Last night Battles were awesome and awkward, and astounding in every way. As you can hear on new album (leaked today!) their songs are better than ever, but they could have a problem with singers.
Last year they lost their quasi-frontman Tyondai Braxton to his side projects, and had to record Gloss Drop with a clutch of guest vocalists. Now their live show sticks the star singers in the background (on screens, when they work) and off to the side – as with sole live singer Matias Aguayo – a kind of metaphor for their disconnection from the band proper.
While the use of vocalists (relatively) unprocessed makes the fresh material more like songs than sonic experiments, video footage of them proves distracting; in the flesh, the trio revolve around ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier, a mancrush of mine and a serious machine. The new music he propels along is at once less fragmented and more wide-open, cocking an ear to G Funk, trance and epic instrumental rock – and on encore track Sundome, both Screamadelica and tweakin’ hip hop. The clear highlight was Gary Numan collaboration My Machines, a little underwhelming on record compared to a live rendition which edged into Angel Dust-era Faith No More, a melodramatic metal nightmare.
So the three-piece’s live show is a qualified success. Now we just have to see how they ride out this pesky leak. They may have won the Battles (ouch!), but will they win the war?
Electronic artist Emika cut her teeth on Bristol bass music, before moving to Berlin back in 2008. A Berghain fanatic-turned-collaborator, she recorded sounds around the club from which the resident DJs created tracks for in-house label Ostgut Ton’s Fünf compilation. She has lent her enigmatic vocals to local scenesters MyMy, Paul Frick and Tommy Four Seven, and released her own tracks on Ninja Tune – the dynamic and ethereal “Drop the Other” and “Double Edge”, and the meditative “Count Backwards”. This summer, she releases another EP before her hotly anticipated debut album, and plays a handful of select gigs. I caught up with her to find out how she fell in love with Berlin in the first place.
What has it meant to you, moving to Berlin?
Oh my god – everything.
It wasn’t a decision made for my career or my music to move here. I didn’t know about Berghain until maybe three months after moving here. I’d never really listened to techno – I was really into drum n’ bass, and dubstep and hip hop. I didn’t really know anything about Berlin, and that the music culture was so interesting.
So how come you ended up here?
This is kind of silly: I got a free flight when I upgraded my bank account!
And the first night I was here, I went to Watergate. As I was leaving, this guy started talking to me – and he is now one of my best friends. I totally fell in love with him – not in a romantic way – and he took me to flea markets, took me all around the city, let me stay with him, introduced me to his friends here.
So yeah, I fell in love with him, and his friends, and moved here to work as an au pair and a few months later I discovered, “WOW, there’s this thing called techno! I quite like techno!” From there I discovered Hard Wax, the record store, and very slowly educated myself – OK, there’s this scene in Detroit and this scene in Chicago… I didn’t know about any of this stuff before I moved here.
What’s so special about Berlin?
The feeling when I’m here, it’s much like the feeling when I first came to Berlin. When I get off the train at Warschauer Strasse, I still get the feeling of “Oh, I love it here!” I can’t explain it – I mean, when you look around you the place looks like a dump, there’s dog shit everywhere, and there’s graffiti everywhere and everyone’s broke and everyone looks drunk half the time… I don’t know what it is, there’s just a certain magic in the air here.
How did you end up collaborating with Berghain?
Well [resident and Ostgut Ton manager] Nick Höppner was DJing and I was trying to make a cigarette. I was really drunk and was trying to roll up on the decks, which swing – they’re not attached to the ground. I tried to get my jacket to get something, and I knocked the needle off the record and the music stopped. And I was like, “Oh my God.” It was the one and only time when I thought, “Yeah, I know the DJ and yeah, I’m going to go behind the decks and make a fag!” and I just killed the party. I was like, “Nooooooo!”
Anyway, in that moment, when the music stopped, I leaned against the wall and there was this strange echo. You could hear the people and it was like the whole building stopped resonating when the music stopped, and it was like “vwooom”. And I totally forgot that the music had stopped and I looked around at all the stuff that makes sound – the lights and the fog machine and the bar and the people and the floor and the ceiling, and the shutters in Panorama Bar on the outside. There’s so much stuff that makes sound phenomena on its own.
And that’s when it was just like “ping!” I was stood there dancing next to Nick Höppner, and I was thinking, “Oh my God, I can record a sound library and it can be amazing…” And then it just evolved from there. But there was this moment, when I realised, “Oh my god, Berghain got voted number one club in the world, and there’s this thing about, ‘it’s so hard to get into’…” And then I worried about how I would be perceived in the media, people thinking, “Oh here’s this girl, and she’s now over here doing something with Berghain.” And it wasn’t like that. It’s really about the sounds in that place – it’s not about me at all. It could have been anyone in there with a mic, recording that stuff, it just happened to be me.
And you recorded some vocals at Die Teufelsberg, right?
Oh, that was the scariest thing in my life.
First, I went there with my friend. There’s a listening station right at the top, which you can access – it’s pretty dangerous, lots of gaps in the stairs and stuff like that. And there’s this huge, huge door, which was shut, and I didn’t want to go in there. But my friend was like, “Come on lets do it!” and got this crowbar! By the time we got in it was totally dark outside, but we didn’t realise, and the door slammed behind us and we couldn’t get out. It was so terrifying!
Anyway, this listening tower is a perfect sphere shape – you can say “ah” and it’ll carry on for about 20 seconds, just all around you. Suddenly it’s like there’s a choir of people singing with you. And it’s so trippy! So we go back there a week later, and I take my laptop and microphones and stuff, and I recorded an hour’s worth of singing. I got home and listened to the recordings and it was just noise – like this strange “kkkst” noise, with like Russian radio.
I went back again, and had a different microphone set up that time, and that time recorded my voice fine. I have no idea, I don’t know how that stuff works… At the end of my video for Double Edge, I cut in some of the sound. So weird, so weird…
So that’s the magic in the air?
You’ve been here for three years - do you feel like a Berliner now?
I feel like a Berlin fan. It could be a whole lifetime’s journey to really understand the history of Berlin, and the nature of the society and the people here, the energy here. I don’t think it’s every going to be something where I think, “Yep, that’s it – I’m a Berliner now!” But I definitely feel like I’ve made a home for myself here.
This article originally appeared on Bang Bang Berlin.