Monday 27 December 2010

Top of the year

The other day a friend and I were trying to recall the good live performances of the year. And we struggled. In our minds, this hadn't been a good year for live music in Berlin. So while being cooped up in the house with all that snow falling outside, I took the time to go through my various calendars and pick out good gigs. I wanted to make my Top 10. I have almost suceeded, with a few more than ten. Turns out this year wasn't so bad for live music after all.

1. Quintron & Miss Pussycat at Bang Bang Club

2. The Strange Boys at White Trash Fast Food
3. Ben Butler & Mousepad at West Germany
4. Tune-Yards and Bear In Heaven at Puschenfest, Festsaal Kreuzberg

5. Max Tundra at West Germany

6. MEN at Festsaal Kreuzberg

7. Ganglians at Bang Bang Club / Marie-Antoinette
8. US Girls at Madame Claude
9. Lake at Schokoladen
10. Chain and the Gang at West Germany
11. Tender Forever at West Germany

12. Health & Liars at Volksbühne

13. Soulwax and Atari Teenage Riot at Berlin Festival, Flughafen Tempelhof

14. Wavves at White Trash Fast Food

15. Tussle and Publicist at Bang Bang Club

The following should have also joined the list but more than 15 on a Top 10 would have been too greedy after all: Wild Nothing, dd/mm/yyyy, Japandroids, Kids Explode, Dean Dirg, Screaming Females, No Age, Abe Vigoda, Joan of Arc, Love of Everything, Sissters and probably The Drums but I didn't go to that last one (and regret it).

Oh, and the most atrocious gig I attended this year was Foals at iTunes festival London. Who knows what happened to them but they used to be really good.

Finally, to highlight one band that had the time of their lives this year it seems and were temporarily joined by Justin Pearson (of The Locust and All Leather) and Dennis Lyxzén (of The International Noise Conspiracy, The Lost Patrol Band/Invasionen and AC4) among others: The Bloody Beetroots. I wasn't at this event but I expect it was grant.

Preview: this week (27th Dec - 2nd Jan)

Between the years - possibly my favourite time of the year. It's the one time of the year when nobody hassles you and you have sufficient "you-time". As expected, there are not that many gigs going on this week that you could spend that time on but a few things are worth noting:

Superpunk at Festsaal Kreuzberg: Are you the traditional type? Then you may want to attend this Superpunk gig at Festsaal Kreuzberg that takes place every year between the years. It's tradition.
Birthmark and Kid Ikarus at Kim Bar: Birthmark is yet another project featuring members of Joan Of Arc, this time Nate Kinsella. He mostly plays music that you would expect from a Kinsella, dreamish pop tunes, but adds unexpected electronic and wave elements to some songs. High quality. Kinsella is supported by local hero Kid Ikarus who mainly experiments with electronic sounds but also plays the drums sometimes and sings. Originally of ampl:tude, Kid Ikarus uses this persona to produce whatever he seems to be in the mood for. Meet me at this pre-new-years-eve-party.

Aimée Argote and friends at Schokoladen: This is how we are going to celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of another. Argote of Des Ark fame will play a solo gig and has brought along Birthmark (in case you missed him last night), Al Burian (writer and musician of Milemarker and other noteworthy projects) and Petethepiratesquid (Berlin-based math-core group).
Bonaparte DJ set at Festsaal Kreuzberg: This is no live gig of course but Monsieur Bonaparte is known for his extravagant live performances and his ability to party, so we expect this DJ gig to be out of the ordinary as well. Also DJing are the Remmi Demmi folks.

SDNMT and Hundreds at Volksbühne: OK, I'm not a particularly big fan of Hundreds, so I won't go into that. But I do think that SDNMT, a outfit from Berlin, are worth your attention. Imagine early Notwist albums, Dinosaur Jr. and poppy Arcade Fire songs mixed together. And a gig might be a good start to the year, don't you think? That is, if you didn't go too wild last night.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Happy hols - see you in a few days.

I'm a great Blood Brothers fan, especially their first record on Three One G is up there in my top 10 albums of all time. Johnny Witney's follow up project Jaguar Love is great on record but hasn't convinced live so far (a few will remember their atrocious sound at Lido a couple of years ago). Johnny is also a designer among other things, but in the following video he joins a cooking show and prepares a Tofurky for Christmas. Enjoy!

Speaking of Blood Brothers - you should really check out Past Lives, which is also a follow up to Blood Brothers. The album needs a few listens to get into but then, I promise you, you will play it again and again.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Review: No Yummy Fur

A disastrous evening. First, both my dates had to cancel because of a nasty tummy bug that's going round. Then, I'm running awefully late. And then...

Well, I made my way into West Germany towards the end of the set. And as I stumbled into the room I was surprised that the band had changed their musical course a tad, now seemingly inspired by !!! (chk chk chk). I heard exactly two songs and the gig was over. Of course I was disappointed - not only had I missed most of the set but I also felt that The Yummy Fur were The Yummy Fur and really needn't change just because they had added some new members (and lost others).

Ha! It turns out The Yummy Fur were still in Glasgow and couldn't travel to Berlin due to an air traffic chaos in Great Britain. A few flakes of snow and Britain comes to a halt. It's always been that way and it always will be. The British are so used to drizzle in winter, they cannot handle the fact that winters are getting colder due to Global Warming.

So yes, The Yummy Fur are probably still The Yummy Fur and maybe, with a bit of luck, they will visit Berlin in the future.
The band that played was Zirkon (feat members of Stereolab / Th' Faith Healers / Chrome Hoof & Mediengruppe Telekommander) and because I only saw those couple of songs, I cannot tell you much about it.

BTW, the evening turned out OK when I met an old friend and we had a laugh. And some people got over the disappointment and danced to the DJ tunes.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Review: Mahjongg

Remember how I told you that only a small number of people showed up at the Ganglians gig? Well half that and you have the Mahjongg "crowd". Was it the snow? And I had actually reserved a ticket. No kidding.

So we sat in an empty Marie-Antoinette watching the opening act, slightly delayed to permit for any latecomers who didn't come. Krach Der Roboter is a "one man in a DIY robot suit"-project and specialises in experimental electronic sounds. The music is goodish but the performance is second-to-none. You can't help yourself but laugh when he jigs in his robot costume behind his electronic equipment.

I couldn't tell whether Mahjongg were disappointed with the small crowd that had bothered to attend their gig but they played a surprisingly long set anyway. And those few people that were there made sure to clap and shout sufficiently to make the band feel appreciated. Because appreciated they were. Mahjongg are one of the best live acts that I know of. While I do like their records very much, and I am into all that "analog dance music" stuff, the boys just get so excited about it themselves when they perform live that they can drive the audience into frenzy. But to be honest, they need an audience. It's all well and good to have four people work their instruments and electronics and dance and sing and improvise and interact, but it's dance music despite all. No people = no dancing.

We did make up for it when we danced to Paul Simon's "Call Me Al" afterwards. And then departed into the snow again. You should have showed up. You missed out on Mahjongg and Ganglians and on New Years Eve you will ponder about how few good gigs were happening this year. And I will ask you what you were doing when all these musical talents visited our hip town with expectations.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Preview: the week ahead (13th-19th Dec)

This is the run up to Christmas and my last post before the holidays. And what a last week ahead! Swans, White Magic, Best Coast, Mahjongg, Oval and The Yummy Fur all in one week. It's one big party for a week before the city comes to a standstill for ten days.

Swans and James Blackshaw at Volksbühne: A highly anticipated event, this concert is going to attract the intellectual, the musical theorists but also those who simply appreciate good music. Swans have been doing their post-punk for 18 years and through dark melancholic sounds, reminiscent of Nick Cave and 80s punk rock, have paved the way for bands like Arcade Fire. It sounds so current and yet frontman Michael Gira found the group in the early 80s. Wonderful. If you can afford it, go to this.
White Magic at Marie-Antoinette: Much talked about event at Marie-Antoinette. It's that psych thing from New York, on Drag City, and good at that. If you cannot afford Swans, and I can't, join me at Marie-Antoinette.

Best Coast at Magnet: Best Coast have added a member from Dum Dum Girls and still do that 1960s inspired girl group thing in a modern LA surf way. Sweet.

Mahjongg at Marie-Antoinette: Oh boy, am I excited about this one! Industrial dancey music produced with a combination of instruments and computers. It's taking to another level what !!! (Chk Chk Chk) and Radio 4 started. I'm particularly fond of the live drumming performance. Class. Come out and dance.

Oval, Murcof, Rechenzentrum and Hilary Jeffery at Berghain: Oval is the electronic music project on Thrill Jockey by German native Markus Popps who has worked with many famous musicians and has pioneered an own electronic sound unlike any other. This is a rare appearance by Oval and although I don't know too much about the other artists, I think that Oval alone will make this a special night. And really, if you haven't been to Berghain yet, this is your chance. It's a wonderful structure and amazing sound. A very beautiful venue.

Audiolith label night at Astra: Audiolith is a label (and DJ) from Hamburg which has done a lot for German independent music over the past decade or so. Attentative listeners of MotorFM will be well familiar with Audiolith artists. Fun.
Lower Dens and Jana Hunter at West Germany: The girls and boys at West Germany are having a chilled evening before their big party night tomorrow. They're bringing you Lower Dens and Jana Hunter from Baltimore. The former are wavey, psychedelic and sometimes a bit Sonic Youth but will also appeal to fans of Arcarde Fire. The later is a lady and her guitar and you think you know the do but you know nothing. Jana Hunter uses this guitar to create unusual experimental sounds that are dreamy yet different. This is a promising musical night.

West Germany Xmas Party with The Yummy Fur: Scotland is a relatively small country but it brings out a remarkable amount of musical talent. The Yummy Fur have been around since 1992, with breaks. They play your typical 90s indie rock and I'm a fool for that. Very sweet. But that shouldn't be your only reason for showing up at West Germany this Saturday. DJs, a fun crowd and dancing into the early hours will make this a very sweet personal party the way all Christmas parties should be.

Zann and Just Went Black at Kastanie 85: Berlin/Leipzig and Hamburg represent. Screamo HC the way I like it. I haven't seen Zann in ages and although I have an interest that not too many people will cramp into the small Kastanie, I can also not deny you this information.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Correct Calendar View

Hey! Looks like Google fixed the calendar. All dates show correctly. Hooray.

BTW, here is what we did a year ago: we went to see Foot Village at West Germany. Foot Village are one of the best live bands I know of. But I've told you this before, haven't I?

Sunday 5 December 2010

False Calendar View

In case you use the calendar at the bottom of this blog as reference, ensure that you actually click on to the entries in order to view when the event is taking place.

Currently, the calendar overview is displaying all entries one day too early. So e.g. the Swans gig on Monday 13th is showing as Sunday 12th but if you click on the event entry it gives you the correct detail of Monday 13th. It appears to be some Google issue that I have no influence over.

Review: Ganglians

A few days ago I got a phone call from Ganglians' booking agent enquiring whether I knew of a free van and driver. Ganglians had broken down in the middle of nowhere and were stuck in the snow. And they weren't moving for two days.

When I arrived at Marie-Antoinette the venue was deserted. It looked as if people weren't willing to brave the cold and snow to make it to this gig, albeit the modest ticket price of €5. Things were looking bleak for this evening: a band that had been stuck for two days and were bound to be on low spirits, no audience and cold feet.

Au contraire! Some hot tea onstage, a very good DJ Jimmy Trash to heat up the small crowd of late comers and a band determined to beat the odds and make this a fun last night of the tour.
"Somewhere between Beach Boys and Sisters Of Mercy" (Micha)

Ganglians play music that consists of psychedelic, surf but also wave elements and is very accessible yet clever. Live, the focus is on the frontman who sometimes just sings, sometimes plays keyboard or guitar. But it's the rhythm section that really makes this band so great. Nobody can stay still when they build their catchy sound structures. Dancy.

A successful night after all. I'm so glad I braved the cold and got my feet warm from dancing to Ganglians. What a band. You missed out!

Saturday 4 December 2010

Preview: the week ahead (6th-12th Dec)

Ah, good idea, stick all interesting gigs on to one day - Tuesday. The remaining days of the week are really not that interesting. But here goes.

MGMT at C-Halle: MGMT have really impressed me with their latest album with which they didn't try to reap in the cash following the success of the previous one but took a completely different direction. I think they shouldn't be underestimated. BTW, there is a sweet interview on Q TV that shows nicely how these guys approach their work. How do they survive on a major? We don't know. Anyway, the gig is too expensive and sold out. I will be going to see Woody Allen's new film at Babylon Kottbusser Tor instead.

Frank Zappa "The Listening Sessions" at Jansen Bar: This is not a gig in the literal sense of course but the Jansen Bar has started a series where every first Tuesday of the month you can listen to one of Frank Zappa's live performances. This week you will hear
Zappa in Los Angeles von 1984. You can prepare for the evening by reading the autobiography which is witty and funny.
Marnie Stern at Comet Club: Marnie Stern is a Kill Rock Stars signed artist. Kill Rock Stars is possibly my favourite label of all time and therefore, anything on KRS catches my attention. It never disappoints. This lady plays pretty much lo-fi pop and rock music, a bit Sonic Youth at times really, but then again very KRS, pop enough to appeal to a wide audience but quirky punk and experimental too. Wonderful. Also, friends attending the Vienna concert gave her a big thumbs up.
Small Black and Pictureplane at Marie-Antoinette: Psychedelic electro pop, sometimes with a dance beat, in line with the mode at the moment, from Brooklyn, as is half of the world's band population at the moment, and from Denver. You won't get disappointed, this is good, but I find it increasingly hard to get excited by this sound. In Bonaparte's words: You know too much too much.
Stanley Brinks + Freschard at Roter Salon: a.k.a Andre Herman Düne. And that's the crowd it will apeal to, but also to the melancholic and those that just want the perfect soundtrack to go with the snow outside. Dreamy and beautiful music with a strong jazz influence. The ambience of the Roter Salon will perfectly match this music, too - since we cannot attend the gig at a smoky club in 1960s Paris. This gig will be my choice on Tuesday, including a visit to the merch table for a record to take home.
Tamaryn at Café Zapata: San Francisco represent. Girl-Boy combo that could be playing with Small Black and Pictureplane but also with Coco Rosie and friends. As far as I know, they also do a great visual show with their sets.

2manyDJs at Arena
: 2manyDJs were removed from the bill at the Berlin Festival at last minute's notice because of security issues. You will probably have heard of this whole episode. The Berlin Festival is now staging a night of all groups that didn't get to play their sets at the Festival. Owners of festival wrist bands will get in for free if they register online - all others can actually still purchase tickets to this event.

We Invented Paris at Tante Horst: We used to go for the vegetarian brunch at Tante Horst on Sundays until the small café-bar became just so crowded that it was actually not possible to get a free seat. Now it's one of the local Kreuzberg 36 bars to go to in the evening when there is nothing else to do. Seldomly, they stage small indie concerts and this is one of those occasions. We Invented Paris are from Basel and play very standard indie-music which will appeal to the post-emo lovers. Nothing special. But it might be nice to sip a little something at Tante Horst while a band is playing.
What else are you going to do on a Thursday except maybe go see Sam Taylor-Wood's film Nowhere Boy, portaying John Lennon's early years as a musician, which is being released in cinemas in Germany today.

Nothing at Kastanie: The band name Nothing might cause this group some Google issues in the future but for the moment this is a new project by people of defunct Berlin group Mönster, among others. There aren't going to be any suprises musically. Punk/HC with rock influences. Should be fun and might attract the Vice crowd who are showing up at Glasses gigs these days. Times have certainly changed.
DAF at Festsaal Kreuzberg: Some bands don't need any introduction. If you don't know what Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft sound like or where they're from, etc, then do your bloody homework. There is going to be some Remmi Demmi DJing, too. A night to dance away until the morning.

OMG! Ganglians tonight

Somehow Ganglians have fallen off my calendar. Oh boy. Anyhow, Ganglians tonight at Marie-Antoinette. Come in great numbers. They are a brilliant live band. They are a brilliant band, full stop.