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.
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.
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.
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 ithere 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.
Eoin, isolation seems to be treating you well. You are maintaining that garden of yours well it seems. Focusing any of the new found time on new music since the tour isn’t happening now?
I’m in great form. This day to day living, with less pressure not to go anywhere and an opportunity to do music and reading, suits me. At the minute I’m recording an EP (June Hope) which is gonna be very different. More personal, a bit pop too. It’s not as politicised as my previous work.
While much of your music thus far has had different setting and characters that clearly don’t apply directly to you, they still feel heartfelt and personal.
My songs are partly fictionalised. I like to be imaginative and think we all have a touch of the Walter Mitty in us at times. I look for different strands – sometimes they’re more interesting. Seeing where the different threads end up and I might add certain truths in then.
Eoin Dolan is more likely to be found on his social media giving his followers gardening tips or classic Coronation Street memes than he is to be plugging his own art. On the latter, we suspect the Curb Your Enthusiasm fanatic may be acting a little tongue in cheek…
Digitalisation allows you to do your recording then from home?
I do all my recording at home, yeah. It’s controversial stuff but in a lot of ways I’d say digital, in a lot of respects, is better. The advancements that have been made in recording technology are great. I wouldn’t have been able to record all the stuff I have done if it wasn’t for the development of digital recording. Analog is not available to the majority of artists and you need a certain knowledge too there that most might not have. Digital gives you a certain avenue to be really creative and I think that’s reflected now in Irish music and the standards have gone up massively. I think the talent has always been there in Ireland but people are given the opportunity now to record more as it was just too expensive before to record.
“The studio is an instrument in itself“
Before you also might have had well-meaning sound engineers but they were maybe not necessarily great producers so you’d end up with material that doesn’t capture the character of a band – and I also believe that the more you record (yourself) the better you get at songwriting too. There are a lot of philosophies out there with regards to the purpose of a studio but I’d say that a studio can be used as another kind of instrument in itself that’s integral to the creative process rather than just there to capture the recording itself. Or at least that’s the way I work anyways.
In your work thus far, I think digitisation has helped add atmospheric aspects to aid the settings, such as in Space on previous LPs, that you may not have got as easily on analog?
I do love the idea of tape and I think analog recording is really cool – I’m not condemning it! Maybe if I had the resources and the space to have all the equipment maybe I would use it, but being practical, I don’t have it so I think digital is great without condemning the older means of recording. Just comes down to the fact that the output of artists is improving as people are getting more opportunities to be creative. Look at the last 15, 20 years since digital recording became more affordable – you see more and more records being put out, more diverse genres of music. It’s interesting too cos nowadays a lot of the recording techniques are going back now, a lot of the plug ins even in a digital format now will make it sound like it was when recording was analog!
“Studios used to intimidate me”
Songwriting is a craft though, it takes time. It took me a while to figure out a style that I was comfortable writing in and performing in and getting my sound together. The writing part of it and learning an instrument is very similar to the recording in that you need to just practice it. Recording puts a microscope on your art, and it’s very unforgiving. I was lucky in that I studied sound engineering (in my mid twenties) and the teachers were good and so were the people in my class. Until then I was always looking at the studio as something that intimidated me. There for the first time, we would be at Windmill Lane recording students or young bands. They’re looking at us as the engineer then and us then seeing it from another perspective where I’m not as emotionally attached. I can then be objective and a lot more clinical just to get the best out of artists and getting their best work out of them. I was seeing myself in these guys. You get so blinkered in your world view (as the recording artist) and it’s so difficult when you’re so blinkered you can’t stand outside and look at things objectively. One of our teachers, Niall, came in and I remember him saying the key to success is to make decisions quickly. You don’t have all day in the studio and if you can’t be decisive you’ll end up with a lot of unfinished material.
You’ve always been a big guitar player but we don’t always hear them or maybe just not as predominantly on your recent work – is this intentional?
The majority of the songs I write are on guitar, though some on piano but I’m ruthless – I’ll get rid of a lot of stuff. Initially say there might be a lotta guitars, say rhythm, but if they don’t work – if it’s shit, I won’t mourn its loss. I’ve made that mistake in the past, regardless of how long has been spent on it, you have to cut it if it doesn’t fit. Be quick and say “that’s it, gone”. You can’t let ego get in the way. If the song is good enough, if it has a good melody, message or vibe it’ll carry that through another instrument too.
If you go back to the sixties and Serge Gainsbourg, guitar isn’t the leading force. It has a great groove to it but it’s coming ‘cos the drums and bass are good. They are locked in and that gives everything the motion. The guitars are there, not as decoration but they’re also not there to drive the song.
Serge Gainsbourg, with his dogNana, as taken by Andrew Birkin. Dolan says too that his new EP, June Hope, is largely inspired by his listening to of early 60s’ French pop.
There are a wealth of Irish bands, particularly from the East coast having great success internationally the last couple of years. And in the last year the West coast and Galway seem to be rising to that too, with some incredible talent and labels such as through Citóg and Strange Brew.
The standard has gone up unbelievably. If you look at the Choice Music awards this year, for example, there are just some really really strong artists. The scene is small (in Ireland), even the population, to cater for what’s there. The standard is phenomenal. Sometimes even these bands don’t get the audiences they deserve. And now in the digital realm, there are so many youtube tutorials etc. to help bands (get their sound right and out there). We had bands in the past here that were so tight but they’d go into the studio and the record would sound shite.
But the music scene, the whole system is set up in a way that’s not meant to be fair in any way shape or form – this whole thing that if you work hard enough at it, it’ll work out – is malarky. It’s pure money driven. And connection driven. But even with connections it’s still money driven. Sure, I’d say even with my tour cancelled I saved money. ‘Cos the whole thing would be costing me more to play. And I’d say that’s the same for a lot of the bands out there. I feel sorry for bands who’d had the big festivals this summer, they’d have lost big income there. Then again, they’re often the bands with the money to begin with. They’re the tip of the spear for representing Irish music abroad but in some cases they’re not necessarily the best but just the ones who have the money. You need money to do it.
What I’d say therefore to young people starting in music is to get yourself a skill, one in music or video production that you can not only use for your own art but you can actually get work out of too so that you’re still involved in music too in some way.
But does that not seem a shame that your music doesn’t (yet) reach a wider audience?
I just laugh at it, just find it funny cos I won’t ever pay for PR and I know that may mean I’ll never to get to the point where I could tour regularly but that’s fine ‘cos you can sink a load of money into PR too and get nothing and be just left feeling very angry. Whereas now, (how it’s set up with digital home recordings) I can just record here for the rest of the evening if I want and continue to do so ’til I die. Whether people listen to it or not, that’s fine.
For all the talk of digital, are there any plans or desires there to bring vinyl versions of your music out?
Yeah I have a good amount of stuff recorded on different albums (released on CD or on Streaming platforms) over the years. I plan on putting a “best of” compilation out later this year on vinyl. Again though, it’s just so expensive to duplicate. To make money back you have to be touring with it. But people are conscious that vinyl adds a certain levity to the whole thing.
Speaking of touring, will Berlin be back on the cards whenever things allow it?
Most definitely. Will have to see how and when things pan out but will be back in Berlin hopefully soon.
The timely and aptly-named “June Hope EP” is out now and you can hear ithere now on Spotify, or purchase it 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 cultural exchanges between refugees, asylum seekers and locals.
Can I say one thing at the start? And this doesn’t bother me, but just to save embarrassment for later. I pronounce my name “Ai – nya”.
Here is where I showed just how much in need of Irish lessons I myself am. I had pronounced the accent on the “Á” like “aw”, so Áine’s name like “aw – nya”. For all the non-Irish speakers out there that ‘accent’ is actually called a “fada” in Irish – cos we’d like you to learn one or two things about Irish in this article too!
I’m so sorry!
No problem. You would never know that when you see it written. It’s a different dialect. It’s from Donegal.
So, now I have to ask is that where Enya gets her name from?
She’s from Donegal but her name is Eithne. I think in Donegal Eithne is often pronounced Enya and she’s just changed the spelling to be phonetical. Maybe for international purposes?
Áine. I want to get this right! And actually the fada brings us nicely into your work and that you’ve made your name until now as an Irish language comedian.
So.. I wouldn’t describe myself as an Irish language comedian! But I’m a comedian and I have a special interest in the Irish language and specifically to use comedy as a way to promote the language. And to make it more accessible for people in general. And the way that I can do that is because I’m not a native speaker myself. I’m just the average person who learned it in school. You know, the majority of Irish people like the language but we feel guilty that we don’t speak it and we feel shame that we should speak it more but don’t have the opportunity to speak it more – anyways it’s a horrible negative cycle – but underneath it all, we really like it and would like more chances to speak it. So I just fell into doing Irish language comedy and I initially felt way out of my comfort zone doing it but then I realised that the skill that I had was to connect with the average Irish person and so I developed this method of using Irish within my stand up that is for people who haven’t heard the language before or for the average Irish person who thinks they’ve forgotten it all from school but they haven’t forgotten it all! But just haven’t really had a chance to hear it. And that’s what’s really nice is that people afterwards say, “oh, I’m really surprised, I understand a lot more than I thought I would”.
But, I’m also a “normal” comedian. My work doesn’t just evolve around the Irish language but it may be regarded as the most meaningful that I’ve done until now. I’ve been performing as a comedian now for ten years, been living in Berlin under a year and yeah, just gigging all the time. Learning German now over here too, that’s been inspiring me a lot. That’s just a fun topic learning language, the experiences and the embarrassments.
Any sets or pieces about learning German in the offing? The comedy clubs here tend to have very international crowds so many may relate?
It’s mainly international crowds yeah, so the anecdotes about language go down well cos the audience are a mix of people trying to learn the language but also Germans appreciate them too about their own language.
And have you tested the Irish language stuff here too?
I have done some of it, and like in the documentary “Grá agus Eagla” I have developed a whole show which is me as an Irish teacher teaching Irish to a class that is in itself the full comedy show and I’ve taken that to Edinburgh and around Europe and it always goes down well. Something interesting is in Ireland I describe myself as a “guerilla Irish teacher” when I’m performing and then (on stage) haha I’m gonna teach you Irish instead! In Ireland I find that I can’t really advertise the Irish language aspect because people get scared already and stop themselves from going whereas in international places people are more open as they don’t have the shame, many don’t even know there is a language called Irish. Germans though are very interested in Irish culture in general, I find, and especially in the traditional music and poetry etc. And now loads of people are even learning Irish on Duolingo, it’s become so popular.
Time to get personal Áine – What brought you to Berlin?
Oh no!! Ok, the truth is I moved here because my boyfriend was here. That’s the real answer. My more feminist answer is “you know, was a great time for me to do something new, I’ve always lived in Ireland, try a new experience” but also the truth is I had started to do more and more comedy professionally year by year and it takes a lot of courage to break free of it all and say, “ok I’m gonna do it”. I thought moving here would be a good challenge, you know, take the safety net away – and see if I could do it. You know, it’s been good so far. It’s been a slug, a hustle. But I do feel like I’m starting to get momentum now and it’s given me a lot of confidence to do it. I think you’re inclined to take more risks if you’re away from home. And then my boyfriend and I broke up a month ago, just at the start of corona, anyway the nice thing was I didn’t have the feeling of what am I doing here in Berlin but I do feel good here. And I’m excited to be here. It’s a new challenge.
You’ve been working a new web series lately?
Yes! The web series is called Irish Matters. And it’s for anyone who knows Nationwide we are describing it as the new and improved Nationwide exploring important issues around the Irish language and culture. The presenter is called Jane, she has this dead pan, one viewpoint, clear idea about things. She asks quiet objective straight forward questions which creates a lot of opportunity for fun as the series moves on. And then the “pretend” production company who decided to make Irish Matters are just struggling, they’ve never had a hit and it’s like “let’s just make something in Irish, doesn’t matter if it makes any sense or not cos if it’s in Irish your guaranteed to get funding and airtime!
Everything wrapped up now on the series?
Yes, everything is shot. We have three episodes that we are going to release. First episode is coming out this Monday and then the others will come out bi-weekly then. We will have it on our Facebook Page and on my website. We’ve graded the Irish so in the first episode there isn’t much and there’s a bit more then in the next episodes. It’s just a fun way to engage with the Irish language and to try not make it more accessible and not this scary horrible thing that we all dread.
You have a very subtle way of acting in the series, which is vital in comedy of course.
I haven’t done much acting but I think it’s very Irish, subtlety. Probably what I miss most about Ireland is the subtle jokes. You realise how good Irish people are at subtlety when you are away.
You had a few events, and shows organised before Corona disrupted everything – any word yet on when the shows you’d had may be rescheduled to?
Cant really say, was supposed to do my “Edinburgh” show at Curious Fox in Neukölln and another night there of storytelling so that’s just all postponed. We will see when we can rearrange! Let’s see when, hairdressers are opening again which I am delighted about! I really need a haircut! Anyways, I have more events with the Irish Embassy too but will keep everyone posted when it’s back on!
Irish Matters can be viewed here, or take a look over at Áine’s Twitter and to keep up with the latest on her shows and series.
Beautifully apt title for the Spring days ahead of us, staring up from our balconies, with a pair of equally evocative tunes to match, Clear Blue Sky is LANDERS’ first release. The two track EP was recorded with Aidan Floatinghome at KAOS over four days in Schöneweide last year. Aidan will be known to many readers from his own solo projects down the years, or his work with Perlee, Wallis Bird or Hundreds.
Now we haven’t had the fortune to see these guys live yet, though we have heard many great things from others who have done so. Of course, given this whole Corona business, we may not see them for a few weeks yet live again in the city but we will keep you informed whenever the cancelled gigs are rearranged. Until then, click on the link above for a spin and if you like what you hear, head on over Landers’ Bandcamp to share your love and support.
First of all, thanks Ciarán for taking the time to talk to us about the newbook. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
It seems to be the done thing now with everyone having more and more time on their hands – so we have happily followed suit and put together our own playlist mixing up many of the great Irish artists who have made Berlin their home in recent times, as well as an array of the finest Irish talent back home and elsewhere.
There are difficult days ahead of everyone this year – without a shadow of doubt. But for now, all we can do is stay in and stay safe while looking out for the most vulnerable and in need of help. And at least with artists like these below, it makes it somewhat easier to enjoy the isolation.
So stream and buy and enjoy all the alternatives that are on offer right now to keep your time of isolation a well cultured one.
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.
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.
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: