The Gentrification of a Beirut Concert

by Guest Blogger

This is a highly self-indulgent guest post from Adam Fletcher, author of A Picnic for Perverts and creator of Berlin Bingo, a humorous guide to Berlin.

Beirut - Øya 09 by NRK P3

Beirut – Øya 09 by NRK P3, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

My favourite band is Beirut. I say that not for your praise, for to me it is not special or noteworthy to say or know this particular fact. It doesn’t require thought, I know it like I know at the end of this sentence I’ll place a small circle to the bottom right hand corner of its final letter. There you go. There was a time when I didn’t know to do that. Then there wasn’t. So it is with me and Beirut. There were other bands, then there was Beirut. Now I don’t think about it, and here comes another circle.

I made a rule with myself at the last Columbiahalle gig I went to, which was Bright Eyes. I said I wouldn’t go to any more concerts at Columbiahalle, or any venue as large. Personally, it’s just too big a venue for my tastes. Plus by the time a band is big enough to play it, they’ll have attracted a large fan base of assholes, who will have just heard the band’s latest single on the radio and brought a ticket just to shout for that song and drink too much and stand on my shoes. I’ve been a Bright Eyes fan for a long time. Again, I’m not bragging here. It’s a fact and it’s relevant to what comes next. Oh, I remember now, since I discovered Fevers and Mirrors, so for about nine years. I’ve seen them many times. I’ve seen them live only once at a venue the size of Columbiahalle. I’ve also seen them only once at a venue in which, when standing near the front, a guy barged me out of the way, turning to his friend and saying as he past “watch this, this is how you get to the front, Brian (shouting to no-one and holding his drink up aloft) Brian, I’ve got your drink. Excuse me, excuse me, can I just get through to my friend”. After getting several rows closer to the front he then turned to his friend again and said “Who is this band anyway, Bright Star?”  That’s only happened once and it happened at Columbiahalle. Draw your own conclusions.

Columbiahalle by Bernt Rostad

Columbiahalle by Bernt Rostad, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

I purchased Beirut’s first album Gulag Orkestar one week after it came out on a then small label called Ba Da Bing! When it arrived, it had a hand written note on the PayPal receipt from Zach, thanking me for the support. Again, I say this not to brag, well, not primarily to brag, but because it’s relevant to what comes next. I was thinking about all these things last night, as I stood to the right of the stage amongst 3,500 other people and tried to listen to the support act, Helmut. He was great, I think –  I’m not sure because everyone was just talking over him. He wasn’t Beirut after all. So he really should have just got out of the way and stopped blocking the stage. That only would have been polite. While trying to listen to him, I was thinking about how everyone secretly wishes they’d allocate concert audience real estate by level of fandom. Because everyone believes they should be right, right, right at centre front. Within licking distance of the mic. Last night I thought and believed that. Then I caught myself believing it. I started thinking that if a table was assembled of members of the audience last night, ranked by length of their Beirut fandom, I’d have been in top ten oldest. Possibly even in a medal position. Then something else happened. I realised what a prick I was being. It was one of those rare moments where you’re able to step outside of yourself, where the usual heavy fog of self-centeredness lifts enough that you can see you’re, well, actually, watch this video first then we’ll talk more:

I realised I was one of the bad guys. One of the people who believes I have a divine right to enjoy something more than other people because I discovered it first. Because it talks to me more deeply, more personally than it ever could to them, and I resent them for even trying. It’s a common human fallacy. Length of enjoyment is equal to depth and/or right of enjoyment. As is normal with passion, if left unchecked it has a tendency to slip towards possession. The same way we all know our partners are the greatest members of the opposite sex that we could ever hope to meet, yet we are arrogant enough to hog all that greatness to ourselves for as long as possible.

Is any of this starting to sound familiar and related to another hot Berlin topic that caused so much debate on The Guardian this week? It should, at least for the Berliners reading. Hearing Aüslanders complain about rising rents and the influx of yet more foreigners into this city is just the same. It’s cheap and it’s easy to think like that. It’s very hard to imagine a world that we’re not the dead centre of, that doesn’t pivot around our axis. I fail at it almost all of every day. To get angry at tourists who slow down our streets by gawping at buildings and sights we barely even glance at now, so blunted are we by our daily routines. It’s a “what’s water?” way of thinking, in short, self-centred. The same qualities that attracted you to this place are attracting other people to it. That’s insanely logical when you think about it. Berlin is not yours. Everyone is someone else’s Aüslander all the way back to the first ape that climbed down from the trees.

Oh and to Zach, I’m sorry it’s taken me so many years to answer your letter. Know that it meant a lot to me, you’ll have my support for as long as you want it. If you want to make a few bad albums, I’m cool with that, I’ll love them all the same and maybe we can head back to those smaller venues and have some closer contact, like in the old days. I promise to continue illegally downloading everything you make, forever.



Adam writes for several websites, if you want to know when follow him on Twitter.