Friday, September 19, 2008


R.E.M. mercifully not automatic for the people in Berlin

Friday, August 1, 2008

Bizarre Magazine Berlin Burlesque Feature

Ladytron Interview Photoshoot In Berlin

Glorious Technocolour

Words - Mark Fernyhough

Photo - Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit

“We should get our bikes out!” declares Reuben Wu, Ladytron’s energetic keyboardist. Mere moments later, he and Bulgarian born singer Mira Aroyo are riding around the East Berlin music venue that will tonight host the latest show in their stamina-defying tour. Zooming frantically and pointlessly in circles, they charmingly resemble over energetic ET cast extras. They appear a fraction of their ages, reeking of nothing more rock’n'roll than good old fashioned healthy living. If they are on something, it’s surely berocca.

Ladytron are in the German capital to promote their latest long player, Velocifero, and judging by the look of their swanky jumbo-sized tour bus, they are reaping the rewards of surviving nine years in music. Let us not forget, when Ladytron burst onto the scene via John Peel with their alluring lo-fi art house electro in 1999, they never seemed like a true mainstream concern. Rather, they politely offered the world carefully sculptured hair, jet black uniforms, pale faces and icy demeanours. In the world of pop, that’s a foolproof way to project a sense of cool mystery to gullible people. Or get you confused with Suede.

“When we started, we just did it for fun,” explains Mira, now perched on a backstage leather couch. “We all had day jobs and no grand plan. We weren’t expecting to make a living from the band.”

Ladytron’s new record smoothly continues their unique portfolio of synth pop with tracks such as ‘They Gave You A Heart, They Gave You A Name’ and latest single ‘Ghosts’. It also encompasses a number of eye opening interludes, such as when Mira begins to vocalise in her native Bulgarian tongue on the opening number ‘Black Cat’ and the intriguing ‘Kletva’.

“We spent about two months in Paris recording and mixing,” says Reuben. “We then went to LA to finish it with producer Michael Patterson, who has worked with Beck and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I think our last record, Witching Hour, was a milestone in terms of us finding a sound that we’re happy with. Through a lot of touring, our live sound became very powerful - it had so much energy - and we wanted to translate that into our records, though we’re still using the same instrumentation we’ve always used. We’re never going into rock’n'roll or anything like that”.

Ladytron have undoubtedly found their niche and are clearly ecstatic about their achievements on Velocifero. “I’d give it four billion trillion billion and 42 out of 10,” Mira claims. “It’s a harder and louder album than Witching Hour and it’s also more diverse and experimental in terms of rhythms. People have in their heads what a typical Ladytron song sounds like, so we just pushed things a bit more. I think we’ve become more psychedelic in every way.”

With Mira’s severe crop now replaced with feminine curls, it would seem that Ladytron’s once regimented vampiric look has loosened up as well. “Our hair is quite low maintenance,” she adamantly insists.

“I think everyone likes to look nice,” believes Reuben. “We’ve always tried to approach how we appear in a different way to normal bands. At the start we all wore black matching uniforms, so we didn’t need to worry about what to wear onstage. At the time it really fitted. Now we’re more individual.”

Ladytron’s strong interest in the visual side of things extends beyond the realms of sartorial elegance.

“We like to have control over our artwork, video and record sleeves,” continues Reuben. “From the very beginning we used to do our own sleeves and album covers. These days we get other people to do it, but we’re still very involved in the process.”

“Lyrically, I think we also write in terms of images rather than themes,” adds Mira.

Scottish-born Ladytron vocalist Helen Marnie isn’t smiling today. Or speaking. She utters not one word until the moment we see a fox galloping past in a nearby field and the boisterous Reuben bizarrely begins to chase after it like it’s stolen his Lucozade. Then Helen sharply drops a bombshell on her band mates: “I’m not getting my bike out.”

Helen knows I’m miserable now indeed and, thankfully, she’s only one forth of Ladytron. It’s hard to work out whether she’s ill, as her band members apologetically tell us, or just shrewdly carrying on the band’s historical unsmiling-we-are-the-robots tradition that the others have abandoned for happiness and colour.

To back up this unexpected development, it is decided that one of Berlin’s highly authentic-looking LA style ‘beach bars’ is the perfect place to photograph them for today’s shoot. The band’s latest video, directed by Joseph Khan, who has also shot promos for baldy bores Moby, U2 and Britney Spears, similarly goes against their dark electro stereotype and is set in a soft focus desert. “The same director did ‘Thong Song’,” explains Reuben enthusiastically. “It is probably the most sexy video we’ve ever done. It was filmed in the same place as Kill Bill 2.”

Let’s hope Ladytron didn’t pay Mr Khan megabucks in advance, as the finalised version turned out to be more conventional than Delta Goodrem. Any shots of Ladytron writhing around in bikinis have been edited out, and what remains is about as kinky as a Pringles advert. On the upside, it features a really cute rabbit, but you don’t have to crawl all the way to the desert to find one of those.

Who then, dead or alive would the band handpick to direct the full-length movie of Ladytron’s life? “Werner Herzog or John Walters would be pretty good,” says Mira, smiling.

And how and when will the Ladytron chronicles end? “I think we’ve outlasted most bands nowadays,” she says defiantly. “We just take one day at a time.”

“I try to be nice everyday,” concludes Reuben sombrely. “I don’t want to get reincarnated as a cockroach.”

Adam Green Interview/Photoshoot

Lazy Confessions

In the past, ex-Moldy Peaches troubadour Adam Green has spectacularly dissed Elliott Smith and Beck. Here he takes on Trousersnake, the after-life and pot dealers. But not Macaulay Culkin.

Words Mark Fernyhough / Image(s) Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pj Harvey In Berlin Photo and Review Published In The Stool Pigeon

PJ Harvey / Friedrichstadtpalast, Berlin

Berlin heads for the Big Exit as a coy PJ founders

Words Mark Fernyhough / Image(s) Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit

Tonight is a sophisticated all-seated affair held at one of Berlin’s plushest venues, more used to elaborate theatrical performances than howling rock’n’roll. But then this evening no rock’n’roll is witnessed. Instead Dracula’s most celebrated daughter treats us to a solo performance of subtlety and restraint.

Once hailed as the new Patti Smith, and always the shape-shifting actress, tonight PJ takes on the role of a bashful Victorian puritan, complete with archaic dress and windblown raven hair. It’s almost as if she feels that alone, minus any musical back-up, she needs to win tonight’s audience over with a show of feminine vulnerability. She giggles. She apologies. She even laughs at herself and her pre-Commodore 64 drum machine.

It’s apparent that for all her admirable flair and determination, Polly Harvey is a nagging contradiction. This is a woman who sings starkly about heartache, death and trauma, and yet with a new carefully contrived haircut to suit the mood of every album, you somehow can’t invest too much belief in any of it. Where does the biography end and the performance begin? With stars such as Bowie and Madonna, artifice is accepted, but PJ clearly strives for a higher level of authenticity. To add to the confusion, much of her allure lies in enigma. Whenever her music or lyrics get too literal or slightly less vague, the spell is broken in a jolting instant. When she bellows, “He told me straight, ‘You gotta leave, it’s getting late’ / Too many cops, too many guns, all trying to do something no one else has done,” during ‘Big Exit’, it sounds about as harrowing as a well-to-do Prada-clad English woman surveying Union Square from her hotel room. It also sees her crediting guns, which most sane people view as non-living objects, with too much artistic ambition.

Played acoustically, without the ‘avant-garde’ production techniques that killed albums such as Is This Desire?, all of PJ’s songs sound remarkably similar. Furthermore, it’s obvious that her strength lies in striking imagery and theatrical yearning, rather than stirring or memorable melodies.

On a performance level for a seasoned ‘artiste’, she seems remarkably awkward. During too much of the night, she sits playing guitar with her legs unnaturally wide open as if she’s about to give birth. A trivial complaint, perhaps, but this is PJ Harvey - a self-proclaimed take-no-prisoners-man-eating legend in her own lifetime.

During the finale, she treats us to wild-woman-of-the-Dorset-forest classic ‘C’mon Billy’. Played sparsely on a diminutive Spanish guitar, it is effortlessly wonderful. For this evening at least, though, it’s too little too late. Come on Polly, give us some true grit.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Kills - Interview/Shoot For Electronic Beats Magazine

The Kills - The merits of God, squats, ghosts, and oddly monikered fake meat - Interview


Despite a recent history of mental and financial breakdowns, The Kills’ personal and creative chemistry has remained untainted. Indeed, from tonight’s encounter it’s immediately evident that tabloid hounded Englander Jamie Hince has lost none of the brooding intensity he shares with his enigmatic Floridian musical co-conspirator Alison Mosshart. Sitting side by side on a battered leather sofa, pale-faced and clad in regulation Velvet Underground black, they are the picture perfect rock n’ roll hipsters. On a conversational level though, they are far from strung out clichés. Full of humour (Jamie comes across like Leslie Nielson’s edgy younger brother in his deadpan delivery), they constantly finish off each other’s sentences like psychically conjoined twins. There is little doubt that The Kills are currently and collectively in a very good place indeed.

Following an extended period of missing in action/getting lost somewhere in a recording studio in Mexico, the twosome have returned to the pop culture fray via mascara-splattered long player ‘Midnight Boom’. Regardless of a lengthy and painful gestation which saw them descend on numerous cities throughout the world in a series of misguided attempts to invoke the desired musical impetus, the end product is their most powerful and focused testament to date. With numbers as stirring as ‘Black Balloon’ and ‘Tape Song’, the post-recording session love bites courtesy of a certain Kate Moss should swiftly become a mere afterthought, even to the most celebrity obsessed ears. Rather than maturing gently with age, The Kills have gained confidence to distil their sound into a series of childlike brush strokes. A couple of tracks, namely ‘Cheap & Cheerful’ and ‘Alphabet Pony’, were formed around Jamie’s newly acquired MPC-60 hip hop drum sequencer and take their cue from playground chants inspired by ‘Pizza Pizza Daddio’ – a sixties documentary focusing on inner-city American school children.

Über-hip Anglo-American sleaze rock duo The Kills joins Electronic Beats in a suitably darkened room to consider the merits of God, squats, ghosts, and oddly monikered fake meat….

If you were to play someone just one key track off Midnight Boom to succinctly sum the record up, which would you choose?
JAMIE: ‘Sour Cherry’ I think. It’s not the best on the record but it’s the one I like playing. It depends. Different songs suit different people. I’d sort of weigh up the individual and then play them something accordingly.
ALISON: …depending on what they are wearing.

As a band you seem very much out there on your own. How do you avoid unwanted outside influences?
JAMIE: We live in a bubble. We just do our own thing and aren’t really phased by that much. Every so often industry people will say to me, “your new album has sold so many copies” or whatever, and it generally surprises me because I don’t give it much thought. Also, I think with a lot of bands, people’s reactions to them are quite important to their evolution. I really appreciate our fans but I don’t actually care what they think. If you’re on some kind of personal journey like we are, you can’t consider what other people think of you or what they want you to do.

Do you ever wake up to find yourselves on a Lynch-esque road trip?
JAMIE: Our life is a road trip. We’re so drawn to touring. That’s the norm for us. To me, being in the studio is weird; being on the road is where we want to be.
ALISON: Completely. But it’s not like a typical road trip. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me this was just a big practical joke and we were being driven around a movie set. We just get out of the bus, play a show, climb back into the bus and do it all again. It’s easy to forget where you are.

Which European destinations are particularly close to The Kills’ hearts?
JAMIE: Paris and Berlin. I lived in Berlin for three months, on Oranienburger Strasse at the Tacheles squat a long, long time ago. I worked on it, building bathrooms and so on. It’s weird visiting there now. I keep going to see it with all this excitement before leaving slightly underwhelmed. It’s all bloody Novo Hotels these days.

Do you view London’s rapid development into an all-encompassing shopping centre an act of cultural terrorism?
ALISON: We leave London to record these days. We leave England. To be creative you have to leave. Unless you’re loaded.
JAMIE: Well we live in Dalston, the last little bastion of East End poverty. Artists and musicians always gravitate to the poor areas. We don’t have a Starbucks in Dalston, just little Polish and Turkish shops.
ALISON: We’ve got a Tesco now. I discovered it the other day.
JAMIE: Yeah, a Tesco Metro. I’ve been battling with London for years now, but I think the most exciting place to be isn’t necessarily the best place to live and I still want to live in London, even if I have more fun in New York or Paris.

Is 2008 what you imagined it would be?
JAMIE: No. When I was a kid I thought everyone would be wearing silver and riding around on jet packs. I’m attracted to nihilist things, so I love the way we’re destroying cultural standards and destroying most things with any value. We really are. Things are a lot more throwaway now, but you never get what you expect I suppose.

Are you keen believers in the paranormal?
JAMIE: I have a curiosity for it. Ouija boards definitely work, but I think once you give way into believing in such things there are a lot of things you have to give way into believing in, like destiny and religion. I’m an atheist through and through. I think when you’re buried, that’s it. It’s over. The afterlife seems like a clever thing to make people believe in, because then people don’t feel like life is urgent. Religion causes people to feel they have to suppress a lot of things in order to achieve something after death. If you don’t believe in God and the consequences of your actions you’re probably going to act like a crazy chaotic nightmare, which is not what they want you to do. Everyone always says “I don’t believe in God, like an old guy with grey beard, but I do believe in a force.” It drives me fucking mental. Yeah, everyone believes it’s a fucking force. But it’s fucking not.
ALISON: I believe in ghosts, but I’ve never seen any. Friends of mine have. My friend saw a cat person outside the window one time. I’m not sure about Satan, but I love that fake meat ‘Seitan’.

How has the chemistry between the two of you developed over the past years?
(awkward laughter) JAMIE: We’ve become more psychically linked with each other. You wake up in the morning and just know by the way someone blinks whether to stay away from them, or whether they want some support, or whether there’s going to be inspiration to write a song. We can read each other much, much better these days. We’ve never imposed rules on each other. From day one we’ve always been allowed to scream blue murder at each other so there’s not any censorship involved. I think that’s helped our friendship a lot. There’s no kind of politeness involved either. We just behave however we like to each other. If we feel angry then the other person gets the other end of that person’s wrath. There is a hell of a lot of catharsis in our friendship.

Do you see a long-term future for The Kills?
ALISON: We don’t see it ending.
JAMIE: Feel that this is our life, so I’m not sure we’ll always be making records and touring, but we’ll certainly be doing something.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Brett Anderson Interview/Shoot

Brett Anderson sits in the light-drenched front room of his west London home and ponders the pros and cons of photographic props. It’s tough to find a posing partner equal to a smouldering cigarette, but he’s defiantly off the Benson & Hedges these days - surprising, perhaps, when you consider that fags were once so intertwined in his psyche he’d confuse them for women. Bananas (“too healthy”), cars (“too Jeremy Clarkson”) and cats (“I’ve posed with Fluffington before”) are eschewed before a simple painting backdrop is finally settled on.

Mr Anderson is in particularly high spirits considering the tedious European promo schedule he’s just suffered. He runs upstairs to grab a copy of his new record with the vigour of an enthusiastic teenager. Happily, there is much to relish about his eponymous debut solo testament. ‘One Lazy Morning’ is blissful string-drenched pop, while ‘Song For My Father’ is gorgeous and tragic in equal doses. This is undoubtedly Brett’s long-awaited return to artistic form.

“It’s my most personal album,” he says. “It’s about what I think and how I feel about life. It’s also quite bleak. The big realisation I’ve had is there’s never really an end point. The beauty of being an artist is you never quite arrive. You’re always on a journey where the more you know, the less you know. I’ve accepted that, which is a personal victory.”

The record is certainly a vast move on from the Bernard Butler co-written Tears album. Where that was overblown, this is melodic and subtle, and more so than anything Anderson has recorded before. There’s hardly a Suedeish “awwww oohhhh” in earshot. But what’s Brett’s own humble evaluation?

“There’s nothing that will make you hate your own music more than releasing it,” he says. “After analysing it and talking about it and reading reviews, it gets distorted horribly. I’ll have to wait till the dust settles. There will be people that like my album and people that don’t like it. Some people will think it sounds not enough like Suede and others will think it sounds too much like Suede. It’s kind of impossible, really.”
One criticism levelled at Brett is that he often tries to second guess what his critics want to hear, sometimes even changing his persona and output at the expense of his unquestionable songwriting talent. In this case, though, he’s done nothing more subversive than record a stirring album. For the first time since Suede’s trashy glam pop opus Coming Up, Brett sounds comfortable in his own pale skin. Posing for photos in his back garden he looks it too. How things change. When questioned about his somewhat ill-fated 2005 reformation with ex-Suede partner Butler, he is muted. “I think our album was good: it had a real depth and I was disappointed that people beyond my fan-base didn’t get it... or even like it, maybe. I think it had a beauty that wasn’t picked up upon and it didn’t get the acclaim it should have done. Ultimately, mine and Bernard’s reunion was too good a story.”

Was there a bitter sense of déjà vu? “People cared about the theoretical concept of us getting back together more than the actual reality of the music. There was no way any album would have lived up to it. Unfortunately, our work always gets overshadowed by stories. The first Suede album was overshadowed by hype, the second by him leaving the band, and the Tears record was overshadowed by us getting back together again. Maybe in the future we’ll make an album that won’t be overshadowed by something.”

On the subject of history, how healthy does the future of Suede look? “I don’t know. I’m not the right person to ask. Suede doesn’t exist at the moment, but it was always left open ended. It’s really hard to reform bands without it coming across as sad. I finished Suede because it wasn’t stimulating me.”

Indeed, Suede’s final LP, A New Morning, saw the group at their lowest point creatively. Worst of all, Peter Saville-less, the sleeve was appalling. “A lot of that was me trying to piss off Suede fans,” says Brett. “We were choosing to do things because we’d never done them before, not because they were good things to do. I was very confused and didn’t know what I wanted Suede to be. I wanted to break away from the Brett-shaped mould I’d created.”

So what lies on the horizon for Mr Anderson? “The next record I make will be my second solo album. I enjoyed making this one so much and feel like it’s a springboard to the next. I think it will be more band orientated.”
Forever the romantic outsider, Brett remains happily distanced from any singular scene. “I’ve always had a healthy disrespect for the music industry and it’s always had a healthy disrespect for me. My pet hate about this industry is the fact that it’s populated by people who neither know nor care about music. It’s becoming more of an industry and more corporate, especially the so called ‘alternative’ branch.”

Unsurprisingly, his opinion of smug music industry joke The Brit Awards is unreformed. “I’d really rather not pollute my mind with shit like that,” he sniffs. “I’m really conscious of watching TV and being exposed to adverts. The older I am the more sensitive I get about it.”

When I question Brett on how things were different in the olden days he’s visibly taken aback. “The olden days? You mean when everyone wore armour? When I first started making music at least the alternative industry was actually there and the labels had ethics, which were removed from the corporate machine. I find so many so-called alternative bands these days are very conscious of their career path. It’s all very neat. The most exciting and dangerous bands have always been separate from that world.”

Do you think that adds to the blandness of the scene? “Yeah. Bands deal with the attention that’s thrown at them so much better than Suede did. There were so many fuck-ups with us, but that’s what made the story interesting. And the media machine was less sophisticated in the early nineties when we started out. These days it’s very developed at selling packaged rebellion, which is people doing ‘outrageous’ things because that’s what they’ve been told to do. I don’t find that mentality engaging or interesting, just kind of dull.”

So what does Brett see as the solution? “I’m slightly disappointed that there hasn’t been a new type of music that has replaced guitar based rock as the hip thing. We’re in 2007 and there isn’t a new dance music that has come along and taken over the music scene. Whatever you think of dance music, at least it was challenging in the late eighties and early nineties. It challenged the status quo of the music industry. There isn’t that now, which you have to be slightly worried about.”

I wonder if Brett cares that his downbeat interview responses may render him unfairly pessimistic. “Nah,” he shrugs. “Everybody thinks I’m a manic depressive anyway.”

- Published in The Stool Pigeon music paper

Berlin Nightlife Feature (Excerpt)

Dresden Dolls Interview/Shoot

Interview/Shoot With James Dean Bradfield Of The Manic Street Preachers

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Burlesque Pin Up Feature Published In The Stool Pigeon

Crown Jules

Words Mark Fernyhough / Image(s) Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit

Introducing Miss Juliett, Berlin’s premier burlesque doll. She declares her biggest inspiration to be the pin-up drawings of Gil Elvgren and that real life people are “boring”. Having already displayed her considerable talents in Paris, Athens, Hamburg and Berlin, Julietta now has her peepers firmly fixed on the rest of the globe. “I want to perform in as many cities as possible”, she declares, blowing a kiss.