words laura harker | images james fancourt
Look at Berlin from the outside and you’ll be fooled by what appears to be a bleak wasteland for indie music. It’s known throughout the world as the city where EDM reigns supreme, with techno ubiquitous throughout all the industrial clubs and weekend-long parties—especially since the mighty Berghain, which takes its name from the two bordering neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain and occupies a redundant power station, is so often lauded as the world’s most famous techno club.
From this perspective, there isn’t a single guitar or singer in sight, and this trend is unlikely to buckle anytime soon. But look closely inside the Berlin bubble and you’ll find a rich network of guitar bands, rock groups, and singer-songwriters who are managing to carve out their own niche in the city. And, in some cases, techno is even lending a helping hand.
“You’re always going to be influenced by whatever you hear and see around you. I never thought I’d be making anything resembling dance music, but that’s the direction in which Ducks! sometimes seems to be going," says Lani Bagley, an Australian musician living in Berlin for the past year. "I probably should have seen it coming, since the idea was hatched in Berghain.”
Bagley came here for the city’s notorious creative lifestyle. Performing solo under the moniker LANII, her otherworldly beats, melodies, and dreamy harmonies come from strange mouth noises which she then live-loops over each other. The final result is a vivid psychodrama of fractured lullabies and Disney-esque dreamscapes. According to Bagley, it’s as far from techno as you can get. However, her work with Ducks!—a musical project alongside Craig Schuftan—is edging ever closer towards EDM.
Whether Berlin’s techno scene is having an unconscious effect on other kinds of music coming out of the city is a topic much discussed between artists. As Bagley explains, “I’ve had this conversation with a few people lately, about how techno has seeped into the music they make—not necessarily even the sound, but the repetition and slowly developing structures."
"Even my solo project has been influenced structurally," adds Bagley. "Now I’m less scared of letting a loop go for an extended period of time without dramatic changes, and I appreciate that people can be caught in the techno trance in the same way I can.”
And while musicians might be able to use all the techno music to their favor, the fans aren’t at a complete loss either. The city manages to attract an excellent amount of internationally renowned indie and rock bands to its various venues, of which there are a generous smattering.
One of these, the Kreuzberg institution, Lido, wouldn’t look out of place as an indie venue in any British town or city. Its beige facade curves around the street corner and is plastered with a plethora of posters for upcoming gigs. This is one of the few places where you’ll find the indie kids pogo-ing around in the early hours on a Sunday after its Karrere Klub night. But musicians who are based in the city embrace a fairly unorthodox way of performing that expands beyond mere club venues.
“Berlin definitely has more of a D-I-Y, everywhere-is-a-stage sort of approach going on, which means you end up playing all sorts of places, for better or for worse,” reflects Bagley. “I think the most nurturing things about being a musician here are the incredibly curious and attentive audiences.” And, those attentive audiences can be found all over the city. Bagley can attest to having played everywhere, from hotels and galleries, to clubs and squats.
But, the relationship between EDM and indie music in Berlin can hardly be described as symbiotic: singer-songwriters might be borrowing ideas from techno; however, the reverse doesn’t appear to be the case. Still, there’s a certain comradery in Berlin between musicians.
“People are so keen to share the ways they create, and the ideas they have, rather than being fearful of others doing the same thing as them," says Bagley. "It really is refreshing.”
where do you live — Alt-Treptow, Berlin. Close to the chaos, but nice and quiet.
favorite neighborhood dinner — Treptower Klause for German local vibes, White Trash for the addictive sweet potato fries, Bar Raval for super tasty tapas.
luggage — I like to travel light. Just my everyday backpack if possible. It’s a Dakine one.
gadgets — My poor, battered iPhone. TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch is my favorite musical gadget.
favorite accessory — At the moment, I’m a bit obsessed with making dramatic headpieces with my trusty hot glue gun. I’m also dangerously addicted to iridescent things, and am starting to resemble a Christmas beetle.
favorite charity — Cambodian Children’s Trust, an NGO founded by a friend from high school, Tara Winkler. It’s been very inspiring to watch the development of CCT from the takeover of a corrupt orphanage to a family-based social support network.
favorite hotel — I started using AirBnB a few years ago and now very rarely stay in hotels. Favorites so far include a house boat song-writing “staycation” here in Berlin, an apartment with an insane view of Waikiki beach, and a cute little flat above the tastiest bakery ever in Montmartre, Paris.
favorite apps — Instagram, Clue (if you’re a person who menstruates, you need this in your life). Also, ThumbJam. I really like some of the warpy, bendy sounds that you can create with it.
favorite airport — Singapore, Changi. Every airport should have a pool.
favorite airline — Whichever one is quickest and cheapest.
home is...Berlin. I hope for a long time!
where would you like to live — I’d love to live in a house with everything I need to write and record, somewhere quite isolated, in a forest, by a lake, or on a mountain, and away from distractions and people. I’m a bit of a hermit at heart.
where & when were you happiest — Here and now. I feel like I’m the most "me" version of myself ever.
what do you consider to be your greatest achievement — I’m very proud of the "Ding Ding Ding," the Ducks! album that Craig Schuftan and I are nearly ready to release. Writing and recording it has been one of the most fun, weird, vulnerable, mind-expanding experiences ever, and I think it’s really pushed me and helped me grow as a musician and a songwriter. I've changed a lot of my methods and perspectives. I can’t wait to put it out into the world!
what is your current state of mind — Bursting with creativity. A kaleidoscopic confetti explosion inside my brain.
how many trips do you take a year — Generally one or two longer holidays and a bunch of long weekends away.
how many of those are vacations — I try to have at least one 100%-work free holiday a year. But for the rest of them, I tend to work while I travel. I feel very lucky to have a portable day job.
without traveling, you relax by — Picnics by the canal, riding my bike, eating, singing, binge watching more TV than I care to admit.
won’t board the plane before/without — A glass of wine if it’s not a morning flight. The holiday starts at the airport!
indispensable in your carry-on — All the snacks ever to keep hunger at bay; moisturizer; a giant bottle of water to combat the dry, plane air; something cozy for when they get a bit excited with the air-con; and a book.
take-off routine — I don’t have so much of a routine. There’s usually some candy involved to avoid ear pain, some vain attempts to get comfortable, and reading.
first thing you do after landing — Breathe a sigh of relief, go to the bathroom, inevitably get confused trying to figure out a new public transport system.
travel is...How you become a complete human.