November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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A Night at Bar 227 – By Fred Roberts

Local Heroes:

Germany’s Battle of the Bands

by Fred Roberts
Contributing Editor, Music

Prologue

In January we saw Saskia Maas playing a “fireside concert” at the literary cafe Mathilde in Hamburg: 20-30 people in a cozy room, with a wood furnace emanating its warmth, and Saskia before us, sharing her songs. It was just Saskia, her voice, her guitar and some kind of magic. The encores lasted nearly as long as the original set, and her adaptation of a Hermann Hesse poem to music was impossible to resist. She played that twice. And it made us believers. A few weeks later on the last day of March, Alexandra and I followed Saskia to Bar 227. She appeared there in a qualifying round of the band slam contest “Local Heroes” and there was no question of our showing up to support her.

The Local Heroes event is a yearly band contest throughout Germany, with local chapters in major cities. Bands compete with each other in qualifying rounds, semi-finals and then a finalist event. The rules of the voting are simple. Each visitor is given an official event ballot. After all the bands have played, the ballots are returned, with visitors selecting their two favorite bands. On this night the two bands with the most votes would move into the semi-final event coming up in June.

The host of the event, Bar 227, is a tiny venue with a couple of sofas, a few arm chairs, and standing room. Seat cushions are scattered in an alcove off to the right of the stage. We took two cushions and sat up close to get the best view of the coming events. We ordered a round of fritz-kolas from the bar and snuggled in for the evening along with around 40 other guests.

Website: http://www.bar227.de

* * *

Saskia

Saskia at Bar 227

Saskia Maas

Saskia Maas was up first. I’d found out more about her in the time leading up to the contest. Saskia is a young singer-songwriter finding her way to a powerful voice. Judging by the list of shows at her website, she has taken every opportunity to hone her craft and gain experience, playing extensively around Hamburg in the last two years as well as participating in any kind of contest or slam event. She released a CD in 2012 “Wonderland” with songs mostly in English, but has since increased her repertoire with German texts, her native language. A new CD is scheduled for release in May this year.

Her songs are generally about moments and emotions, snapshots of life that for me bear a direct relation to the lost forms of poetic and allegorical literature in Germany such as Stefan Zweig or Hermann Hesse. As she played her set, we noticed again the remarkable synthesis of text, the warmth and depth of her voice and the harmonic, folk-influenced music. We were entranced from start to finish. A few of the highlights included the Herman Hesse piece “Die Welt unser Traum” (The World of Our Dream) and her song “Wonderland,” a rare example of positive inspiration, in the sense of Steve Wynn’s song “Believe in Yourself.” She closed the eight-song set with the stunning “Für einen Moment,” an embodiment of Erich Fromm’s idea of being and having, a magical moment of experience that she’ll not trade for any money in the world. Applause all around. It was obvious that her songs had connected.

Website: http://www.saskia-maas.de

* * *

Lion's_Waltz

Lion’s Waltz performs at Bar 227

Lion’s Waltz

The next band was Lion’s Waltz. I did some research beforehand and discovered a heavy metal hardcore noise band founded 2011. The Facebook page had 20 likes and very little activity, even from the band itself. Then again, maybe these are not the kind of fans who hang out in facebook clicking “like.” Google searches found a few scattered references to gigs in Hamburg. There was nothing in Youtube. I had high anticipation for Lion’s Waltz, as hardcore is a genre I know little about, having only heard it occasionally on university stations mixed into alternative sets.

Lion’s Waltz is a four man combo. They arrived with a small circle of fans that must have comprised about a third of the guests. The band was announced and the microphone handed to the lead singer, probably not more than 18 or 19 years old, who introduced the group with the understated words, “We’re Lion’s Waltz”. After a round of applause they broke into their first song. It was hard core, with charm. The lead singer, wearing a woolen cap, growled his vocals directly into the microphone, while pacing up and down in front of the stage, much like a lion in a cage –  the band grinding out a blend of metal riffs, steady rhythm, and noise.

Their fans, of the same age group, were sincerely enthusiastic, and the set had a certain innocence to it, played as if this were the only genre to exist. I have one hardcore track in my collection, a contribution by the Meat Puppets “Hair” on Monitor’s self-titled debut (1980), and that’s what Lion’s Waltz sounded like. Between songs one of the contest hosts kept requesting “Summer of 69” from the band, suggesting some kind of inside joke. The band declined, saying they didn’t play that anymore. They completed their set and enthusiastic applause followed. It looked a lot like first place.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lions-Waltz/535691913113693

* * *

Äläx

Äläx at Bar 227

 

Äläx

Äläx was the next band up, so-dubbed because the two members of the guitar and drum duo share the first name Alexander. A few days before the concert I had a glance at their Facebook presence to discover a  space-themed band. “Interstellar Explorations” is the title on their page. Scrolling down I saw a photo of the band preparing their self-made concert banner, the band’s logo along with a ringed planet on a black cloth. We watched as they put up the banner, as meaningful and effective as $100,000 stage scenery in setting the scene. Before long they were introduced and began playing. The set was a pleasant surprise, spacious sounds and galactic motifs cruising somewhere between rock and jazz, all instrumentals. “Reise nach Andromeda” (Journey to Andromeda) was a wonderful, nearly ten minute sound excursion.

I used to listen to Chopin on repeat while reading Kafka. Now I could imagine reading my favorite science fiction authors Robert Sheckley or Clifford D. Simak while playing this music on endless cycle. If you ask me, a non-musician, how to capture  a sci-fi mood in an instrumental delivery, I wouldn’t have a clue of how to do it. That’s what made their sound all the more amazing to me, that it so overwhelmingly succeeds. This is indeed the music you’d listen to on the way to a distant galaxy. The audience response was as enthusiastic as by Lion’s Waltz and all the time I wondered why I hadn’t heard of Äläx before.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aelaexhamburg

 * * *

Metamorphonia_by_Sonja_Brüning

Photo: Metamorphonia by Sonja Brüning

Metamorphonia

Metamorphonia is a dark pop singer-songwriter duo of Denis Scheither (piano) and Christiane Schmidt (vocals), as stated on their Youtube channel. I watched one of their videos “Ten Months” before the concert, and it looked promising to me. Now Denis and Christiane opened the set with a medley of two covers: Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Rammstein’s “Sonne.” I thought the vocal part was engaging and Denis’ accompaniment thoughtful. The next song, “Dissonance” began with the words “Why must the flower slowly fade away” and goes on to become even more somber and pessimistic, about the dissonance that develops in a relationship. Next, Alex Dietz replaced Christiane on stage. Alex and Denis played two songs, including a piece Alex had written following the death of his father. To me it was something too precious to share in such a profane setting as a band contest. The three of them then joined for the remaining songs.

Altogether the set did not like me. It was more like three bands instead of one: Christiane and Denis, Alex and Denis, then all three together. Each constellation was a different kind of sound and feeling, with no real chance to catch on. I’m not sure I heard right, but at one point during the set Denis wondered aloud to the audience, “Why does everyone think we play sad songs?” He invited everyone to visit the band’s Facebook page and to write, even if with constructive criticism, so I am hoping that my words here are not too harsh, and maybe somewhat helpful. I think Metamorphonia should decide in which line-up they want to play, and then develop their sound with that in mind. Judging by the applause, the audience seemed not to share my reservations.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/metamorphonia

The Voting

The emcee announced it was time to vote, thanking the bands in the order they had played. Saskia Maas, Lion’s Waltz, Äläx and Metamorphonia. Saskia’s applause was the least loud of all, but that may have been an effect of being announced first. The second time an audience responds it is usually louder because everyone wants to outdo themselves. Still, it made us nervous as to the outcome. Judging by the levels of applause, it still looked as if Lion’s Waltz had won the evening.

It took a few minutes for everyone to write in their votes. Alexandra and I both voted for Saskia, and we agreed on our second vote as well. I won’t reveal which band it was, but in the end, that second vote appears to have made no difference. When the audience was finished dropping their ballots into the cardboard box on the bar, the contest hosts took the container into the back room to count out the ballots. The two bands with the most votes would go on to the semi-finals. Ten minutes later they returned to announce all the band names again, the same levels of applause as before – not a good sign for Saskia – then called the bands on stage for the announcement of the results.

They drew it out as long as they could, telling us there had been one overwhelming winner. “Not a band, but a project,” as they put it. What could that mean? Finally they told us, it was Äläx. Enthusiastic applause. Now it was time to announce the second band to move on into the semi-finals. But something unusual had happened, they said. A tie for second place. After some consideration, the hosts told us, they had decided that both of these bands would go on to the semi-finals. The first of these, was not a band, but a project, they continued, drawing it out for all it was worth. Lion’s Waltz, they finally revealed. This meant that Äläx and Lion’s Waltz and one other band were still in the contest. That band was…… Saskia Maas. We were happy that she had made it to the next level. In the end, though, I don’t think it is fair to pit such diverse styles against each other. Each band was good in its own way.

Local_Heroes_Result

Local Heroes contest winner: Äläx

Epilogue

The largest concert I’ve been to was Pink Floyd in Dortmund, in the late 1980s, a mass event in a major arena holding the population of a small town. It was unforgettable. But it is not always the mass events that bring us the most joy or the most vivid memories. These can be found in the small venues with bands as yet unknown to the masses. It is the feelings and the moods that music evokes in us that we remember, intensified by intimate surroundings and reinforced by a far more personal connection to the artists.

————-

If you’re in Hamburg the next weeks and would like to support the bands, the semi-final events are:

June 20th, 7PM, MarX/Markthalle (Äläx, Lion’s Waltz)
July 5th, 7PM,  Marx/Markthalle
July 18th, 7PM, MarX/Markthalle (Saskia Maas)
July 25th, 7PM, MarX/Markthalle

Best of luck to everyone!

Complete line-ups and additional events:
https://www.facebook.com/localheroeshh

 


2 comments

1 Fee { 05.01.14 at 8:50 am }

Dear Mr. Roberts,

Ihre Artikel, die hier zum Glück regelmäßig zu lesen sind, geben immer einen wunderbaren Einblick in die Vielfältigkeit der musikalischen Welt. Diesmal lassen Sie einen neugierig werden auf junge und noch “unverbrauchte” Talente, die sich in Hamburg an einem Bandwettbewerb beteiligten. In Ihrer Beschreibung liegt viel Spannung und so hat man beim Lesen durchaus das Gefühl auch selbst dabei gewesen zu sein.
Meine Favoritin ist Saskia Maas , der Sie in Ihrem Artikel wunderbar beschreibende und zutreffende Worte widmen. Die Feinfühligkeit ihrer Musik und Texte inkludierend.
Mr. Roberts, es wäre schön öfter von Ihnen etwas lesen zu können.
Lg Fee

2 indeterminacy { 05.01.14 at 9:53 am }

Thank you for the kind words! (Danke für die großzügig nette Worte!) I’m happy you enjoyed reading the article.