Wednesday, 16 November 2011

We Can Be Heroes

Another final highlight of my recent trip to Berlin was meeting and becoming friends with fashion designer and ex-Blitz Kid Judith Frankland who was the house guest of a friend of mine whilst she looked for her new flat in Neukolln to where she has now relocated. When I went round there, she was sitting at the table with a Berliner Pils and we had a right old time. Anyway, amongst practising our Polari on one another and covering conversational topics such as the brilliance that was Billy Mackenzie, how much we both rate the most recent Depeche Mode 3CD remix set, our mutual friend Julia Fodor and how massively underated are the band Blancmange, she told me about a fantastic sounding new book due out very soon, "We Can Be Heroes".

Basically, it's a collection of photographs taken by Graham Smith who was part of the late seventies/early eighties London club scene and comes with text by Chris Sullivan, Robert Elms, Boy George and Steve Strange, as well as "500 pithy quotes from more than fifty of the main faces on the scene." It sounds very much like it will make quite a nice companion to go with Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan's "Punk" book of a few years ago and not altogether in a different vein.

It's one of those books where it only gets published when a sufficient number of people subscribe and, thankfully, they've just met their target in the last twenty-four hours or so. However, you can still get in there to get an initial copy by the looks of things and depending on what you're prepared to pay you can get various packages which could include an invitation to the launch party or even some limited edition signed prints of the images, should you so wish.

Here's the link and a couple of videos:

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Opiates-Kantine am Berghain, Berlin: 26th October 2011 & "Hollywood Under The Knife"

Billie Ray Martin is somebody who never fails to fascinate and who, over the last twenty years or more, has kept reappearing with one project or release after another of invariably high quality and impeccable style. Whether it be her clutch of hits with Electribe 101 which blended a sophisticated electropop with Chicago house beats as the 1980s morphed into the nineties, her powerful dancefloor cover of Throbbing Gristle's "Persuasion" which she produced with Spooky in 1993 (The Chameleon Mix is simply amazing), her monster worldwide hit of 1995 "Your Loving Arms", the 2003 Hot Skates 3000 single "No Brakes on My Rollerskates" (This time the stand out mix is by S-Express man Mark Moore), her "Dead Again" 12" of the same year, "Je Regrette Everything" the track on which she collaborated with DJ Hell in 2005, last year's "Sweet Suburban Disco" single with a brilliant remix by good old Vince Clarke or her more recent reworkings of Cabaret Voltaire's "The Crackdown" and "Just Fascination", anything she releases is guaranteed to be worth sitting up and taking maximum notice of, all combining her richly soulful voice and thoughtfully sequenced electronics which often point cleary towards the dancefloor, albeit somewhat more subtly in some cases more than others. It's no wonder she's been dubbed somewhere as "The Queen of Electronic Soul".

The Opiates, one of her most recent projects, on which she collaborates with the Norwegian musician Robert Soihem, is no exception either and is probably, in my opinion anyway, one of the very best things she's ever done and that's coming up against some pretty stiff competition. They first appeared about three years ago with a four track 10" EP titled "Anatomy of a Plastic Girl" after its lead track and which featured the addictively danceable "Candy Coated Crime" which first drew me in and, like so much of what she does, I presumed after all this time that it had been yet another one-off collaboration in her ever expanding canon. But no: they're back with a new EP, "Rainy Days and Remixes", featuring "Anatomy of a Plastic Girl" remixed by Chris and Cosey, and a full album "Hollywod Under The Knife" which is phenomenal from start to finish. It's barely been out of my player over the last two weeks, doing battle for prime position with the fantastic S.C.U.M. album which can't be praised enough either. Recorded in her city of origin, Hamburg - I wonder if she knows three of my other favourites: Andreas Dorau, Holger Hiller and Felix Kubin.Wouldn't it just be lovely if they were all friends? - and coming accompanied by a sleeve and booklet featuring photographs by swishy Turner Prize winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, the nine tracks (plus an extra, gloriously elongated version of "Candy  Coated Crime") are shining examples of why many people have come to love her, beguiling lyrics populated by a series of isolated, introspective, deluded or downright mad personas and characters over bubbling, pulsing electronics, all this combining, in places quite cinematically, to create gorgeously evocative atmospheres and moods.

On one track "Silent Comes The Night Time", the urban heat is so tangible that one can practically feel it wafting in through the gap in the curtains from the darkness outside and on another "Rainy Days and Saturdays" the feeling of gloomy ennui, the result of an empty day spent alone with no company but self-analysis, is horribly infectious. Elsewhere "Reality TV" is an absolute gem, too, its poppiness and unashamedly brash, astringent synthiness making it sound like the fifth single Yazoo should have but never did release and "Oprah's Book of the Month Club (Part Two)", "Jalousies and Jealousies" and "Anatomy of a Plastic Girl", as is the case with the track just mentioned, weave tales of  rather unsuccessful, hollow celebrity aspirations, as is belied by the album's title and also somewhat obliquely reflected in Tillmann's accompanying images. It's a total masterpiece, albeit one that looks likely to be almost totally overlooked.

When I was in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to see that they (she) were performing as part of the "Kometenmelodie" club night at The Kantine am Berghain. So, armed with tickets we'd picked up the day before, myself and a companion walked rather confusedly through the pitch blackness of a Friedrichshain night, towards a rather desolate seeming dead-end where we then followed a series of dimly flickering lights across some scrubland, a bit like a secret trail laid out for those willing to put a bit of effort into their initiation, until we reached the quite busy venue hidden in what seemed like an unpopulated rather dead, industrial landscape.

When she first arrived on the quite dimly stage, illuminated mainly by film projections which towered above her, and kicked off procedings with the aforementioned "Reality TV", which also served as one of the encores, too, she had quite long curly hair which came as quite a surprise as I tried to work out when she'd had the time to grow it since I last saw a photograph of her. However, as song number two, "I'm Not Simone Choule", unfolded, accompanied by scenes from Roman Polanski's 1976 film "The Tenant", things became a bit clearer. I'd not previously twigged when I got the 10" single but Simone Choule is the previous inhabitant of Polanski's character's apartment and the person who he slowly becomes in his mind, the wig Ms. Martin was wearing picking up on his transformation and the whole theme of personas which runs through the album, as well as looking a little like the curly mop sported by Isabelle Adjani in the film, although in her case accessorised with googly Sunnie Mann style glasses, as she appeared on the video sceen applauding and encouraging Monsieur Trelkovsky/Mademoiselle Choule as he jumped not once but twice from his high up tenament window onto the glass canopy and hard courtyard below.

Then, off came the wig in the very best Fuggerstrasse tradition - she didn't smudge her lipstick up her cheek, though - and a more recognisable Bille Ray Martin, having called up to the stage anyone else in the room wearing  a wig, completed the set with a much more familiar appearance. Flanked on the right-hand side by Roi Robertson of Mechanical Cabaret, who was providing the musical accompaniment in the absence of Mr.Soihem with the aid of a laptop and a rather covetable little Jen synthesizer, she then worked her way through practically every track on the album, all accompanied by very effective short films, one specially for each track, until the climax in the form of a stunningly long version of "Candy Coated Crime" which morphed temporarily into Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" at one point, our heroine rising more than admirably to the challenge. My companion was beside himself as, in fact, probably was I. It was extremely good. Here's a couple more pictures of her and a couple of clips filmed a few days earlier at London's Bear Pit, which sounds a brilliant place, and the HMV Store on Oxford Street.


Nico, Jacno, Divine & Sleazy

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Andreas Dorau: Hau 2, Berlin - 29th October 2011

Regular readers of this blog will have seen me mention Andreas Dorau on a couple of occasions previously and most noticeably when his latest album "Todesmelodien" was released early in the summer and I posted a rather rushed review with some initial thoughts. They'll also be familiar with the fact that he's someone I think is wonderful and whose career I've followed quite closely for the last couple of decades and more besides. My excitement, then, when I saw that he was playing in Berlin on a Saturday night will come as no surprise. Given that the chances of him ever coming to perform in Britain are so slim as to be practically none, I got straight on the blower to the box office of the Hau 2 theatre in Kreuzberg to bag myself some tickets and then the Lufthansa website to organise some travel.

It was worth every penny, too, as he was absolutely astounding, much better than I could ever have dreamt. Dressed in a dark suit with black tie, funeral attire to pick up the death melodies theme of the album, this outfit also being worn by the jolly drummer and laptop maestro who accompanied him, he was like a hyper enthusiastic dynamo as he danced energetically around the stage, a bit like someone's uncle or best man at a wedding reception, delivering slightly manic renditions of favourites old and new.

There had been an event on prior to the performance, "Plattenspieler", where his mate Justus Köhncke and Thomas Meinecke had been playing some of their favourite tunes to what looked like quite a packed house. When I peeped round the door they were playing Burt Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love" with the cover of "Portrait in Music" projected on a large screen above the DJ decks. As this overan slightly, it was about twenty minutes past the advertised time of 2200h when a new set of people and a dog - I kid you not; it lay on the floor and watched the show as its owner danced circles around it - entered the hall and within five minutes Herr Dorau and band were on the stage and launching into a version of "Inkonsequent" which must have been approaching double the speed that it is on the album, at least it seemed that way, maybe I was over excited like almost everybody else in the room by the looks of things, Wolfgang Müller's lyrics being delivered much more forcefully and boisterously than in their recorded context. And this set the tone for the bulk of the next hour and a half or so as he followed this with an amazingly lively rendition of one of the highlights of "Todesmelodien",  the electro disco "Und Dann", which almost raised the roof only minutes into the set, the scene resembling and sounding like a crazed acid house happening. Down near the front people were going completely crazy, the manicness of their dancing something I've not seen for a very long time and this only escalated when track number three, an old "hit" "Das Telephon Sagt Du" from 1994's "Neu" album kicked in. Meanwhile, the centre of attention bopped and marched around the front of the stage, all this achieved through the help of a long microphone lead, as he leaned over close towards his audience, first at one side of the stage, then the middle, then the other, practically rasping out the words and letting out cheers of encouragement in a manner which clearly betrayed his post-punk origins and the pleasure he was deriving from playing to such an enthusiastic crowd. He moved so quickly, in fact, only the flickering strobes slowing him down, that it was almost impossible to capture a picture of him that wasn't blurred and here's some evidence.


The rest of the set then comprised most of the livelier moments of the most recent album, highlights being the two lead tracks - I guess they would have been singles in more innocent and better times - "Größenwahn" and "Stimmen in der Nacht", and these were accompanied by "Es War Hell" and "Gehen (Baby Baby)" the second of which had his German fans singing along with such joyous abandon that's rarely seen these days. He's clearly a bit of a hero to quite a lot of people other than moi which begs the question why he hasn't had more mainstream commerical success aside from his 1981 Die Doraus und Die Marinas hit "Fred Vom Jupiter" and 1997's "Girls in Love" which I believe made the top ten in France. This latter track was also included and although partly delivered almost acapella when a lead from the laptops stopped working temporarily it barely mattered as everybody in the room knew how to fill in the gaps admirably. "So Ist Das Nun Mal" from this album also featured favourably, too, as did "40 Frauen" and "Im September" from 2005's "Ich Bin Der Eine Von Uns Beiden". Then, after two encoures, the final song, a surprise in the form of "Nordsee" from his debut "Blumen Und Narzissen" album, perhaps a clue that he was about to disappear back to Hamburg, was performed, the drummer who had looked like he had been having the time of his life swapping his sticks for an acoustic guitar for the finale. It was absolutely fantastic and he must have been completely exhausted by the end of it - I'm feeling a little fatigued just reliving it. It's no wonder he had to disappear at one point for a few minutes, leaving the rest of the band on stage whilst he presumably nipped to the toilet or for some refreshment.

Finally, I must make reference to the stage dressing, too, which consisted of a panelled screen behind the drummer, a banner in front of the table on which the laptops lay, a large canvas suspended from the ceiling and a large cutout in the foreground, all decorated with cartoon paintings of dead musical heroes, again picking up on the idea of "Todesmelodien". At one juncture he tested the audience's knowledge of who they depicted, affirming and/or correcting their suggestions: Karlheinz Stockhausen; John Cage; Nico ("oder Christa Päffgen"), Jacno ("aus Elli und Jacno oder Stinky Toys"), Divine and Peter Christopherson ("aus die Gruppe Throbbing Gristle") featuring amongst them. It all makes such complete sense; four of these feature quite highly in my pantheon, too.


Andreas Dorau - what a brilliant man and what a brilliant concert, one of the highlights of my year, if not my life, if I want to get a bit over the top, which I think I might well do, actually.