So yesterday was a Universal Day Of Culture and also yesterday the Facebook page Grunerløkka Alternatives announced that the crazy hot-spot for Techno fans -‘Naboen’s Techno Kjeller’- is closing its’ doors for good. Reason given? Police wants to stop the spreading of techno culture. Day of Culture you say?! Last year Berlin authorities exempted Berghain form paying taxes because they accepted techno as high culture, as valuable as theatre and other cultural forms of expresson. And Oslo celebrates the Universal Day of Culture by closing one of very few, and therefore so needed, electronic music venues.
Naboen’s Techno Kjeller
The closure of Naboen’s Techno Kjeller has really hit me hard. I was not the most loyal attendee, and can count the times I made an appearance there on one or maybe one and a half hands. My rate of nights out have generally decreased significantly in the last few years (since I came to Oslo!), as I am really picky not only about the music but also the vibe. Techno Kjeller has always had the vibe box ticked with bold ink. The club was located in the basement of one of the Oslo’s oldest bars with the same old (very old and in no way reminiscent of the majority of older citizens – healthy mountain loving folk with whitened teeth and joggies) men drinking their pints all day long. Situated in trendy Grunerløkka, Naboens’ seems like it’s a mistake, as if someone designing this hipster district, simply forgot to replace it with another barber\bike-accessory shop. In Oslo nothing is an institution (except for the one and true institution which is Norwegian state). New bars open and close, new people come and go (after all everyone comes to Oslo because of money, then many people move to other towns for the same reason, cos the rent is high and the number of qualified work positions is not sufficient). Very few bars in Oslo have history and a unique vibe and Naboen’s surely does and is refreshing for this very same reason.
I was almost ecstatic when I discovered Naboen’s Techno Kjeller as it provided what Oslo’s nightlife is truly missing – the crazy energy which results from a mixture of people from different backgrounds. Of course we had some kids wearing latest edition colourful air max and dressed as if they’re just stepped from the cover of some indie fashion magazine (no judgement passed there, some nights I fit this description too). But then we had some rave veterans, some hippies, many foreigners, these very very old men from upstairs bar with their pints of beer, someone dancing with crutches. I do get it sounds like a strange remark to make and I don’t mean that the success of the club should be measured by the number of people with crutches. But what I do mean is that Naboen’s Techno Kjeller was a truly inclusive venue, where everyone felt welcomed and there was no space for judgement.
The club was also providing a great platform for starting DJs, and there really is a need for such a platform, since there is a lot of politics behind the local electronic music scene, and playing at the two established venues – Villa and Jæger – takes a lot of right contacts. Being a good DJ is not what matters here. Some of the resident DJs in these two clubs are really not that great..like at all. That is not to say that the quality of music was overall greater in Naboen’s Techno Kjeller, it was not. Some of those behind the decks really knew what they were doing, and some were figuring out while they were at it. But the vibe was always so great, that everytime I almost forgot I was in Oslo.
The reason why the closure of the Techno Kjeller has hit me especially hard was because this friday, which happened to be the last friday for Kjeller ever, the music in the basement has blown me away and I was messaging everyone at 4am and even calling folk to say that I had one of the best nights in Oslo. And this ‘night’ was barely 40 minutes. After a very brief dive into Villa’s basement and disappointment that followed ( I only ever go when I know who will be playing and this one exception I made), me and companions walked to Techno Kjeller and to our surprise found ourselves in a queue. Half an hour later we were inside..in a queue to get to the actual cellar. Another half an hour and a beer in a queue later we were down, and a humble boy behind the decks was running this show with the sick reverb-heavy bass and fast dissonant melody. I instantly had a devilish smile on my face and the remaining 40 minutes was pure bliss. MRD is the name of this boy behind friday‘s decks in the Kjeller and it turns out he was playing exclusively his own tracks! I cannot stress my bewilderment about this enough. A lot of it was new-wave and post-punk laden, sick sounds and sick vocals. This was Berlin music! I felt alive again (it’s been a long dark winter) and kept on smiling thinking that maybe I can give Oslo another chance, which is lying all rusty somewhere in a corner of my heart. Turns out MRD is rather new to techno production and Djing! But you and me can find out more about this prodigy soon as I will have him on a friday’s Rushtid show on Radio Nova this friday from 3 to 5 pm, so do tune in!
The bigger picture
But sadly, I am here not only to praise the Techno Kjeller or MRD, but to rant about the general state of Oslo’s nightlife affairs. I am not exactly sure how does ‘no more techno’ constitute a reason for a shutdown of a venue, but in Oslo it surely does. Any new venue with electronic music focus in Oslo faces police interrogations..or more often, it never even comes to interrogations, but rather a direct command to close the doors for good. The same was the case with Natta Fabriken, the opening of which was such a pleasant surprise, as Oslo’s electronic music scene is more or less comprised of 3 venues. It has been only two venues for a long time – Jæger and Villa, until Elefant opened its doors over a good year ago (or is it almost two years?!). I cannot understand how is this oligopoly tollerated. But then again, in Norway we have oligopoly with respect to all services and markets, and tollerance, or rather complacency, is the biggest norwegian value, it seems. Norway is a very special place. There is financial security with one never really having to worry that you will lose a job and will end up on the street. The social services will help you (although the stories of this failing are quite a few). Perfect conditions for having a family, disability benefits and all that jazz (just not techno, remember). It’s all good and well, but it seems like this Norwegian dream has hypnotised people into oblivion.
Is financial security really all we need? It would be, if we believed in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. But today most psychologists agree that Maslow got it wrong. Not only because he downplayed the role of the need for feeling of meaningfulness and of activities which encourage curiosity, but also because he failed to notice that these constructs, which he deemed as superior needs, are actually ways of satisfying the primary needs. That is, creatiivity, sponatenity etc. help to establish social networks which in turn help to satisfy the basic needs. For example, acquiring friends and allies contributes to our survival and acquiring sexual partners helps us to stand a chance at meeting someone with the help of whom we will represent our genes in future generations. Thus, even from a basic biological standpoint, community where people can be their true selves is at the core of all needs, and such a community is truly lacking in this country.
While complacency seems to be the actual norwegian value, the official one is democracy. This is, what we actually get taught in the norwegian language textbook for foreigners ‘Her på Berget’. And yet, I do not feel this democracy and it shocks me how everyone around me is convinced otherwise. Fistly, I believe that it does not take much for authorities to create the illusion of democracy, because the ‘Oil fond’ keeps everyone’s mouths full enough to silence them. It is easy to create the illusion of democracy when there is enough money for everyone to buy the newest iPhone release. Secondly, democracy which can be entertained only by certain groups of people seems to undermine the very essence of democracy. In Norway, electronic music fans are a group with least rights (after refugees perhaps). Our need for a thriving music scene is completely not taken on board, and quite the opposite is the case with police running an abolition campaign. This is not an exaggeration, it is a simple fact. In November , as part of the Oslo World Music festival, Kulturhuset had a screening of ‘Raving Iran’ – a documentary about the supression of electronic dance music in Iran and the two DJs who escaped the country for this reason. In the discussion which followed, among others (like the famous Bassiani club owner) we had Oslo’s own Jæger’s owner, who completely agreed that police is running an abolition campaign and instruct security to throw out anyone who dances with their eyes closed. The authorities are of course aware that closure of Jæger or Villa might cause even the numb Oslovians to express their dissatisfaction and thus allow these instututions to function.
These centrally located venues are luring to anyone who is on a binge drinking night out and has no idea what sort of music will be played that night. A simple and efficient way (used in most clubs in UK) to filter out the drunkens and to ensure that the people inside are the ones who really appreciate the music is to ask people upon entering what DJ did they come to see. However, I cannot forsee this approach being implemented in Oslo, as neither the club owners nor police seems to be motivated to do so. And this brings us to the question..what is police (government) so afraid of when it comes to techno? Clearly it is not the overindulgence in alcohol. Is it drugs? I am quite sure that this is a big part of the story, but what a short-sighted approach to take. The discussion is way beyond the scope of this rant, but as it is evident to anyone entertaining thinking mode and from examples in other countries, what we need is not prohibition but regulation of quality and prevention of accidents. And even if we believed that the authorities trully think that prohibition is still the way to go, it is clear that their thinking is not motivated by the desire to help. This becomes very evident when you see someone being thrown out of the club on the basis of suspected drug use (not to mention that the number of instances where this suspicion is unfounded is almost silly and I could write a separate blog about that). Surely, if you thought the person in question might be in danger, the thing you would do is inquire if they needed any help and if they obviously needed some, first aid trained staff would provide such help (and this is the approach used in clubs in UK where I worked, even with reminder posters in the toilet cubicals instructing on how to take different drugs safely). Instead, the person is simply thrown out on the street. They die or not, is of interest to no one, as long as the death does not take place on the premises of the venue..because the venue will face closure. Great system!
But importantly, I feel that what police is really afraid of, is the building of a tight community which is driven by passion. Now this is surely a threat as it might, as it should, challenge the premise of a Norwegian state, which as mentioned before is …complacency. No one here wants people who are using their own head and dare to raise questions, especially if these people are in a tight community and support each other.
My rant has to come to an end, and I have to make it clear that I am not against the concept of a state per se, I am not an anarchist. I just want a state and society which encourages prospering of culture in all of its forms and which actually lives by democatic standards and not only builds a fassade with a neon sign ‘Democracy’. And I understand that this is a multidimensional problem, as the change has to come from within. And perhaps complacency and conformity are too deep-rooted in Norwegian value system, for this change to ever take place. This is also a vicious circle as the authorities feed this complacency (mouths too full) and the complacency of individuals (is this an oxymoron?!) prevents any reaction and challenging of the norms and expectations. But the political chatter aside, what is clear is that creativity and prosperity of culture requires friction! By friction I mean a blend of people from different backgrounds and environment which encourages curiosity and provides a platform for new talents. Naboen’s Techno Kjeller was one such place and losing it, especially on the day which is meant for celebrating culture, is a rather sad story.
But to finish with a sligtly comic note, imagine the hollowness that will open in the hearts of Naboens’ regulars’ as their fridays will again be confined to those 7 or something pints drank while sitting in one chair. All those flashing lights just a distant memory..