmorden to Totnes, voluminous swathes of young revelers spend the working week eagerly awaiting the kind of release that only the sight and sound of an unsmiling German bloke playing pitch-black minimal can offer.
That isn't to say that music can or should only be enjoyed by certain kinds of people in certain kinds of situations, but there is something undoubtedly strange about the mass appeal that these two uncompromising selectors have found over the past few years. After all, not every DJ makes the jump from deepest Berlin to student-heavy clubs in Bristol without breaking a few metaphorical bones in the process.
Unfortunately, there's the Berghain-affect. I say "unfortunately" because as of last year, referencing Berghain has become as bait as you can get—when The Telegraph are giving you inside tips in how to secure entry into the world's most famous photo-free techno club, you know things have gone a bit wonky.
While there's something oddly wonderful about a nightclub that refuses to engage in the kind of frivolity which has seen a large amount of the places people like to party in rebrand as creches with kickdrums become arguably the most famous in the world, what's even odder is the heteronormative appropriation of a sound synonymous with unabashed openness to queer experience.
Through no direct fault of their own, Klock and Dettmann are the handsome, and more importantly straight face of the Berghain and Ostgut Ton operation. With their sharp and serious features, they look like a couple of lads who'd be just at home in the pages of GQ as they would behind the booth fretting about an EQ. There's a cleanness to them, a sellability, and that might be one of the reasons why the sesh-heads have grabbed on to them.
Yet not even the most ardent believer out there could have predicted this, because this isn't what's meant to happen to vanguards of a supposed underground—even if that underground melted into the mainstream, and we're living through a period where clubbing's current conservatism is becoming more and more estranged from its radical roots.
A major facet of this smoothing-over process is the rapid increase in popularity that techno, techno DJs, and techno events are enjoying here in the UK. It seems that from a Drumcode night at the Warehouse Project to a Ketflix and Pills Instagram post, our nation's jaded youth cannot get enough of big-room grey-scale belters—the kind of music that Klock and Dettmann have worked their arses off to become the grand ambassadors for over the last few years.
Make no bones about it—this is as utterly humorless as music gets. The kind of techno they've popularized and played on the biggest stages possible has about as much joie de vivre as a morgue, and still you'll hear it blaring away on the beaches of Croatia or sliding out into the sunset on the San Antonio strip. Which makes it all the stranger that the MDMA-and-smoothie set, a spider's web of social groups largely predicated on geographical closeness and a shared interest in making jokes about penis size, have made it their own.
Perhaps, though, that makes sense. If, as it seems to be, the sesh is self-involved nihilism masquerading as one big funny joke, then why not soundtrack it to the brutally joyless strains of Berghain-friendly techno? Why not stifle the laughter that you surf through life atop with whatever Len Faki 12" the lads in vests are rinsing that month? Because, after all, even the sesh ends at some point.
All together now…
"SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA..KLOCK, KLOCK…."