May 6: Swag Jam
On Tuesday night, DJ Boogie Dan (one of sookee’s house DJs) takes us to a weekly open mic named “The Swag Jam” at this spot called Badehaus (German for “bath house”). This is our first venture into Berlin’s night scene, which seems to feature venues dense with dirty walls reminiscent of Raleigh’s The Brewery, but quite a bit more underground and artistically grunged. The house band after whom the weekly event is named, is comprised of a slew of US musicians who seem to make a complacent living on the weekly door deal and local celebrity-ism. Sugar Bear, the guitarist from Miami, is gracious enough to invite me to hop on stage during the open mic, an opportunity I eagerly embrace after watching the crowd gravitate to a visiting hip hop duo from South Africa who spat lyrics in English and Zulu. The masses are generous with their energy, and, I’d decided well in advance of landing in Berlin to take advantage of any opportunity to create impromptu memories.
May 7: Purple Velvet Kick Off
The magnitude of the night curated by sookee, Anna, and the Springstoff Records crew, is difficult to articulate. The evening of international hip hop features eight female emcees and their support representing a plethora of ethnicities, home countries, and gender identities, each displaying unique voices and styles. There is the opener, German rapper Lady Lazy, whose style reflects her name and vice versa. Her flow is awkwardly endearing and pretty fucking tight. This is like her fourth live performance ever, and it happens to be in front of an audience of about 700 people.
Next up is Lex and Doowap, the first “official” members of the Purple Velvet roster to grace the stage. The elated crowd is mad energetic and Lex’s infectious laughter rings throughout the venue in between songs. In a 45 minute set that ranges from trap, boombap, and reggaeton influences, complete with kwaito dance routines (a form of South African house music), Lex manages two wardrobe changes.
We’re up next and, after a rousing introduction, I walk on stage and extend a drawl-heavy “pleasure to meet you, Berlin!,” to a crowd of familiar strangers. The people are like a human sea, undulant and far-reaching. I find myself throwing up peace signs more than I ever have. Maybe it’s to see what 700 reflective, flashing peace signs look like. Everything feels new and experimental. About a song and a half into our set, milliseconds after that moment when my butterflies begin to settle, my bandmate Gabe’s laptop frees itself of a necessary cable and all the music abruptly ceases. I keep my cool, realizing only a few moments exist before the crowd will notice the deafening silence. Those moments quickly fade and I admit to technical difficulties. A few audience members scream for a cappella, so I kick a couple verses from a song called “Earth Intro,” from my forthcoming album, which, on the recording, will be performed by The Indigo Girls, another queering of imaginary musical borders. Gabe’s computer is still being ornery, so Majus Beats, sook’s drummer, joins us on stage and we perform a rocked out, melody-less version of “Joy Division” with Tom accompanying on bass. About this time, Gabe gives me the signal to invite sookee on stage to perform “Eating Out” with us. All systems restored. The remainder of our set is pretty seamless, ending as it began with peace signs tossed at the ceiling. I walk off stage a bit torn, biting my lip at the unforeseen technical faux pas, while undeniably excited to have our first Purple Velvet performance under our belt.
With our Purple Velvet cherries popped, we enjoy a day off before heading to L-Beach along the Baltic Sea, the largest indoor lesbian festival in Germany, amidst rumors of red carpets, “L-Dollars,” and high profile lesbian celebs. The simple thought of such choreographed menagerie makes me feel a bit like a pigeon in an airport.