A Music Geek’s Guide to Berlin
James Smith visits the city full of pop-up galleriesand a vast array of new music venues and clubs, in a variety of unique and improvised locations. But such vast choice is not always a good thing; it can even be somewhat distressing to many of us in the city for a limited time. And so he shares a little diary of a week in Berlin...
The reputation that the city of Berlin has grown in recent years has lead to it taking on the informal position as the new affordable hub of young struggling artists in Europe. With the most diverse and expansive artistic community in the world, and with the vast availability of cheap spaces to rent, the opportunity to push forth and present the bold and new in Berlin is not only unique, but also now highly renowned.
Day One: Ausland
District: Prenzlauer Berg
Nearest Station: Eberswalder Strasse
What I Saw: Carlos Giffoni, Parabelles, Der Tapeman, and DJ Joke Lanz
In an experimental performance space a touch outside of the noisier areas of Berlin, we find Ausland. Dedicated to film, performance, spoken word, and music, it is intensely focussed on artistic and intellectual endeavour, with the sort of evenings that take a real commitment to get your teeth into. Very much a local institution, it provides its own residencies for local artists, ‘giving space to people to develop work and research at Ausland.’ With all of this it offers something different, that when exposed through the DIY approach at its very core, epitomises so much of what Berlin is about these days.
Der Tapeman is considered somewhat of an old-timer round these parts, and his music is certainly for the more advanced level of noise-head. It is a continuous set of mechanical abrasion, with changes noted only through the intangible nuances of unerring drone; giving birth to only occasional and intermittent moments of immediacy, or gratification. Despite the seeming aesthetic obscurity, it is in truth quite typical of this particular brand of experimentalism, and something that can be seen widely here and elsewhere. Both he and Carlos Giffoni appear to be exploiting the power of audio to create both adventure and sensation, rather than producing anything within the structured confines of all that could be referred to as a ‘song’. Finally we are treated, so to speak, to Parabelles; three young ladies who sing together in a piercing, theatrical manner that is both stark and humorous, reminding me a little of the live performances of Cardiff’s Islet.
It’s not somewhere to frequent if you are after a good sing or dance (or head-bang). But what is to be particularly appreciated is the strictly organic approach that goes into everything on show here, adding further to its own absorbing spectacle. When not climbing the sweat-ridden walls of Berlin’s basement weekend ‘techno’ fanfares, this place is well worth a visit.
Day Two: Naherholung
Nearest Station: Schillingstrasse or Alexanderplatz
What I Saw: Antime Label Party (Midimúm, Spur, Andreas Buchner, Dali Meets AnA, Dire Squirrel, Einer Weniger)
Combining the conceptually experimental culture of Ausland with the togetherness of your general club electronica is often the thing I find myself most interested by. Enjoyable from multiple view-points; conceptually intriguing as well as being, just damn good. It’s no surprise therefore that Naherholung probably stole the biscuit as my all-round favourite venue in Berlin.
Notoriously located at the back of an international ‘kino’ (supermarket), it is, very typically for Berlin, difficult to find. Walking into the front room, sprawled with sofas, make-do tables, and inventive decoration, we get that sense of stylish seediness. In this classic appeal, it takes you back to late-eighties America. Down in the basement area, you will find more straight-up dance music, played by DJ’s with laptops and decks. Tonight is ‘minimalist techno’, but don’t pay too much attention to the word ‘techno’; despite it being a very clichéd concept for us, this word is still often used in Germany to describe anything broadly electronic (which is most things in Berlin). The brick-work and many different enclaves tunnelled out in this basement also brings out a hint of London’s Fabric.
The upstairs room (adjacent to the front room), is a fairly straight-forward stage and standing space layout. The music played here, whilst often involving the obligatory mac and ableton live (I’m going to guess) set-up, also involves a performance element, such as vocals or instrumentation. The performances were more together, cathartic and gratifying than at Ausland, which when accompanied by the visual projections behind it, is still enough to mesmerise. I don’t want to go over the top, but I thoroughly endorse this place.
Day Three: White Trash Fast Food
District: Prenzlauer Berg
Nearest Station: Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz
What I Saw: The High Hats, Kids of Zoo, Moustache Prawn, Grey Television, ArtWhy and Ornis
Who wouldn’t want a bit scream-o with their meal? Okay, this place is crazy, but in a pretty great way. It is a restaurant that serves your vintage American roadhouse cuisine, think grandiose hamburgers, chunky chips and the constant smell of bbq sauce in the air. Then there are rock bands to accompany this of course, usually in one of the more hilarious (and dare I say it, outdated) genre subsets, old-school hardcore, or punk etc.
Downstairs lies a basement and bar that put on more contemporary acts, in a space that has a fairly cool atmosphere. One of these I saw was Grey Television, they played a very impressive set in the wee hours, that brought about a rapturous response from a place that was now jam-packed. They remain one of my best found nuggets of the trip, as far as artists go. Check it; www.soundcloud.com/greytelevision. There are also a couple of other interesting rooms in here worth checking out, such as the smoking room, all booted out with great decor features.
Day Four: Madame Claude
Nearest Station: Schlesisches Tor
What I Saw: Experimontag (Viva La Muerte, Israel Martinez and Thomas Zunk)
Located amongst a flurry of other nightlife hotspots in Kreuzberg, this infamous former brothel is just a stone’s throw from other music venues such as Magnet and Lido. As you may have realised by now, quirky decor is a fairly standardised feature of Berlin clubs, though this place does take it to new heights; the ceiling to be precise.
Making it along to the experimental night on Monday, I catch this club at its quietest, and most comfortable. On other nights it features karaoke, ping-pong, quizzes, ‘campfire sessions’, and the obligatory DJ mash-up on weekends. It is a favourite amongst internationals, looking to let their hair down. I found the acts of Israel Martinez and Thomas Zunk particularly enjoyable. They take the vague initial form of people like Der Tapeman and bring it into a more developed and ethereal aural experience, occasionally accompanied by the introduction of stringed instrumentation, adding elements that are both tepid and brittle. It is not so much a music gig as a sound showcase. As a fellow Englishman explains to his friend between sets, ‘you just close your eyes, and they paint so many pictures in your head, bro.’
Other places I have heard are worth considering: Berghain, Katerholzig, Kaffee Burger, Festsaal Kreuzberg/West Germany, Antje Oklesund
Other things worth knowing: Expect to pay 50 cent deposits for bottles/glasses, which you can retrieve when you return them at the end of the night
My overall favourite district: Schönleinstrasse