Shameless/Limitless Records the Wild History of Berlin DIY Music in PLEASE COME
By Allison Krupp . January 4, 2021
PLEASE COME is a punch of Berlin-nightlife-nostalgia – a 536-page book of gig posters and memories from 12 years of Shameless/Limitless.
Shameless/Limitless is an iconic force in the Berlin music scene. What began as an event series is now a record label, a booking agent, a festival organizer, and a publishing house. It’s all things music and nightlife and artistry – many-gigs-a-week, stay-out-all-night, demand-more-from-body-and-creative-spirit than could possibly be doctor-recommended. We repeated that, on-end, until we didn’t.
In Shameless/Limitless’s case, the man at the helm – Kevin Halpin – repeated this for 12 years. Heck, he was the engine behind a lot of it.
The book he’s crafted celebrates the rise of the DIY music scene – and the courage to stake out a piece of Berlin as your own and contribute, build, connect. Our city’s a unique place, a haven for build-your-own-adventure-types. PLEASE COME is a real reminder of that.
Support Shameless/Limitless, Berlin’s marvelous music and art scene, and everything we know and love and buy it! (Contact to purchase via Bandcamp or Instagram.)
PLEASE COME charts the rise of Shameless/Limitless itself, which parallels the growth of the DIY live music scene in Berlin – spanning 45+ venues, from that gritty wonder Loophole to the inescapable Berghain – and genres from ambient to punk to club to backing track solo.
The book features posters from early shows of now-established artists, like TOPS, Alex Cameron, Ultraflex, Bad Hammer, © Linda Fox, and also bigger acts that buzzed through Berlin for shows or after-parties, like Perfect Pussy, Metronomy, U.S. Girls, Japandroids, and many others.
The posters themselves feature highly-touted designers, such as Molly Dyson, Tabitha Swanson, Norman Palm, Aisha Franz, Broshuda, Moritz Freudenberg, Adrienne Marcella Kammerer, Jason Harvey, and more.
We were able to speak with Kevin himself about the creation of this book, his love for the Berlin music scene and his role in crafting it, and “carping the motherfucking diem.”
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BLY: Let’s take it all the way back to 2008. You’re new here. You have this drive to “make things happen,” but how? If you sat down in conversation with this previous version of yourself, what would you say?
Jeez, this is a rather touching question to start this exchange with.
I suspect 2008 Kevin would be blown away by the happenings of the last 12 years. He’d likely also be very surprised that I’m still in Berlin, let alone in the game, given that this began entirely as a passion project, with no long-term goals, save for carping the motherfucking diem.
2020 Kevin would say hell ya, we did it, values intact and many great relationships in place.
BLY: This has obviously been a particularly nostalgic project — a deep-dive into long-lost S/L memories during a very lackluster year. What was that experience life for you? Was it painful to remember? Were you grateful for such a treasure-trove?
It was, yes. Of particular interest was revisiting old email threads and recalling the minutiae of the day-to-day work of it all, from the early and ambitious proactive mails (when I had no idea how the industry worked) to the stamina and attention to detail required for keeping up to 80 events a year on the rails (all the while, at least up until 2018, primarily working as an English teacher). Given how absurdly relaxed my schedule is now you’d think the memory of this super-hectic pace would invoke chills. For the most part it’s just good times that come to mind, though.
Viewed as a whole, I feel like “treasure-trove” is very apt description. My hope is that readers of the book will feel the same.
BLY: The name — Shameless/Limitless. Do you remember where you came up with it? Do you think S/L has lived up to its iconic name?
Shameless/Limitless has proven to be an interesting choice for a name, as it is memorable and conveys a sense of occasion, albeit with just a pinch of regrettable frat-party vibes.
The name was inspired by an email from a friend, who, in the wake of an especially big night out, described herself as being shameless and limitless. She was particularly fun to party with, so it seemed to me that shamelessness and limitlessness was a fine goal to aspire to.
As far as living up to the name goes, that depends who you ask. By my standards (or those of, I would guess, most of the world), the answer is an uncontested yes. This is Berlin, though, where expectations for nights can be a little different.
I remember feeling triumphant after the 8 Years S/L party at Sameheads, in Dec 2016. Around 8 a.m., after Olga Żmiejko, Omer and Molly Nilsson had delivered fantastically fun sets to a full house, Project Pablo was wrapping a 4-hour-plus mega-mix to the last remaining partiers. Enter P, a well-seasoned Berlin nightlife connoisseur. He was shocked that things were winding down, and freely commented that, by his standards, the party was a flop. Not an especially shameless or limitless night for him.
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BLY: You say that, over the years, you haven’t taken many photos — but your blurry, beautiful memories still survive. Can you describe a few of the wilder, best nights? Are there any photos you wish you would have taken?
For a period (one might argue throughout), one of S/L‘s central roles was to serve as a vehicle to satiate my own ample social and party appetite. It’s something of a wonder that I was able to indulge so fully and completely while keeping a grasp on the often complicated (broken tech, flooded toilets, guest list disputes, requests for drink tickets, volume too low, volume too high, too many people, not enough people, no change in the till, the police are here etc.) tasks at hand. In some respects, many of my memories are a collage of all of the above, at once, on loop.
A couple memories that stand out, though, include the 10 Years S/L party in December 2018, which was spread over two floors of Ziegrastrasse 11. The night was an unqualified success, and executed on S/L terms, which is to say that a lot of goodwill was expected of those who showed up, those who waited, and of those for whom there unfortunately wasn’t any room. The stress and success of the event made an impact on me such that I feel like I’m still recovering.
Working with Win Butler of Arcade Fire on a couple of occasions was also unique, in that he exists in a strata of success far beyond the norm for S/L. Luckily we were connected via a mutual friend (one who played a significant role in the establishment of S/L) and so we were able to operate on terms far more casual and uncomplicated than might otherwise be the case. He was gracious about making due with a laughably pared down hospitality rider, while also embracing the charm of the small rooms in which the events were held.
Wish I had taken? There was a night in which Mac DeMarco, myself, and a handful of others (including, I think, Touchy and Alex Cameron – see what I mean about wishing I had documented this?) were undeterred by being turned away from the bouncers at Chalet, a very random, albeit close, choice for an after party following a Kreuzberg show. We simply rounded the perimeter, and scaled a good-sized van which was parked next to the club’s back wall. A hop here, a jump there, a shimmy down a tree later and tickety-boom, we were in the back garden of the club. That we then got drinks with a 10er of dubious integrity that someone had used to enter a recent S/L show felt like some kind of code of the night, no harm no foul.
BLY: What do you think about the incredible characters/musicians who Shameless/Limitless attracts? What do you think they see or understand about S/L and yourself?
An understanding that the culture of S/L prioritizes personal connections over industry schmoozing (i.e. someone who shows up themselves and expresses an interest in getting involved will likely fit better than an artist pitched by an industry professional), experience over income (i.e. no funding or brand alignments, but ample opportunity to connect with like-minded people in spaces which are run on passion), and also a focus on trail-blazing artistry rather than trend following is key to working together.
BLY: This Molly Nilsson story – the two drinks pressed into her hand before she dives into the pit of Sameheads – is hilarious / wonderful. Do you care to share any other stories of having to give that extra “push” to your performers? Any funny stories about times you’ve had to get or keep the night going, just to make sure everything turns out all right?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that that extra “push”, which can be delivered in any number of ways, is a frequent part of a Berlin night out. I won’t go any further into it than that, for obvious reasons.
Keeping a night going? Harking back to what I was saying earlier, I think that one of the niche things about my events, or parties more specifically, is that they are tuned to suit the needs of the modest-in-Berlin-but-extreme-elsewhere partier. I’m usually sweeping the floor (or leg wrestling on it with the last people there, in hopes of winning a wager) by morning. So: I’ll get you through til sunup, but however you want to carry on your 36-hour party weekend from there is on you.
BLY: Related to that (and fine if you don’t want to share), is there anyone you would absolutely never work with again?
There hasn’t been anything so dramatic as to make for juicy answer here. There have been people whose expectations were misaligned with the reality which they encountered upon arrival, and so we trudged through the night and parted without fanfare, but nothing too scandalous.
BLY: Were there any posters that you found and hadn’t remembered, or ones that surprised you? Any that you couldn’t believe you used at the time? Any favorites? What do you think a poster needs to have to draw people to an event?
Given how front of mind S/L has been in my life for these 12 years, I had a pretty good recollection of the majority of the posters. If anything, revisiting them in depth was a pleasant refresher on how great so many of the designs are. I’ll give you my stock answer and remain diplomatic on the question of favourites, which is to say that designers with whom I’ve had a great and consistent working relationship (Aisha Franz, Tabitha Swanson, Natalia Portnoy, Jason Harvey and Norman Palm among them) were invited to contribute words for the book.
The majority of the ones I couldn’t believe I used at the time didn’t make it in – the book was meant to capture the highlights. That said, there were a couple occasions in which a night had everything going for it except its poster, and so there are a few designs which, ahem, lack a certain luster.
As to the question of what draws people to an event, that’s anybody’s guess. Having considered nightlife poster design across the board for the last decade plus, it would seem to me that aligning your event with a defined micro-aesthetic and incorporating on trend visual cues is a practice which many promoters adhere to.
Given the huge range of designers that I’ve worked with, and the wide freedom they’re generally given, this obviously hasn’t been a practice which I’ve followed.
In some ways I feel like this approach may have impeded the development of the project over the years (the same could be said for booking such a wide swath of genres, oftentimes within the same week – a tendency which I think often confused newcomers who thought they were getting into one thing and then realized that it was another), but, then again, this book wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if
BLY: What do you think Shameless/Limitless in particular has brought to the Berlin music scene? Imagine a world without S/L — what would it be like? What would you be doing?
Instead of making too bold a claim, I’ll just note that when things got started in earnest with the project, I couldn’t name more than three local live acts who might be appropriate for an S/L bill. Of course, my lack of a nuanced understanding of Berlin concert culture at the time plays a role in that, but I think you get my point. Since then, not only has that number grown exponentially, but so too has the ecosystem surrounding nightlife of this sort, with bars, venues, publications, labels and also other promoters all now contributing. I’m not claiming responsibility for this world, but having observed its development and been a part of its evolution, S/L definitely feels like a big part of it.
As far as what I’d be doing in the absence of S/L – I’ve always enjoyed mowing lawns. Fresh air, exercise, and a constant and loud sound not unlike industrial techno, if you tilt your brain just so. When S/L eventually goes out to pasture, maybe I’ll jump on a ride-a-mower on my way back.
BLY: You describe this image of you walking around Berlin in the rain, hanging up the posters yourself. S/L seems to be such an act of love for you. Has this really bizarre year brought any idea about how you want to move forward with S/L when this is all over?
It’s nice that you enjoy that image, as I can say that the act of putting up posters in the rain can be something of a slog.
Maybe surprisingly (maybe not?) I haven’t spent a lot of time since corona came to town thinking about the future of S/L in specific. Nightlife in general and Berlin attitudes and infrastructure related to partying and shows yes, but somehow future moves of S/L not so much.
On the one hand, there are bigger worries to occupy my dome. On the other, it might be that, as a project, the possibilities of S/L have been explored pretty thoroughly. At this point, after all this time and all these events, I can’t really envision any organic blossoming of it into a more structured or professional kinda thing. There are indeed limits to what’s possible when operating within the strictures I’ve placed and on the terms I’ve set, and that’s fine. Those very confines and values are what has made S/L what it is, and, as it has all along, the integrity of the project takes priority.
And so, if the future lies in continuing along the same path, then that’s good too. Heck, from where we currently stand, in a nightlife desert, that sounds downright great.
BLY: Describe the very first S/L gig we’re all at together, post-corona. What’s it like? Who’s there?
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garth Brooks and Drake at Loophole. Everyone’s comin’.