Robert Hood at St. Thomas Kirche

  • The Detroit legend visits a Berlin church for a strange evening of prayer, choral chanting and gospel techno.
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  • Kids, candles, not a drop of booze in sight—Friday night's gathering at St. Thomas Kirche wasn't your average Berlin party. But it did carry some of the hallmarks. The Kreuzberg church was packed with trendy 20- and- 30-somethings, all of them facing a small stage with CDJs, a mixer and two PA speakers. The main attraction was the techno artist Robert Hood, who, as a devout Christian and ordained minister, had been invited by the church and Dimitri Hegemann's Happy Locals initiative to lead a two-hour session that combined a DJ set with a sermon and choir performance. It was also a remembrance exercise: November 9th is a poignant day in Berlin's history, marking both the gruesome Kristallnacht in 1938 and, nearly 50 years later, the fall of the wall. Overall, it was as strange an experience as that description suggests. After a brief and sentimental introduction by the pastoresses Rebecca Marquardt and Stefanie Hoffmann, Hood emerged in a crisp blue shirt. He must have thought it an odd scene: 1000 people sitting cross-legged (at the pastoresses's request) in a dimly lit church while he scrolled through tracks on a CDJ. For a good few seconds, the vibe was awkward. But then bam—the familiar thump of Floorplan's "Never Grow Old." Towards the back, a group rose to their feet and started dancing, prompting everyone else to follow. In the blink of an eye, the place was rocking. A couple tracks later and the room was plunged back into eerie silence. Hood stepped away from the CDJs and grabbed a mic. "Do I have any believers in the house?" A surprisingly loud cheer went up. The mood stayed buoyant and attentive for the next five or ten minutes, as he effused about the power of God's love and about how, in a Berlin hotel in 1995, his sickly grandfather came to him in a dream and implored he give his life to Jesus. There were numerous tangents—some touching, some more rambling. After a while, the sermon began to drag and people grew restless. For some, the final straw was being asked to bow their heads in prayer. "Repeat after me," said Hood. "I am a sinner on my way to hell." Eventually, Hood handed over to the acclaimed composer Esmeralda Conde Ruiz, who had created a site-specific choral piece especially for the event. Faint hums and chants rose up from all corners of the church to classy effect, and the way the closing bars of the final hymn were sped up to mimic a techno track was a nice touch. The choir would return later to close the evening, this time fanning out on the gallery above, but not before Hood performed a second short set, peppered with his own gospel hits. ("We Magnify His Name," "Made Up My Mind," the remix of "Calling Out" by Sophie Lloyd.) Once again, the positive energy in the space spiked. The crowd, previously weary and a little bored, were smiling again and singing along to the evangelical lyrics. It was a striking reminder of the power of music. Photo credit / Luka Taraskevics