The New Year has arrived, and as we stumble – punch-drunk – from the ravages of 2016, it’s an exercise of supreme optimism to remember what good came from the last twelve months.
Berlin has given forth a rich bounty of indie belters for our enjoyment; aural oddities and classic rockers alike. The swirling mess of languages, styles, production values, and formats speak something of Berlin’s chimeric music culture– a little more open-armed than its European neighbours.
It can feel a little the world is constricting on DIY music; that the cracks are closing between the paving stones and the sunlight isn’t getting in. Recent years have seen the closure of sub-culture legends like London’s Fabric and our very own Antje Øklesund, while zero hour contracts and exorbitant health care policies don’t quite fly with soaring rent places in cultural capitals.
So here we are, celebrating Berlin’s hardworking musicians with a few of our favourite releases from this year. This list is by no means exhaustive so it’s best to consider it a selection rather than a playbook.
Support local music where you can, because as London is showing us: neglected communities will disappear and leave you with nothing but craft beer bars and lounge music. Show your face, give your money, share the records you love. The scene belongs to all of us. Local indie is good indie and you can find heroes in the smallest of venues.
Strand Child – Soul Jelly (EP)
Syrupy, sun-blushed vibes from this May release by Berlin indie-foursome, Strand Child. Think mid-70s Fleetwood Mac or Real Estate and you’ll come somewhere close to the verby, dreamy cool of this band. Mario Quezada’s vocals are sublime; gentle, unforced and refreshingly sincere. All breath and warmth on Machines, he sings, ‘Time ain’t nothing but a cruel device.’ The wisdom of the lyric aside, there are worse ways to spend some time than an afternoon alone with ‘Soul Jelly’. I’d recommend you pushing this record on friends with the same militant enthusiasm I’ve done since first hearing it.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – Self Titled
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream’s self-titled album is full of the kind of radio-ready indie that you can play for your family without frightening them. Each track is rich and well-constructed, with soothing, clear vocals and wintery, chiming guitars that say something of the bleak January release date. Despite being one of the larger bands on this list, space is well-respected; there are a few gorgeous moments of stripped back playing and artful builds. The drumming charges when it needs to, and gently coaxes songs forward in the album’s quieter moments. Check out Fourth Wall for a bit of indie dancefloor bouncing.
Skiing – Another Wave
Lo-fi loveliness with the twee, varsity stylings of Belle and Sebastian or Felt. Plus, there’s more than a little of The Decembrists or Kings of Convenience thrown in for good, folky-measure. Subtle Hunting gives us guitars and piano that spill over each other like so many tinkling crystals, while All Hail has lounge room, drug-addled sexiness, filled with round beats and ambling melodies. This is an album for the cool light of the morning after or for evenings when the rain pelts against the window.
Mother of the Unicorn – Variations
Mother of the Unicorn are one of the tightest live acts you’re going to see in this town. With a sombre confidence and textured sophistication that translates from stage to record and back again, this band gives us all the earnestness of The National but with enough spice to set them apart from cardiganed indie contemporaries. ‘Variations’ is a beautiful record that’s not in a hurry to get anywhere, and the production is gorgeous. On album closer, O Vile Line you can hear each calloused digit run over guitar strings, while Joe Kelly’s voice is as warm as the rounded bass tones that run throughout the record.
Nunofyrbeeswax – On Everything
If you haven’t heard Nunofyrbeeswax’s ‘On Everything’ then, Lordy, are you serious indie heads in for a treat. This band is the coolest, rockingest band I’ve seen in Berlin so far. Surfy guitars, pounding drums and vocals so good I want to cry, this Spanish/Italian duo are pure punk with zero apology. It can be hard to translate the sweat and passion of a live garage punk show onto a record but ‘On Everything’ achieves it with room to spare. Get shouty with Outrageous or enjoy some B52s pop call-backs with Saiko Girl.
SchnickSchnack – Koolazooga (EP)
Epicness in 8-bit is the name of the game in SchnickSchack’s September release, ‘Koolazooga’. This pan-continental, adorable duo bring us ‘casio punk’ anthems with as much craft and quirk as a Mark Mothersbaugh soundtrack. Patrick Weiland’s vocals have strong overtones of Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals while Futaba Nakayama’s voice is a jerky, clear-toned exercise in charm. As cute as this album is, there are some seriously catchy hooks and knee-bouncing beats: a punch to the ear from a rabid Pokemon plushie.
Girlie/Pigeon (split EP)
We’ve talked about Girlie’s throwback charms in previous gig guides; the likes of Interrugnum bounding along with unreserved indie flavour. Honest lyrics, dirty guitars and garagey production define Girlie’s presence on this record. Pigeon by contrast have an altogether darker sound, influenced somewhat by squalling vocals and swelling guitars with enough grit to de-ice your footpath. This split EP strikes a perfect balance between both bands: the fresh, open Girlie running into the brooding, blown-out Pigeon.
GURR – In My Head
GURR have been making serious waves in the German music scene since 2012, but this year was a breakout time for them with their debut album, ‘In My Head’. 2017 will see them journey with hundreds of other artists to the hallowed Texan ground of South by Southwest. ‘In My Head’ delivers krauty, driving drums and tight guitar riffs that occasionally break out into full, dirty chords. The single, Walnuss should be top of your travelling playlist as the vocal hook and gorgeous melodies will keep your head bobbing as the world speeds past your window. Overall, ‘In My Head’ is a solid piece of garage indie that sits in the crosshairs between Joy Division cool and Parquet Courts energy.
Odd Couple – Flügge
Odd Couple are precisely one of those local bands you want to throw yourself behind and tell the world, ‘See it here first!’ ‘Flügge’ is sexy and weird and garagey and loud and new and everything you need from an indie record. You’d be forgiven for thinking the opening garage banger, Haste Strom Haste Licht sets the tone for the whole record, but you’d be wrong. Entré Tres Mello with all of its slow-grind sensuality. Enjoy lyrics like ‘download my love’: guilt-free tongue-in-cheek you don’t have to hide in the back of the cupboard like those The Darkness albums you bought back in the 00s. If you like the musical bi-polarism touted by the likes of ‘Queens of the Stone Age’, then this is the record for you. Stellar stuff.
Mondo Fumatore – The Yeah, The Yeah And The Yeah
Don’t listen to this record if you’re planning on any mental quiet. One catchy indie earworm follows another, with alternating lead vocals giving enough variation to keep you pinned to the record like a mounted butterfly. There’s a little bit of The Cure, a little of The Pixies and enough pop-leaning weirdness to keep any erstwhile The Dismemberment Plan fans like me satisfied. Album favourites include Appletree Theory, Under My Silverpine and White Devil.