In this column, Henning of the wonderfully tasteful music blog No Fear of Pop guides us through the somewhat confusing and remarkably intricate roadways of the fast-paced Berlin music scene. If you’ve yet to explore the city, let this be your free access in.
Berlin. So. Well. Why not start with some obvious facts: It’s the city I live in, not the city I was born into, but the city I’ve been calling home for the last few years, and certainly the city I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon. Yet though I very much spend my days in the belief that I am part of the larger Berlin music-related society, however loosely defined, I always find myself paralyzed when somebody asks me about the city’s actual “scene.” When I wrote an essay last year for the (forthcoming) first issue of Decoder Magazine, I used quite a lot of words to arrive at the neither very tempting nor terribly compelling conclusion that I can’t be sure, yet as far as I’m concerned, there’s probably none at all. One year on, I’d still stick to that assessment.
But now don’t get me wrong: I do not want to suggest that there is no exciting music emerging from this city, quite to the contrary: I strongly believe that Berlin is one of the most thriving metropolises on earth in this regard, I am simply not sure how all its diversity should in any way add up to a certain something we might want to deem a defining sound of the city. And I think it has always been like that—whatever we have called Berlin’s music scene at a certain point in time most likely appeared clear and well-defined only in retrospect: In the late sixties to mid-seventies, there was the highly influential Berlin school of electronic music that spawned krautrock and kosmische musik; looking back at the grey, dismal eighties, with Blixa Bargeld’s Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave’s significant presence in town, Berlin appears to have been dominated by rock and post-punk just before, probably most considerably till this very day, Berlin became one of the world’s principal hubs for techno and related strands of electronic music during the final decade of the last millennium. But the city certainly is more than just that, and I am also not sure if the talk of one coherent electronic music scene would’ve been justified at any certain point in the past.
So, what I guess needs to be done when thinking about Berlin is to take the plural form of “Local Scenes” literally: There has never been one Berlin music scene, nor is there today, nor will there ever be. Everyone has their very own perception not only regarding the musical history of this town, but crucially also in view of the situation today. What you’ll find below, then, can only be my personal and entirely subjective selection of a few “scenes” or rather mere projects that I find particularly exciting and intriguing, briefly introduced by their founders and members. For everything else—you should really just come and see for yourself.
I’d like to start with Noisekölln—originally initiated as a string of parties and concerts in the Neukölln district “on the fringe of the Berlin club and party scene,” with the focus “towards stuff that is not easy to classify,” in the words of my friend Michael Aniser, who founded it in 2010, “from pedal-fiddling harsh noise and unbearable frequencies to meandering ambiance and future pop things.” And though the so-called ‘tape revival’ never really reached Germany (aside perhaps from Hessen’s excellent Sicsic Tapes), Aniser and his crew recently launched offspin Noisekölln Tapes:
“Noisekölln Tapes is a label to collect and showcase all these artists and findings we came across on our journey. The first release was a split between the post-goth band Ill Winds and the ambient sound artist Moon Wheel. The second release will be the solo record Pagan Easter by Tomas Nochteff, who is the male half of Berlin via Argentina band Mueran Humanos. The third release will be a compilation of artists who are close to the loosely knit Noisekölln network.”
Get an idea by streaming the imprint’s first release below:
The second cool initiative I’d like to single out is a bit more elusive. Based out of the yet to be gentrified district of Wedding just north of the center, the New Wedding Avant-Garde is “a platform for independent art, regardless of form, medium, or style,” as one of the initiative’s principal members, Malte Jantzen, told me. Not exclusively focused on music, “we mainly organize exhibitions, concerts et cetera, but we also arrange limited releases of tapes, books, print art and stuff. We work together with friends who are artists or run labels, or with folks who we think are just incredibly talented, and who share our passion for DIY and underground culture.”
Jantzen’s own project S NDY P RLS (read Sunday Parlours) has gained some well-deserved attention in the past months, most significantly representing Berlin at this year’s edition of the AMDISCS-affiliated Creepy Teepee Festival in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic (nominated by No Fear Of Pop, I should probably add), where he was awarded “Emerging Creepy Act 2012” (we’re all still unsure what exactly that means). His music is an intriguing blend of drone-infused ambient and noise-heavy experimentalism, with occasional excursions into melancholic, bleak lo-fi musings on piano. “Rex” is Jantzen’s latest work, available on vinyl here.
Finally, another project that was launched by a dear friend, Michail Stangl, together with the other Berlin nightlife veterans DJ N>E>D, Barker, and Puzzle, Leisure System. Definitely the least obscure of the three projects, indeed quite the opposite: Leisure System has been a club mainstay since 2008, residing in the city’s most famous and probably still best venue, Berghain. However, counting the venture as a part of the Berlin “underground” is still appropriate enough, as its founders successfully disregard all traditional conventions of how a Berlin club night ought to look like. In the words of Stangl:
“Our aim is just to provide an interesting insight into the fringes of electronic music, without having to care for trends or functionality. We just do what feels good and what we think has not existed before in this constellation yet still works out. That means we often end up being eclectic, simply because we don’t want to listen to the same kind of music for ten hours straight. Of course that’s also complicated as it’s hard to pinpoint us: We don’t sell a lifestyle and we don’t organize that one post-rave or that one techno or that one bass music night, instead what you’ll get is a bit of everything. That however works out because Berliners are not just well acquainted with electronic music but to a degree even live it, so they are content to accept experiments. Within Berlin, in that sense we’re definitely a supplement to the rest of the city’s club program. At Berghain, we’re able to do things that wouldn’t work anywhere else.”
Last year, Leisure System additionally evolved into a label. The latest of the three releases so far, the 12” EP “Like an Animal” by core member Sam Barker (who by the way nicely exemplifies Berlin’s rich and ever-expanding expat scene), is among my favorite club records of 2012 so far, especially the track “I Feel,” which you should listen to below.
Together with partner in crime Andreas Baumecker, Barker furthermore pursues music that probably best illustrates what the world has come to know and love as the archetypical “Berlin sound,” meaning techno in all colors and shades, which is why it is perhaps reasonable to leave you with a stellar outtake from the duo’s forthcoming LP “Transsektoral,” out soon on Ostgut Ton, Berghain’s own famed imprint:
There is of course, as already pointed out, there’s simply so much more, and I can’t escape the feeling of falling short in many regards. Berlin, after all, isn’t easy to grasp exhaustively. On the other hand, that’s exactly what still leaves me fascinated and happy to be here, each and every day.