Review: Paul Kalkbrenner @ Elsewhere

May 2, 2018

When you pay over three hundred bucks to see the Rolling Stones in concert, they better play Paint It Black and Gimme Shelter. Of course, you can’t always get what you want, but for that amount of money you buy a one-way ticket to hearing the hits you love. The ancient rockers, however, have pretty much frozen their hit-canon in the ‘70s, so that all their popular tracks have ripened throughout the ages. How different is that for one of the world’s biggest techno DJs? As much as he was trying, I could get no satisfaction.


 [ Paul Kalkbrenner giving the bad example on multiple levels ]


Paul Kalkbrenner has become the Eminem of techno: a white artist in an originally black music who gained most of his fame through an autobiographic film (Berlin Calling), in which he proudly shows his troublesome background. Because the movie landed well with a broad audience, his soundtrack CD skyrocketed the popularity of what many viewers then dubbed “techno”. Indeed, it is no soul music, but some tracks were so unctuous that he became the techno-equivalent of what Skrillex did to dubstep. 


On 28 April 2018, to promote his new album Parts of Life, Paul Kaulkbrenner played the Elsewhere, located at the heart of Brooklyn’s up-and-coming club district. Tickets ranged from $25 to $40, and the place was sold out once the doors opened. The last DJ to play before him, John Barera (definitely one to keep an eye one!), had the crowd going wild with his intense beats and stroboscopic light show. Yet what followed was rather tragic.


Paul certainly started off right in attempt to knock down the fully-packed hall. Throwing in some new material, it felt like he had it all under control. However, his dilated pupils and on-stage chain-smoking might have been cool in shady techno-bunkers deep down in Berlin, but this was just not that kind of night. We witnessed a synthesizer supernova - a long gone star but, by popular demand, still perceptible. The “live”, so proudly put behind his name on the line-up, must have derived from the fact he had a camera faced at him throughout his set, so that we had a constant close-up of him smoking his awkwardness away on a big black-and-white projection behind him.


 [ The crowd, eager for sing-alongs ]


The majority of the audience seemed to be dancing through his set, hoping for his worn-out hits to still be played. They were in luck. Paul succumbed under the unspoken pressure of the audience and ended his set with Sky & Sand, only to walk off and on stage to also click play on a nearly unedited version of Aaron - the opening track of the Berlin Calling soundtrack CD. Generous as he is, he apparently did not want to leave the audience waiting until they put their earplugs in on the subway to grand them final satisfaction. Even when it meant selling out for the second time that night. 


In some way it might have been an historic night: New York, a key city to techno’s development, now acknowledged, accepted, and apparently approved of techno’s inauguration to the realm of pop concerts. The structure of support acts leading up to a some-hits wonder, who opens and closes with singles and now also “plays” encores, portrays the transition of yet another originally underground genre into the mainstream. This in itself is not so much a problem, as it has been the way of the world of pop music since the 1950s. The real tragedy here lies with the DJ, as we could see Paul upset over being the captain of a sinking ship. A ship he had set sail on to cross the Atlantic, but like the Titanic it would only become a mawkish cinematographic tragedy.

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