Electronic Music, Gender, and Re-Location of Self  

“When I arrived here I felt home, a real connection between me and the city…” (Silnaye)

“Raw Chicks Night” began in Berlin a few years ago in a well known electronic dance music club called “Raw Temple Club.”  Women who identify as “female” are given a voice and space to perform electronic music in a field that is otherwise dominated by males. A unique and experimental platform for DJs, musicians and visual artists developed, that has grown far beyond the borders of Berlin.

In her English-language documentary film, “Raw Chicks.Berlin”, Beate Kunath portrays eleven extraordinary women from this new scene who have chosen Berlin as their home. They come from a range of countries, including Israel, Croatia, France, Poland, Japan (two contributions), Germany (two contributions), the Czech Republic, Spain and Italy.  Like the venue of their music, Kunath’s documentary serves as a forum for a new voice of experimentation. The women use the film as a canvas, as a field for projecting themselves and their music. The structure of the film lends itself to this relationship. The artists are shown performing their music either at the Raw Temple Club or elsewhere, and talking about their art work. However, nobody asks questions. There is no visible intervention, no narrator comment. The viewer sees and hears the women perform and talk about their music. These two levels of narration sometimes overlap. Through voice-over the women are heard commenting on their music at the same time as they are shown performing their art.

What the diverse performers have in common is a successful search for their space, and that space is clearly Berlin. They have all been looking for a means of expression that allows them to transcend gender limitations and inscriptions. As the film makes clear, electronic music enables them to create that kind of space. In this music genre, as most of the women emphasize, they are able to live this new and authentic kind of expression. They are creating their own language, which they can use to withdraw from and camouflage pre-inscribed gender expectations, and simply be. It seems crucial for these artists that only noise/sound/tone are of interest to the audience. The artists and their gender are secondary, even though the different facets of their gender and personalities inform the documentary.

As the new-found home of these sound artists, Berlin opens up a point of reference to locate the self in a “post-homeland era”, a space for trying out what is not possible elsewhere. Berlin seems to create room for these artists to experience a new sense of self. As Sevilla born Silnaye, puts it, “My real life was somewhere else, not there”, but in Berlin. Berlin is described by the different musicians as a reference point for getting in touch with other like-minded people. It also stands for the opposite of violence and hatred which, as some of the artists argue, dominate many other cities around the globe. Berlin can be seen in this film as a place where artists are able to transform themselves into a “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwerk), thus, becoming a statement themselves.

All of the musicians featured in Kunath’s film clearly identify Berlin with freedom of expression. Playing with gender and its fluidity is something celebrated in Berlin, in conjunction with the ability to experiment with sound and noise. As one of the artists tellingly puts it, “Nobody is just woman, nobody just man.” The spaces in between the categories of “male-female” are investigated, explored and played with. Limits are examined and pushed.

The ultimate liberation from prefabricated models and inscriptions means for the artists the necessity to produce something new and never heard before. This includes falling out of one’s personal comfort zone. It also means exploring and extending one’s own boundaries. On this theme, KRITZCOM (of France) states that Berlin has the perfect structure for such an endeavor, even though Berlin confused her at first. She describes her realization that such a structure is exactly what enables her own music: the absence of a center.

A look at a Berlin map confirms KRITZCOM’s view of Berlin, as it has no obvious center. Without any center of power, binaries can be opened up so that something new and in-between might emerge. As the film makes clear, this is particularly true for electronic music where artists experience an openness that is not rule bound. The featured musicians believe that electronic music is exceptionally experimental and free.  Light and sound, film and performance meld into a new kind of art. This type of art is not easily digestible. Indeed, it resists easy consumption. An awareness remains, however, of the roots and traditions inherent even in this progressive creative activity. In this vein, some artists expand the possibilities offered by classical instruments. The piano is not just a keyboard instrument; it might be used as a string instrument. This allows artists or “sound researchers” (Ercklentz Neumann) to create new spaces of sound, allowing something that has never been heard before to come forth.

Although the musicians individually explore their boundaries and those of society, many of them refer or belong to different groups with common interests. Throughout the film, the city of Berlin remains their central focus. It is an artistic home, but has nothing to do with traditional concepts of homeland or fatherland. It cannot be pinpointed – because it has no traditional center. This decentralised view facilitates a new perspective regarding women and power, depriving apparent centers of power and empowering new voices. Some of the artists’ stage names help to cover up (official) registered identities and recognizable genders. Moreover, Mimicof/Midori Hirano has given herself two different names for two different musical perspectives: classical music and tradition on one hand (closely connected to her native Japan); and then pure sound/noise on the other hand, connected to her new-found home, Berlin. These two names also stand for two very different ways of accessing the world. Indeed, all of the women artists portrayed in Kunath’s film seem entirely at home with themselves. Geographically, artistically and personally, they have “arrived” in Berlin.

Overall this film is an engaging cinematic contribution, redefining what home and belonging can mean within the context of an interesting electronic music scene originating in Berlin.  The limits of language and gender boundaries are explored through the use of a new language (electronic music) and throughout, Berlin appears as the topos of the women’s endeavor. It is no utopia, of course –  but the place for the “re-location of self” to take place.

Raw Chicks Berlin is scheduled for distribution in the summer of 2018. On April 27, 2018 there was an online release,VoD/streaming and downloading (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/rawchicksberlin).

 

Reviewer 

Martina Caspari, née Eidecker, received her M.A. from the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany (1992), and her Ph.D. from UCLA (1996). She held the position of Assistant Professor of German (tenure-track) at Georgia State University from 1996, moved back to Germany in 1999 and taught at the International School Stuttgart and the Swiss International School in Fellbach, Germany, for several years. She has been an adjunct lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences in Esslingen since 2005 and publishes in the fields of German literature and culture, the didactics of literature, as well as foreign language acquisition.