Why Berliners love Punk and Techno so

25 Oct 2010 // places

The Germans love their techno and punk. I was recently in Berlin, and, although there is a staggering variety of cultural things to do, if you were to go out at night to see some music, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of options outside a drug-fueled techno club or a dank punk bar. Berlin thrives on an atkins-diet of techno and punk, and I think I know why.

So when my friend J visited me Berlin, I got to witness the phenomenon known as "German dancing". So here we were in a hipster bar, the Kaffee Burger, and it's cool and all, decorated in this dark-red interior with ornate finishings. Some Australian synth cover-band is playing. In bars in the US, even if there's not much dancing going on, you are pretty much guaranteed to see at least one or two girls in the room, the "dancer" archetype, burning up the dance floor with their sick and silky moves.

Halfway through the set, we see the German equivalent of the "dancer", notable, because everyone else is kinda standing there like a bunch of trees. The motion is, to put it mildly, rather distinctive. It's a whole body motion where the hips thrust back and forth in a large amplitude to the main beat, and the rest of the body follows. This, we find hilarious, and while we are speculating whether it is a personal signature or not, I turn my head 90 degrees and see another girl, all the way on the other side of the room, making exactly the same move. Once is an accident, but twice is a conspiracy, and J dubs this the "Berlin Booty Swing".

Seeing the "Berlin Booty Swing" with its strong emphasis on the beat brings to mind a psychological study I'd read about on the ability for different ethnic groups to perceive rhythm. Roughly divided into three sample groups of whites, latinos, and blacks, the study found, to a statistically significant degree, differences in the ability for each group to perceive different types of rhythm. Now every group could tell that the music was either a straight beat, or a syncopated beat, but the whiteys were unable to detect the rhythm changing in a song. Whiteys can only hear a beat if you keep it simple.

But is this a case of nature or nurture? I don't think it's a case of a missing rhythm gene. A lot has to with the how important dancing is to your culture, and what type. Now of course such a study only pertains on the average, so you can't say that all whiteys don't have rhythm. I had been in the United States enough to know that you can always find a few white girls who can freak with the best of them. I suspect that the ethnic melting pot is rich enough to help the outliers hear what rhythms they are missing. Latino and african-american influences run deep even in the blanchest part of the US. Germany is a rather more homogenous affair, and the cultural heritage of German dancing is restricted to schuh-plattler (shoe-slapping) in leiderhosen (leather-pants).

Still, whether you can hear the syncopated or not, dancing is universal. Another study I'd read recently studied the nature of "attractive dancing", where a hundred odd men were asked to dance in a laboratory, and the motions were captured on computer. The motions were then mapped onto a virtual avatar, and a bunch of women were asked to rate the avatars. Good dancing was identified with motions that showed great flexibility, core body strength and variation. Bad dancing was associated with repetitive, stiff motions with little core body movement.

So here we can finally put all the pieces together to why Germans love techno and punk. Unfortunately, German culture have given Germans a general inability to pick out any complex rhythm other a straight beat. But Germans are pretty fun party people. They can down gallons of beer all night and party till the sun comes up. Partying means dancing, and dancing needs music. So when Germans party, they need a music that can cater to their limitations: they need a music that is steady and have a strong beat. Despite the great differences between techno and punk, both types of music share similar rhythmic qualities: both have a very strong emphasis on the beat, and no variation in the song dynamics. Both punk and techno are so steady, you could do a Berlin Booty Swing all night long.