Hamburg’s Music Subculture/Fred Roberts
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Photo: A scene at Club Golem
When I look back at all the events I’ve seen in Hamburg in the past year I feel the awe expressed by the replicant Roy in “Blade Runner” just before he expires:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.”
I’ve never journeyed through the galaxy, but I’ve taken the s-bahn to places like the Golden Pudel Club, a Hanseatic version of CBGB, and across from the Fischmarkt, that venue called Golem, with its secret doorway behind a wall of antiquarian books, down to a crypt and subterranean cinema. Or Hasenschaukel in St. Pauli with its unbelievably rich repertoire of events, not to mention a dozen other tiny venues all within a five minutes’ walk from the Reeperbahn but nevertheless entirely unknown to the waves of tourists one leaves behind in the main street. The real secret in Hamburg is HFBK, the University of Fine Arts, with its end of semester parties, a broiling fusion of exhibits, music and performance art. These are the places in Hamburg where I’ve collected my most memorable cultural impressions.
Artist-musician Tellavision (Fee Kürten) sounds like Björk on quaaludes. She weaves dreamscapes out of loops and samples, increasing their complexity with a fine sense of balance and detail until one is hopelessly captivated. It’s like waking up into an aural hall of mirrors behind the usual realm of sleep. One leaves the self behind and follows the alluring voice and sounds into a seductive infinity. Her voice is deep and soulful and would be right at home singing a blues standard, yet here it is exploring the surreal. There’s a strong positive quality about her music, as if she were a sorceress of sound casting white spells of mystery and wonder. These are my impressions after seeing her perform twice and listening to her albums.
Fee is a student at HFBK. My first time seeing her perform was at Golem this February, as part of a larger program Stimmen (Voices). Students of Felix Kubin presented their audio projects, an evening of fascinating sound experiments, lectures and demonstrations. The program concluded with a short set by Fee. I was astonished at the intricate and layered wall of sound she conjured out of nowhere. Afterwards I explored more of her music, well-represented at bandcamp. I started with Music on Canvas and We Love the Omniscient Narrator adding them to my loves. I learned she played often in underground clubs in Poland, where she is enthusiastically received. Concerts in Hamburg are scarce, but I finally saw her perform again at an art exhibit, in a darkened cellar below the main activity, standing before the projection of an abstract painting of hers. The empty basement filled quickly after she began playing. It seemed unplanned, but she gave us an encore, her own interpretation of the 1963 Ronettes’ number Be My Baby. That was greatness.
Some while ago Fee sent copies of her first album Music on Canvas into the world and heard back from the label Feeding Tube Records in Northampton, MA, which released it on vinyl last year. In September she begins a visit in Boston including plans to tour with ZEBU! Her newest album, Funnel Walk, will surely be a part of that. It continues where her previous releases left off, a surreal nightscape with sounds of shadows dancing festively, and always her engaging voice guiding the listener to secret corners of imagination.
October 14th @ Retirement Home @ SoPro, Northampton/MA
October 19th @ Whitehaus, 10 Seaverns Ave., JP/Boston/MA
November 8th @ Hassle Fest Extension, Aeronaut Brewery, 12am-ish, 14 Tyler St, Somerville, MA 02143
November 18th @ Midway Cafe with BATHAUS and BLK BX
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Schnipo Schranke are two sweet girls singing about sex. There’s more too it than that, of course, but when they came to Hamburg this January it was quietly, under most everyone’s radar. Last summer (2013) they played three concerts, opening for Nuclear Raped Fuck Bomb and HGicht, with Rocko Schamoni credited as having discovered them. Now they shared a bill with Mary Ocher at the Golden Pudel Club. I had never heard of Schnipo Schranke before, so had a look at their Youtube channel to find several undiscovered gems: Mein Leben als Imperator (My Life as Imperator), a hip-hop rap of Star Wars meets street wit. A love song to Harry Potter that winds up taking him to bed. And a song about fuck buddies (Fickbuddy). Schnipo Schranke are like the Fugs, Tom Lehrer and your favorite 1960s’ girl band rolled into one.
The set at Pudel Club began with Fritzi Ernst on drums (and flute) and Daniela Reis on keyboard – halfway through the set they switched places. The texts were well-written, dealt openly with sexuality and were hard as hell for a non-native speaker of German to follow, at least on first listen. My favorite song of the night was Cluburlaub, a song about an “extremely enriching” vacation experience. Bits and pieces from the lyrics: my psychiatrist killed himself last week, booked a ticket to Panama, self-service ha! – everything is brought to me, flat-rate at the cocktail bar, vodka and soda, gangbang with the tour guides, topless at the cocktail bar, naked at the cocktail bar, and so on. My other favorite, Intensiv was played in the style of an early rock and roll ballad with lines like “Baby, dein Sperma schmeckt so intensiv” and “Küss mich da wo die Sonne nicht scheint” which I leave for the interested scholar to translate. Describing more of the relationship (my translation) “come in my arms / come in my mouth” and the end of the story, “I was so in love with you, you were so into me.” Outrageous, ironic, but kernels of truth. That describes their texts.
At that time they didn’t have a cd or record with them. They apparently hadn’t recorded anything at all except their Youtube videos. In April a song of theirs appeared on the label Staatsakt, on the Keine Bewegung sampler. Their contribution was Pisse (Piss), a standout breakup song which become a sensation over the summer. Most of the album reviews singled out that particular song. The alternative Internet station Reboot.fm played it twice in a row on one of their broadcasts. No one can listen to it just once! The song is remarkable for the unbelievable rhymes and for putting to words what no band has ever done, a breakup as viewed through the nuances of oral sex. The official video for Pisse was banned on Youtube and had to be moved to Vimeo (see links below).
Their next concert in Hamburg was in June at the small bar Strandgutfischer in St. Pauli, by invitation of the owner. Word of mouth and Facebook filled the entire venue.Two weeks later they appeared at Golem before another full, enthusiastic house, including an introduction by Rough Trade artist Frau Kraushaar. Triumphant gigs, each of them. By this time they had a set of self-made EPs along with them, with individual polaroid photos and three songs, Pisse / Schranke, and a different, completely unknown demo on each. I have four of them by now. One of the demos was Vorhang (When the curtain goes up), about the “first time,” in quite a number of variations, yet sounding so innocent. The first lines:
When the curtain rises, the first time always hurts a little
When the curtain rises, there’s no turning back, because it’s too late
And when it’s happened, you start to write songs, shine with that certain glow
Hey, it’s totally normal the first time
It hasn’t happened yet, but today I’ll say goodbye to my virginity…
As the ultimate subversive prank this song must be smuggled into a purity ball for that special father-daughter dance. Musically it fits perfectly, and afterwards if someone listening understands German the story would go viral. I feel certain that Schnipo Schranke will continue to take the underground cultural scene by storm, even if mainstream radio never plays a single song of theirs.
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Katherina Messer is a woman of dark personas. Known also as SKEWOLF, Miss Anthropy, or Werewolf Sucker she is an artist-filmmaker who studied at the Offenbach Academy of Art and Design as well as HFBK in Hamburg. A few years ago I somehow landed on the mailing list for her Misanthropy Lounge events in which she DJed a varying range of genres such as punk, grindcore, black metal, death metal, industrial, military pop, wave, noise and neofolk, and more. The accompanying posters were terrifying as they were titillating. Skinned corpses in passionate embrace, crucifixion art, bloody ejaculations along with occasional self-portraits blurred and defaced.
One day Katharina’s mail announced a live concert of her band THERNST, a contraction of “The Ernst” also a play on words with the German word for earnestness or severity. Not knowing entirely what to expect, I went. The concert was held at HFBK during one of the semester parties, in a fairly large lecture hall. Purple-green hues projected onto a screen behind the band painted an eerie mood. The first number set the pace of the band. Rumba Oma (Rumba Grandmother) – electronic, primal and minimalistic, swirls of Neue Deutsche Welle, noise, industrial and death wave. The lyrics could have been an homage to a song by Palais Schaumburg which repeated calls of “Telefon, Blumenhalter” over and over.
Katharina was dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and a deadpan expression, operating the controls. Next to her stood bandmate Taeckgo Goldt on keyboard, like a robot out of Kraftwerk. Patrick Baumeister delivered vocals that morphed from emotional detachment into a manic extreme. Another number Ping Pong Match – Tennis Turnier was wonderfully audacious, a funeral march played in the style of the early computer tennis games. Hundewelpen auf Ebay (Puppy dogs in Ebay) was equally audacious, with yelping dog samples, and strangely sweet.
As the evening progressed, the combination of low key music, irreal lighting and serious personas developed into a powerful mesmerizing force. Students began projecting shadows and shapes onto the screen, contributing a sense of of de-evolution, of dissolving into the noise. Towards the end of the concert Stefanie discarded her emotionless veneer and vivaciously shouted into the audience, “You want more?” She went on to play the keyboard with her entire body. This was as underground as it gets, music for the dark caverns of Hamburg, where oblivion is master.
THERNST has played subsequent concerts around Hamburg, including at B Movie and coming up in September at Nachtasyl. See them if you have the chance.
About the author:
Fred Roberts is a contributing editor and music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
Photos by Fred Roberts, except Thernst, by Thernst.