Many narratives and allegations concerning ://about blank and its political position are currently making the rounds. We’ve received criticism, encouragement, questions and had labels attributed to us from many different sides. Especially on social media channels, insinuations, malice, false allegations and other forms of nastiness against all participants in this debate are rife, which probably are characteristic of every shitstorm, and contribute little or nothing to mutual understanding. Against this background, various djs and party crews have in part been put under enormous pressure to cancel gigs or events at ://about blank. Guests, staff and organizers are anxious because they feel pressured to take sides, pro or con.
With the farewell statement of the Buttons crew and the open letter of the Berlin Nightlife Workers Against Apartheid, two longer critiques from our closest environment are already on the table. We would like to comment more extensively on the accusations made, the conclusions drawn and the narratives in circulation, but we are aware of the limited reach of detailed texts and how quickly they are forgotten in the storm of social media. In addition, we are aware that many of those who party in our club don't care much about the issues raised, or don't want to position themselves. That's why we’ve decided to create an FAQ on the various labels, criticism and ambiguities. For those who wish to know more, we have compiled a detailed list of the context and justification for our contested positions.
Despite the longing for simple answers and texts bustling with buzzwords, we have refrained from condensing the considerations we wish to convey into Insta-tiles or Facebook stories. Instead, we have taken three approaches to the conflict in the following statement, with which we would like to expand the space for evaluation, emotional disarmament and depolarization.
This text was – as well as the FAQ – mainly developed by people from the collective than runs ://about blank, with the involvement of the ://about blank's clubrat (our elected crew representation) as well as some representatives from various teams. In the run-up, we asked our promoters for feedback and had an intensive exchange with some of them. The entire crew of ://about blank had the opportunity to give feedback, which was incorporated into the text in several places. The "we" used in the statement does not claim to speak for all those who belong to the club or are active in it.
For more than ten years, ://about blank has been run by a collective whose composition has changed again and again over the years and which takes responsibility for the club as a cooperative. Currently, the collective consists of fourteen white people, half of them cis-female and half cis-male, some of whom have queer identities. The majority of these people see themselves politically on the radical left. Their autonomous, feminist, or post-anti-German (post-anti-deutsch) influences shape the self-conception of ://about blank as a political technoclub.
What makes ://about blank tick, however, is created by many more people: over a hundred people work with and for ://about blank. In addition, there are just as many event crews and numerous artists from diverse scenes and communities from many parts of the world – and of course the countless number of guests. All these diverse people make up this place and its atmosphere.
We share many political convictions, but it is also clear that it is not possible to speak for all these people. Many different positions and approaches to all kinds of topics coexist here: Blankies come from different traditions, currents and schools of thought on the political left; there are people who have been involved intensively with certain political issues, others have arrived at this space coming from a (sub)cultural socialization. Still others primarily want to work in a club and some trust in their leftist gut feeling or just in having their heart in the right place.
Despite all its diversity, ://about blank is and remains first and foremost a techno club and not a political group, even though the space has a political approach and is often involved in debates and political movements. Under these conditions, however, the formation of detailed, joint positions can only ever remain momentary and fragmentary – and must always remain open to change. It must take into consideration the fact that the baseline conditions from which we negotiate with each other are unequal and that we can never all come to an agreement on all issues, nor do we want to.
First and foremost, our goal is to create an inviting space where people from different political and subcultural contexts can come together with people who "just" want to party, and engage in the exchange of culture and content, on and next to the dancefloor. A space for mutual curiosity and fascination, for interest in one another and experimentation. And where political framing does not overshadow partying and coming together with strangers, but creates an interplay in which all those who go along with it can experience and gain something out of it.
Even in the founding collective, we were by no means in agreement on all politically relevant questions, nor did we claim to give priority to a specific fraction of the left. ://about blank was intended to be a left-wing space for parties and debate that could endure and deal with contradictions and different opinions, and not define itself through dogmatic demarcation. At the same time, a clear stance on the exclusionary, exploitational and degrading logic of German mainstream society and its pressure of normalization was and is essential for ://about blank. Therefore, there are also boundaries and red lines in all political topics, which, however, can also shift and change.
Our decisive wish to avoid the often destructive dynamics of separation within left-wing debates was also the basis for our decision not to take a position or side in the debate (which has been going on for decades within the left) about the right stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For us, it has been clear since the founding of the club: the so-called Middle East conflict cannot be solved on the dancefloor. In the current controversy, it is exactly this fundamental decision which is again being questioned.
The farewell of the Buttons crew in June shortly after the opening of the sektgarten season hit us hard and – besides the feeling of temporary helplessness – intensified our internal exchange and self-reflection process once again in the form of crew meetings, dialogue with affected promoters and artists, as well as with the involvement of external conflict counseling.
There is a long, close connection and intertwined history with the Buttons crew (until 2016 Homopatik). We built, advanced and shaped this place together. We have always considered the Buttons crew as an essential part of our blanky-family and their legacy will be to have filled this place with countless magical moments, wonderful music and hedonistic queerness. We have grown together and made ://about blank what it was until now, or at least before covid. Our political and cultural commonalities have always outweighed the contextual differences. It is especially bitter and painful, that after far more than a hundred parties and over ten years together, our collaboration is now ending because of a single topic.
In the Buttons farewell statement, what we have in common is appreciated and emphasized, and we are grateful for this, also because it shows that it is not about retrospectively damaging the euphoria we shared together, or that we misunderstood each other so thoroughly in everything, as we have in the question of the "rightful solidarity" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The controversy that led to Buttons' breakup statement has been brewing for several years and has been fueled in particular by the Israel boycott movement BDS. For years, campaigns directed against Israel's policies have been drumming up support for an extensive, also cultural boycott and have painted a very one-sided picture of the conflict. This situation escalated for the first time in ://about blank in September 2018, when we cancelled an edition of the queer/non-binary/diverse party series Room 4 Resistance (r4r) in response to the boycott call #djsforpalestine. There was a lot of internal and external criticism on that decision, but also a lot of approval for the clear stance against the structurally antisemitic character of the boycott campaign. At that time, we did not succeed in defusing this escalation in talks with r4r or in averting the permanent parting of the r4r crew, which we regret until today.
In this ongoing conflict, we have always experienced the Buttons crew as mediators and bridge-builders who, despite contextual differences, wanted to avoid further conflict regarding this issue. However, the pressure to position themselves against us – apparently also intensified by the recent clash between Israel and Hamas and the distressing pictures from Gaza, the West Bank and from Israeli cities – grew stronger. We underestimated this pressure to take position for one side. And we have to acknowledge that the Buttons crew did a lot of the emotional work and mediation for ://about blank in parts of the queer community and did not feel sufficiently supported in this. In Buttons' statement, we read great disappointment and frustration that we did not change our reserved, non-partisan stance on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict into a position against Israel and in favor of the Palestinian side as Buttons desired. At the same time, we are surprised and confused at how Buttons summarize our positions and use buzzwords, projections and attributions that we find inaccurate or politically wrong, but with which we have to deal with or want to contradict.
For example, ://about blank is labeled as an “anti-deutsch” (anti-German) club that applauds all of Israel’s actions and that supposedly silences Jewish and Palestinian voices. Anti-Deutsche are generalized as slandering any criticism of Israel as antisemitic and opening the door for racist attacks against people of color who express pro-Palestinian views, as well as antisemitic attacks against progressive and left-wing Jews. Although the Buttons crew does not substantiate these accusations, they have a corresponding effect on social media. In order not to provide any further pretext for another round of escalation in this arena, we have therefore decided to clarify in the FAQ in which aspects our political self-understanding differ drastically from Buttons' presentation.
Nevertheless, we don't just want to provide clarifications, but to try to understand why we fail to understand each other in this question, why we have a completely different perception of some aspects of this issue and end up on different planets.
The monthly Buttons parties were an important bridge between communities, a place of excessive development and unprejudiced encounters, and have taught us a lot about the need and necessity for identity, visibility and representation, which is sometimes difficult to understand from a predominantly white, German-centered perspective. The parting of Buttons – like the departure of Room 4 Resistance almost three years ago – will not only deprive ://about blank of a very special party series, but will also cut many connections and channels. We feel that this is a great pity and a huge loss, just as we reject and dismiss the hostility and insults directed against the Buttons crew as shameful.
://about blank has grown considerably over the years, attracting more and more people and encouraging exchange. Like the Berlin techno scene as a whole, it has become more diverse, post-migrant and international. People from a wide variety of backgrounds and with different identities as well as younger generations have become part of ://about blank – and yet there are undoubtedly still substantial and informal barriers, and the club is still a mostly white-influenced place of predominantly German leftists.
As much as we welcome this process of change and have tried to implement it at various levels, we have not sufficiently reflected on what this change may mean for our political identity.
We realize that some of our basic positions are not understood, not shared, or are being questioned, that they need new substantiation or an inclusive, undogmatic culture of debate, and that they are anything but obvious or self-evident to people with different life experiences and realities.
The part of society to which we speak publicly has changed, just like those who are associated with the positions we formulate to the outside world have become more diverse. In the crosshairs of our polemics and interventions is almost always the dominant German mainstream culture, along with its racisms against migrants, refugees, Sinti and Roma, Black people and People of Color, its sexist and binary, homo-, queer- and transphobic images of gender and societal roles, its virulent antisemitism and its chauvinist principle of efficiency and exploitation. But if the irreconcilability with which we usually address the majority of the German mainstream society also hurts those who are not meant by it, the chances are high that we have expressed ourselves inadequately.
Beyond mere misunderstandings it is unfortunately coming again and again to provocations, exaggerations and insults on social media, especially in connection with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. When we are told by non-Germans that derogatory, contemptuous or derisive statements by guests perceived as “anti-deutsch” who identify with ://about blank have an intimidating or threatening effect on them, we understand that we are not meeting this aggression and harm with the necessary attention. It is precisely these verbal attacks that promote polarization and further lower inhibitions on both sides, so that many who position themselves between the frontlines, or take a differentiated approach beyond the fronts, are not heard or deterred.
Inspired by debates on identity politics, we are increasingly confronted with political approaches that make the so-called place of speech, concrete experiences of discrimination, and external distinguishing features the central criteria for the permissibility or correctness of a position. As a result, we learn new things about the biographical origin of a position, about visibility of marginalized positions, or about the classification of what is said. We become aware of the privileges with which our own place of speech, our own perspective, is associated. At the same time, there is the danger of homogenizing discriminated groups – and different positions are made to disappear. A purely essentialist reference to collective victimhood or an unwavering identification with the "oppressed" runs the risk of suppressing any contradictions and rejecting the exchange of arguments, which must be measured against universalist-emancipatory values.
When we are confronted with the accusation of instrumentalizing German guilt for the National Socialist extermination of Jews in order to silence progressive Jewish and Palestinian voices, we realize that our negatory attitude towards all efforts to rehabilitate Germany as a "normal" nation state with all its power options isn’t self-evident.
At the same time, we perceive left-wing Jewish and Palestinian voices, for example, as far too diverse and heterogenous to be able to be claimed as star witnesses for the correctness of this or that position.
What we have to acknowledge is that our deliberate reluctance not to unconditionally side with the people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank who are undoubtedly living in an inhumane situation, and to blame Israel wholesale for this, is not understood or shared by some, but is read as the very opposite – as acquiescence to “the oppressor" and as a lack of empathy for the suffering of “the oppressed". We must ask ourselves how we can succeed in making it clear that we consider this binary, simplistic logic of “friend or foe” to be insufficient for doing justice to the decades-long history of conflict and its seemingly hopeless dynamics. The longing for simple answers and clear enemies in the face of an increasingly complex and conflict-ridden global situation seems to us to be the greatest temptation for turning to authoritarian and anti-emancipatory explanations of the world.
Our recent positioning against antisemitism in Germany in its various forms had a particularly polarizing effect. We are confronted with the opinion that a condemnation of antisemitic incidents in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is only perceived as balanced if the situation of the Palestinians is addressed at the same time, or if anti-Arab racism or anti-Muslim resentment is criticized as well. The first question that arises here is why the concrete discussion of antisemitism is particularly difficult within the left, why it cannot stand on its own, and why it is so often suspected of being abusive or interest-driven. Accusations of antisemitism are undoubtedly instrumentalized for right-wing agitation, for example, when the allegation of imported antisemitism is used to racially stigmatize migrant milieus and refugees – and to make people forget that Germany is the super-spreader when it comes to antisemitism. However, to dismiss criticism of left-wing or Islamist antisemitism per se by referring to the strategies of right-wing discourse plays off the issues of antisemitism and racism against each other.
Behind the call to decenter ourselves and not to keep circling around the German perspective, we recognize the legitimate need to give space to other, non-German and BIPOC perspectives. We recognize the demand to take a step back, to engage with other contexts, to listen and to learn. It becomes problematic, however, when decolonial argumentation blames the memory of the Shoah for standing in the way of a broader historical reappraisal of colonial crimes. This is directly connected to the current so-called Second Historians' Debate in Germany, which questions the singularity of the extermination of the Jews not from the right, as in the 1980s, but from the left – and opens up a false and unnecessary competition between victims. It seems all the more important to us to justify why we refer to German conditions with everything we formulate: in a post-Nazi society in which racism and antisemitism are still a deadly part of everyday life, as most recently shown by the attacks in Halle and Hanau. And that, on the other hand, we consider ://about blank as part of a progressive, radical left that holds on to the utopia of a liberated society for all people worldwide.
Even before social media dominated the debates, inner-left disputes about the “right” position or political line were often characterized by bitter hostilities and attempts to exclude the opposing faction from the own community, to mark them as deviants or to frame them as right-wing. We don't want to take part in this and would like everyone who parties with us to do the same. This by no means excludes discourse and dispute, but makes the exchange of arguments possible in the first place.
On September 14, 2021, we took a first step in this direction with the panel discussion "Boycott on the Dancefloor – Club Culture and the Israeli-Palestine Conflict" (listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/about-blank-berlin/boycott-on-the-dancefloor-clubkultur-der-israel-palastina-konflikt). In the coming months, we want to continue our attempt to discuss some of the controversies addressed in this statement as well as some of the positions outlined in the FAQ at further events.
Beyond the current polarization lies a space for debate, which we would like to keep open in order to discuss all the questions that get lost in the cacophony of social media, on an equal footing: racism and antisemitism, identity and prerogative of interpretation, (post)colonialism and the different contexts that shape our positions.
We would be happy if as many people as possible would participate. Because despite all the love for repetitive music and hedonistic excess: without emancipatory discourse, there is no autonomous disco.
://about blank, october 2021