Sunday, January 26, 2020

BUM / Atomvulkan Britz / Lutzilla - Live 2020.01.25 Tr*ckstr, Berlin, Berlin, Germany

The night opened with Lutzilla, a duo that evolved from Lutz Steinbrück and his prior band Neustadt. Lutz appeared on guitar and vocals with Florian on drums. Florian’s kit was quite minimal, with only one tom-tom and one cymbal, but the tightness of his performance boosted the songs substantially. The shifting rhythms were well-synchronized between the guitar and drums, which did much to ground and stabilize them. The percussion also significantly energized the songs, and several even had a punk edge to them.

Atomvulkan Britz is a duo consisting solely of bass and drums. Their sound was noisy and punky and yet quite rhythmic and had a sense of post-punk experimentation. The bassist relied on effects to drive his style as much as the rhythms and riffs themselves, including thickly distorted fuzz, heavy phasing, and the characteristic chorus sound of Simon Gallup of The Cure and Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order. The drummer also had a dub-like delay on his snare that somehow managed to be a focal point of the set. The effect came in and out, and I’m not even quite sure who was triggering or controlling it, but it lent an unexpected and otherworldly tone to their sound. The lack of vocals or explicit melody was unconventional, but their energy and creativity kept my attention nonetheless.

Last up was BUM, a quartet of guitar/vocals, bass/backing vocals, drums, and synthesizer. They too were intently rhythmic and punky, but they took their music in a variety of directions. The foundation was post-punk funk à la Gang of Four or the Au Pairs, but there were plenty of louder, noisier sections more akin to post-hardcore. The wild creative energy of the drummer and the insistent propulsion of the bass really drove the songs, but the keyboards added a nice extra layer of texture. The vocalist was more focused on the words than his guitar, but when he did play, it was sharp and angular. His style was also somewhat textural and didn’t fit neatly into a “lead” or “rhythm” category. For one song, he read a poem over the music, but unfortunately that was the only time I could consistently understand the lyrics. The intensity of their set was such that when they had to pause for an extended tune-up, it was actually a refreshing break. Nonetheless, they carried me with them.

Tr*ckstr isn’t the easiest venue to find, and it clearly tries to maintain an air of mystique, but once you’re in, it feels cozy and punky. The sound isn’t particularly detailed, but it’s loud and the atmosphere is good. If the line-ups are regularly this solid, I’ll be back, even if it means reeking of smoke afterwards.

P.S. Thanks to Lutz, Uli, Tim, and Brooke!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Ben Osborn / Zazuka - Live 2020.01.08 Schokoladen, Berlin, Germany

The last time I was at Schokoladen was just over ten years ago. I saw a punk show on New Year’s Eve and went outside at midnight to watch people throw snowballs and launch fireworks. I had such a good time that I memorialized the day in a song. Considering that I don’t live far away these days, it was nigh time to return.

Unfortunately, one of the originally scheduled acts, Tan LeRacoon, had to cancel due to illness. In his place was Zazuka, a Jordanian-German singer-songwriter that played solo at a keyboard. She was a bit meek and quiet, and the music was generally sparse and sombre, but she managed to cover a lot of ground and offered a fair bit of variety. She sung in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish, including a couple covers. Some songs were jazzy, with a hint of cabaret from a century ago, while others were rooted in various folk traditions. Her lyrics were also noteworthy; one bemoaned a person stuck too deep in their traditions that apparently held them back. For two songs, she brought Barbara Cuesta on stage to add backing vocals, which was a nice extra touch.

Ben Osborn from England also mostly played alone, but was a bit more adventurous in his instrumentation. He played guitar on one song, but a problem with one of his pedals prevented another. Instead, he mostly stuck to his keyboard and some light electronics, and he even played around a bit with a drum machine. His keyboard skills weren’t as dynamic as Zazuka’s, but the manner in which he blended the instrument with his synthesized sounds and effects more than made up for it. He joked about playing techno, but the electronic elements never dominated over the fundamental components of his voice and keyboards. He also brought up Barbara Cuesta to guest on two songs, and on the latter, she even played guitar.

Osborn also joked about him and Zazuka seeming out of place in a punky anarchist bar, but he said they were also anarchists, just of the “quiet” variety. He also made several references to chamber pop, but to my ear both acts were singer-songwriters somewhere in the realm of folk music. My understanding is that the studio recordings of both are somewhat more orchestrated and carefully arranged, so perhaps the label would apply more accurately there. At any rate, it was a pleasant evening and a welcome return to a place I have fond memories of.

Zazuka: C
Ben Osborn: B-

P.S. Thanks to Lutz, Dave, and Tobias!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 in Review

I’ve never written a post like this before, but 2019 was something of a special year. Somehow, without even really trying, I wrote more reviews in 2019 than in any prior (37 posts). At present, there are 33 posts tagged 2019 (not counting this one), also more than any other year. It’s also the first year I saw a show and wrote a review in every month. I still haven’t gone to any major European festivals, but I did go to a local psychedelic festival that seems to be breaking out (Synästhesie), another local alternative/independent festival (Torstraßen Festival), and a street festival on the street I live on (Choriner Straßenfest). And in another first, I conducted my first interview (with Joshua King of Joshua and the Ruins). It’s been a busy year!

I managed to see three of the classic kosmische heroes (Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster and Harmonia, Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia, and Tangerine Dream, albeit with none of the original members), in addition to plenty of my other longtime favorites (The Specials, Ian Fisher, ChameleonsVox, The Smashing Pumpkins, Andrew Bird, Neil Young, Boogarins, Tame Impala, Wilco, Fehlfarben, Stereolab, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).

I also got to see several strong newer German bands (Britta (new is relative), Barbara Morgenstern, Die Heiterkeit, Theodor Shitstorm, Laura Carbone, and Perilymph, among plenty others), and there were also plenty of pleasant surprises at festivals and in opening slots (Yeasayer (who just broke up), Michaela Meise, The Chap, Chris Imler, and Sunn Trio, to name a few).

There was also plenty of great music released in 2019. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
You may note a few big names with new albums aren’t on the the list. To be honest, I found some of the high-profile releases by big-name artists middling or even disappointing, namely Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Ghosteen, The National - I Am Easy to Find, Wilco - Ode to Joy, and Thom Yorke - Anima.

On the other hand, there were (as always) a few older records that I came across this year that particularly impressed me, including: Britta - Lichtjahre voraus (2003), The Boo Radleys - Everything’s Alright Forever (1992) and Giant Steps (1993), Michael Rother - Flammende Herzen (1977), Neonbabies - 1983 (1983), and Ideal - Bi Nuu (1982).

Lastly, there were also a number of great records from recent years that I missed at first but have now caught up with, such as: The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum (2016), Theodor Shitstorm - Sie werden dich lieben (2018), and The Veldt’s pair of 2017 EPs, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation and Thanks to the Moth and Areanna Rose, although most of the latter appears to have been previously released as Apollo Heights on White Music for Black People (2007).

Like I said, it was a great year for me in terms of music! Here’s hoping that the fun continues in 2020.