'The vibe was sex, sex, sex': Cocktail D'Amore, Berlin's free-love club night

Liam Cagney

The room is dark and teeming when, four hours into his set, Boris drops Patrick Cowley’s remix of I Feel Love. Sweat-scented and balmy with body heat, the room lifts off. As Cowley’s synthesiser solo gets ever more ludicrous, hands throw silhouettes on the rainbow lights; two men make love; a hand-standing Italian woman tries not to topple over.

This is Sunday night at Cocktail d’Amore in Berlin, a friendly, gay, delirious party that is celebrating its 10th birthday this year with, among other things, a compilation and coffee table book. Berlin has a new generation of queer club nights – among them Herrensauna, Lecken and Buttons – but Cocktail d’Amore was the initiator of this wave.

Cocktail’s organisers are Discodromo, AKA Giacomo Garavelloni and Giovanni Turco, an Italian duo who relocated to Berlin in 2008 after years of visiting the city to go clubbing in Berghain (“it completely blew our minds”). Dissatisfied by the city’s musical limitations, they founded Cocktail with Berlin club scene veteran and Berghain resident Boris.

“Our taste was Italo, disco, house, and in general music that would create some emotional reaction,” Discodromo say via email, wanting to be quoted as a pair. “No other queer clubs or parties were offering this music.”

Since its beginnings in a Kreuzberg basement, Cocktail has inhabited spaces all over Berlin, from warehouses and a circus tent to an abandoned GDR supermarket. One punter, Sarah Hamilton, attended Cocktail at Shake in 2013, and says: “the vibe, as it was early in the night, was sex, sex, sex among the mostly male partiers.” A queer, sex-positive attitude is Cocktail’s lifeblood. “I will always remember the first time I played at Cocktail,” says Trent, a Berlin scene DJ. “All night long in the cosmic hole, surrounded by people having sex in the darkness – I thought it was really insane.”

This vibe is distilled in its flyers, posters and promo videos, designed by Pindaros Andriopoulos, who moved to Berlin from Greece around the same time as Garavelloni and Turco, and also does artwork for the Cocktail d’Amore record label. Equal parts psychedelic, philosophical and pornographic, Pindar’s aesthetic was in place from Cocktail’s first flyer – a bouquet of roses made of penises.

Hedonism, though, is only one aspect of Cocktail. As the best club nights do, Cocktail fosters a sense of community. “I met so many good people who changed my life in positive [ways],” Trent says, “and I just feel so lucky to be part of this huge family.” For its founders, Cocktail is all about the music. They book unknowns, and have tailored a Cocktail sound. “We’re unable to put it into a specific genre or defined box,” they say. They have made the night a “non-judgmental and caring environment where self-expression and self-liberation is not only possible but encouraged”.

Currently, Cocktail takes place monthly at Griessmuehle, a club in a converted former factory, where they moved after losing a location “due to corporate estate investments”. During Cocktail, Griessmuehle’s basement dancefloor becomes a sex dungeon (the aforementioned “cosmic hole”); its inner chambers, a labyrinth of darkrooms; its garden, a hybrid of playground, catwalk and disco. While the party has grown larger and moved away from its early underground settings, Griessmuehle’s expansive layout is optimally suited for shenanigans. Bordered by railway lines, industrial units and a canal, Griessmuehle allows you to forget normal life in a temporary autonomous zone.

I stumble out into the cool evening air, sweat-soaked. Through the trees, Alex from Tokyo is blasting energetic disco. By a camp fire, a man describes dancing with the actor from Boy Erased (“He has a girlfriend, but it was him!”). A woman in a nun’s habit darts past. Two men, one in a pink beret and blue dungarees, the other in a red velvet suit, encourage a Scottish woman to stay, even though she has work tomorrow. Legs disappear into tree huts; feet prance on the wooden decking.

In Berlin, clubs don’t have a closing time (this enlightened attitude means the city’s nightlife industry is worth €1.5bn annually). Cocktail accordingly combines club night and after party. This weekend’s party kicked off on Saturday night, and the last pair of feet won’t finish dancing till 4pm on Monday – an impressive span by any standards.

Part of Cocktail’s pleasure is the warm encounters you have with random strangers, a fleeting closeness that society usually denies. Marcus Knupp describes DJ sets that “inspire, if only for a brief time, a feeling that there really is something to life other than the crushing 9-to-5 world we normally navigate”. He continues: “Spaces like Cocktail are the kind of fertile soils needed for all kinds of creative, progressive and positive ideas to even begin to come into being.”

Nonetheless, change may be coming. There are rumours that Griessmuehle, which runs on a six-monthly lease, may be forced to shut its doors. What would become of Cocktail if Griessmuehle closes? Garavelloni and Turco are unworried. “In the first five years we had around 15 locations,” they say. “If Griessmuehle ever closed we would move on and find or create an alternative, as we did in the past.”

Boris finishes his set with a rousing Boys Will Be Boys by the Duncan Sisters. Behind the decks, Boris and Discodromo share a hug and a celebratory glass of sekt. Discodromo then launch into some unclassifiable hypnotic beats. A queen’s high heel treads on my toe and the dancefloor begins heaving. I think about going home. Then I remember a quote used in one of Cocktail’s music videos: “Life is short and there will always be dirty dishes, so let’s dance.”

Five key tracks from Cocktail d’Amore, chosen by Discodromo

Ruf Dug – Techno Cave (Sharif Laffrey Nightwork Remix)

“Currently a Cocktail hit. Somehow impossible to put it in a defined genre, it has an unusual arrangement of elements, surprising juxtapositions, and overall we find it an interesting exploration of new sonic territories.”

Syclops – Unmatched

“This track from one of our favourite producers, Maurice Fulton, is an example of what can be heard in the Cosmic Hole, the dancefloor (which also serves as a darkroom) that is dedicated to slow and trippy sounds. The Hole, as Cocktail people refer to it, is a project we started five years ago, inspired by famous 80s Italian clubs Cosmic and Typhoon. In fact, we had Beppe Loda play in there not long ago, which was a total dream come true.”

Wham – Enjoy What You Do (Wham Rap) (A François Kevorkian Extended Mix - Instrumental)

“In one party you might listen to music from five decades and almost every danceable genre … and everything in between. Such as this relatively obscure mix by François K of mega pop band Wham.”

Sfire – Sfire2

“The project from our longtime Detroit friend Jeffrey Sfire (we met in Panorama Bar in 2006) and Scottish vanguard-pop producer Sophie was recorded while they were both living in Berlin. It came out with Sfire3 on Cocktail d’Amore Music in 2013 and became an underground cult release for many. A Cocktail towards-the-end-of-the-party singalong kinda tune.”

Lord of the Isles – Ultraviolet

“Last track of so many Cocktails, released in 2012. It’s just perfect: it has a super groovy uplifting pace with a piano-chords progression that gives peaceful and positive melancholic feelings, great to send people off in the right mood. The delicate balance of harmonies could make the song go on infinitely. After we heard it for the first time, we had to get in touch with LotI and release his music on our label.”

• A compilation, Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing Vol 10, and a book, 10, are both out now.