Last November, Jerry Paper played his set at the Center for Digital Arts in Brattleboro, VT, wearing nothing but a pink satin robe and grey socks, bunched at the ankles. This was, apparently, not atypical. Before the show, I’d familiarized myself with the work of Jerry Paper, whose ‘host body’s’ name is Lucan Nathan, by reading his feature with The FADER, where he discusses his typical show attire, as well as his attraction to pre-linguistic sensory experiences, both in musical and religious settings.
During the set, Paper moved in ways I’d never seen anyone move. It was oddly seductive, the way he belted into his microphone, the farting and belching sounds he made between songs. Oftentimes, he’d crouch low to the ground, as though he were attempting to hide underneath his synthesizer, while also stomping his feet in alternate wide-legged strides.
In the other room, through a Christmas-lit doorframe, a set of iMacs displayed Jerry Paper’s new video game, which accompanied his latest album, Big Pop for Chameleon World. Nathan, in addition to being a musician, designs digital worlds in which he is the main character, pottering through his own dreamscapes. I’d been standing over the shoulder of my friend Julia, who was seated at one of the computers, when she pronounced, “I’m about to score some MDMA.” The digital version of Paper stood at the bar in a mostly empty nightclub. Julia hit the T-key on the keyboard, which prompted the digital Paper to give some of his virtual coins to the bartender in exchange for ecstasy. Immediately, the club began to quake and all we could see was the back of Paper’s head as his brain began to suffer the effects of the virtual MDMA. Julia hit a slew of keys, trying to get the shaking to stop. “I wish I hadn’t done that,” she said, sighing. On screen, in fancy print, appeared the words: I DON’T THINK THAT MDMA WAS PURE.
Jerry Paper’s set came as a relief seeing as I had spent the last half-hour trying to force myself to enjoy the opening band, whose conceptual drivings had almost certainly overshadowed the consideration of musical craft. A tall skinny boy with long black hair had sung into the microphone the way one sings into a comb while pretending to be a rockstar in front of the mirror, at home, alone. He used his other hand to make wild gestures above his head, arm outstretched, fingers reaching for the stars. He sang in a mostly broken and frantic falsetto while twirling his lean body around the carpeted stage. Occasionally, he knocked knees with the people sitting in the first row. This did not faze him. “Everybody wants to be somebody upstairs,” he crooned, over and over, during one particularly heartfelt song, whose background track played on his iPod and which he sang over. After each song, the iPod would immediately begin to play the next track and the boy would rush to it, pause the music in order to consider which song he wanted to play next, and then press play. Throughout all of this, a sea-themed screensaver projection colored the stage, the boy, his iPod.
When he was done, the audience screamed for more. This both baffled me or did not baffle me at all. While I’d found the music itself intolerable, there was something about the performer’s abandon, the bright reverb-laden tracks, and the porpoise projections that seemed important. I was skeptical of this sentiment then and still am, but I can’t shake the feeling. In the middle of his set, I turned to another friend, who was seated to my left. “Maggie,” I said, in the quiet between songs. She turned to face me and I stared at her for a moment before whispering, “What is happening here?” She laughed, but I stared on. I gestured toward the Christmas lights, the metal folding-chairs, the dorm-style lamps, the eroding carpet. “This all feels so familiar. What is happening to us?” She shrugged, but not before nodding in agreement.
There is a sound I hear all the time now, in the music that surrounds me. Or rather, it is a type of sound that I can only describe by listing the things it reminds me of. It sounds like nostalgia for the future, like robots at the beach, like the darkest depression and the brightest cheer you’ve ever felt. It sounds like carefree but not because I don’t care but because I can’t care. Like, these are the times we’re in, the world is ending, we have no future but I promise I’m having fun.
For her fifth studio album, Susanne Sundfør vowed to put herself to the test. After building a repertoire of producing for herself and others, as well as collaborations with Röyksopp and M83, she committed herself to self-producing and arranging a body of work. This autonomous approach conceived a frenetic collection of songs, comprising several stories and characters as she embarks on a crusade of love. Ten Love Songs expands on her signature brand of dramatic pop that interweaves classical and electronic elements as she hops between menacing electronics, sweeping synthpop and organ ballads. The initial assault of her diverse palette soon gives way to lyrics of complexities of love; obsession, unfulfillment, vengeance and trust. Her voice is both the anchor and the vehicle of the music as she brings these stories to life in the way she heard and imagined them. I spoke with Susanne about the intent of the record’s literal title, the learning curve of her career so far and the confidence she has developed to carry her music.
We have covered several of Lobster Theremin's limited edition releases since their genesis, ranging from Imre Kiss to Route 8 to Ozel AB. While there are several more excellent EPs coming your way from new LT artists, here are three that we would like to highlight.
Pairing with sister label Mörk, Raw M.T.'s La Duna is a calm cab ride along a coastal region. Seeing as how the "M.T." stands for music theory, this Italian producer surely has more goods to offer than what is briefly seen in this enjoyable EP. The title track starts us off in the usual LT aesthetic of lo-fi quality, and the beat is experienced with a type of jovial skipping stone counterrhythm. Midway through the track, a friendly, curious melody hits all the while the shimmering pad persists in the background. "Untitled" is an entrancing, beachy song, nearly balaeric. It bears a steady and simple hum next to an indecipherable, perhaps Arabic, vocal sample. "Strike" is slightly darker. An applicable analogy for the listening experience of this EP is an afternoon in a beachy destination: it starts slow and sunny, perhaps accented by consumption of local food and material goods. The taxi ride to the social event of the day is like "Untitled," private, transitional, and meditative. Then, "Strike" is the dirty transition from participation in one's own beachy day to an acidic situation in either a bar or an underground party. Take what you will from this alternative construction, but take lots from this gorgeous piece of music.
Austin Brown is one artist in Berlin that I admire a lot. He is someone who knows entirely what he is doing. Not just by the action, but by the intellectualization of it as well. When it comes to music, Austin can tell you everything from the difference between sine and square waves to the forces behind his favourite records. On the last EP of my band 케이프 you can hear Austin's self-built amplifiers coming to work.
This experience doesn't come from anywhere specific. At the age of five, Austin began playing violin and has been playing music ever since. The US-native used to play in more than 50 bands, most notably Why?, the Anticon hip hop rock outfit. In 1991, he began studying audio engineering and experimented with recording techniques for a long time. In the 2000s, he worked as a professional sound engineer in the states before moving to Berlin in 2008. Here, he made several records for local bands and worked in different venues; "My education was just trying out a bunch of bad ideas to see what might work."
The two new songs "Pendulum Swing" and "Collide" from his moniker High Heels are a demonstration of Austin's skills. We hear perfectly arranged dense rock music with a warm organic sound. Distorted lead vocals catch up with clouds of noise produced by guitar and powerful drums. The music has a great dry '90s vibe, reminding me a lot of Sonic Youth records from that time along with newer reverb drunken noise music like No Joy. With the two songs, Austin perfects the style of his older records out under the same name.
An important part of Austin's working process is to collaborate with other people. In the course of the last years, he has recorded with over 20 other musicians. These are people he worked with in studios or wanted to work with, but didn't have the chance to. For each musician Austin carefully picked the material knowing pretty well their individual playing styles. This way, he could compile the best parts together and add them to the songs the way he wanted without making compromises. "The results are fantastic. People do their best work, when they are doing whatever they want," he says.
Especially nowadays where everything primarily seems to be about style you don't come across many people who are real maîtres of their metier. Hanging with a perfectionist like Austin is always quite refreshing. It reminds you that dilettantism and irony, as interesting as they are, are not the only things that are cool.
This little website is turning five today, and there will be a proper party sometime this spring – or so we hope. We'll keep you posted. For the time being however, without further ado, here's our Special Anniversary Editon of the NFOP Show on Berlin Community Radio, which aired last Friday. We only played songs from 2010, the first year of the blog, when it was tiny and even more irrelevant. It was the age of blogging however, even though decline yould already be felt. In June of that year, Altered Zones entered the playing field, which first seemed to make everything even more exciting but ultimately engulfed everything into the abyss along with itself (*full disclosure: this author used to contribute to AZ). The rest is history. In any case, we're still here. Thanks for bearing with us.
That being said, another announcement: The NFOP Show on BCR will from now on be biweekly, two hours long, and air from 7 to 9pm CET. The next edition will be on March 6. Tune in.
Stream both parts of our anniversary show below.
(1) Games ”Shadows In Bloom“
(2) Autre Ne Veut ”Drama Cum Drama“
(3) Hype Williams ”The Throning“
(4) Girls ”Broken Dreams Club“
(5) LA Vampires & Matrix Metals ”Berlin Baby“
(6) Twin Sister ”All Around and Away We Go“
(7) The Sweethearts ”Burnin' Thru the Night“
(8) Herbcraft “Road to Agartha”
(9) Velvet Davenport “Warmy Personal Routine”
(10) Holy Strays “Faint Beams Ceremony”
(11) Big Troubles “Bite Yr Tongue”
(12) D’eon “Keep The Faith (Airbird Remix)
(13) Philip Seymour Hoffman “requiem for the ghostbuster”
(14) Perfume Genius “Look Out, Look Out”
(15) Rangers “Deerfield Village”
(16) Tamaryn “Love Fade”
(17) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Bright Lit Blue Skies”
(18) Pigeons “Fade Away”
(19) Julian Lynch “Mare”
(20) Demdike Stare “Caged in Stammheim”
(21) Ensemble Economique “Forever Eyes”
(22) LA Vampires & Zola Jesus “Bone Is Bloodstone”
(23) Sun Araw “Deep Cover”
(24) Woods “Blood Dries Darker”
(25) Herzog “Cautiously Optimistic”
(26) Coma Cinema “Only”
(27) How to Dress Well “You Hold The Water”
(28) Jeans Wilder “Blanket Mountain”
Every Björk album release feels like a standstill moment in music history. Her records are made with emotional brevity and shaped by restless exploration. Electronic producer, Arca, mentioned in an interview in 2014 that Björk had completed a new body of work which he helped co-produce. The trickle of information came as a surprise, yet the bigger jolt was that no one expected it to be released as early as January – not even the artist herself. Quickly after the official announcement of Vulnicura’s release in March, it was leaked online in grainy quality. Taking the issue into her own hands, Björk put the album in its entireity on iTunes to be heard as she had intended.
Sun Ra and his Arkestra were known, amongst other things, for their elaborate space garb – the sequins, the ancient Egyptian symbolism, the face-paint, the full-length capes. These were spacesuits the band wore to accompany them on their mission to ‘travel the spaceways.’ So when I first began the project I called The Spacesuits, the plan was to construct a series of costumes, modeled after the garments of the Saturnalian people from which Mr. Blount claimed to have descended. I drew inspiration from the early ILC Dover spacesuit prototypes, crafted in the mid-sixties. I also drew inspiration from artist and Afrofuturist Nick Cave, known for his Soundsuits, large wearable sculptures whose bedazzling feathers and contours are meant to obscure the race, class, and gender of its inhabitants.
The Spacesuits, however, quickly became more about the music than about the costumery. The Arkestra’s outfits, after all, were only subsidiary elements of a larger mission; namely, that to restore race relations by re-imagining a future for blacks that quite literally transcended space and time. Sun Ra’s music was, above all, paradise music. It was music, which by the process of “telemolecularization” (a word coined and used often by Sun Ra), would transport its listeners to another dimension.
Thus began my own search for Sonny Blount’s contemporary musical descendants. The Spacesuits became a collective of musicians in whose work I heard elements of new utopias. I studied their bodies of work and searched for themes like apocalypse, reincarnation, the afterlife, etc. To each musician, I provided five ‘calls to action.’ I gave them prompts like, “Create a short book on how to communicate with stars. Do not use words,” (a prompt given to Stasia Irons of THEESatisfaction) and “Imagine the instant the world began. Create the corresponding soundscape,” (a prompt for Bryce Hample of REIGHNBEAU). The responses produced by the musicians in The Spacesuits collective will form the basis of a series of 8+ multimedia installations over the course of The Spacesuits summer tour, which begins on April 24th at Mengi in Reykjavík, Iceland and then travels across North America. (See the full schedule here.)
When Portals did a micro-feature of Montreal-based musician Karneef in April 2014, I knew I’d want him in The Spacesuits crew. The feature was succinct, if humorous. It read:
Montreal’s Karneef is a man that really, really loves his bass. The video for his new single “Swimming” finds him in some weird situations, most of which involve him in his underwear. Karneef keeps it cool with a lot of smooth strumming and awkward dance moves; occasionally hiding behind paintings so he can scope out a cute girl in the studio. She seems to be in her own world for most of the video, walking around aimlessly and dancing while Karneef serenades her in different parts of the studio.
It is true that Philip Antoine Karneef does indeed love his bass. But he’s also up to much more. Karneef’s 2013 album Love Between Us is, for me, an exercise in paradise music. It is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, but its sincerity is just as unmistakeable. In fact, over time, it has become clear to me that paradise music always plays on that tension between irony and sincerity. One of my favorite moments in A Joyful Noise, Robert Mugge’s 1980 documentary, is when that very subtle smile appears on Sun Ra’s visage as he advocates for governments to give constitutional rights to angels. The smile isn’t signaling that Sun Ra is, in fact, joking around. Instead, the smile says, “There’s a lot more going on here than you think.”
Read Anaïs Duplan's interview with Philip Karneef after the break.
Sea Change is Ellen A.W. Sundes’s musical project whose debut album, Breakage, is due out February 23rd. Based in Oslo, the musician recognizes her own shyness as an impetus for this project: “I've spent so much time being too shy to show people my music or even actually write finished songs because of my own self-censorship. This project is about letting go and just being comfortable in this space”. The record’s title, Breakage, refers to her own desire to break away from old to create a new environment for herself. "Squares" reflects the heart and sound of the debut record. Entering with breathy vocals and a stuttering beat, she sings of escaping the trappings which hold her back. It broods in its sparseness, as she vows that her “feet will run all they can”. "Squares", much like the album, drifts between a melancholic and a rising spirit. Sea Changes’ Breakage is the sound of an artist transcending the anxieties which restrain her creativity and discovering her own voice.