Read our interview with Zak Arctander, whose work is featured in this year’s VICE Photo Issue.
Photographer Zak Arcander on Butterflies, Raves, and Being Alive
The German capital is one of the planet’s great party cities, where your every dream and darkest desire has been turned into a three-story nightclub with a merciless door policy. Sadly, everybody in the world knows this, so the only thing worse than the stupid fucking lines outside the clubs are the infuriating tourists within them. Here’s how to avoid pissing off the locals and convince everyone that you’re ein Berliner.
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Legacy of the Squatters | May Day, Refugee Strikes and Neo-Nazis | Berlin’s Immigrants
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT BERLIN
– WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU’RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
The VICE Guide to Raving
Everyone’s a raver now. “Guitar music is dead” is the kind of thing your dad says—that’s how dead it is. Now, it’s all beats and bells and whistles. The future you glimpsed in 90s movies, when everyone’s into techno and has slime-green hair, is upon us.
But while so many of us go raving, the vast majority get it wrong. Be it the drugs, the joy, the communal toilets, or the pressure not to look like a dick, we often end up looking like dicks. We eyeball the DJ, we pump our fists, we kiss Europeans, and we piss our paychecks away on booze and drugs only to throw it all up later that night.
So treat this as Raving for Dummies: a kind of self-help manual for people who can deal with week-long comedowns. Maybe it seems fascistic to tell people how to behave at an event that’s supposed to be about hedonistic release, but watch this video and you’ll understand that perhaps the new graduating class of rave enthusiants could use a bit of guidance.
This is imperative. Looking good is one of the fundamental cornerstones of youth culture; however, that’s not really the case when opting for board shorts and rape-culture-slogan T-shirts. Remember, this all-important sense of aesthetic belonging is what all great cultural movements were built upon.
Except now it isn’t. Some people still make a valiant effort, but really, how long can you spend angling your Night Slugs fitted cap? You aren’t Michael Alig or Sting in Quadrophenia; you’re just one of those guys who gets his fade shaped up once a week. The days of people doing their hair with eggs and glue, ironing their Mohair jackets, or pouring blue paint over their heads are consigned to the past.
Modern club fashion is, by and large, cozily utilitarian—easy to wear, machine-washable, and unlikely to get you attacked at Sunday recovery brunch session. Sure, it’d be great if someone did push the boat out a bit, but in what direction? People standing near repetitive beats have a shameful sartorial history of bleached dreadlocks and furry, flourescent legwarmers; if fashion had a Hague, everyone at Electric Daisy Carnival would stand trial for war crimes. So maybe it’s best to stick with the streetwear.
Sorry to break it to you, but they’re all awful and they’re all bastards. By now, every dealer realized that cutting corners isn’t going to put a dent in their customer base. Especially not when that same customer base strictly buys drugs when they’re drunk and happy to shell out $100 for some mix of boric acid, levamisole, and a cursory dose of whatever it is that they actually want to buy.
The Rise and Rise of the UK’s Student Drug Dealers
If the greatest architects, theorists, and social planners who’ve ever lived were revived to design the perfect marketplace for drug dealers, they’d come up with a dorm. A nest stuffed with trainee adults, bankrolled by mom and dad, waiting like baby birds with their beaks wide open for their next life-changing experience. Dealers might not be allowed to actually vomit the drugs into the mouths of students, but dorms—which are often called “halls” in the UK—nontheless remain a drug merchant’s wet dream. Which is why they’ve been living in them for decades.
Nearly three quarters of Britain’s 2.5 million university students have taken illegal drugs. So it follows that somebody has to be there feeding the country’s future politicians, business leaders, and unemployed actors their weed, MDMA, cocaine, and ketamine (that last substance is up to ten times more likely to be used by students than non-students).
In fact, the student drug market is so sought after that dealers have been known to enroll in colleges specifically to take out student loans and sell drugs on campus. Then, of course, there are all the student dealers—those who begin their higher education with good intentions, but realize that working at a bar isn’t much fun and start selling drugs as a source of quick cash. If you live in halls and don’t know who this guy or girl is yet, take it as a sign that you should get some more friends.
Can MDMA Make You Racist?
You don’t have a lot of time for rational thought after dropping a pill. Three Mitsis in and you’re almost entirely preoccupied with finding out what people’s scarves feel like, or trying to focus on literally anything through your rapidly flickering eyes. So you’d have thought that amid all the euphoria and heart palpitations there surely wouldn’t be space to get hung up on the ethnicity of the people around you.
It turns out, however, that the brain’s biochemistry during a blissed-out club night may not be too dissimilar from its status at a KKK rally. This is thanks to a hormone called oxytocin, which has been described by many as "the love hormone" or the "cuddle drug." The hormone has been linked to developing trust between mother and child during breast feeding, and between partners after intercourse. Its release is also triggered by MDMA, and that loved-up feeling you get after swallowing a pill has been attributed to the effects the hormone has on the brain.
However, research by professor Carsten de Dreu at the University of Amsterdam showed in 2011 that oxytocin had a slightly more sinister side. His experiments revealed that what many thought of as the “moral molecule” actually contributed to what scientists euphemistically refer to as “ethnocentrism,” or what the layman would call racism.
Participants in de Dreu’s study were presented with a dilemma in which they had to deny one person access to a lifeboat in order to save five others. In the double-blind experiment, Dutch men were given either oxytocin via a nasal spray or a placebo. The results showed that those taking oxytocin were more likely to spare men with Dutch names while sacrificing those with Muslim- or German-sounding names. For those who were given the placebo, however, the name of the potential victim didn’t matter.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the UK’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the legislation that effectively banned raves and sent the whole British scene into the expensive confines of legitimate clubs and venues. To mark the occasion, photographer Tom Hunter is exhibiting his series Le Crowbar—a documentation of his time traveling through Europe in the mid-90s in a convoy of converted coaches, ambulances, and buses, setting up raves and impromptu festivals. See it at the "Life on the Road" exhibition at LCC in London’s Elephant and Castle.
After relocating from Dorset to London at the age of 15 and spending some time as a tree pruner in the Royal Parks of London, Tom Hunter bought a year-long ticket to America. It was on this trip that he began taking photos, but unfortunately, as he told me, “I came back and [none of the pictures] turned out. The lens must have been broken or something.”
Nevertheless, it was then that he decided he wanted to be a photographer—so, in 1991, he enrolled at what was then the London College of Printing. During his time at college, Tom got involved in the squatting scene in Ellingfort Road, Hackney—a thriving community of travelers, converted vans, and derelict buildings that later became the central topic of his 1994 graduation show.
Why Is Everyone Freaking Out About MDMA?
MDMA has caused something of a stir here in the US recently. Ever since Miley bragged about “dancing with molly,” like one of those tedious nerds who brags about ripping bongs for breakfast, columnists have had a field day analyzing why we’ve all fallen in love with MD. And policy makers, concerned after a spate of MDMA-related fatalities hit the headlines, have also started to take notice.
As you might expect, not everyone has taken a deep breath, put things into perspective, and reacted in a calm, rational manner. My alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, hascanceled all EDM shows on campus. They don’t want to deal with the negative headlines and potential lawsuits that come hand-in-hand with a molly overdose. Our federal lawmakers even managed to notice the drug as they staged their drawn out game of financial and political brinksmanship.