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Tour Report/ Sindre Bjerga/Nils Rostad/Staplerfahrer

img  Tobias

Poland ain’t what it used to be. Not in my imagination anyway. When I was younger, back in the 80s (whaddya mean I’m old?), my concept of Warsaw was shaped by the images conjured up by Norwegian experimental/synth group Holy Toy’s album “Warszawa” from 1982 on the one hand. All dense and grey and mercilessly faceless and colorless. The other half of my image derives from Kieslowski “Ten Commandments”, beautifully shot in the proto-eastern block Warszaw suburbs. Both these works are perfect Zeitgeist-documents of bleak alienation and disconnection which, to my western mind, seemed to be highly present in the mindset of the people in the Eastern block heyday. Well, Warsaw is quite far from that now. Except for the complete alienation caused by the Polish language, I find Warsaw to be an interesting city. You can’t say it’s beautiful and I also find it hard to point to any distinguishable character, apart from that it is, in fact, quite dense and grey, with its wide, straight and long avenues and streets and monumental, massive buildings in concrete and glass.

My tour starts here and I’m travelling with fellow Norwegian experimental guitarist Nils Rostad and my friend from the Netherlands, Steffan De Turck who plays improvised electronics under the Staplerfahrer moniker. This is the crew, and we’ll be travelling and playing gigs for a week. Our first concert is at Plan B, a nice club in the city centre of town. I’m playing a duo set this evening with Hubert Napiorski aka Thaw. We’re having quite a few pints of the good but strong polish beer as the evening inevitably becomes older, but audience-wise, it’s close to a disaster. A bit tilted off, perhaps by reasons credited to the fields of neuro-toxicity, but also by the fact that a large portion of the audience seems to be missing, we head on. Staplerfahrer plays a nice but short set and Nils takes it home with some fingerpicking and downright riffing which no guitar academy in the world could teach you. I’m getting into the Zone with Thaw, doing electronic loops and contact-mic crackle to his electronic modulations. I’m getting fired up and go into vocal-humming mood. Thaw is trying to spew out electronic pulses to underline (disguise?) my humming and, well, frankly, grunting. It works somehow, but comes across as slapstick. Anyway, it appears that the exclusive crowd can get something out of this. Time for more Zywiec…

****

After 5 hours of enjoying the comfort of Polish Railways, we arrive in the truly beautiful city of Krakow. It's with a bit of disappointment that we realize there’s practically no time to see the city’s numerous sights. Having to settle with visiting the impressive square in the old town and seeing the remains of the Roman-era city wall, we head off into the city’s old Jewish quarter. After unwinding with some local specialty (sort of cheese and salami bread) and some pints of Okocim, we’re all good to go. Luckily the turnup is a bit better than yesterday, and we find ourselves playing to a crowd that seems to be genuinely interested. All the sets come off quite nicely, at least mine is way better and far more focused. At the tail of the evening, I play a duo set with Steffan that came out particularly nice, extremely quiet with heavily amplified small sounds and suspended crackles. Very very sparse but extremely tense, if that makes any sense. Apparently we also had some hecklers that evening. I didn’t really hear them, though, but they asked for their money back, because the music wasn’t “entertaining”(as they had been duly warned about in the door). We found that quite funny. 

****

Another day, another country. Much to my surprise, the trainride from Krakow to Prague turns out to be 8 hours long. Oh, well, we are young (at heart) and stricken with the motion sickness that usually kicks in when you’re touring – gotta keep movin, so no worries. Equipped with some fine Polish sandwiches (I’m obviously joking here..) and some more Zywiec, the 8 hours feels like, well, pretty close to 8 hours.

The club is very easy to find in Prague, just a stone's throw from the astronomical clock actually. I don’t know what kind of name Chapeau Rouge is supposed to be, but hey, they got red hats in there at least. It’s a very old building and they have 2 basements, with us playing in the lower basement, 2 floors down. Here we are treated to some real-deal backstage facilities. Impressive. The food's good and there's a neverending supply of Staropramen, and lemme tell you it’s the best beer! The crowd is quite good today, so I'm psyched about that and to my ears we are all at our best tonight. PA is good and it all works out quite well. We also play a trio set tonight, some pretty intense scraping and some heavily amplified contact-miked “nothingness”, but it clearly proves to be “too zen” for the half-assed digital dancehall dogpoop that comes bleeding through from the floor above. We retreat to the Pragian suburbia to rest our weary minds…

****

Next morning, there's no hurry. So finally a taste of real holiday. A long breakfast, good coffee and even time for a decent shower. Today the Czech countryside awaits. Eventually we find a bus that’ll take us to the village of Varnsdorf, in the north, very close to the German border. A very small town of about 16000 people, but apparently with a scene for weird music, believe it or not. We’re staying in an impressively rebuilt old farmhouse from the mid-1800s just outside of this small town. The Peklo Rock Club is a bit of a weird venue. Quite clearly, Metal and Hardcore seems to be the daily special at this joint. Coming across as something between a dark metal cave and what Norwegian all-ages youth clubs usually look like, I can’t help but checking out these grubbily xeroxed Uber-metal-looking flyers and posters with names like, you know, Ego Death Trip and what have you. Quite a decent attendance actually, but we quickly learn that most of them are here to have their daily round of beers. Nothing wrong with that of course, but we find it somewhat curious that for the price of the gig ticket, you could get 5 beers or so. Guess this proves the position of this club in the village. The gigs go down pretty well, I’ve added some percussive elements to my set with a contact-miked cymbal, which I quite like the sounds of, before turning into the theatrics and decide to wear the cymbal as a hat. Chapeau Sonor…

****

We wake up to this beautiful scenery in the outskirts of Varnsdorf the next day, it’s quiet and peaceful and generally looks like 50 years ago. And after a dabble in the international politics of trying to cross the border on a couple of small, local trains in order to avoid the expensive “international travel” train fares, we’re on the fast train northbound…

****

Berlin – hipster capital – here we come! We’re staying in Berlin for the last two days of the tour and head straight up to Prenzlauer Berg. The entire area has been totally transformed into this very settled and picturesque up-market zone now. There’s just a couple of un-renovated houses left, and that’s where we play tonight. More of a little studio than a club, this is a listening audience. We’ve all gotten into it now, and play pretty good sets and decide to explore the trio format some more. Here we can really cultivate the small gestures and closely-miked sound events and we have the acoustics on our side. A good evening, with an audience wired for sound indeed.

****

Last day, and thankfully a lazy morning again with coffee and excellent bread from a local deli. After visiting a record shop and spending parts of the afternoon in the Friedrichshain area in east Berlin, we find our way down to the Sin Bar in Kreuzberg. Apparently it’s Neukölln that is the hotspot now, so quite some people would prefer the term “Kreuz-kölln”. Whatever makes them happy, says I.

The Sin Bar is a pretty great new place. A small but cosy bar and yet again we have a decent turnup. An excellent selection of that fine German beer they have too, so no complaints. No sir! Our very fine promoter is announcing the gigs and it doesn’t actually feel peculiar, it works quite alright. He is very conscious about the audience cultivating an awareness to what kind of music they will hear at this place, ideas that resonate well with me too. We play quite short sets, tonight it is the “less is more” lesson that is up for grabs. Yet another good evening, although some people are here for the drink, but hey, it’s a Saturday night, you gotta give’em some… I even find myself in an interesting conversion about Neue Deutsche Welle with a woman who knew this scene firsthand. Feels like a true Kreuzberg experience. We stay there until late, very late and eventually decide to stay up all night as our plane leaves really early.

On our way to the flat we stay in, we’re getting the “hey, your’re stepping on our turf now” heads-up from this local “posse”. I’m just shouting “Kreuzkölln – Neue deutsche Welle” and they think we’re crazy so they run away. No. Not really…

But I’ve got a hat of sound at least…

By Sindre Bjerga

Homepage: Sindre Bjerga
Homepage: Nils Rostad
Homepage: Staplerfahrer

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