Like so many other Western cities, Berlin is haunted by ghosts. Over by the Reich Chancellery hangs the specter of fascism, looming in the shadows of the Führerbunker (and, if recent geopolitical events are meant as any indication, strengthening by the day). Head east, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the bitter, divisive pall of the Cold War. And then there’s Western identity itself, the most insidious and inexorcisable phantom of all, a source of strength and unity for straight white men—and shame and disillusionment for everyone else. Like every other marginalized community fighting for their lives, queer Berliners recognize the importance of sanctuary, and the revelrous rites explored within, so they take to the alleyways, where the carnivalesque renders them kings.
Such is the inspiration for Yony Leyser’s film Desire Will Set You Free, an ebullient, ecstatic love letter to Berlin’s queer underground in all its transcendent shades—from the hedonistic house parties to the smoke-filled discotheques—and the music that sustains it. The film features appearances from a host of artists from Germany and beyond, many of whom have longstanding ties to the LGBTQ community: Nina Hagen (the “Godmother of Punk”), Peaches, Blood Orange, Einstürzende Neubauten, Rummelsnuff, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Blixa Bargeld.
Accordingly, the film’s soundtrack offers a musical tableau to match, as stylistically and idealistically diverse as the town to which it plays tribute. As expected for an album steeped in anti-patriarchal protest tradition, the track listing proves provocative and unabashedly sex-positive, nodding to queer love in all its anarchic forms: cruising (Gay Fight Club’s “Fuck My Ass Hard”), one-night stands (Terminal Twilight’s “Nightclubbing”), revolutionary eros (Born in Flamez’ “The Coming Insurrection”), and rarest and most terrifying (to paragons of the status quo, at least), unabashed passion in the face of unconscionable hatred and fear (“You, You”, a devastating duet-cum-show-of-solidarity between Dev Hynes and Samantha Urbani).