Waiting for the sun – Psychic Healing with Sun Tarot

Whatever your experiences of the last few, surreal months have been, you have probably used at least some of the time for self-reflection. Who are we? How are we to navigate the uncertainties of our current global predicament?

There are myriad solutions: Booze? Not sustainable. Religion? Well, perhaps – Bible sales have been on the up over the last few months, and according to various studies, there has been a spike in religiosity in the US. Yoga and meditation? There’s been a spike in meditation apps such as Headspace, with and more people trying to sharpen their mindfulness at home. 

Then there’s psychic healing. Pandemic panic has also seen a surge in demand for Astrologers, Tarot Readers and Energy Healers as a means of assuaging uncertainty and stress, and Lára Philips, through her Berlin-based enterprise Sun Tarot, offers Tarot reading and channelling sessions to her clients as a way of navigating the vicissitudes of their knotty existences. 

Sun Tarot is in some ways a perfect example of Irish culture in Berlin, with Lára bringing a life-long interest in Irish traditions of folklore and pagan beliefs to a receptive audience in Germany’s famously open-minded capital. As someone coming with no knowledge of Tarot reading, I am fascinated, and over an enjoyable hour on Zoom, I take a writerly inquisitiveness in why Tarot has been enjoying such a surge of interest of late, how it translates to an online format, and how psychic healing can potentially benefit our lives.

© Cleo Wächter

What is Tarot

For the uninitiated, the practice of Tarot reading is still a relatively new form of divination. The cards used in a Tarot pack can be traced back to the late fourteenth century, initially used for parlour games in Italy and France. These beautifully drawn cards, similar to modern playing cards in that they use four suits, only started to become imbued with an occult resonance from the sixteenth and seventeenth century onwards, effectively becoming a channel for various ancient beliefs, taking elements from the Kabbalah, astrology, alchemy and hermetic philosophy. 

What’s the fundamental goal of Tarot in today’s world? “Tarot can be our own private and personal detective, uncovering the inner workings of our own mind. Imagine an experience that enables you to gain insight about your past, present or future,” writes Lára, enticingly. 

All of this is achieved with a Tarot pack consisting of 78 cards divided into two categories: the minor arcana, and the major arcana, featuring trump cards such as The Emperor, The Fool, Death, and of course The Sun, the trump card after which Sun Tarot is named. I wonder why The Sun has so much significance: “The Sun is the luckiest trump card, and the best card you can get,” Lára tells me.  “Ultimately, I always hope the readings leave you with a hopeful, sunny outcome.”

Lára definitely exudes sunny enthusiasm and approachability in our Zoom call. Some might even say she even comes across as strikingly “normal” in the sense that she’s not dressed in crystals and beads like a caricatured mystic. This is very much a deliberate choice: “I wanted to make my readings practical because Tarot is very practical. I wanted to take the magical look out of it and go with something that people know…I try to make the reading as normal possible in order to not freak people out!”

Far more important to Lára than the visual element of Tarot is a sincere belief that it can inspire positive change: “I’ve always tried to relate to the person I’m speaking to – I try to make people really comfortable and convey the messages in a way that they are always with a sense of hope that things can be solved.” Some Tarot readers, Lára tells me, are in the business for the wrong reasons.  If done badly, “you have the power to wreck someone’s life.” 

The goal for Lára is not to hoodwink her clients with doom-laden theatricality, but rather to offer herself as a vessel for Spirit to give guidance. “My hope is that the readings are a catalyst for change. During the sessions I relay information that rests in your subconscious mind, the important topics spirit wants to bring to the light for you. The session should leave you feeling confident to activate this change in your life and believe in yourself.”

The Reading

Tarot readings have longed been featured in cinema, often with theatrical focus on the scarier cards. I recently watched Agnè Varda’s brilliant Cléo from 5 to 7, which opens with its titular heroine having a Tarot reading, only to be shown a number of ominous cards, including Death. Cléo is waiting on news as to whether or not she has a grievous illness, and the psychic does nothing to assuage her fears. I wonder how, in the real world, all these cards – Death, The Devil, The Hanged Man, The Tower tally with the positive message of Sun Tarot.

“The Death card doesn’t mean anyone is going to die – I instantly translate it to what it really means in the readings: transformation. The Tower card means everything has to fall apart – but things are moving. The Devil card equals negative toxic energy and attachments.” 

Despite this reassurance I can’t help feeling a bit of nervousness along with excitement in anticipation of my own reading. I have already found out pieces of information that make some degree of sense: Lára tells me that my aura is “purple”, meaning that I have a strong third eye and am creatively attuned, and that my spirit animal is a white dog – pleasing information for a canine lover such as myself.

Then comes my reading: from the cards drawn for me, which feature the Ten of Swords, the Journeyman, The Ten of Cups and Death, Lára intuits that I am at a crossroads in my life, and have to soon make a decision which, if made correctly, will result in a great deal happiness. Again, this makes some degree of sense to me – like many people, I am in the midst of reconsidering certain career and lifestyle choices which may have huge bearings on the next stage of my lie. I gratefully accept the reading as a bolstering call to rely on my instincts rather than over-thinking matters. 

There was nothing too explicit or implausibly specific in my own reading (“you will win the lottery next year”/ “a friend will stab you in the back tomorrow,”) but rather encouraging words of support that I feel I can take on board as much as I wish. And there was certainly nothing laden with doom, supporting Lára’s focus on the Sun and positivity. To what degree I take the reading to heart is, at the end of the day, my own decision. “Tarot is a malleable thing – kind of like a movie, I’m going to show you a trailer, but you can edit it. You have ultimate freewill about how you edit it,” she says. 

Lára’s devotion to Tarot follows a lifelong interest in spirituality. I wonder how, growing up, she got into the world of magic. “Ireland has a magical background, and ever since I don’t live there anymore, I notice it more when I come back. People travel to Ireland and say that they love the country so much, and I’ve always wondered what that meant – why they love Ireland. There’s a very magical feeling. Fairy folklore, myths and legends – Ireland has all that. I grew up in the Boyne Valley near Newgrange – a big megalithic tomb older than the pyramids of Egypt, a very spiritual place, and also not far from the Hill of Tara.” In such a setting, perhaps it’s not surprising that Lára spent her childhood interested in astrology and magic. 

And what about Tarot specifically, how did this come into her life? “The Tarot deck came to me from New York,” she tells me, detailing how her sister gifted her the legendary Rider Waite deck a few years back. “If someone gives you the deck, it’s a sign of luck.” She tells me that it took a couple of years to trust herself, but once she really started using the pack, she discovered a love and ease with the cards: “Once I started learning it – I guess it’s like some musicians learning an instrument, it came naturally. I had to study the 78 cards and it took me about a year or two to learn each meaning and how they sync together, but then it clicked. I also realised I was given something special in terms of all the other things that come along with the Tarot – the gift for channelling and all the other little things. You can’t learn that.”

While pursuing a career in marketing in Dublin, Lára became more adept using the Tarot cards, doing readings at parties or with friends in bars after a few drinks. But it was after moving to Berlin in 2017 that she realised she could really start something with psychic healing. Is Berlin receptive to her line of work? 

“Definitely – one of the things I think about the most is how much of a sharing community there is here – I’ve been helped so much by so many different people. It was part of the reason I wanted to move away from Dublin – I wanted to live and work somewhere away from the “me and my thing” kind of attitude to more of a creative community feel. I think Berlin really has that – I’ve met so many people who have helped and wanted to see what you’re doing and assist you. As much as I love Ireland, I didn’t get that in Dublin.” Such is her contentment with Berlin that Lára, who lives in Friedrichshain on a street which contains a yoga practice and reiki healer, would like to remain here for three to four years before potentially moving to Hawaii one day, where “spirituality is the norm.”

In the meantime, it’s not only Berlin and spiritually receptive clients who matter to Sun Tarot – lockdown has meant that Lára has gravitated much of her work to Zoom sessions. Thankfully, an increased global interest in astrology and spiritualism has meant that there is no dearth of people seeking psychic healing online. “With the pandemic…people need something else now, with being inside so much and having so much time to think…that’s lead to people needing other practices.”

Lára enjoys the flexibility of her work online, which allows her to work with clients in Berlin, but also across the world, with particular interest coming from the States. How do online sessions differ from physical ones? “In some ways Zoom sessions are better,” she tells me. “It’s been the biggest shock that they work so well! It’s a more controlled setting. Once you go into a subconscious in a live reading, you’re delving into stuff that’s in people’s past, stuff they don’t know, and all of that takes a lot energy. After an hour it’s a huge amount of energy – you can compare it to a workout at the gym.”

© Cleo Wächter

Tarot has a growing number of devotees, but like every practice, it has its fair share of dissenters, sceptics and critics, and Lára has little time for people who come to a session insisting that she “prove” the reality of it: “If people are sceptical but come in with an open mind I can work with that. But the minute I have to prove that something is real, the energy is ruined.”

What about people, like me, who take a polite curiosity in the practice? What approach should an agnostic take to Tarot readings? “I always say to people: keep an open mind and an open heart. If your heart is open, you’ll listen to the messages; if your mind is open, you’ll receive them. It’ll only not work if you’re very closed – closed to the point of not being open to learning.”

Concerning my reading, Lára intuited certain information about my state of mind and character that has given me food for thought concerning where I am and how I should proceed in life. But she’s careful to stress that this is not ultimate life advice on which we should pin all our hopes and dreams, stressing the malleable nature of Tarot, and memorably comparing it to playdough, saying we can form and ply the information as we see fit. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a healthcare professional – it’s for an entertainment interest purpose!” she says with a smile. 

That’s not to say that entertainment can’t be a catalyst for huge and lasting change. Lára tells me the biggest delight Tarot gives her is the positive impact on her clients, many of whom joyfully report back on life-changing decisions made after her readings, whether by applying for and getting dream jobs or starting meaningful relationships. Dazzled by the positive impacts on their lives, many clients return after the first reading to hear more words of affirmation and spiritual guidance. “They tell me how the reading came true and how it impacted them. To me, this is the best result of doing this kind of work. It’s endlessly fulfilling – more fulfilling than any other result of doing a Tarot reading. I believe in my ability but it still shocks me,” she says, with palpable delight.

That clients return to Lára does not surprise me in the least and can surely be explained in no small part by her infectious enthusiasm, sincerity and dedication to her work. We tend to gravitate more towards people who love what they do than those who sulk and groan about their lives. And her assuredness is contagious. As she points out, happiness is reachable when you fully and honestly acknowledge what you feel happy doing: “It usually takes experimenting a bit or taking some risks – it did for me. Find out what you love to do, not where you make money, do it naturally and keep working towards that.”

In times of continued global bleakness, there are some things can be grateful for: We can be grateful for digital communication as a lifeline to keep in touch with those we love. We can be grateful for the wonders of modern technology in giving us digital entertainment to keep us sane during the pandemic and providing us with a means of seeking guidance and therapy online. We can also be grateful for Berlin as a pluralistic, tolerant environment for all manners of practices and beliefs to help us navigate through the crisis. Amidst all these options Sun Tarot offers an overriding message of positivity: We may not be able to decide how the cards land for us in life, but we can always decide how to respond to the obstacles thrown in front of us. Lára’s own story of coming to Berlin, giving up a reliable career in marketing to follow her dreams and making a living from Tarot and psychic therapy is the perfect example of how personal fulfillment is attainable when we tune into our true wishes and needs. The sun waits eternally and patiently behind the clouds, if we choose to acknowledge it.

© Cleo Wächter

Contact Lára over on her Sun Tarot website www.suntarotreadings.com or through her Instagram or Facebook pages.

Photos: Cleo Wächter, http://www.cleowaechter.com, instagram: @cleo_nora

Landers – Washing with Water review

In an era where it’s easy for any reflecting person to lapse into agonised scrutiny of our fraught and dangerous times, the art that seems to have fared best has been that which has markedly distanced itself from the uncertainties of our lives.  Landers are an accomplished trio of musicians who offer sweet relief from the daily tumult with an alluring span of music, which ranges from clear-eyed folk to experimental jazz. 

Defying the impulse to create and upload content instantly, Landers, consisting of Dubliner Christopher Colm Morrin on vocals and guitar, and the Berlin born rhythm section of bassist Paul Breiting and drummer Max von der Goltz, have been steadily releasing the fruits of a productive pre-Corona recording session at KAOS, a warehouse on the outskirts of Berlin, in the form of four singles. Together, these releases paint a captivating portrait of a band who manage to infuse a folk core with a tantalising potpourri of textures and soundscapes.

From left to right; Max, Chris and Paul.
© Daniela Elorza

Their first two releases, Clear Blue Sky and Just Thinking, already showcased their limber musicianship and aptitude for writing limpid melodies: the former showcasing Morrin’s gorgeous falsetto over an elegant bass riff; the latter demonstrating a Motorik beat redolent of Kraurock legends Can, over which Icelandic guest musician Sölvi Kolbeinsson provides elegiac saxophone.

But the other tracks from each release have been just as intriguing –  Nothing to Say (Pt.3) from Clear Blue Sky displays the music school credentials of the rhythm section, with Breiting’s distorted bass dancing alongside von der Goltz’s crisp, inventive drumming, over which Morrin adds hushed reverb-drenched vocals and guitar textures in something far closer to experimental jazz than folk; and Heart is in the Land – Reprise, from Just Thinking, conjures an ambient wall of reverb and delay over which cymbals fizzle and bass chords hum, recalling post-rock legends Explosions in the Sky.

Latest release Washing with Water adds further nuance and intrigue to their sonic palette and continues a trend of coupling a catchy title track with a compelling counterpoint. When interviewing the band late last year, I was struck by their absolute lack of ego, and the dedication of each member to serving the overall sound rather than saturating the music with individual contributions. Nothing epitomises this approach more than 22, Washing with Water’s opening track, where the band are happy to sit back entirely and allow friend Vincent Audusseau to take centre stage in an ambient sound collage which layers fragments of acoustic piano originally recorded for the title track with squalls of delay and feedback. This Brian Eno-esque piece recalls Moss Garden from Bowie’s Heroes album, with piano chords trilling and splashing like cooling rivulets of water, before being smothered by buzz saw jets of white noise, with nods to Revolution 9 by the Beatles in its disconcerting texturing.

22 serves as an enigmatically cinematic prelude to the beautiful Washing with Water, which opens with a chiming 6/8 acoustic guitar figure, over which Morrin wistfully sings: “Floating in this lake/ Feeling the world go by, go by/ Drop after drop/ Smile after smile, after smile.” Tapping into our need for release, renewal and escape, the song undulates with unhurried grace, before being borne on the wings of Breiting’s sensitive bass playing, and von der Goltz’s understated drumming. Audusseau’s piano is again employed to shimmering effect, with cascading piano chords completing the picture of a lakeside idyll far removed from the uncertainty of our times.

With their latest release, Landers once more prove their remarkable ability to blend a mix of influences into two tracks defined less by individual showmanship than by sonic adventurism and musical selflessness. In doing so, they continue to display their knack for conjuring an array of moods and soundscapes and offer an enticing promise of what’s yet to come.

Washing with Water is available to listen to now on Spotify 

As with their previous EPS, their latest release is also available on hand made limited edition tape cassette here, designed and crafted by Berlin based artwork and graphic designer Daniela Elorza.

Neil Hoare – Elevating Everything

Berlin is an open invite for photographers, a beckoning finger inviting everyone from
selfie takers at Brandenburg Gate, fashion shooters in Kreuzberg, and polaroid-
snapping hipsters in Neukölln. The vibrant city, pockmarked and mottled by its
variegated history, is a technicolour dream for everyone armed with a camera, where
we can choose from the trashy aesthetic of S036 Kreuzberg and the “socialist
classicism” of Karl-Marx-Strasse, from the bounty of lakes dotted around the city and
the cobbled pavements of Prenzlauer Berg.
But more than anything, it’s the population that makes up the fibre of Germany’s capital -this mix of people of different worlds, carving out their own niches and writing their own
histories in this wildly diverse city. The pulse of Berlin has always been dictated by its
colourful surge of people. But In such a tumultuous year, our streets have been devoid
of their customary action, with Berliners being encouraged to stay at home, and tourists
being restricted in their numbers, posing potential obstacles to street photographers.
But through a mix of determination and enthusiasm for his craft, Neil Hoare is a
photographer having something of a breakthrough year, with one of his photos being
featured on the front cover of Der Spiegel, and a surge of appreciation in the Berlin arts
scene. Over a coffee on Oranienburgerstrasse and a walk in Tempelhofer Feld, Neil
tells me about what brought him to Berlin, his approach to photography, and how we all
have it in ourselves to change the course of our lives and do what we love.

Teufelsberg by Neil Hoare

Neil’s photos are compelling – merging visual verve, eye-catching colours, and a sense
of fluidity. The Spiegel photo encapsulates this style – a Hasenheide rave in the
summer defined by its purplish, alien glow, and the otherworldly, dynamic nature of the
revelry being depicted. But equally engaging are his portraits, and Neil has recently
been working on Irish Creatives in Berlin, an Instagram series in which he photos and
profiles a talented range of Berlin-based Irish artists. Like many, Neil speaks with
affection for Berlin as his adopted home: an appreciative platform for an aspiring artist,
so different from Dublin, which he speaks of as relatively stifling in its attitude to creative
talent. But only as far back as one year ago, the notion of finding success with his
camera seemed very far from his thoughts. “I came to Berlin in 2017 and gave up the
photography thing” he says, to my surprise, instead taking on a series of “soul-crushing”
jobs in commercial photography and working nights in a bar. Such work was not on
Neil’s agenda when studying film production and photography at Coláiste Dhúlaigh,
Trinity College and Wolverhampton. After completing his Masters, buoyed on by his
love for cinema and ambition to make movies, he went to Winnipeg, Canada in 2008 to
teach film to at-risk youth, where he realised that he had something of a gift for teaching
and “letting people talk”. But his aspirations were depressed on coming back home to
Dublin, in which he speaks of doing years of unsatisfying work in the midst of the
economic recession, and he tells me of an unfinished film project in 2012, in which he
was meant to document his friend covering the gruellingly hard Tour de France cycling route. There was surely one upshot to the unfinished film, though – it was during production that he took a tour of mainland Europe and got to know Berlin properly for the first time.

Why do artists flock to Berlin? Neil tells me of his appreciation for the openness of the
city, the liberal attitude, the receptivity to new faces. And Berlin would ultimately be the
place where he “fell back in love” with the camera, and where his creative ambitions
were rekindled. Deciding to refocus on photography rather than film as an artistic outlet,
the camera afforded a form of therapy in the fraught start to 2020. “I started bringing my
camera everywhere, without the case and lens cloth. I’ve taken thousands of photos in
the last few months, typically a hundred photos each time”. Where could he take
photos? Bars and restaurants may have been depleted, if not completely closed, but the
parks were always there, and he found himself roving Tempelhofer Feld and
Hasenheide on many an occasion.

Tempelhofer Feld by Neil Hoare

Indeed, it was in Hasenheide where he took the snap that featured in Spiegel. A typical
evening walk with his friend, armed with his camera, surrounded by huddles of
hedonists on a balmy evening in August, loud music blaring from all corners. Some
groups were rigidly adhering to social-distancing regulations. Others were clearly
overstepping the line, converging into huge groups, and the police were hovering on the side, waiting to maintain order: “at 2:30 in the morning all the lights came on, it was like an alien abduction.” Neil managed to capture the otherworldly surrealism of this night-
time revelry, and something compelled him to Instagram, and then “hashtag” the shots,
“just in case someone was looking”. Lo and behold, two people contacted him the next
day, one of whom was from Der Spiegel, looking for a picture to accompany a piece on
lockdown easing and illegal parties. So happy were they with the shot and the
distinctive way it had been processed, that they featured it on the front page of its 1 st
August edition in all its alien glory, giving Neil’s art an exhilarating nationwide platform.

Der Spiegel. 1.8.2020. Cover Photo by Neil Hoare

Getting featured on the cover of Der Spiegel was no fluke. Seneca’s quote: ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’ comes to mind when thinking about the elements that gave Neil this break. A look at his work unveils an artistic flair, resting both on a
vibrant visual style, merged with a non-judgemental approach to the subject matter. “I
want to elevate the normalcy of a situation into something more ecstatic” he says, with a
nod to one of his film heroes, Werner Herzog. He sees himself as an “editor” as much
as photographer, and uses a Canon 5Dmk4 in his work, with which he takes hundreds
of shots before finding ones he’s satisfied with, which he then touches up with Adobe
Lightroom. He talks of the improvised aspect of photography, where so much resides on a confluence of light, mood and chance encounters. “You can’t play jazz with analogue” he says, with customary wit, in explaining his preference for digital.

Neil’s wit, gregariousness and self-effacement make him a charming interviewee, and
qualify as valuable qualities for a photographer wishing to “get to know” their subjects.
Indeed, his gift for words and conversation come in useful in his latest project, Irish
Creatives in Berlin, in which he pairs buoyant photographs of Berlin-based Irish artists
with highly readable biographies. What lead him to start this? “There are so many
talented Irish people out there. Membership of Irish in Berlin is 3200 people, I need to
tap into this”. This seems like a perfect, mutually beneficial scheme whereby Neil can
showcase his photographic talents, while turning the spotlight on the city’s artists who
haven’t been able to perform this year due to Covid-19. The portraits, depicting
filmmakers, producers, comedians and musicians are linked by the ease of their
subjects, the care that has been taken to capture them in their environment, and the
witty, journalistic accounts Neil captions the photos with. Besides the merit of the
photos, the series is a heart-warming and positive affirmation of the virtue of
collaboration in a world in which there is far too much fear, friction and competition.
Indeed, as Neil points out, the people he photographs “don’t want to be in a super
competitive environment. They want the chance to relax and collaborate”.

Rob Moriaty from the Irish Creatives in Berlin series. Photo by Neil Hoare.

Two hours talking to Neil indeed turns out to be relaxing. As for collaboration, I get to
experience his methods first-hand, as he takes photos of me as we amble around
Tempelhofer Feld, chatting about everything from the Zum Goldenen Hahn Bar in Berlin to the films of Stanley Kubrick. Once we have achieved some degree of normalcy in society, he would like to put on an exhibition of his Irish portraits and do a separate
show of his more abstract photos.
“I’m doing something right. I’m taking photos for myself and no one else” he says, with
galvanising self-assurance. Coupled with his desire to “elevate everything”, the mantra
that underpins his approach to photography, I finish the interview enthused,
enlightened, and with a sense of optimism that transcends the miasma of uncertainty
and worry that shrouds this year.

Neil with his husky in Templehofer Feld. Photo by Tom Miodrag.

You can follow Neil Hoare on Instagram @hoaremonal

Ireland in Frame – Retrospective

We find ourselves in an era of postponement – the postponed holiday, the
postponed gig, the postponed return to the hedonistic abandon of our favourite clubs
and festivals. Yet some global trends continue at an unabated pace – the shift to a
digitally-based world, the obsoletion of traditional jobs and ways of life, and the
changed appearance to our city centres. Where does art fit into all this? Usually it
serves either to provide escape from the worrying aspects of our lives, or to provide
cultural edification and sustenance in times of turmoil. We need it more than ever to
provide clarity, substance and guidance to navigate the knotty, changing realities of
our everyday existences. But where can we find art in these days of social-distancing
and uncertainty?

Ireland in Frame is a street photography exhibition trail that has cleverly
circumvented the strictures of lockdown to give us cultural nourishment in our
troubled times. A striking photographic survey of modern life in Ireland curated by
Berlin-based musician Candice Gordon, who stepped into the role of cultural officer
at the Irish Embassy in Berlin earlier this year, the exhibition has a clear objective in
mind: to depict an Ireland devoid of clichés for curious Berliners, and online for a
global audience of art lovers. Candice manages this by assembling the works of six
photographers, whose collective work gives a startling, cross-demographic glimpse
into the lives of Irish people against a multitude of shifting rural and urban backdrops.
And rather than confining the work to one location, the exhibition scatters the photos
between screens in six Irish-run establishments peppered around Prenzlauer Berg,
Neukölln and Friedrichshain. This pulls off the feat of allowing us to enjoy a spectrum
of photography in six appealing cafes, bars and shops, meaning that what sets out to
be a window into real Irish life doubles as a Covid-friendly, miniature tour of some of
Berlin’s most celebrated districts.

Wheel of Life by Laura Jean Zito

Thrilled by the prospect of getting to visit some of my favourite parts of Berlin in one
day, I embark on the exhibition trail with fellow Irish Culture Berlin writer John one
windswept evening in September. We start off at Curious Fox, a cosy bookshop
situated between the dozy languor of Tempelhofer Feld and the multicultural splurge
of Karl-Marx-Strasse which turns out to be a fitting setting for the photography of
Laura Jean Zito, whose dynamic photos of fishermen in the mists of the Arans and
shepherds in Connemara are juxtaposed with schoolchildren on Achill island. The
photos effortlessly evoke the passing of time, detailing our former reliance on fishing
boats and horses and their supplanting by bicycles and cars. One picture in
particular encapsulates this generational shift: a boy cycling past an elderly man with
a wheelbarrow laden with wood on a country lane, showing a literal overtaking of old
traditions by modernity.

Croagh Patrick By Kenneth O’Halloran

In some ways, “motion” and “change” comes across as prevailing themes in the
photos we see on the trail, and pervade the works of Kenneth O’Halloran, whose
pictures are screened above a shelf of spicy wares at Crazy Bastard Sauce, our next
port of call. A young, hip clientele dine and chat away while the photos flicker from
the television above, depicting pilgrims to Croagh Patrick and chic young attendees
to the Trinity College Ball in Dublin. Echoing the vibrant splurge of cultures and
identities in Neukölln, O’Halloran’s photos are cinematic in scope, distinguished by
their bold colours and presentation of an array of people from different walks of life.

By Eamonn Doyle

As the sun sets, John and I set off for Friedrichshain, where we take a drink in the
spartan, low-lit bowels of the third venue on our trail, Badfish bar on Krossener
Strasse. Badfish dispenses with decorative frills, concentrating rather on craft beers,
cocktails and whiskey. And the accompanying photos here, courtesy of Eamonn
Doyle, are all in gritty, high-contrast monochrome, showing a multi-ethnic community
of Dubliners, usually in profile, against a series of soot-black buildings and
monuments, nicely echoing the equal importance of Friedrichshain’s aspirational and
multicultural population to the district’s identity as its rapidly gentrifying architecture.

Meath Street Salon by Lorcan Finnegan

With this in mind, we cycle on to Prenzlauer Berg for the final three venues on the
trail, where the warm, lamp-lit cobbled streets seem even more jarringly contrastive
to the run-down charm of Friedrichshain than usual. Shorn of the the rough-and-
ready punk aesthetic of Friedrichshain, it’s nonetheless easy to forget that
Prenzlauer Berg was originally a predominately working-class district, and its
reputation as a swanky, ‘bourgeois’ neighbourhood is still relatively recent. This
conflicted identity in some ways makes it the perfect setting for Lorcan Finnegan’s
collection, which beams from a television outside the original, flagship Badfish bar on
Stargarder Straße – a series of expressive and candid faces of predominately elderly
Dubliners in a city on the cusp of change. There is a sense of a colossal number of
stories waiting to be told in each face, just as a stripping back of each layer of paint
on a refurbished building may reveals something new and unexpected.

Italian Restaurant by Jeanette Lowe

The sense that a building has a huge story to tell and varies according to the eyes of
the beholder is central to the photos of Jeanette Lowe, whose photos are shown
outside Salt’n Bone, a gastro bar serving hearty Irish food on Schliemannstraße.
Lowe’s photos magically echo the sentiment of cosiness, showing cafes, bars,
restaurants and housing estates in Dublin’s centre with names omitted, and bathed
in pastel colours which bring the paintings of Edward Hopper to mind, exuding a
sense of timelessness and spirituality. The establishments come across as little
harbours of warmth and translucence in inky midnight blackness: small communities
of inner-city residents left to keep the depleted, pandemic-stricken centre alive, while
its usual office workers and shoppers are made to stay home in the suburbs.

Above image and featured cover picture both by Birte Kaufmann’ The Travellers series.

In some ways the final venue on the trail provides a perfect summary of the themes
explored in Ireland in Frame. In the warm and welcoming Misirlou bar on
Dunckerstrasse, in the midst of Prenzlauer Berg, which has long been celebrated for
its inclusiveness and internationalism,
Köln-based Birte Kaufmann’s striking photos of Irish Travellers shine a light on an
oft neglected and maligned aspect of Irish culture. The photos, shot in stark,
unblemished tones, show a world of caravans, horses and a shivering lack of
amenities. Yet it’s also a familiar world of dolls, dressing up and laughter. One
striking image shows two young children in school uniform, with a boy sitting on the
back of a caravan munching a biscuit, and a girl hanging up washing on a clothesline
lost in roadside brambles. It’s an evocation of a familiar childhood scene in an
unfamiliar setting. Where the photos here express societal isolation, they also show
instantly recognisable emotions that bind us all: boredom, uncertainties about the
future, kinship, and loyalty.

Put together, the photos offer a rich mosaic of sensations, traditions and
experiences. Just as it is impossible to reduce the sensation of living in Berlin to a
few words and images, the wealth of diversity shown in Ireland in Frame is an echo
of all our unpredictable, complicated, nuanced and ephemeral lives, and show that
there is far more to link us in our glorious multifariousness than separate us. By
showcasing such a wealth of talent while also drawing our attention to a handful of
standout Irish-run establishments in Berlin, Candice Gordon has achieved something
quite remarkable, demonstrating that cultural enrichment during this difficult year is
still possible when we dare to think outside the box.

Ireland in Frame ran in Berlin 18th September – 2nd October 2020
All photos from the exhibition can be viewed here: irelandinframe.com

Perlee – A Band For All Seasons

At times during the drowsy summer we find ourselves in, an uncanny sense of normalcy seems to cover Berlin, with so much outwardly reverting to “business as usual”. But then we are jolted back to our new reality of uncertainty, where fear for the future battles with our desire to escape into the untroubled haven of yesterday.

Following on from their majestic Slow Creature EP released in March, Perlee perfectly encapsulate such conflicted feelings with their gorgeous follow-up Half Seen Figure. Consisting of old demos made in Ireland which have been dusted down and remixed during lockdown in Berlin, the duo fuse a sense of familiarity with subtle additions to their sonic palette: three songs that flit gracefully between unease, restfulness and yearning, providing sinuous, gauzy “Kopfkino” for the world outside.

Artwork by Christopher Morrin

Starting with an ominous crackle and a serpentine, Elliott Smith-like guitar figure, first song Sticky Blood uncoils like a snake under a blood red sky, threaded through with Saramai Leech imploring you to “shed your skin, let the light in.” It‘s brooding, restless and tantalising; her voice a hushed, dancing shadow invoking you to unburden yourself amidst striking imagery of scalded hearts and sticky blood thickened and set into wax.

Recent single Slow Your Eyes comes into focus next, effortlessly flipping the mood to one of sun-kissed languor, with Cormac O’Keeffe’s chiming guitar heralding a simple, two-chord progression which melds with his whispered vocals and lush keyboards to suggest My Bloody Valentine playing Dear Prudence by the Beatles. The harmonic simplicity is perfectly accompanied by his soothing and reinforcing words: “you are a lens you can let the sun rise”, a gentle entreaty to turn off your phones and engage with the present.

This delicious sliver of serenity then dissolves into an aching portrait of yearning with Leech returning to lead vocal duties for the arrestingly beautiful closer Bird and the Statue. Ushered in by the stentorian tones of Ronnie Drew from The Dubliners reading a snippet of Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince, this gentle lullaby pirouettes on a graceful piano figure, with the bird pleading to the statue to “give me the ground to fall at your feet, give me the words you want me to speak.“ The combination of the Wilde-inspired narrative, Leech’s heartfelt vocal delivery, and O’Keeffe’s sighing guitar accompaniment conjures a widescreen picture of impossible love and longing, once again displaying the duo’s knack for eliciting intense emotions with tastefully minimal instrumentation.

Footage taken from ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’, a 1943 American short experimental film directed by and starring Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid.

While so much of today’s music comes across as either cloyingly optimistic or contrivedly morose, Perlee continue to entrance with their masterly use of textures and striking lyrical imagery, accessing shades of emotion that manage to paint a full picture of the human experience. I had first seen the band enchant a reverent audience at the Fitzcarraldo Film Bar in Friedrichshain in January, their music providing intoxicatingly ethereal diversion from the howling winter outside. Half Seen Figure, which sweeps us seamlessly through feelings of unease, effervescent lightness, and elegant yearning in just over ten minutes, proves that Perlee are a band for all seasons.

Half Seen Figure is available now on Spotify and also on limited edition cassette over on Bandcamp.

Cover Image by Sofia Kent

June Hope EP review – “balmy, introspective dreamscapes”

Conversely, the downtime from live music and enforced introversion may be something of a gift for the creative spirit. Musicians around the world speak of prolific output under lockdown, and the current febrile atmosphere is ammunition for many songwriters. Following swiftly on from last year’s magnificent Commander of Sapiens, Galway psych-pop musician Eoin Dolan’s June Hope arrives as a sonic encapsulation of the conflicted feelings shared by many of us in these times. Its four tracks bristle with opulent orchestration recalling the likes of the Beatles’ White Album and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, creating balmy, introspective dreamscapes that oscillate between joyous abandonment at one moment, and weary uncertainty the next.

“June hope, where have you gone? Covered in a shadow” ponders Eoin in the reflective, titular first track over a shifting blanket of shimmering guitar chords redolent of The Beatles’ Julia, before resolving in a bed of flutes and mellotrons. “I can’t fault your timing” he sings in the chorus, suggesting both guarded optimism for the changing of the seasons, as well as uncertainty for what we have in store.

“Dolan conjures a sense of timelessness

Second track Supermacs turns the wistfulness up a notch, recounting idle days spent on Galway’s Salthill promenade playing slot machines. “I’d often fill my minutes up with nothing but looking out for you” Eoin sings, accompanied by mallet percussion, organs and chiming guitars. It conjures the fevered fantasies of adolescence in a blue-skied snapshot of youth. And with its uncanny ‘60s production, this depiction of bustling seaside idleness seems an age away.

We bounce then to the exotic Cairo Café with its promise of relief: “I’ll meet you at the Cairo Café, let all your problems be gone”. Cooing vocals meld with tremolo guitar, energetic bass and Latin percussion to evoke an effervescent sense of wanderlust and the promise of romance.

But this optimism is short-lived as we plummet back to Earth in the haunted closing track Gardening Magazines and Peppermint Tea, Eoin allowing himself to “sit back and fall into my dead domain”; the reality of a dreamer plucked from a dream and thrown into brooding, November darkness. The song, and the EP as a whole, manage the admirable achievement of both speaking to us about our precarious, confined circumstances, while conjuring a sense of timelessness, buoyed on by lush, retro-futurist orchestration and Eoin’s accomplished production. “Just the thought of a summer breeze and I’m reborn”, he sings, offering glimmers of hope amidst the murky skies. The world continues to spin on its axis, and tomorrow is another day; the palpable promise of a return to our uncaring, unfettered selves pervades the EP, and it’s this belief in tomorrow that will see us through these uncertain times.

June Hope is out now and you can hear it here now on BandCamp, or check out  www.eoindolan.com for more updates on Dolan’s work. Dolan is also donating 100% of sales from the EP to The Melting Pot Luck – Galway, a non profit community group set up in the west of Ireland to help bring about cultural exchanges between refugees, asylum seekers and locals.

Crazy Bastard Sauce – A Cornucopia of Flavours to Beguile Every Palate

Perhaps I should explain. My name is Tom Miodrag, and I’m addicted to chillies. I’m a “chilliholic”.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t have Thai chillies chopped and lined up waiting to set my lunch or dinner ablaze. Fortunately, in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis and “Ausgangsperre” in Berlin, I have nine bottles of Crazy Bastard Sauce to keep me company. Nine different flavours of varying intensity to enliven my mealtimes and satisfy my addiction. At least until the next mealtime, and the next craving.

Award Winning Sauces

Crazy Bastard Sauce is an award-winning hot sauces business based in Neukölln, founded by Irishman Jonathan O’Reilly. Its success can be attributed to its blend of organic ingredients, mouth-watering flavours, and eye-catching design. Before the Ausgangsperre came into effect, I headed over to its base of operations in Weserstraße for a chat with Jonathan about his lifelong passion for chillies, his success in channeling his enthusiasm into an award-winning business, and the enticing Berlin Superhot project. And inevitably, I also ended up trying all the sauces I could lay my hands on, before buying nearly everything that the shop had to offer. 

If you’re not already familiar with the company’s arresting name, you might be familiar with its logo – two mad eyes sat upon a ferocious moustache, emblazoning every bottle like a furious admonishment to the consumer for daring to savour the sauce inside. “Think you’re hard enough for this, you crazy bastard?” the eyes seem to ask from the shop’s sign in Weserstraße, taunting me to enter and try its wares. I gulp nervously before venturing inside, where I’m bedazzled by a multicoloured cornucopia of hot delights  – row upon row of sauces of different spice levels, all packaged in Pop Art colours, each representing a different flavour. There’s something for everyone here, from the green-labeled Jalapeño & Date for those wanting to add a little pep to their burger, to those seeking the “benign masochistic” thrill of setting their mouths on fire with the Superhot Reaper (approximately 500,000 Scoville and more than 100 times hotter than the Jalapeño and Date). I sample all nine sauces available at the time, and much to my delight, am given a badge to reward my accomplishment. Never have I thought of myself as a “crazy bastard” with such pride.

The Scoville scale was devised by pharmacist Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912 to measure the heat level of the chemical compound capsaicin (the hot part of a chilli). A capsaicin extract is diluted in sugar water until the pungency (heat level) is no longer detected by a panel of up to five people.

But serving sensation-junkies like me is just one of the business aspects of Crazy Bastard Sauce. O’Reilly, who has lived in Neukölln for over ten years, uses the Weserstrasse address as a kitchen for cooking the sauces with his team, most of which he sells online, or wholesale to shops around the world. But the address also serves as a pop-up restaurant, where his talented team cooks up an array of tantalising international dishes. We have an Irish Culture Berlin meet-up at one such event before the Ausgangsperre, chomping on fantastic Venezuelan food, which we naturally douse with lashings of Crazy Bastard Sauce, amongst an international crowd of fellow spice lovers. But what brought a spice-loving Irishman to the bustle of Berlin in the first place?

Discovering life’s spices

O’Reilly grew up in Westport in County Mayo – a beautiful town next to the Atlantic, voted the “best place to live in Ireland” by The Irish Times in 2012. But not a place where chillies were necessarily easy to come by. Indeed, even olive oil was hard for his mother to find during his upbringing. So how did he first become aware of big flavours?  “I would eat spoonfuls of mustard as a child” he grins. Then he discovered the whoosh of Tabasco sauce, which eventually lead to finding out about spices and chillies. And eventually he found himself in Berlin, a city he appreciates for its openness, and creative spirit – the mix of international and adventurous personalities providing an eager customer base for inventive chilli sauces. And indeed O’Reilly is the man to provide such recipes, and a delight to talk to on the subject  – brimming with enthusiasm, and asking me with interest if I can identify the different “burns” of the sauces I try, and distinguish between the chillies themselves.

Jonathan O’Reilly at his shop and restaurant on Weserstraße

But the success of Crazy Bastard Sauce doesn’t rest on O‘Reilly’s love of chillies alone. Having worked in graphic design and illustration prior to establishing the business, he knew that he would need a striking logo to appeal to the public. There was no question of adding to the plethora of skulls, guns and similarly trite macho images that typically adorn hot sauce labels. Originally intending to create something resembling the genial Pringles logo, O’Reilly was inspired by a film about real-life “crazy bastard” Charles Bronson to give his design the now iconically maniacal, wild-eyed expression. He would also need an catchy name for the business, happily given to him by a Scottish friend, who referred to O’Reilly’s creation as “that crazy bastard sauce”.

With all the tools he needed, he began selling the first bottles of his creation on Reddit in 2012, and his hunch that he’d come up with a winning formula proved correct. The sauces were snapped up quickly, encouraging him to produce and sell more online and in Berlin markets, culminating in the opening of the shop in Weserstraße, and the awarding of first place in the World Hot Sauce Awards 2015 (Medium category) to the original, Habanero & Tomatillo-flavoured sauce. 

The World Hot Sauce Awards is an annual competition to find the most extreme and intensely flavored sauces in the world. Crazy Bastard Sauce won first place in 2015 and 2016.

It is indeed the delicious concoctions within the striking packaging which ultimately accounts for Crazy Bastard Sauce’s success – all handmade by its dedicated team using organic ingredients with no added sugars, the natural sweetness coming from the various chillies themselves. I wonder how O’Reilly comes up with all these alluring flavour pairings – from Scotch Bonnet & Caribbean Spices to Chipotle & Pineapple. There are nice cultural combinations that display a global interest in flavours – the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) is paired with mango for a delicious Indian flair, and there is an obvious North American connection in the Carolina Reaper & Blueberry edition. But O’Reilly ultimately chooses vegetables, fruits and flavours that will complement and amplify, but never obscure, the taste of his chief love, the chilli pepper, as part of a mission to show that the chillies don’t merely provide a burning sensation, we should also celebrate them for their distinctive personalities and flavours.

GIY: Grow it yourself!

But where does Berlin fit into this global mosaic of flavours and textures? O’Reilly has lived in Neukölln for over ten years, and as much as he talks positively about the shape-shifting nature of the city, he doesn’t intend to stay here forever, saying he might eventually return to Ireland or his wife’s native Scotland. But before he does, Crazy Bastard Sauces will be adding a distinctive Berlin sauce to its range: the projected product of the Berlin Superhot Chili project, whereby we can buy Carolina Reaper plants to grow on our balconies or in our gardens, and trade in the results to contribute to a hot sauce using only local ingredients. Now that spring is coming and the Coronavirus is preventing us from enjoying the pleasures of society outside, there is perhaps no better time to hone our gardening skills. And as we isolate ourselves at home, closed off from society, Crazy Bastard Sauce continues to sell its wares online to a chilli-loving audience, allowing us to spice up our mealtimes with its diverting, endorphin-inducing flavours. Now, please can you pass me that bottle of Superhot Fatalii?

Satisfy your chilli cravings here.
You can order sauces (there’s a 20% discount until Easter Monday), and even have finger-licking, spice-friendly food delivered to your door (Wednesdays – Sundays)

Thumper – Exhilarating grunge pop for troubled times

The RAW-Gelände is usually a Valhalla for ragtag, DIY punk aficionados – a graffitied, rundown staple of Friedrichshain nightlife on Revaler Straße, where excitable young tourists and leather jacket wearing punks congregate for long nights of hedonism. But this is Thursday 12th March, and Europe is in the midst of putting public life on hold to tackle Covid-19, and the closing of Berlin clubs and bars is an inevitability. As a result the music venue Urban Spree is ghoulishly quiet. The former locomotive sheds of the RAW-Gelände are eerie in the absence of the usual throngs of people. Even the drug-pushing sentries seem denuded in numbers, and half-hearted in their entreaties to the small pockets of party-goers to buy their illicit wares.

Artfully-executed grunge pop

Everything is about to close down. But before it does, there‘ll be one more blast of “bubble gum grunge” energy, courtesy of Dublin-based noise pop sextet Thumper, who pound through an intoxicatingly fun set of music that manages to distract the crowd from uncertainties outside. Their music fuses the indie rock riffs of bands like Wavves and Parquet Courts with the scuzzy, fuzz-pedaled guitar sound of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth – a coalescence of influences that seems purpose-built to wow packed audiences in venues like Urban Spree. In normal circumstances there would surely be a sweaty crowd moshing together. But tonight there is a smattering of people in attendance, understandably careful to maintain their own space and avoid physical contact, but treated nevertheless to a course in artfully-executed grunge pop.

Having cultivated a dedicated following back home in Ireland, Thumper played sold out shows in London earlier in the tour, but crowd sizes in mainland Europe have differed. “We played to a full room in Brussels the other week“ says frontman Oisin Leahy Furlong to us after the show. “And then to six people in Cologne yesterday“. Inconsistencies in audience numbers don‘t seem to visibly sap the energy of the band, who grin throughout the set, although offstage they tell us about the physical toil of heavy touring. “I‘ve already needed my neck massaged twice“ says bassist Dav, when we tell him about the cricks to our necks caused by headbanging for the last hour.

Image by Nicholas O’Donnell

With music this propulsive and catchy, it’s very difficult not to jump animatedly in appreciation. Starting as a one-man-band, their lineup has grown over the last few years to encompass a three-pronged guitar assault spearheaded by Oisin, bass, and two drummers. An augmented rhythm section ensures a relentless, metronomic beat that serves as perfect scaffolding for feral, fuzz guitar riffing. The band open their set tonight with new single Ad Nauseam to a crowd initially reluctant to approach the stage. But thanks to the bantering efforts of Oisin and the rigorous, relentless drive of the band, by the time we get to seven minute euphoric set closer Down, the crowd has given itself up to the wall of sound, converted to the raucous display of euphoric energy in front of them.

There are a surfeit of gloom-laden, introspective artists eager to document the horrors of the world outside, and ‘fun’ doesn‘t appear to be in the DNA of many bands right now. So the sight of this hirsute troupe of grunge rock lovers thrashing their guitars and pounding their drums so gleefully offers a welcome respite from a world turning upside down. But that’s not to say that the band members are necessarily carefree party animals offstage. “This is just one side of me” Oisin tells us while chomping on an apple after the show, when we remark on his theatrical stage presence, and predilection for running amongst the crowd. The other side is introspective and thoughtful. The band listen to Fionn Regan and Leonard Cohen on the tour bus, rather than The Stooges or The Melvins. Oisin‘s solo project, Anamoe Drive, displays gorgeous dream pop sensibilities redolent of Wild Nothing. He tells us how much he admires Leonard Cohen‘s ability to say so much in so few words, and the gleefully scuzzy guitar sound of Thumper disguises the agonised, arresting imagery of his own lyrics. “When I’m in my room milk curdles in the sun. When I’m in my room bring a magnet to the haystack. When I’m in my room cat eyes glare through the smoke. When I’m in my room alone” sings Oisin in In My Room as a plea for camaraderie in an anthem against solitude.

Time for reflection

And indeed Oisin exudes a natural gratitude and pride for being in a band of like-minded musicians that has allowed Thumper to tour Europe and gradually expand their fan base, spurred on by increasing radio coverage by the likes of Steve Lamacq and Huw Stephens, culminating in the release of last year’s excellent Out Of Body Auto-Message EP produced by Girl Band’s Daniel Fox. The band’s inexorable ascent to mainstream status might seem a foregone conclusion, but Covid-19 has clouded immediate plans in uncertainty. Before starting the show in Berlin, their gigs in Karlsruhe and Paris had been cancelled. So what does the future hold for the band now that their European tour has been curtailed? “We’re taking every day as it comes. At the end of the day we’re all in the same boat as other musicians” says Oisin. Their debut album is more or less under wraps, and he tells us there’ll be plenty of time to write album number two now. “I thought I’d be in Europe all month, so I had sub-let my apartment. I might not have anywhere to stay in Dublin when I come back now” he says half-jokingly.

Thumper are indeed just one of thousands of talented young bands whose ability to make a living by gigging has been cut short by the virus. We can only hope for their, and indeed all our sakes, that they have the conditions to return sooner rather than later. As we leave them to enjoy the after party of what will turn out to be the unexpected last night of the tour, we return home thankful for the exhilarating jolt of grunge rock energy they’ve given us. Because if there‘s anything that will see us through the necessary cultural shutdown in Europe, it’s the knowledge that there’s a world beyond our four walls, and that there are likeminded lovers of jubilant, scuzzy grunge rock waiting to be partied with.

Thumper – (You’re bringing me) down

Perlee – Stepping into the light

How quickly does a creature adapt to an alien, unfamiliar world? Moving to a new city can stimulate a full gamut of emotions – excitement and wonder in one moment can be overcome by alienation and regret the next.

Berlin-based indie pop duo Perlee cover a range of human sensations in their majestic debut EP Slow Creature. Having moved to Berlin a couple of years back from Meath, their songs convey both a sense of yearning for the rural beauty they’ve left behind, and a forward-thinking sense of adventure for the city they’ve chosen to call home.

Songs of longing and warmth

‘Conditions to Thrive’ opens with lush keyboard sounds and Saramai Leech reassuring us in our alien surroundings. ‘Stepping into the light’ she coos, embracing the listener in a shower of warmth, before being joined by Cormac O’Keeffe’s gorgeously spare waltzing guitar. If the listener is the titular Slow Creature, we are given space and time to flex our limbs in the unhurried cinematic beauty of this opener.

Introspection and wanderlust take over in Chain of Coral, where the duo sing of mermaids and a longing to be back to landscapes far removed from city, over a sonic palette of undulating guitars.

But we are then whisked swiftly away from this spectral sense of yearning with Charlie’s Song. Is that the sun on the horizon?’ sings O’Keeffe over guitar strums, before being answered with a resounding affirmative in the sun-drenched, soaring chorus, where Leech joins in with jubilant keyboards and harmony vocals.

Feeling Of Plenty round off the journey with delicate guitar picking and unison vocals merging to form a bed of reassurance and sense of fulfillment.

The cover for the album shows an empty, urban vista at night. It conveys a stillness and urban quietness – both lonely but serenely beautiful. It is unmistakably Berlin, but could basically be anywhere. And with Slow Creature Perlee demonstrate that beauty is to be found everywhere you want it to be.

Perlee – Charlie’s Song

Perlee play next in Berlin on Sunday, April the 12th alongside A.S. Fanning and Melts at:

Urban Spree
Revalerstraße 99
10245 Berlin, Germany

Paddy Mulcahy – “A cathedral of serenity”

One of the joys of the city is that every district has its own multitude of treasures. Wedding is one such place, where the energetic, multicultural pulse of Seestrasse transforms suddenly into the sleepy, streetlamp-lit Liebenwalder Straße, where Mastul, tucked into the corner, shines out like an artistic beacon. And the mellifluous, lyrical piano music of Paddy Mulcahy and Kelly Wyse gives many of us the soothing, transportive break from the hubbub of life in the capital that we need.

Limerick-based Paddy Mulcahy is here as part of the Modellbahn series, curated by Seattle-born Berlin resident Kelly Wyse. The series is described as a set of concerts of “experimental, improvised classical music“. This description might be a turnoff for some – isn’t experimental classical music supposed to be austere, impenetrable, aloof and cold? The venue, for a start, is anything but austere and cold. The pleasant bohemian chatter of Mastul’s bar area leads to a dimly-lit, cosily- wallpapered backroom, where lines of benches are placed before a majestic old upright piano with its myriad of hammers, pins, pegs and strings on display for all to see. And eagerly awaiting are a mix of wine-sipping classical music aficionados sat next to seasoned club-goers here to break a weekend of hedonism with some cultural enrichment. The overall effect is like being in a temple, with the piano placed like an alter before the expectant throng, a promise of spiritual reward from a higher source.

Recurring motifs around which dynamics undulate and harmonies evolve with slow-building intensity

Kelly Wyse is first to play. He charms the audience with a collection of pieces loaded with grace and beauty. His website describes his music as having been influenced by Ravel’s ‘Gibet’, a piece “where the same B flat octave ostinato remains constant while harmonies and dynamics change around it.” This concentration on repetition pervades his own music: recurring motifs around which dynamics undulate and harmonies evolve with slow-building intensity. Pieces such as ssSwan unravel from the piano unhurriedly and elegantly, whetting our appetites for Kelly’s solo album Pastoralia, which is set for release later this year.

A short break reminds the ensembled audience that they are in the backroom of a raucous Wedding pub rather than floating on a river at sunset, the door being opened to allow us to refill our drinks and mix with the joyful clatter of revellers at the bar. Then headliner Paddy Mulcahy takes to the stage, unfurling a Limerick flag to dampen the sound of the piano and achieve a muted, percussive tone that brings the audience to an awed silence. Telling us that he had fallen in love with sythesisers when recording latest album How to Disappear, Paddy adds the synthetic swooshes of a Korg Monologue keyboard and ambient delay of a Roland Space Echo to the mix, lifting us away from Wedding to an oasis of calm, wanderlust and orange-hued skies.

Paddy explains that this pared-down setup is a far cry from the heavy-duty one he uses when playing back home in Ireland. But it’s a mark of the music’s quality that motifs from pieces such as Sunset Connoisseur and When Away embed themselves in our brains like earworms, regardless of the setup in which they’re played this evening. And when, after the music has finished and this cathedral of serenity reverts to the smoky backroom of a hip Wedding bar, the music continues to resound in our heads. If ‘experimental’ piano music is always this intoxicatingly beautiful, perhaps Berliners seeking a break from the pell-mell of city life should consider introducing more ‘experimental’ music to their own busy schedules.

Cover Picture by
© Shane Vaughan