INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Los Angeles Times JANUARY 12, 2016 - by August Brown
DAVID BOWIE AND BERLIN: A DECADENT DESOLATION THAT STILL RESONATES IN NIGHTLIFE
The last time I went to Berlin, I got on a wrong train at the Schonefeld Airport, and ended up alone in the distant suburbs. It was almost midnight and close to freezing, and I'd terribly underpacked for the weather.
I'd gone to see a friend who moved there to make anarchic noise-folk and tour via rail (like David Bowie, he'd been in an accident that left him with a profoundly damaged eye, and he couldn't drive). But my first impressions of the city that night were of standing alone, viciously cold, and waiting for a train that might not come.
That feeling comes to mind as, like every other music fan today, I'm diving back into the Bowie catalog and revisiting the incalculable wealth of feeling and imagination it offers. There are so many eras of Bowie that warrant deep reads, but for me the "Berlin Trilogy" does something specific, something deeply relevant to outsider club music that's dominated so much of nightlife culture (and my own listening) in recent years.
German acts like Neu! And Kraftwerk were among the first to use such icy electronics and precise percussion as means of escape and cosmic transcendence. But Bowie put his own heart into that cold, imposing, place - a city where total State authority mixed with the purest intimate liberty.
Bowie's albums evoked the city's concrete Brutalism as metered out in martial rhythms and empty spaces. He conjured its eerie isolation with synthesizer experiments and melancholy vocal melodies and wrote poignantly about connections forged in spite of (and perhaps exactly because of) East and West Berlin's literal disconnection from the other half of the city. Fans of dark, difficult, synthetic and lonely music have glamorised it ever since.
The references from this trio of records allude to a century of German art and music, but it's all refracted through one of England's most empathetic songwriters. V-2 Schneider, from "Heroes", nodded to both Kraftwerk's founding member and a Cold War-era rocket. Bowie has said its album cover paid homage to Erich Heckel, founding member of the Expressionist art collective Die Brucke.
Twentieth century Berlin had veered between cultures of sexual experiments and bold artistic performances, and a sense of impending fear and war-torn doom. It's easy to see why Bowie was drawn to the place.
But his "Berlin" albums seemed to anticipate a future mood as well. Listening to the alien noise of his and Brian Eno's Warszawa or the bloodsucking late-night camaraderie on his friend Iggy Pop's own Berlin album, The Idiot, it's easy to see the girders of Berghain, Tresor and all the other canonical Berlin techno clubs laid in their places. The drugs, the cold and the decay were combined with invention and the promise of something new.
Decades later, on his 2013 album The Next Day he revisited that same scene on Where Are We Now?: "Had to get the train / From Potsdamer Platz / You never knew that / That I could do that / Just walking the dead."