Holly Herndon and the Fortress of Music

11 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

Last Thursday, June 4 I saw Holly Herndon perform at Brooklyn's The Wick in support of her fantastic sophmore album Platform. Below, I've provided something of a play-by-play of my experience. 

Herndon has five more dates on her current tour, including one at Berghain tonight.

Read more →

I’m a few days late (or at least a few days behind the New York Times) but it will be a dark day indeed when a No Fear of Pop writer goes to a Holly Herndon show and can’t think of anything to write about it.
I showed up to Bushwick’s cleverly(?) named The Wick at around 8:50. Doors had, one day earlier, been moved from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m., which disappointed me because I had assumed that the show’s surprisingly late start time (this was a weeknight, after all) was something of a nod to the Berlin club scene to which Herndon owes allegiance.

Is Brooklyn finished? I ask myself.

Does music at hip indie venues like Bushwick’s hilariously(?) named The Wick have a curfew because owners must now live in fear of being shut down by wealthier neighbors?

Who’s to say.

A bit about Bushwick’s terribly(?) named The Wick: The venue occupies the ground floor of a shuttered brewery, and comes pretty close to earning its self-appointed title of “music fortress”. The Wick is cavernous – I count at least four separate “spaces”, including an outdoors – and the performance area is remarkably beautiful-- a razed-looking brick foundation with a wooden pyramid of a ceiling. The stage itself looks like it was very much built for rock music, with stacks of speakers and amps lined up at the front. I feel as though the owners of The Wick have set the room up to blast people in the face with music. I worry that this is a place for “rocking out” to music that Pitchfork approved of in 2001, and not really the place to “vibe out” to music that Pitchfork approves of in 2015. I worry that this is a good venue to see Spoon.

That said, I really like The Wick, and it pulls of the impressive task of feeling like both intimate and spacious. I am sad that it will be closing this December to make room for an apartment building with a Whole Foods in the lobby.

I worry that sound at The Wick will be bad, because the place reminds me of a run-down Scottish farmhouse and I have never seen electronic music performed in one of those. I move as close to the front of the stage as I possibly can (note: I’m an idiot.)

I could dedicate the next 2,000 words of this review to my experience as an audience member at The Wick. I could describe, in painstaking detail, the feeling that appeared in my gut every one of the six hundred times I heard the word “tech” or “startup” or “south by southwest” while I was an audience member at The Wick. I could try to determine the amount, in billions of dollars, of student loan money paid to Oberlin College by the collective audience members at The Wick.

But music.

Around 9 p.m. Evan Caminiti took the stage and performed a mesmerizing ambient piece that lasts roughly 40 minutes. At one point Caminiti earns the derision (and, I think, respect) of everyone in the audience by issuing forth a sharp blast of sound that is not so much heard as it is felt. Painfully; in the throat and chest.

Are you still paying attention? It almost asks.

Next was a downright immense performance from experimental composer and vocalist GABI (nee Gabrielle Herbst). Herbst was joined on stage by an ensemble of percussion, guitar, violin, viola and laptop.

Herndon was joined on stage by Mat Dryhurst and Brian Rogers, who typed out audience questions (texted to a number that had been projected behind Herndon as she set up) and answered them on a word processor projected behind Herndon.

The following exchange received a loud smattering of deserved applause:

“What should I say to the girls next to me?"

"A: Respect their space”

While a request to pit Berlin against New York received a response of visceral anger from a man standing near me who I am 100% certain was not born in New York. The answer: “Kingston”.

It was fun to watch the questions and answers be typed out in real time, and also fun to see how much Dryhurst and Rogers seemed to enjoy it, especially when they came up with a particularly cutting jib. Herndon kept turning away from her laptop to read the exchanges, and I always find a little pleasure in any indication that a performer is still having fun, still excited about what they’re doing even after months on tour.

Meanwhile, I receive a text from my friend Chris telling me that he forgot to come to the venue and instead went home.

“We’ll have to go back” I respond, and I mean it at the time.

But I may never go back to The Wick, which will probably be a Trader Joe’s wine outlet by the end of next week.

All of these text exchanges occurred in the simmering ambience before (and between) Herndon’s actual songs, where she really cut into things.

There was a feeling of loose improvisation to Herndon’s performance, though this was possibly artifice (who knows what’s going on behind that laptop?). Nevertheless, the wonderful clatter of electronics gave the performance a feeling of malleability. It felt as though the crowd’s reaction to the music – much like our text messages – might by Herndon be consumed, considered, and responded to: the black “A:” replaced by a particularly hefty beat or a dazzling slurp of distorted vocals.

As she whipped the air of The Wick along her furious carnival of synthesized sound, there was a lot going on behind Herndon as well. Namely, a crazy, reactive video program (this is the kind of thing that Max was designed for) created by Akihiko Taniguchi that resembled this Windows 95 screensaver and was filled with flattened images of human beings (Herndon and a Lidl-bag toting individual stood out to me) which toppled as they neared the “viewer”, and also oblong three-dimensional shapes with photos of fruit skin mapped to their virtual skin. If all of this sounds crazy and incomprehensible, it is only because I am a terrible writer. In the moment, surrendered to the safari of sonic structures through which Herndon’s music was pulling me, it all made perfect sense.

But it was also something else: It was fun. For a performance so concerned with the troubling link between humans and technology – a performance that explicitly addressed, in its text message game, our need for immediate gratification and constant interaction – this was a difficult thing to pull off.

It is difficult at live performances of “laptop music” to really gauge how much is actually being generated in front of you versus how much of a song is pre-programmed. Herndon’s performance seemed to engage directly with this issue. In fact I realize, looking back on the show, that at no point was I entirely sure of who was controlling what: was the video’s wild interactivity in fact determined by the shifts in the music? Were the audience’s text messages contributing in any way?

It’s hard to find the controller amidst the mounting chaos, and Herndon’s performance reminded me of a sort of performance art ventriloquism piece. A good ventriloquist doesn’t just disguise the fact that she’s talking: She creates a sense of interaction between herself and her dummy, such that you aren’t even watching to see how she’s doing it anymore; you’re just watching a conversation between two people. You forget that the whole thing is being manipulated by one person, let alone how that person is doing it.

Holly Herndon is a great ventriloquist.

A City Is An Island – Interview with Timothy George Kelly

10 Jun 2015 — Editor

In anticipation of the German premiere of Montréal music documentary A City Is An Island we have talked to the director Timothy George Kelly. The film will be shown at Kino Babylon Mitte on tomorrow, June 11 at 8pm followed by a Q&A with the director, musician Sean Nicholas Savage and artist Jason Harvey.

This interview was first posted on the website of Torstraßen Festival. Read it below the break.

Read more →

Your film illustrates how ambivalent many Montreal musicians are about self-promotion and even success. Did you encounter resistance to the project of documenting the Montreal music scene? If so, how did you convince people to be involved in your documentary?

There were different levels of resistance from different people. Younger artists are more often self-conscience, excited for a platform to talk and then afterwards sometimes wishing they had never done it at all. I think there is a real pressure now because of the internet, having to tour, having to have a press photo and music videos, it asks for an identity from young artists who may not know who they are yet and they are forced to cement that in recorded document that is in someone’s else’s control, which can result in a neurotic episode from some.

A lot of the older people who didn’t want to be in the film were just passive aggressive, which I would fire back with my greatest weapon, the never ending persistent weekly email. Mauro from Godspeed You! Black Emperor straight up told me to fuck off which I thought was pretty cool. There was this strange attitude from some of the nineties and early 00s crowd that making a film about the Montreal scene would somehow reveal the secret of the place and the floodgates would open. I grew up on a farm in Australia pretty much the furthest distance from Montreal possible, it ain’t a secret no more. The secret they are thinking of is just nostalgia for a time when their hangovers were more tolerable.

Most of the musicians in the film are solo artists. Is there something particularly solitary about Montreal life?

It’s economics of time and money. You have to tour now, touring with one person is way more affordable than multiple – and technology, people are create huge sounds with gear that didn’t exist ten years ago. Macbook Pro rock stars. And of course, winter. If you are solo, you don’t even have to leave your room.

You use a lot of live performances in the film — in venues, homes, and outside in Montreal city space. Why was that important to you?

I asked the artists where they would like to play. It was a way to document the space of the city whilst giving the audience what they want from a music documentary: music.

You spend a significant amount of time on language politics in Quebec, and the tension between French-speaking Quebecois and Anglo “ex-pats” who are mostly from other parts of Canada. Not knowing French is a weirdly big aspect of living in Montreal. Do you speak French? In your film, Brendan Reed compares asking this to asking someone about their sexuality. Do you agree?

One of my first jobs in Montreal was delivering sofas, my French never really improved from what was required there. I wouldn’t say Brendan is directly comparing sexuality and language, he is using sexuality as an example of something that is very important to someone’s identity which could result in people feeling isolated or ashamed. Anglophones feel guilty for their laziness in not ingraining themselves in the predominant language of Quebec, but the shame comes from language politics being in the fabric of Montreal culture and the anglophone being the perpetual outsider, the voluntary outsider, the lazy outsider, which leads to for so many to be the temporary citizen. It is this that makes them eventually leave.

What compelled you to make this film? Put another way, why did you feel it need to be made?

I am a filmmaker. I had no money to make a film about something made up, so I made a film about what was in front of me.

What kind of response has it had, in Montreal and outside?

Really well. I am just happy people completely ignore the technical issues the film has and see it has a heart, it was shot on a camera that is worth $150 now so I sit in the cinema at these film festivals and just feel like a kid, a pretend filmmaker, a liar, where all the other films that play have logos of companies and state support at the end credits. It is strange how something doesn’t look official until you put some kind of logo on it. Our brains love symbols.

Your film is about artists in Montreal, but your voice is absent. Why did you choose not to include yourself in it?

My voice is in it. It is everywhere. 90 hours of footage cut into 72 minutes. What is in it, what isn’t, that’s my voice right there.

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

Australian. Moved to Montreal in 2008. Now based in London, UK. Have very little patience for shit fruit. I like painting, whisky and napping.

What are you working on next?

I am making a documentary about a techno collective called John’s Kingdom in Moscow right now. They are pretty interesting, all friends who somehow have a very similar sound, which in the world of Ableton and digital music creation where anyone who can work a torrent basically has an endless palette of sounds, is quite rare.

And then when I am back in London I will start another film in reaction to what Katie Hopkins has been saying about immigrants. The window of what has become reasonable to say in the right-wing press in the UK is disgusting and needs to be fought against, we are in an information war and it is very loud and very confusing and very fucked up. So I am going to make a film asking only egalitarian revolutionaries their opinions of the police, what it is to be human and if a policeman can be one. No one will care about the film of course, but it’s worth trying anyway.

Win: Paula Temple Presents “Decon/Recon” Live in Berlin

10 Jun 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Noise Manifesto's series "Decon/Recon" will be deconstructing and reconstructing live June 19th, at Arena Club Berlin. The project involves rRoxymore, Aquarian Jugs aka Planningtorock, Jaguar Woman aka Paula Temple, and Oni Ayhun. The showcase will involve cooperative visuals from queer-feminist porn director Marit Östberg and video artist Tania Gualeni. Apart from the project saying hoards about the aesthetic significance of collaboration, it moreover offers a kind of game where you might try to pick up on whose distinct styles appear during varying parts of each segment or track. Much to our surprise, styles prove superfluous, as these artists mimic each other and end up producing sounds that are utterly unique to the circumstance. It is true human synthesis performed within the aural dimension.

We are giving away two sets of a pair of tickets for the event. In order to win, write to submissions@nofearofpop.net and let us know that you know the true identity of Oni Ayhun. Deadline is next Wednesday, June 17th. 

Read more →

The NFOP Guide to Torstraßen Festival 2015

09 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

First things first: For those of you who are experiencing a feeling of confusion and disorientation right now, silently wondering in mild despair, "How did this year pass by so quickly?" – fear not! Your memory and sense of time are totally fine. Due to a couple of more or less interesting, somewhat disruptive circumstances (in case you're actually wondering: the end of Berlin Music Week, its replacement Popkultur, and in some way probably even this superfluous oddity named Lollapalooza® Berlin), NFOP's favourite local music event Torstraßen Festival has been moved to early June instead of the last weekend of August. From now on marking the beginning of the summer festival season rather than its end, the shift entails the additional benefit of further underlining the humble festival's forward-looking, adventurous stance that keeps focusing on both Berlin talents and artists positioned subtly yet firmly left of the field.

Unlike the last years, the fifth edition of TSF not only occupies the better part of this weekend's Saturday but will have a bonus night on Sunday, with an official closing concert at the mighty Volksbühne. No Fear Of Pop is once again proud to be official media partner of the Mitte brouhaha – and as things are already so close, please allow us to make some recommendations for the festival below. Be sure to check the complete schedule in a neat map over here.

Read more →

Gaststätte Prassnik

The cosy little pub will be coloured in red and white for an all-Canadian experience with some of our favourite artists at the moment: Berlin resident and Urban Spree master of sounds Lief Hall should be familiar to our readers by now. Her recent show at West Germany featured some staggering new material, so you should definitely come by at 5pm to finally check her out if you haven't done so yet. Lief will be followed by recent Berlin via Montréal transplant Antoine93, who you might also know already from his superb performance at the NFOP four-year anniversary bash at Sameheads last year in February. If not, be there! Antoine now comes with the additional merit of having been selected as one of the three Welcome to Berlin participants for some extra fame courtesy of our friends at BCR, i-D, and Musicboard. Well deserved, we'd say (we've also voted for him, cough). Antoine93 will perform at 7pm The maple leaf trio will be completed at 9pm by wonderfully out of control Pascale Project aka Pascale Mercier fka Mathematique. We recently had the honour to interview her and premiere the first single from her forthcoming LP, check that out right here.

Roter Salon

Volksbühne's Roter Salon is set to host some serious Berlin art school vibes with appearances by local luminaries Deaths at 6pm and Golden Diskó Ship at 8pm. Just like Antoine93, the former have just officially been announced as participants at Welcome to Berlin, and the video for "Sold" should be sufficient to tell you why. Comparisons to various hyped projects have been made by others, but we don't do such things. Mostly. Usually. Sometimes. Compared to Deaths, multi-instrumentalist and Berlin Current alumnus Theresa Stroetges aka Golden Diskó Ship is almost to be considered a veteran, having performed at Berghain's main stage opening for Kuedo and Forest Swords last year. Stroetges' take on contemporary pop is sophisticated and remains pretty unique this side of Berlin city limits, and the dignity of Roter Salon seems like the appropriate venue for this sort of thing.

Ackerstadt Palast

So, we like Hamburg duo Zucker. We like gritty guitars and we think Ramones covers are okay if translated into German and post-ironically performed by two women. We even think that they can pull off naming a song "Trümmerfrauen". This is punk, after all. No post. Then again, their Soundcloud states "Genie-Noise-Minimal-Avantgarde-Pop". So indeed very post, after all. Come see for yourself and argue with us about classification. And listen to something German, ffs. 7pm. By the way, we are aware that we just said that you should be at Gaststätte Prassnik at that time as well. But that's really not our fault come think of it. The same issue reoccurs two hours later when Istanbul-based Biblo enters the stage at Ackerstadt Palast, and here we're truly conflicted. We stumbled across this highly talented artist two years ago when she collaborated with Brazilian beatsmith Pazes, but her solo stuff is actually so much more compelling, which is why her show would deserve everyone's undivided attention – were it not for all the other things going on simultaneously. We're afraid that we really can't help you here.

Platoon Kunsthalle

Dark and forward-thinking, Platoon is responsible for the artsy electronics. Torn Hawk, to whose 2014 Let's Cry and Do Pushups at the Same Time LP on Mexican Summer you absolutely need to listen to, is one of the many guises of Luke Wyatt, and it's arguably his most adventurous and compelling venture. See for yourself at 9pm (if you're not somewhere else, see above). Teengirl Fantasy on the other hand shouldn't need an introduction, really. The Brooklyn house veterans and nicest guys ever (who I interviewed for EB years ago) return to Berlin for a one-off show at 11pm. The duo's most recent material shows laudable creative development, so be there.

Also highly recommended:

And on and on, there's so much more to be seen, so let's quickly point to Emperor X, who will present his very own take on familiar folk tropes at Z-Bar at 4pm. If you're a reader of this site and/or came to our five-year anniversary at Urban Spree the other day, you'll already know what to expect from a Godmother show: the most queer fun/fun queers in town. Usually only coming out after sunset, their 5pm spot at Sankt Oberholz is one of the rare opportunities to see them in broad daylight. Just in case you need further arguments. Speaking of queer culture, Lotic's widely reported response to the recent GFOTY and Ten Walls outrage is today's essential reading material. Once you're done with that, be sure to see his avant-garde approach to contemporary culture live when Lotic exhibits one of his live performance/DJ set hybrids at ACUD at 10pm.

Volksbühne // Sunday

As already mentioned above, this year TSF will feature a second day, which really consists only of a highly compelling closing night at the Volksbühne main stage: the excellent Young Fathers will share the evening with Berlin mainstay and local pop majesty Molly Nielsson – the appropriate way to end what is set to become the most exciting edition of Torstraßen Festival yet. See you on Saturday.

This Sunday: 5 Years of NFOP at Urban Spree

22 May 2015 — Henning Lahmann

If you follow this humble website, you've probably already seen it all around the web, but if not, here's what you should not miss this weekend: No Fear Of Pop turned five years in February, and now that the sun is out and the Berlin summer is finally near, we want to celebrate our birthday with you. The magic is happening at Urban Spree in Friedrichshain on Sunday, May 24, starting from 4pm. There's really not much else to say other than that it's surely gonna be a wonderful day and night, so head over here for more info and to RSVP, and find the timetable below. If you're reading this it means we love you, so we'd be more than happy to see you on Sunday.

Timetable

Urban Spree:
5pm Kohwi
6pm Small Wonder
8pm Fiordmoss
9pm UMA
11pm Lucrecia Dalt
12am Godmother

Back garden:
4pm Jason Grier
6:30pm Holly & Wade // This Thing
8pm Michael Aniser // Noisekölln
10pm Perera Elsewhere
1am Heatsick (inside Urban Spree if too cold)

Poster design: Alexander Palmestål

Read more →

Live Review: Colleen Green at Brooklyn’s Shea Stadium

23 Apr 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

Since Colleen Green’s official full length came out on Hardly Art in February, I’ve been totally enthralled by her distinct fuzzy sound and unmistakable, terminally-chill demeanor. On I Want To Grow Up, Green traverses the ups and downs (mostly downs) that accompany the societally imbued pressure of growing up. The tracks on Green’s debut alternate between bubblegum pop and belligerent fuzzy textures, mirroring Green’s inability to decide if growing up is all it’s made out to be or just a hoax, respectively. My favorite parts of the album are the intensely lo-fi, loud moments where Green regresses into her juvenile behaviors like doing drugs or staring at the TV—the responsibility required to “grow up” is too heavy during these moments and the volume of instrumentation totally envelopes Green in a stoned comatose.

When I went to Shea Stadium in Brooklyn to see Green perform songs from her new album, I was mainly looking forward to the prospect of being swallowed by the loudness of her music—the same thing I instantly loved about the record. However, the songs that Green performed live didn’t hit as hard as I had hoped because the sound wasn’t loud enough—she felt bigger than the music, whereas I wanted the opposite. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at Shea Stadium, so I was expecting Green’s sound to devour the room to compensate for the fact that there was one of her and more than a hundred of us. Between songs Green kept asking the audience, “Is it loud enough?” For the sake of not being “that guy,” no one really spoke up until about half way through her set when the crowd unanimously decided it was time to crank up the noise. This happened just in time for “Grinding My Teeth,” one of the fastest tracks on I Want To Grow Up with an ostensible punk aesthetic.

Green redeemed the performance in other ways, namely just by being herself to the utmost: She maintained charming banter with the audience between songs, specifically on her desire to smoke a lot of weed once the show was over. It's such a turn off to see a musician act superior to an audience, so the humility in Green's ability to interact with us on a personal level was deeply appreciated. Still, the first half of her show left me underwhelmed. Sometimes you just have to turn the volume up--way up. 

I Want to Grow Up is out now on Hardly Art.

Read more →

Live Review: Kiasmos at Dublin’s Opium Rooms

21 Apr 2015 — Andrew Darley

Ólafur Arnalds has made a quick turnaround in returning to Dublin. After his theatre show with his band in March, he has returned a month later for an entirely contrasting performance. Kiasmos is the music collaboration of the Icelandic composer and fellow musician Janus Rasmussen best known for his work in the electronic outfit, Bloodgroup. The pair released their self-titled debut album in 2014, which became one of the most compelling records of the year. They took reference points of each of their work to date and concentrated on pushing them further – interweaving dancebeats, string arrangements and sparse piano motifs – to make an album of vivid imagination and wistful memories. The swirling sound of the album’s opener, "Lit", blanketed the crowd in the Opium Rooms before the duo reached the stage. Behind the decks of two laptops and other digital equipment, they radiated a great bond between each other. Their midnight hour-long set featured songs which did not stray far from the album recordings amongst plateaus which saw the two jump around behind the decks like mad scientists finding the newest discovery. "Thrown" twinkled with its xylophone melody and propulsive bassline, while they closed out the set with the rumbling basslines and abrasive takes on "Bent" and "Burnt". They also featured new songs which were up-tempo and more techno-driven. Overall, it was an enjoyable set and fascinating to watch Arnalds perform outside of his contemporary classical context. With the strength of their chemistry together, it may prove rewarding if they incorporated other musicians on stage to play strings and piano, which could potentially give new life to their songs in a live setting.

Read more →

NFOP Presents: You Dont Really Know Me with Phoebe Kiddo

16 Mar 2015 — Henning Lahmann

NFOP is happy to present a new music event series at Kreuzberg's Monarch, YOU DONT REALLY KNOW ME, which will kick off on Wednesday with a DJ set by our favourite Phoebe Kiddo. Read more about the night's concept below:

Berlin is rich with local electronic music producers and DJs. Privately though not all of them are exclusively listening to electronic music or the kind of music they make themselves. So what else is inspiring them?

Once a month Monarch Berlin invites a producer, artist or DJ to play music he/she would usually not play in a club: music that informs the roots of their styles, obscure songs they love, guilty pleasures, analogue or digital, danceable or not.

Phoebe Kiddo, RBMA alumn and sound art graduate with a penchant for odd rhythmic intentions, will inaugurate YOU DON'T REALLY KNOW ME this week. Positioned somewhere between her rave and club heritage, eerie atmospherics and rhythmic anomalies, Kiddo's MBF project maintains a uniquely delicate perspective on modern club music.

Things start at 9pm. Get more infos on the event's Facebook page.

Read more →