Which Electronic Music Scene Is Cooler, L.A.'s or Berlin's? A New Event Explores Both

L.A. and Berlin: officially sister cities. But are they really that similar?
L.A. and Berlin: officially sister cities. But are they really that similar?
Los Angeles skyline: Aydin Palabiyikoglu; Berlin skyline: Fernando Arconada (via Flickr)

Almost 6,000 miles and two languages separate Berlin from Los Angeles. But in this century, they have a lot in common, besides sharing the vague, diplomatic title of Sister Cities. The past decade has seen a rise in both cities’ reputations as places to be if you are a young creative, a maker of sorts, or someone seeking out cool. They’ve outpaced older guard cultural magnets like San Francisco, New York, Paris and London, all of which had quite simply priced a lot of people out. In many cases (relatively speaking, at least), L.A. and Berlin offered a similar (or better) experience at a cheaper cost to broke-ass aspirational artists, the backbone of any creative scene.

As L.A. and Berlin evolve and speak to each other more and more, there’s been a circuit developing connecting both cities, one traveled by DJs, tech bros, visual artists, fashionistas, filmmakers and foodies. But they’re both growing so fast and becoming so desirable that the skyrocketting cost of living in both places threatens to stamp out the culture that made them so vibrant to begin with, leaving us with a bunch of questions.

Is it too late to stave off the inevitable for Berlin and L.A.? Have both cities already lost their edge? Are there too many underground events in L.A. and Berlin stretching the crowds too thin? Is L.A. becoming San Francisco? Does every bar have to be an exposed-brick gastropub shilling [insert East Asian food trend of the month]? Is all our creative vibrancy just making our neighborhoods so desirable that some developer will soon show us the door?

A free festival called From Berlin to LA is coming to various L.A. venues this weekend with the purpose of investigating and trying to answers some of the questions concerning gentrification, cultural production, and what these two megalopoli have in common, and also what they don’t — all through the lens of the cities' two respective electronic music scenes.

Berliner Nadia Says, founder of cultural platform Your Mom’s Agency, had the idea for From Berlin to LA about a year ago. Originally from France, she had lived in Berlin for a while before she came to L.A. on a whim. “You know, when you live in Europe, you think everyone in L.A. is plastic people,” she explains. “I went to see some shows in L.A., and it wasn’t full of plastic people. I thought there was something cool going on here. Found a cheap flight and got a room on Craigslist. And then I started developing the idea for this festival.”

The festival, which has had support from the Goethe Institute and other media and cultural entities, will feature panels on differences in copyright law in both countries, tech and gear demonstrations, performances by musical artists from both cities (and a few who split their time between the two), and some good old-fashioned DJ sets. Participating artists and DJs include Anna Cavazos, Perera Elsewhere, Robot Koch and Dersu.

Says is perhaps most excited and intrigued about a panel discussion featuring reps from Mount Analog, XLR8R, Thump and others from the electronic music ecosystem, which will investigate how people in both places may seek out similar music, but in very different ways. “For example,” she says, “in Berlin, what time do you go clubbing? Between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. And in L.A., I guess you go between like 10 and 2 a.m.?”

Obviously, in California and many parts of the States, we are stymied by laws governing liquor sales that are remnants of our Puritan past. Berlin, by contrast, has a much more lax approach to its social laws and enforcement. Berlin is like a functional libertarian society mixed with a socialist version of capitalism, whereas L.A. is more small-"c" conservative than the “liberal Hollywood” cliche would have you believe (as we were all reminded by this year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy).

But it’s not just politics and liquor laws that underpin how these two cities differ. It’s also individual attitudes towards commerce. “In Berlin,” Says argues, “we are used to not having money. And we do things anyway, because we want to do them. And here [in L.A.], I find if someone doesn’t have a big budget, they don’t want to get out of bed and do the work. In Berlin, of course, we want to make money, but we also want things to happen.”

Even while trying to set up this weekend’s events, she found this issue playing out in a concrete manner. After reaching out in L.A. to local equipment rental houses, she “got a quote to rent some Technics [turntables] for $2,000. and I told him that’s a third of the budget for the whole festival. I sent a couple of emails and found something for $600. In every city, I think there are two networks: There’s the official network with the high prices ... and there’s the DIY network, where things are affordable.”

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And then she cuts to the essential difference between the two cities: “In Berlin, I think the DIY is the majority, and in L.A., the DIY is the minority, and a lot of people don’t know it exists.”

Also, in L.A., instead of mainstream EDM and pop creating trickle-down interest in underground music, she has seen the opposite. “In LA, I think the mainstream takes away from the underground. For example, last night I went to a fancy Hollywood club [Le Jardin] and Wolf + Lamb were DJing. For me, if I see Wolf + Lamb, I don’t expect to see them play such a shitty, mainstream club. It’s the mainstream that’s trying to be cool and stealing from the underground.

"Why would you book these DJs?" she argues. "The crowd is shit. They don’t know music. They don’t know how to have fun. Just put on a Rihanna mixtape. Then what’s left for the underground?”

From Berlin to LA takes place Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5 and 6, at the Goethe Institute, the Standard Hollywood, the Ace Hotel and Bold Space. For more information, including a complete schedule, visit yourmomsagency.com.


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