Tag Archives: Berlin

Ostgut Ton and the Labels Keeping Berlin Techno Fresh

Berghain

Berghain. Photo by Yannick.

From the end of the ‘80s to the present, Berlin has been at the beating heart of the international dance underground, forging strong links to techno’s pioneers in Detroit, and pioneering its own flavors of sound and of club life. In the mid-to-late ‘90s the focus was furious Jeff Mills-style pounding for hardcore ravers; in the early ’00s, it all slowed down to the inescapable bloops and clicks of “minimal” house. Now of course, dominating everything is the Berghain club, the attached Panorama Bar, and their Ostgut Ton label.

Behind all the hype about Berghain’s fierce—some say arbitrary—door policy, prurience of some of its clientele and the goofy testimonials of superstar visitors like Claire Danes, there exists a club experience that people fall deeply and lastingly in love with, and an arts/music organisation that is maturing steadily. Ostgut Ton is now 11 years old, and both as prolific and as serious in its quality control as ever. It’s about to put out its 100th release: a collaboration between Berghain’s two residents and figureheads, Marcel Dettman and Ben Klock—whose joint single “Dawning / Dead Man Watches The Clock” was the label’s inaugural release back in 2005.

Over the years Ostgut Ton has developed a signature sound: still generally at a house tempo, slower than the ‘90s mania, but much more high-drama, muscular, and threatening than the spaced-out days of minimalism. Its producers build tracks with high production values and complex unfolding narratives. The absolute antithesis of instant-spectacle EDM, these are dance tracks made for nightlife as a space for mystery and adventure, in keeping with the Berlin style of clubbing that can involve going into dark spaces to dance at any time of day or night… or indeed all through the day and night.

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The Undisputed Queen of the Berlin Underground: Shambhu Leroux

Shambhu Leroux

It’s a Thursday night at Wild at Heart, in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and the area in front of the stage is so packed you can’t move in any direction without dodging lit cigarettes. Then, without warning, the crowd suddenly parts, and a woman is led, demurely, by hand to the stage. The lights go up,  the bass, drums, and guitar kick in, and the ferocious, six-foot-tall, black haired, crimson-lipped woman, who’s covered in tattoos and draped in silk belts out, “GET BACK SATAN!”

You could call Shambhu Leroux a blues singer. She has also been a Parisian punk rocker, a classically-trained Indian Kathak dancer, and, for the past 16 years, the undisputed queen of the Berlin underground. She first gained notoriety as the lead singer for Sin City Circus Ladies, a notorious psychobilly band that began in the Berlin subway; later, she toured with the Dwarves, Dead Moon, and Queens of the Stone Age. When Sin City Circus Ladies folded, Leroux reinvented herself as a barmaid at Berghain, the cavernous club built in a former DDR power plant, infamous for parties that begin on Friday and run through mid-Monday afternoon. At Berghain, Leroux ruled the bar “with a special mix of grace and violence,” according to her husband, American DJ and producer Sheldon Drake.That description that could double as metaphor for her music’s peculiar mix of power and fragile beauty.

Then, Leroux turned to gospel. She recorded two albums as Shambhu and the True Love Hearts, and put out a split 7″ on Berghain’s Ostgut label. That was followed by her solo album, Cry to Heaven, released in 2014.

Her latest project, the Shadow of Your Smile EP,  presents new and previous work as duets between Leroux and guitarist Yair Karelic. It opens with a powerful nine-minute version of “Get Back Satan,” includes a rare chanson delivered in Leroux’s native French (“Ou Sont Tous Mes Amants,” an homage to Frehel, one of Leroux’s heroines, whom she  describes as a “working-class hooker girl” who became the “French Billie Holiday”) and concludes with the title track, inspired by the classic American jazz standard reimagined, according to Leroux, “as a macabre love song of a girl who wants to join her lover in the underworld.”

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Dreamsludge Duo Nadja Encourage Introspection Over Spirituality

Nadja in Berlin. Photo by Kristel Jax.

Nadja in Berlin. Photo by Kristel Jax.

Formed in 2003, Nadja was originally intended as a solo project through which experimental musician Aidan Baker could display his heavier tendencies. Two years later, he was joined by Leah Buckareff as a way to help bring the project to the stage; today, Buckareff remains a constant member of Nadja’s live and studio set-up.

While the duo’s distinctive sound is anchored in breathtakingly heavy, super slow guitar riffs, the “drone” label doesn’t do justice to the underlying intricacies of Nadja’s music or the variety of their oeuvre. For the uninitiated, a good proportion of Nadja’s mammoth discography can be explored (if you happen to have a spare month or three) through their Bandcamp page, which also offers guiding genre tags such as “dreamsludge” and “grindgaze.” Their collaborators have ranged from Jesus Lizard drummer Mac McNeilly to Italian hip-hop outfit Uochi Toki, and their heaviness is underpinned by Baker’s preference for a variant on drone music that has “some form of melodic development, whether subtle or overt.”

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First Wave Gurrlcore From Berlin

Gurr

Gurr, the Berlin-based duo of Andreya Casablanca and Laura Lee, were looking for a new way to describe the music on their first full-length LP, In My Head, so they held a contest on social media. The band has a devoted fanbase—nicknamed GurrScouts—who, according to Casablanca and Lee, have been incredibly supportive of the band over the past four years. Some of them have traveled two and a half hours to shows, and have helped the band out with videos. So enlisting them for assistance made the right kind of sense. The results did not disappoint. Submissions included: “Gurrage,” “Riot Gurrs,” “political pigeon punk,” “File under: Bigger than Fleetwood Mac” and “Techno” (the band does not play techno).

“We really liked pigeon punk,” says Lee, sitting outside a darkened späti in Berlin’s Neukölln district. We met on Mauerfall, a national holiday celebrating German reunification, and realized too late that every bar, cafe, and venue in the city was closed. “It was a tough decision” she says. The winner (and proud recipient of a signed edition of “Piggy vinyl, Record Player Protection Thingy, Poster and Pick”) was “First Wave Gurrlcore.” “First wave Gurrlcore was cool,” says Casablanca, “because it responded to what we have been going through with music journalists—being branded as the ‘new Riot Grrl scene.’ But we were like, ‘No, we’re first wave of our own stuff.’”

They may be their own first wave, but fans of Bratmobile, the Raincoats and Sleater-Kinney will find plenty to love in Gurr. And for a band only now releasing their first full-length, they have received the kind of attention that bands with much longer discographies would envy: An early single “Metropole” was included on the soundtrack for the film Desire Will Set You Free, directed by Yony Leyser (which also featured cameos by Berlin legends Nina Hagen, Peaches, and Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld). They have toured with the Coathangers, Bleached, Jimmy Eat World, and Best Coast, with whom they share a left-coast surf-rock vibe. “It was a really big deal,” Lee says. “We were like, ‘Fave band ever!”

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Objects Limited Helps Level the Playing Field in Electronic Music

Ziúr

Ziúr, she will release her next album on Objects Limited, together with Planet Mu.

Lara Rix-Paradinas is a PR firm’s nightmare. She doesn’t have many filters; everything the 26-year-old musician and label owner talks about—breastfeeding, the foibles of media outlets, the various schools of feminism—she talks about bluntly and directly. But maybe this lack of ceremony springs from necessity. She is increasingly earning well-deserved props for the label she founded earlier this year, Objects Limited, which only releases music by, “female-identifying and non-binary” musicians. But it hasn’t always been easy for her to be taken seriously as a musician.

Rix-Paradinas first entered the electronic music world as the partner (now wife) of Mike Paradinas, owner of much revered experimental label Planet Mu and a longstanding recording artist (as µ-Ziq, Jake Slazenger and a score of other aliases). The pair began releasing music together as Heterotic in 2013 but, as Lara has written, her treatment as a musician in the media and other parts of the music industry was frequently shabby, thanks to good old-fashioned sexism.

That’s part of what drove her to create Objects Limited. The label, which was founded independently of Planet Mu, also reflects a very particular and personal mission and musical vision. Its releases so far, from English producer/singer Eva Bowan, unsung Chicago footwork musician JARu, Lara herself (in her Lux E Tenebris guise), and now Berliner Ziúr are different in format and style, but all inhabit an elegant, Gothic darkness tempered with hugely inventive production and structural finesse.

Rix-Paradinas spoke to us from her home in Brighton, England, after a few moments trying to find a spot out of earshot of their two children.

So, you’ve got a label.

I’ve got a label! It’s going really well. Funnily enough, I’m calming it down over the winter at the moment, because December and January are not a great time for releases.  And actually I’m trying to wean my youngest off breastfeeding for the next few weeks, so I won’t be able to work on the label, as I’ll have no sleep and I’ll be a nervous wreck. But at the moment, it’s doing really well. I’m working on a compilation with some new artists, which will probably be out around March. I’ve already got a few tracks from people—some really great stuff from Flora [Yin-Wong] who works for PAN. She does some lovely stuff, really delicate. She’s a great DJ, but I think a lot of people don’t realize that she does great production too.

And you’re getting really good press aren’t you?

Yes… and some that just winds me up. There’s a certain fashion and culture magazine in particular—I hate it so much, I really do. It’s like [British hipster satire] Nathan Barley, but real.

I sense a story…

Well, a few months ago I did a photo shoot for them. Then, a few days before it came out, they said, ‘Oh, we haven’t actually included your photo shoot, there weren’t enough pages.’ Maybe the folks there thought I wasn’t cool or edgy enough. But then the music editor said, ‘Well, I love Objects Limited, I really want you in. Why don’t you do basically a click-bait article about how to get more women into the industry?’ And I said, ‘Well, instead of us doing all these articles about how we get women into the industry, and how we get women talked about, why don’t we actually talk about women? I know this might blow your mind, but maybe just talking about women might be more valuable.’ They were like, ‘Oh yeah, wow, that’s a good idea. That’s really forward thinking. We never even thought of doing an actual article about an actual woman. Wow.’

So he did the interview, but then when it came out, he actually attributed it to a different journalist. I looked her up, and I realized that she basically did all the ‘female stuff’ in the magazine. And that felt bad. I don’t like this whole thing that only girls can talk about other girls. Is kind of annoying. God, I’m feeling quite old and jaded at them moment, and I’m only 26!

You do seem to favor a direct approach. Is it fair to say you prefer action to theory when it comes to redressing imbalances?

Oh man. That’s funny, because I wanted to sign someone who is part of this xenofeminism stuff [a hyper-radical, hyper-intellectual futurist school of feminism that looks forward to a post-gender world]. She is, like, super-PhD in gender and all that stuff. I don’t like all that. I think if you just sit and mull over too much, you just get lost, and nothing really happens. It doesn’t really change anything. I think you’re better to just go out there and smash boundaries rather than just fucking thinking about it. But that’s the sort of person I am. I’m one of those people who’ll just think, ‘Okay, I will make a new label, and it’s going to be all women.’ And a month later I’ll do it. I can’t be sitting around and just thinking about it. So, yeah, those people are great, and there’s always going to be people like that, and I’m sure they’ve got their value. But I’m far more, ‘Just get on with it!’

This is quite a punk attitude. Do you have any affinity with punk or hardcore?

Well when I was younger—I grew up in Brighton, and it’s quite stuck in the past in a lot of ways. We love ska in Brighton. I used to go to ska days a lot when I was about 13. We used to have it on the seafront every Sunday, get off our heads. It’d be ska and punk, and I loved it. I used to like Queens of the Stone Age too, but it wasn’t quite hitting the spot. That’s when I started getting into electronic music—Venetian Snares, especially.

Which is very punk electronic music!

Yeah, it is. But then it’s got some extra bits—stuff that makes you think a bit more.

When he started he was really nihilistic, though. Very horrorcore, gabber [Dutch hyper-speed techno] kind of stuff.

Well, I love gabber, I absolutely adore gabber, and I did when I was getting into electronic music. I heard gabber and thought, ‘Yeah this is me!’ I thought it’d be funny: a Jew going to gabber raves. I was really up for going to like Holland, but then I thought ‘Oh this wouldn’t be good, you get all these Neo-Nazis and stuff.’

I think that idea might be over-egged—there’s an awful lot of anti-racist Gabbers as well!

Yeah, I suppose it’s like punk: You get the best and worst. But I’ve always liked the harder, more aggressive stuff. I guess I’ve calmed down a little bit since I was a teenager. Sort of. Maybe. I think the label reflects both sides. The first release by Eva Bowan is quite poppy, like dream pop, or something. It was nice, as Eva’s in Brighton, so we met up and talked and just really clicked. And I thought, ‘Well, you know, she’ll be a really nice person to introduce the label and get things off the ground.’ Now we’re four releases on from that…

Eva Bowan

…and you’ve covered a lot of ground in that time.

Yeah. Dream pop, footwork, industrial club, and apparently someone called my music drone. I don’t know what I’d call Lux E Tenebris, but apparently, it’s drone.

The Heterotic stuff you did has quite a drone, or maybe shoegaze, element.

Yeah. That was me doing the basslines. There’s a technically a Heterotic track on Mike’s Chewed Corners record. I did the bassline part, and I’m quite proud of that one. And Mike’s doing another solo album now, and we naturally talk about it, and I have input there. We work quite a lot together. That’s why I guess for me it wasn’t that weird to have my own label. I’m so used to seeing every part of the day-to-day stuff at Planet Mu. Even eight years ago, when we started going out, he would get me to listen stuff and see what I thought. And we seemed to be quite on the same wavelength when it comes to music—which is interesting, because we both have quite eclectic tastes. Maybe I go for the more hard, angry stuff. Mike’s more into pretty melodies and softer things.

Even though he’s signed loads of very brutal music to Planet Mu?

Yeah he has…but he’s more melodic. I do like melodies, but can’t seem to do them. But it’s funny, when I was working on Heterotic—I think because I am massively competitive—I started doing a lot more melodies on there. There’s barely any melodies on Lux Tenebris stuff. So, I don’t know, maybe I’m just not that melodic, but he brings out melodies in me [laughs].

Lara Rix-Paradinas

Lara Rix-Paradinas as Lux E Tenebris.

Does your competitive side get brought out more if people assume that you’re just ‘the girlfriend’ or whatever?

Yeah. It’s always been weird at electronic nights, because people are like, ‘Yeah, you’re just the girlfriend, stand at the back.’ But I never put up with it. By nature, I’m quite an introvert, but my family are quite full-on, so I’ve always been told that if anyone tells you to step back, or shut up, or whatever, that you argue. It’s become an in-built thing for me. And I think maybe that starting a record label was a way for me to argue. Like, ‘Look: I’m not just this. Just shut up and listen to this, I like this music, and there’s things for us to say.’ [finger quotes] ‘Us women’ [laughs] So, it’s partly a reaction to all that, yes. When we launched the Heterotic thing, articles [written about it] would have this biiiiig introduction for Mike—and don’t get me wrong, I know he’s done a lot—but then it would be, ‘And here’s his wife.’ It was just really weird. They didn’t even bother to ask what I did in the band, or what I was into, or anything. And I really started to realize that, because the media don’t ask, a lot of women don’t tell. I don’t know if it’s in-built or learned or whatever, but women don’t really come forward and say, ‘This is what I am, this is what I do.’

So that was what you wanted to do in setting up the label? Push the women artists forward and show ‘What they do?’

Yeah. I used to be into horseback riding, and just recently I saw this really interesting article about a survey that was done in Norway. Quite a big one, about 300 girls [participated]. And basically, they found that women who did things like horseback riding, outdoor activities, were actually better at being gender neutral—not falling into female roles when it came to leadership and stuff. And that was heartening to see. And I think that just doing something with risks and rewards does that, which is why I’m really keen on these workshops I’m doing. I just want to get women out there and doing these things and feeling more confident in being able to say, ‘I can produce,’ or ‘I can do this or that.’ It’s funny, actually. Ableton [the workshops’ sponsors] haven’t allowed me to make it women-only, which is fair enough—they have to be seen in whatever way they want. If they don’t want to be too feminist, that’s up to them. But I’m determined to make it 50/50 at least, but I’ve had to work hard for that. I did want it to be just women, though, because like I say, women just don’t tend to put themselves forward, and you have to have this extra push of, ‘Look, here’s something for you,’ to get them to step up. Same with the label: if I did something saying, ‘Oh it’s just 50/50,’ women won’t come up to you. You have to really, really, really not pull the punches to get women on to these things. I don’t know what it is, maybe this is the reason for this ‘safe space’ business? I don’t know.

Flyer for Object LTD’s workshop

Flyer for Object LTD’s workshop “Get hands on with hardware”.

It’s quite telling that you have to push women producers even to say ‘I can do this,’ whereas for the bulk of men in music, it’s not even a question, they just say ‘I do do this—this is what I do.’

That’s right. I do it myself. The only way I’ve ever learned to produce is watching Mike to it. Okay, he is a good person to learn off, or whatever. But he’s really good musically. He’s been learning to play the piano from the age of, like, three or something, and I didn’t really have that. But I know music, and I can listen for things, but I won’t know the proper words for things, or I won’t know the terms or how to do things. I listen to track and say, ‘So what’s happening now, how do they do that?’ I’m learning more and more. But I think it is a definite confidence thing, and just not giving a fuck, and just being emotionally open to exploring sonically what you can do. And I’ve always held myself back, like, ‘Oh I can’t do it,’ instead of, ‘Oh, I don’t know what this is but I’m going to try it out and have fun with it.’ You do just hold yourself back. I think women need to be more, ‘Yes, I can do it.’ Just own what you can do, and go for it.

Can you tell me about the other two artists on the label other than Eva Bowan and yourself, Ziúr and JARu?

Oh yeah. JARu or Jana Rush—she seems to be using them interchangeably—she has released music before. She released music in the 90s, when she was 13, on DanceMania, which is pretty cool, isn’t it, for your first release? I think I was she was on the A-side of the 12”, and DJ Deeon was the other side. It was a ‘DJ Deeon presents youngest producer’ sort of thing. Very cool. But she hasn’t really released since then. But there’s so much stuff—she’s always, always producing, every day she’s in the studio. I don’t really know that much about her, because she keeps herself to herself, doesn’t post on social media much. I tried to get press shots, and she didn’t want to, but I said, ‘Well, unfortunately I have to do that.’ So she sent me a few webcam pics. But, hey, if that’s how you wanna play it, then fine. But yeah she’s she’s a great producer, and she’s a friend of quite a few cool people in the scene and has been for years.

JARu

She’s amazing, in fact. She is a materials engineer in the petroleum industry by day, and then by night he she works in a hospital and does CAT scans and checks them for any issues. And she makes music. So I don’t know when she has time to sleep. I mean, she stopped firefighting. She used to do that as well. She’s she’s pretty cool. But that’s all I know about her, just that she’s this fire-fighting science hero wicked pro. I’m doing an album with her next year also, and that hopefully will be on vinyl. The new tracks are amazing. They’re just crazy. You know you always expect a footwork track to be two or three minutes, but she goes on for five, eight minutes sometimes, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, my head’s going to explode, this is insane.’ But there’s a whole story arc in each track. It’s great fun. I think the album’s going to be more house-y than her first EP. There is there is a bit of acid stuff in there—I really hate acid, but when she does it, it works. I don’t know how. Mike said it’s because it’s real Chicago acid [laughs].

And Ziúr—she is going to be doing an album as well next year. But this time, it’s going to be a joint release with Planet Mu. We’re really excited about that. She’s amazing. And her stuff’s great. She comes from a punk background, and you can really hear it. It’s got aggression, but it’s done in a way in which you don’t feel like it’s just pure anger. It’s like there’s something more going on there. And she was such an interesting person when I met her in London and she did a Radar Radio [London online station which has drawn an impressive roster of talent in just two years of existence] show. She’s got this whole life story—she is, again, one of these people, like Jana, where she doesn’t give away too much, but you know there’s something that’s really happened. She’s really interesting to work with. Mike really loves her stuff. I think he wanted to nick her for Planet Mu, and I said no. And of course we had a few arguments, the usual falling-out stuff, to the point where I was coming in his studio, picking up bits of paper he’d written on and going, [puts on archly theatrical voice of insinuation] ‘Oh, I see! This is what you’re up to, is it? Looking at my artists, is it?’

Ziúr

All the usual stuff couples argue about then?

Oh yes. But we love to bicker. I’m quite melodramatic when I get angry. It’s good to be working together on this release, though. It’s all exciting, really Objects Limited has a wider distribution deal now, but it’s amazing how quickly I built it up to this point with just Bandcamp. I think I was just expecting it to just be this little label, and we’d just have fun and showcase the odd artist, but it’s been amazing how quickly people have taken to it. I was worried people would go, ‘Oh, just doing females—that’s going to be boring.’ But now I feel like I’m hopefully gonna start rounding off what sort of music we actually are. Because I don’t really know yet. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just a female label. I think hopefully we can be a place where people can find new music that’s interesting. I really like the idea of being a stepping stone for doing bigger things. It’s such a small world, isn’t it? The electronic music scene? Part of doing this label, and doing the workshops, is that I just want new blood in the scene. It gets a bit claustrophobic sometimes, with the same people everywhere. So this is about inviting people in. I want the scene to expand, and if I can encourage people to think actually they might enjoy this music, and even make music themselves, then I totally want to do that.

Joe Muggs

Seven Berlin Bands Worth Listening To

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From the left: Laisse-Moi, Levin Goes Lightly, Slow Steve, and Roosevelt.

Berlin is perhaps best known as the home of electronic dance music, but there’s much more to the city’s musical landscape.  Relatively low rents, artist-friendly social policies (even non-citizens qualify for many artist grants), and legendary nightlife attract international artists looking to collaborate with other musicians, start a label, or open a venue. On any given night, at the local kneipe or club, one is likely to hear a mishmash of languages—Catalan, French, Turkish, Arabic, Italian, English, and dozens more.

Ask the average English-speaker to name a German indie band off the top of their head and one will likely get very few (though excellent) examples: Kraftwerk, of course. Maybe Einstürzende Neubauten. German New Wave bands Nena, Peter Schilling and Falco (ask any German about the latter, and you will hear “but he’s Austrian”). Rammstein. Indie rock fans may know the Notwist (dual signed on Berlin-based Morr Music and American label Sub Pop), and perhaps label mates Lali Puna and Hermann & Kleine.

Berlin is home to many musicians, both homegrown and imported, making indie pop, rock, punk, post-punk, New Wave, and art rock. The second annual Berlin Pop Kultur festival, held in the melting-pot neighborhood of Neukölln, featured dozens of bands from other countries (the festival opened with a set by Scottish band Mogwai; multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns owns Das Gift, a popular bar in Neukölln). American and British imports appear frequently on German rock radio, and many German-based bands, whatever their nationality, sing in English. There’s a wealth of exciting pop talent thriving in Berlin, so here is just a taste.

Roosevelt

Marius Lauber

Of the artists on this list, Roosevelt, aka Cologne-based producer, DJ and dance-pop genius Marius Lauber, is the one most likely to be headlining festivals, top indie indie radio charts, appear on critic’s favorites lists, and play house parties far outside of Germany. His 2013 EP “Elliot” was praised by the international music press, and he toured with Hot Chip, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Crystal Fighters. His self-titled debut full-length, released August 19 on Greco-Roman, the Berlin-London-based label co-founded by Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, will be accompanied by a world tour with dates in Europe and the United States (many already sold out). Like his label-mates, this record is loaded with instant dance party anthems. Although he was born in 1990, Roosevelt makes music that sounds like a New Wave smash hit: dance-pop with unabashedly big melodic pop hooks, fetching vocals, and memorable sing-along choruses. Trust us: You will hear this record at every house party you go to this year.

Slow Steve

Slow Steve
Slow Steve (the second, from the left). Photo by Joshua Obliers.

Inspired by ’70s science fiction films and the work of Jules Verne, the debut album from French musician Remi Letournelle, formerly of the band Fenster, feels like the vintage soundtrack to an unmade film. Delicately layered psychedelic pop soundscapes, and  vintage analog instruments create otherworldly settings, while the lyrics tell interwoven stories about exploring land, sea and sky. Most of the record is sung in Gallic-inflected English, but there are enough Francophone tracks to satisfy any French pop fan (“Josephine Riviere I,” allegedly tells the story of his niece’s travel into outer space and is a supremely pleasant way to test any non-native French speaker’s language proficiency).

Laisse-Moi

Laisse-Moi
Laisse-Moi. Photo by Jacob Hopkins.

Laisse-Moi, a Berlin-based synth pop trio, was born in a analyst’s office. As a teenager, Manon Heugel grew up as the “girl singer” in “guy’s bands,” but got sick of singing the funk rock fashionable in ‘90s Paris, moved to Berlin, and found work as an actress. But then, in her analyst’s office, she decided she wanted to sing her own songs. She found a German bassist, Christina Riesenweber, and a classically-trained French pianist, Marie Klock, and with a drum machine and vintage analog synthesizers, they formed a synthpop band inspired by German no-wave and ‘80s French pop, narrating stories of Berlin nightlife with a sexy, feminist bent. The three women improvise and co-write their music together. Heugel, who grew up listening to her parents’ Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald records, finds it most natural to write pop music lyrics in English (the exception being “Machine Sexy,” a miminalist, industrial track with deadpan vocals delivered in French, German and English). After two years together, they released their debut EP “Blue Spot,” this July. “We went from being a band that just wanted to have fun playing music together in a cellar to being a ‘real’ band,” says Heugel.

Tellavision

Fee Ronja Kuerten
Fee Ronja Kuerten is Tellavision. Photo by Jenny Schäfer.

Berlin-based artist Fee Ronja Kuerten combines synthesizers, drums, guitars, electronic effects, and vocals that alternate between yelps and feminist lyrics into a unique lo-fi, minimalist one-woman sound she calls “Hardware Post-Pop.” Born in 1988 in Bielefeld, Germany, Kuerten first studied visual art at the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts. She is a founder of BLOOHA UnLtd (Bloody Hands Ltd.), a collective of artists based in Berlin and Hamburg, and a member of LADA, the Hamburg-based experimental synth-pop trio, along with Thomas von Volt and Carl-John Hofmann. Her third album, “The Third Eye,” released in 2015, was produced while on an artist residency in Boston. The album is divided into an A side (“Ease Tikky Tab,” pop songs) and a B side (“Cryptic Snash Man,” instrumental synth and percussion tracks). All ten tracks of the album were remixed by various artists and released this May as “Jux Tap O Remixes,” available both as a limited cassette edition and a digital album. Kuerten’s  visual arts background makes for compelling video: Check out “His-Story” and “My Friend”.

Diät

Berlin-based Diät is comprised of two Australian guys and two German guys playing melodic post-punk that wouldn’t be out of place in the original Manchester scene. Their debut record, “Positive Energy,” co-released last year on Berlin’s Adagio830 and American label Iron Lung, was recorded in the middle of an East Berlin winter, and reflects the relentless dark northern European days when the sun goes down by 4 pm. Their self-described “tough new wave” hits all the elements of vintage U.K post-punk bands—angular guitars, hollowed-out vocals, and speedy rhythms combined with catchy melodic hooks—with super tight musicianship and original, witty lyrics. Their debut even earned them some American love, including a mini-US tour and coverage in Fader, Vice, and Pitchfork. They played new material at this summer’s Pop Kultur festival in Neukölln, but the release date for the next album is not yet set.

ANA ANA

Anastasia Schoeck , a singer songwriter who records under the name of ANA ANA, grew up in a small town in Germany as a classically trained pianist. Now an electropop musician based in Berlin, she creates ambient triphop clearly influenced by artists such as Massive Attack. But her piano remains the distinctive center of her work, calling to mind classic piano-based singer songwriters such as Carole King, Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, while her strong, soulful pop vocals are influenced by American R&B artists (she particularly likes Prince and Aaliyah).  She self-released her debut single “Plastic Knife,” in May 2015, followed by a string of singles (including one track, Birds, written when she was fourteen) and a five song EP, “Destroyed,” released in March of this year. She is working on a full-length LP, due to be released later this year.

Levin Goes Lightly

Levin Goes Lightly

Stuttgart, a city in southwest Germany, is known more for being more bourgeois than Bohemian (both Mercedes Benz and Porsche are headquartered there). But it’s also home to Levin Goes Lightly, the fictional alter ego of Levin Stadler, a tall-heeled, red-lipsticked, shiny glam rock icon in the Ziggy Stardust tradition. Their second album “Neo Romantic,” released in 2015, sounds like some forgotten post-punk glam rock classic from the mid-80s. Anton Newcombe, of Brian Jonestown Massacre, invited Stadler to record his singles “Speedways” and “She’s Dancing” at his A Recordings Ltd. studio in Berlin.

Amy Benfer

S/\RIN’s Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Soundtrack

S/\RIN
S/\RIN. Photo by Zoâ Baranski

Generally considered a weapon of mass destruction, the odorless and colorless liquid sarin can kill a human in under 10 minutes, causing a death that erupts from within as the body collapses in defeat. The music of Emad Dabiri, a/k/a SΛRIN, may not be quite as deadly, but it’s just as severe, full of explosive, militaristic beats and icy synth patterns. It seethes with an urgency and severity that reflects its ’80s old school industrial predecessors, while also perfectly suited to the current ominous atmosphere of dark techno dance floors. SΛRIN’s work builds a bridge between industrial and techno, a romantic pairing between two parties that have been tiptoeing around one another for decades.

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“Naked Lunch” Gets the King Khan Treatment

King Khan

Has any author had a greater influence on rock ‘n’ roll than William S. Burroughs? There he is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, in front of Fred Astaire and next to Marilyn Monroe. Thirty years later, there he is again in U2’s “Last Night On Earth” video, filmed just weeks before his death. In between, he collaborated with Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, and Ministry. Lou Reed, Michael Stipe and Sonic Youth jumped at the chance to visit him when he returned to the States. Bands named themselves after his books (Soft Machine), his characters (Clem Snide) and, in Steely Dan’s case, one of his characters’ dildos. His writing has inspired songs—among them Joy Division’s “Interzone,” The Rolling Stones’ “Undercover Of The Night” and the underrated Therapy? b-side “Pantopon Rose.” The phrase “heavy metal” is lifted from Burroughs, and David Bowie adopted the writer’s cut-up technique while working on 1974’s Diamond Dogs. Since his death in 1997, Burroughs’ influence has barely waned. He’s inspired the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and The Klaxons. Now, Berlin-based Canadian rocker King Khan is disappearing to Burroughs’ underworld.

 Toward the end of his life, Burroughs recorded an audio version of his favorite parts from 1959’s nonlinear “novel” Naked Lunch. His selections included some of the book’s most outrageous passages, from the graphic orgy of sex, violence and murder that is “AJ’s Annual Party” to the sadistic surgical procedures conducted by the psychopathic Dr Benway. Burroughs’ long-time associates Hal Willner and James Grauerholz produced the sessions, drafting players such as Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz and Eyvind Kang to provide musical accompaniment.

King Khan

The recordings were shelved when a boss at Time Warner caught wind of the project, freaked out and fired everyone involved. But in 2015, Willner decided to resurrect the project. That’s where King Khan comes in. The cult garage psych-smith was flattered to be approached by Willner, the man who had produced Burroughs’ Dead City Radio and Spare Ass Annie, which Khan had bought on cassette as a teenager and treasured. The collaborative result, Let Me Hang You, is a triumphantly outlandish mixture of ambient wonkiness, sleazy jazz, hazy psychedelia and shuffling art rock. Its backing tracks conjure an appropriately eerie and hallucinogenic atmosphere, without distracting from the distinctive creaking tones, affected verbal tics and intense imagery of Burroughs’ recitals.

Khan’s relationship to Burroughs’ work is personal. He discovered Naked Lunch at age 15, after seeing a trailer for David Cronenberg’s 1991 film adaptation. He asked his English teacher about the book, who advised him to, “buy it and read it right away.” It was during this time that Khan’s father became addicted to cocaine, a habit that Khan attributes to an extreme form of midlife crisis. Soon after Khan’s mother found a blackened spoon in the family basement and asked her son what it was, his father began disappearing for days on end. “He would come back and confess to me about the world he had fallen into,” remembers Khan. “These addicts he was hanging with were all shooting coke, and hiding blood-filled needles in toilet bowls to shoot later when all the drugs ran out.” Naked Lunch helped Khan understand and cope with his father’s chaotic lifestyle, presenting, “an underground world of depravity that was as beautiful as it was fucked up.” Continue reading