Abandoned Berlin – “I have to know what it is I’m not supposed to see.”

First of all, thanks Ciarán for taking the time to talk to us about the new book. The term “Abandoned Berlin” has become synonymous with the exploration of old sites around the city, almost like Hoover has been for vacuum cleaners. What does the site’s and book’s success say to you about its readers?
Thanks John! I must say I was pretty surprised by the success of the Abandoned Berlin project. I only started it at the time because I thought the story and information on how to get in – it was about Spreepark – might be useful to someone. I literally started it because I thought it was a waste to have an old abandoned amusement park just sitting there, hidden behind an auld fence, forgotten and ignored. Then of course the story behind its abandonment was pretty mad, too, so I had to write it up. I write for a living so I guess I have a natural drive to do that. But the popularity of that post about Spreepark and the subsequent places I wrote about shows people have a healthy appetite for tragic stories, especially when they can then visit the “scenes of the crimes” themselves. I guess people also share my curiosity for what is around them, especially the “verboten” stuff that other people don’t want you to see.

You’ve been gracious in the success and appeal your website has had on others – encouraging people to follow suit. Aside from learning to appreciate the sites and what they behold, what is the impact on you personally from the explorations?
I guess I’ve come to realize the fickleness of human endeavor – the efforts people can put into something, only for it all to be rendered moot at the end of the day. I mean, this isn’t always the case, obviously, but there are so many places discarded after serving their purpose that it just shows how wasteful we all are. Some of the stories were incredibly sad, but I’m happy to have played my part in helping at least ensure they won’t be forgotten.

Flughafen Rangsdorf

You mention on the site that what drew you in initially were the stories that these sites longed to tell. And of course, the “verboten” signs which cry out to be ignored! Has this just been the case for you since moving to Berlin or had you these adventurous and cheeky desires as a child back in Ireland too?
I think we all have an urge to do whatever is “verboten,” but maybe that’s just an Irish thing. I think not. But I know that the Germans are far more obedient when it comes to obeying warning signs and instructions not to enter. For me it’s like a red flag to a bull – I have to know what it is I’m not supposed to see, I need to know what wonderful secrets are just waiting to be discovered behind the fence. When I was a kid we had a game we called “The Death Zone,” which basically involved just running through neighbours’ gardens, climbing one wall and jumping into another, then another and so on, all the while looking out for the surprised home-owners and any nasty dogs they may have had. It was fun, but nerve-wracking sometimes. We got caught a few times and had to spend lots of time looking for a “lost ball” that never existed.

Volume 1 dealt with some of the more well-known hotspots – much of this down to the exposure you initially gave those sites. This book sheds light on some (currently) lesser-known relics, which makes the volume relevant. What is your thought process in choosing the next location to discover? Have you particular themes you strive for?
My aim is to document as many of these sites as possible before they’re gone. The first book had more of the more well-known places, I guess because I knew about them, but as I’ve been writing I discovered others and I get a lot of tips from people on places that I haven’t written about yet. I don’t really have any parameters or conditions for writing about new places. It’s just a race against time to write about as many as possible.

Flughafen Johannistal

Yet a number of abandoned airports appear in the new volume. As you allude to in the book, it’s been a topical subject this last decade in the city.
It’s just crazy how many airports there are! It’s quite remarkable. I didn’t go out to specifically write about airfields or airports, but it just happened. Berlin has a thing with airports – it can’t build them (anymore) and it can’t leave the ones it wants to leave. Tegel will probably stay open forever, while they’ll eventually give up on the idea of Willy Brandt Airport, aka BER or Berlin Brandenburg International, ever opening at all.

Tell us about the risk involved. Falling ceilings and rotten floorboards must be aplenty. But also security or police. Has your risk assessment changed as you’ve gotten older?
I take less risks now because I have kids, two sons, and I came to that realization when I was alone in an abandoned factory about to jump across a great height and I thought to myself, if I don’t make this I’ll be leaving my son without a father. I only had one at the time. I’ve two now so I wear a helmet. Only joking! But I am much more careful than I was before – I’m not just thinking for myself anymore.

I wanted to ask you about who took the photos when I then saw that you are also a photographer. Have you always been taking the shots for AB or has this developed over time as a way to document the sites better?
I’ve always been taking the shots. I mean, the first time I went to Spreepark on that fateful day, there was just me and a camera. The camera has followed me since. The words were always more important to me, but lately the photography has grown in importance. I started studying photography at the Neue Schule für Fotografie in 2018 and will be finished – I hope – in late 2021.

The writing throughout is refreshing and humourous – it’s also cynical and at times scathing of the politicians and investors who are often responsible for the very derelict sites which you write about. The book is dual language, so German and English texts are beside each other yet the translation into German has lost neither its wit nor its bite. Do you do work on the translations yourself to maintain that?
Thanks, I appreciate that. The translation was handled by my publishers. It’s a small local-run endeavor, the Bebra Verlag in the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg, and they’re good people.


You’re very well read on German history and culture – where did that interest stem from?
I did German in secondary school, did quite well, but when I got here 10 years later I found I could only say, “Ich heiße Ciarán und ich bin vierzehn jahre alt” and not much else. I really expected all the German I learned would come flooding back into my head. It didn’t. I was always into history in general except for the period I was in school, when they killed that interest with their obsession for learning dates of events. They should have called it calendar studies. Once I got out of school I rediscovered my love of history – which is basically the story of everything that ever happened before. Of course a lot of interesting stuff happened in Germany. But interesting stuff happens everywhere.

A question on anonymity? Many Berliners will be familiar with your blog and first book but will know little about you, not your name, nationality nor your appearance. We don’t see your face on AB at all, nor in the short film from Jordi Busquets. Is being discreet a tactic to help evade security in future explorations or rather to shun “celebrity”, or something else entirely?
I don’t really see the need to plaster my name everywhere or post selfies on the site. I prefer to stay in the background and let the stories take the limelight. This comes from a desire not to be nabbed by security or Polizei or the like.

Finally, a bleak one. With Covid-19 looking like potentially closing thousands of businesses in the city we could be seeing a lot more abandoned sites in the years to come. Great for the future explorers, but devastating for society, culture and workers. What can we as citizens be doing in Berlin to help protect locations from becoming derelict?
Ah man, I really hope that isn’t the case. I really don’t want to see any more
abandoned sites – with the possible exception of BER – than are out there
already. This corona thing is a disaster, but nothing is more important than life. First of all we need to do everything we can to preserve it and hinder the spread of the virus. That means staying in. Yes, it means not going off to explore abandoned sites with friends. As citizens, we should avoid ordering things through Amazon and the like, but look for local small businesses that will take orders online and support them as well as we can. The local shop. See what notices they’ve left in their window. Maybe they’re relying on online orders. Support artists too – they’re really feeling the pinch. This is the time we really have to stick together, albeit at a distance.

Verlassene Orte/Abandoned Berlin Volume 2 is now available here and don’t worry, orders will still be shipped and delivered during these days of isolation!

All images on this page by Ciarán Fahey

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

Æ MAK – “The love sick writer in me is beating the hard-ass performer in me”

Æ MAK, thank you for taking the time out. There are a lot of people very excited about your upcoming Småll Session’s show here in Berlin, not least us! Is this your Berlin debut? And what kind of set can fans expect?

Hello! Thank you for having me. That’s very cool, I’m excited too. It will be my first show in Berlin, yes. They can expect something unusual, the usual.

Many legendary outlets, such as NPR and KEXP, have marked you as one to watch for 2020 – what are your plans to seize this momentum?

I’ve never been great at seizing outside momentum. I hope to continue doing what I’m doing and keep building my own momentum and not rush anything for the wrong reasons.

You’ve mentioned an album before – how is this developing?

Yeah, the album is growing into something I love a lot, which madly enough – I’ve only learned recently – is the most important thing. I originally wanted my debut album to reflect the world of the Æ MAK on-stage character but the love sick writer in me is beating the hard-ass performer in me. I’m working closely with my producer and collaborator Daniel McIntyre (lullahush) in the studio at the moment. We’re excited.

“I think most folk think it’s just a pretentious hipster band name.”

I’m intrigued by your stage and artist name. How long does it take folk to realise it’s a play on your own name, Aoife McCann? (Or am I myself completely off the mark?)

No, you’re bang on the money. I think most folk think it’s just a pretentious hipster band name. Which is absolutely grand ’cause it kind of is. For me it’s my stage name, the version of myself that I can express and feel through on this level I can’t quite crack in real life – but performing gets me there.

A certain cheekiness and playfulness underlies a lot of your music thus far. How important is it for you that your music is fun, and an enjoyable experience?

I don’t really set out to make music that’s fun and enjoyable to listen to. Have always made music off sparked energy in the moment. Contrary to my on-stage performances I’m a really happy, light-hearted messer in real life and create melody mainly when I’m that. So it is a really good feeling thinking people enjoy it and have fun listening to it because that’s how it was created.

© @ktballox

Tying into this, you’ve previously stated your admiration for the masters of performance on stage – Aldous Harding and David Byrne. And you yourself embody the aforementioned playfulness, energy and passion we know from your music on stage. Why do you think more musicians don’t embrace the theatrical or dance aspect of the stage they inhabit?

Yes, currently obsessed with Aldous’ recent KEXP performance. That woman has been sent from above to show us all how to be authentic. Everyone’s artistic practice is unique to them, it’s specific to how and why they create so I think musicians embrace what’s true to them. I just happen to do what I do. I’m inspired by energy and the intent behind it. I like mystique and the bizarre. It excites me. I want to excite people.

“It feels like the Æ MAK project has a taste of marmite from the outside looking in.”

This all leads to a refreshing and exciting experience, and above all in Ireland and Dublin where there is such a richness in the output of quality music and art but yet, no one quite embodying their art like you do. Has that been challenging for you or indeed, rather freeing?

Whoa that’s some statement. Thank you. I can’t compare myself in that light. All I know is that yes, I create because it’s freeing and it let me be who I am and what I want to be. I wouldn’t say it’s been challenging. Career and success wise it’s been a slow climb. It depends what you value in life I guess. It feels like the Æ MAK project has a taste of marmite from the outside looking in. The Irish fans and the industry here have always been supportive and loving towards it which we all are with each other but it will never enter the mainstream here, it doesn’t fit and I’m fine with that. Rather freeing.

Well we may not agree there, think that your music has a very wide appeal and across many genres. In any case we are very much looking forward to seeing you live this Friday, thank you.

Thank you!

Tickets for Æ MAK at Småll Sessions in Auster Club are available here and cost 15,65€.

Auster Club
Pücklerstraße 34
10997 Berlin, Germany

Paddy Mulcahy – “My love for Limerick, my father, family and entire circle of friends is why I made this album.”

Paddy Mulcahy‘s musical credentials are formidable. Classically trained as a pianist, he developed a love for electronic music in his teens and has played alongside luminaries such as Nils Frahms and Lubomyr Melnyk. His work has featured in film festivals and in international ad campaigns for multinational brands.  Latest album How to Disappear is a mesmerising blend of piano, jungle beats, pulses and digital choirs that takes the listener on a sweeping journey. “Thank you kindly for the nice words! It was also a journey to make the album! I spend about a year writing different ideas, and about 8-9 months finalising the tracks. We spent a year developing a release plan for the album and I couldn’t be happier with the response it’s received so far.”

We ask him about the significance of the album’s title How to Disappear. Does it refer to getting away from a certain place, or delving into new sonic territories? “The title for the new album came about long after I’d finished writing all of the music. I tried to encapsulate all of the emotions I was feeling during the writing and recording process in the title. I’d started writing the album while I was living in Montreal and I completed it in my hometown Limerick City. I’d received some bad personal news the day before I left for Montreal, which honestly left me feeling like I’d betrayed my family after I’d left – to a point where I was disappearing from them, my friends and my beautifully comfortable home city. The title moreso reflects me disappearing from that whole situation (and place) than it does disappearing into new sonic territory, although we are hearing some different music that people wouldn’t usually hear from me.“

© Shane Vaughan

This emotional undercurrent pervades the album, although it is also cut through with a sense of adventure and lightness which makes for a rich and varied aural experience. Indeed, the array of conflicting emotions are reflected in the variety of genres. Sunset Connoisseur starts with a restless piano motif before being interrupted by syncopated drum beats, and Sunday’s Child mixes atonal sirens and chirps with organic sounding percussion to evoke a compelling blend of urban and rural landscapes. Is the sound mix partly representative of having written and recorded the album in different locations? “The variety in genres heard across the album is certainly representative of the different emotions and situations I found myself in while living in Montreal and reacting to the aforementioned personal situation. My father had just told me he was fairly sick and I left him to move to a different continent. That shook me, as you can imagine. So, I always wanted the album to tell a story and be viewed and listened to as such. The dynamic throughout is very intentional and reflective of what I was going through, which absolutely makes it so much more personal and close to home – my love for Limerick, my father, family and entire circle of friends is why (and more importantly, how) I made this album.“

This moving personal journey makes for compelling listening on the album, and will surely make for an absorbing live experience at Mastul this evening. Paddy will share a stage with Berlin-based pianist Kelly Wyse for the Modellbahn concert series, which focuses on experimental, improvised, contemporary classical and electronic music – surely a perfect match for his sound. How did the event come about? “I first met Kelly Wyse, the founder of Modellbahn Music, at the Q3Ambient Festival organised by the CEEYS brothers in Potsdam. Kelly & I shared the same piano at Fabrik on the 2nd day of the festival. He contacted me back in September to play at Mastul!”

© Shane Vaughan

Electronic? Ambient? Experimental? In some ways it may be reductive to assign Paddy’s music a particular label, as it will certainly evoke different images and moods for each listener. I tell him that I first encountered his music at the dead of night and wonder when he gets his own inspiration: “I have ideas for my music compositions probably every hour of the day, from when I wake until I eventually get to sleep. It’s falling asleep that’s the hardest, because I’m usually already looking ahead to what I’m going to do in the studio the next day. It’s weird because different ideas can come at different times of the day, and that is most annoying; for example, if I’m preoccupied with something like shopping groceries or working on another project, where I cannot capitalise on that idea as much as I would if I was working on that song or piece of music at the time.“

This restlessless and probing is embedded in the album. How did he pin down this particular array of sounds on How to Disappear? With all these ideas popping into his head, are most compositions started at the piano or on synths? “The writing process was interesting in that it took place between two countries with a number of different setups with different instruments. For example, I’d started the early demos in Montreal where I’d bought a little spinet piano with none of my usual microphones. I bought some small contact microphones and stuck them all on the soundboard. I bought and assembled a custom modular synth system and a $50 Tascam Portastudio. The instruments that I’m most comfortable were left back in Ireland. I took most of these demos and stripped them back, or added to them and completed the album in my home studio in Limerick City when I returned home. As for where the compositions start: the best instrument is somewhere inside my brain. It’s never a piano or synth. It’s an imaginary vision, or different take on what I already know – I just try and recreate that as best I can with my different instruments.“

On the subjects of visions, I tell him about my love of the video for Sunset Connoiseur and ask further about whether visual elements inspire his music: “Thanks, I’m so happy with that music video, and it’s really all thanks to Dave Fox in Dublin; with whom I’d been working on short film in Limerick City. He was directing the short film, had heard some of my older music and offered to make a music video for any forthcoming tracks. Little did he know I had this big album on the way! It’s funny really that you ask if my music is inspired by visuals; I would say it’s moreso inspired by my everyday surroundings, particularly nature and a different selection of random sounds I hear throughout the day. What’s even funnier is that I know all of this is subconscious. More often than not, I’ll hear something and not think anything of it at the time, but in hindsight that sound was a massive inspiration. My whole surrounding is always a huge inspiration and I’m always taking everything around me onboard.”

Video for “Sunset Connoisseur”, directed by Dave Fox

I wonder at what point in the process he comes up with such striking track titles.  “Honestly, I think the track titles are really really special to me and their contribution to the storytelling of the album. Each of these titles are reflective of something that happened along the way that stood out. Iron Shamrocks represents the resilience and „fighting“ nature of the Irish people in the face of adversity.  Through the Wall tells the story of a house party where a friend pushed another through a plasterboard wall. Sunset Connoisseur is simply a commentary on how reflective and thankful I was to return to Ireland and her beautiful sunsets after a year abroad during a very rough time. The titles usually come along after the music is written, or at least 70-80% finished, because I’m focusing so hard on reflecting the emotion through the music, I cannot be distracted by trying to lay out some pretty looking words too. I usually let my own music inspire me upon listening back on the finished product“

Turning back home to Ireland, I ask how the electronic scene is developing, particularly in Limerick. We see a lot of Irish DJs and producers moving here, for various reasons – how’s that affecting the growth? “There are still only a handful of primarily-electronic acts in Limerick. It is growing a lot, and I think the various 3rd level courses in Music Production are definitely helping encourage people to share their creations and take to the stage. I know that my studies at Limerick Institute of Technology inspired me to go forward.”

Whatever the future holds for the electronica scene back home, Paddy‘s own musical and personal voyage is fascinating, and promises to make for an unmissable live experience. How soon can we expect to see him in Berlin again after tonight’s show?  “I have no plans to return to Berlin; but I know that next time I do, I’ll be bringing more instruments”. If his musical evolution in the last few years is anything to go by, the promise of further sonic explorations is tantalising. And tonight promises to be a very immersive glimpse into this ongoing story of musical discovery and growth.

Show starts at 9pm tonight, Saturday the 1st of February, 2020. Doors at 8pm.

Liebenwalderstraße 33
13347 Berlin

Cover Picture by
© Shane Vaughan

Junior Brother – “I connected with his place in the arcane, weird and demented world”

Hi Junior Brother, excited to take your show on the road and to a more European audience? 

I’m always very happy to play for audiences in new places, and I’m looking forward to getting to travel and see lots more of Europe than I’ve seen before. It’s also the longest tour I’ve been a part of so far, so that will be a great experience.

How did the tour itself come about with The Murder Capital?

I think the band’s management got onto my management to ask me to join them on the tour. I’m glad they asked and even gladder I said yes!

© Gavin Ovoca

The Murder Capital are an Irish post punk band from Dublin, who also released one of the great albums of 2019 with their debut, When I Have Fears

The mix of tenderness and humour on Pull the Right Rope resonated with a lot of listeners, not just from song to song but often from one line to the next. Is performing for you every night as emotional a rollercoaster as it can be for your listeners?

Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, it’s a really intense experience for me pretty much every time I play a gig. Live, I try to click into a certain energy that is potent and that taps into a certain frequency which will hopefully be picked up on by spectators and listeners. It’s hard to explain this energy I pursue but I can certainly feel it when I get there. 

You’ve spoken before about the influences of the Kerry landscapes on your music…

The weirdness and natural, ancient atmosphere of rural Ireland is something I try to convey through every aspect of my music, particularly the atmosphere of where I grew up in Kerry. I can’t explain with words the feeling these landscapes bring up in me, so that’s why I put them in my music – hopefully some people will pick up on these distinct, abstract elements but if not, it’s not the end of the world – they’re still there for me.

Junior Brother’s debut album, Pull The Right Rope, was released in May 2019 to great acclaim and was recently shortlisted for the RTÉ Choice Music Prize for album of the year 2019 alongside Fontaines D.C., Mick Flannery and Soak, amongst others.

Speaking of Kerry, is Richie Kavanagh’s wit an influence?

Richie Kavanagh conveys through his songs a beautiful sense of rural naivety which lifts my heart and soul every time I hear it. 

You yourself have a rather unique sound, and yet of course we can hear some influences from Planxty to Nick Drake to Joanna Newsom too.

In Planxty I heard the thick atmosphere of rural Ireland conveyed so potently on their album The Woman I Loved So Well. Nick Drake was very important in this very same aspect, through his natural and hypnotic guitar plucking. Joanna Newsom and Derek Bell got me very into harp music, with Newsom’s voice being a huge inspiration to me when finding the courage to sing in my own voice. 

These artists, among others, helped me to shape my style, as I used elements from these and many other sources to create a mixture which sounds different to most things I suppose.

Tell me about your stage name, Junior Brother, is it true that it originates from a play you studied in college and if so, what is the play? And, what was it that drew you to it? 

Yes, it’s a character’s name in The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton, and I read that when I was doing English in University College Cork. The play dates from a period which I feel a strange aesthetic affinity with, late 16th/ early 17th century England. The play is insane and violent and beautiful, and Junior Brother is a malicious outcast in the very outer margins of the action – I connected with his place in the arcane, weird and demented world of the play.

So, you have a few shows in Germany over the tour. Have you been a fan or been influenced by German culture in the past?

Krautrock has been quite a big influence, acts like Can, Neu and Kraftwerk I discovered really early on when I was just starting to get bored of more conventional music as a child. In terms of cinema, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Rainer Werner Fassbinder had a huge impact early on, and of course Werner Herzog is a brilliant force of nature as an artist and is an influence as well.

Show starts at 8pm with Junior Brother, doors from 7pm, Monday the 3rd of February 2020.
Tickets available here.

Musik & Frieden
Falckensteinstraße 48
10997 Berlin

Cover Picture by
© Nicolas O’Donnell

The Murder Capital by
© Gavin Ovoca

Susan Connolly – “I aim to offer new ways to consider paintings”

Wandering Things. The exhibition’s title throws up one little question when you’ve learned how the Kildare born artist Susan Connolly has previously created many of her works – often large pieces installed into the walls of the galleries she exhibits in – just how will the paintings in this show transfer to a foreign gallery? Connolly clarifies; “The original idea was to exhibit the collection of ‘Wandering Things’ paint skins alongside a new ‘site-specific’ work but unfortunately, due to the listed nature of Kunsthaus Dahlem, this was not feasible. I have exhibited this work as a growing collection before, but this is the first time that I have all 4 previous installations together”.

When Connolly mentions site specific, she is referring to work she has previously created and exhibited in the Mac, Belfast or the Lab, Dublin amongst others. Pieces she first created, before moving them “on site” to the gallery, and fusing them into the showcasing walls. “My painting practice has increasingly moved towards a site specificity and a temporality. This aspect of the work has grown in its importance with the construction of the work revealing and presenting new ways of looking at our understanding and of one’s expectations of what a painting is, its presentation and how it holds walls within the exhibition/gallery environment. I am interested in every aspect of how the viewer ‘looks’ at painting and in my practice, I aim to offer new ways to consider paintings and how we ‘look’ within an expanded painting era”. For Dahlem, Connolly has also developed and introduced new armature structures, painted in cmyk colours: “I am really excited to see how they ‘hold’ the wall and give a floating like quality to how the 3 smaller (150x120cm) paint skins are viewed.”

The paintings I make come from an inquisitive and conceptual way of thinking about making images using the medium paint as the primary source.”

Susan Connolly

Connolly was invited to exhibit at the Kunsthaus Dahlem by curator Mirjami Schuppert, who was, until recently, based in Belfast where Connolly was finishing up her PhD from Ulster University. Schuppert, in attendance at a talk held by Connolly at the University, was left impressed and intrigued at how the work would impact the pieces outside of Ireland and the UK. “Mirjami thought it an interesting proposition for my practice too” adds Connolly.

Had she been looking herself to take the pieces abroad? Not really, but I am very excited to have this opportunity to bring my work to new audiences beyond Ireland. What really attracted me to this particular opportunity was the venue’s history as a ‘site’ of artistic production, and the work of Italian artist Emilio Vedora really stood out to me with his development of the walkthrough painting installations during the 1960s. His work really spoke to my own studio explorations as my paintings often explore ideas to do with the expanded nature of contemporary painting practices and the traces of the artists activity upon the visual outcomes.”

The two make for great company. Vedora was the first international artist to exhibit at Kunsthaus Dahlem and also explored concepts of how one views a piece. My little question has been, well and truly, put to bed; “Like all artwork there is always an interesting transition between sites of development, sites of production and sites of viewing,” Connolly concludes, “and how the works hold themselves in Kunsthaus Dahlem will add a further dimension to their ‘wandering thingness’, which will make the work unique to this particular exhibition.”

Wandering Things opens this Thursday, January 23rd 2020, and runs through to March 30th at Kunsthaus Dahlem. The opening is open to the public and starts at 7 p.m. For anyone curious to find out more about the artist, process or works, Connolly will also hold a talk on the evening of March 11th. For more information please check in at Kunsthaus Dahlem or Susan Connolly‘s websites.

Kunsthaus Dahlem
Käuzchensteig 8
14195 Berlin