There’s something special about Berlin, and that something probably begins with the rent. Because only $250 gets you a comfortable apartment in a safe neighborhood, the city has been a hotbed of European culture since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a long overdue return to the heyday that 1920s Berlin once was. Parts of the city once held under oppressive curfew and military rule are now teeming with young artists and their creative venues, and Berlin seems to be benefiting from a renewed optimism as it looks towards the future.
Alongside hundreds of galleries and museums, Berlin is one of the most international places in the world to see live music, and doing so is not surprisingly easy to accomplish on the cheap. This past summer, when I was there for two weeks, I went out almost every night to the music clubs, and one three day stretch, June 5 — 7, stands out as a memorable trilogy of shows.
The first night I visited the Magnet Club in Mitte, to see two very different bands. The first, From Autumn to Ashes, is a metalcore or screamo band, incidentally enough from Long Island. While their notoriety has been contained to the punk underground in America, the band’s music (incredibly loud and physical) fits right in there alongside many popular German bands. A huge crowd turned out for the show, and the band treated the hungry audience to a slew of songs from their most recent of four full-length albums, Holding A Wolf By The Ears. Matching the audience’s energy, From Autumn to Ashes’ members ripped through a two-hour set with barely a break to catch their breaths or even have a sip of beer.
After clearing the stage, the Finnish band Rubik took the stage around 1 in the morning. The quartet played the perfect kind of music for a small club recovering from FATA’s set — energetic but not manic, well-constructed but not scripted. Their lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter Arturri Taira emerged as the real star of the night. Taira’s expressive voice and guitar hooks to boot lent a perfect complement to the tight rhythms of the rest of the band.
The next night, the London indie-rock quartet Nemo performed two long sets at White Trash Fast Food, also in the Mitte neighborhood. Fronted by vocalist James Cook, Nemo played to a horde of young British girls who were following the band on tour and could sing along to every one of their songs. With a world-weariness reminiscent of Morrissey or Michael Stipe, Nemo’s songs like “Too Old to Die Young” and “Car Crash Eyes” made an odd combination of energetic electro rock and self-deprecating lyrics. Fortunately, their live show hardly ever let up, and the sweaty crowd was well ready for the quiet after the two encores which capped more than two hours of music.
Shifting away from Magnet and White Trash Fast Food, small rock clubs jammed between pharmacies and apartment buildings, I also had the chance to see Modest Mouse, on tour for the first time with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, at the Postbahnhof, an immense complex of clubs and concert halls in a converted central train station. In addition to Marr, lead singer and guitarist Isaac Brock brought along with him two drummers and two multi-instrumentalists playing everything from theremin to flugel horn — truly a wall of sound. Brock and his band played songs from all over their extensive discography, including their recent #1 release, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. Brock’s anger translated into the raw intensity of his performance, and the crowd loved every second of it. Afterwards, when the band joined everyone in the dance club next door, I realized that as the past three days had shown, Berlin did have something no other city could boast: unlimited possibilities, as long as the rent stays cheap.