Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Berlin Part 5 …

Amy Winehouse made from toast at the Art Village, Berlin Festival.

I remain in bed twitching until 4.30 pm. Berocca, dehydration sachet, rye bread with cheese, two coffees, apple juice, fixed. Back down at Tempelhof the atmosphere is noticeably more party than Friday. The first booze/drug casualties of the weekend are visible at last. Oddly for us, our line-up today is pretty much the opposite of party. Beirut, Deus, Mogwai. Folk and post-rock do not require dancing shoes. We haven’t brought them with us today anyway.

It is my very first Beirut gig, but not my last. I get so emotional about Zach Condon’s voice. Plus I might never listen to ukuleles and mandolins if not for him. I always think of him as a character from Garden State or something. I smiled at this from his Wiki: ‘On his return from Europe, Condon enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he studied Portuguese and photography.’ Do you know what I mean? Anyway, ‘Nantes’ and ‘Postcards From Italy’ are important songs, and they sound it tonight, drenched in that indefinable sadness of yore. The crowd seem to love this music, the air is cool, the moon is just so.

Video for ‘Postcards From Italy’ by Beirut. WARNING: You may cry. Also, this contains a whale.

If you are in proper party mood Boys Noize is just it. The music makes up in sheer eyelid-quivering volume what it lacks in finesse. You just can’t say no to vertical flame-throwers, can you? You can feel the heat off the stage pyrotechnics from 150 people away. Shirtless casualties of all genders periodically burst from the periphery of the crowd like bits of popcorn, gasping for air. Exciting. Drugs not jobs, yeah!

Watch from 2 minutes for a total chair-dancing pyro moment …

Bang bang bang, what a lot of noise. We slope off with the shmindie kids to watch Deus. I have to say, after more than ten years of periodically listening to this band I only recognise a couple of the songs. I prefer their psychedelic dirges which I guess don’t translate so well live. Mogwai on the other hand are kings of the psychedelic dirge. Why aren’t I following them on tour? Why don’t I have a Mogwai tattoo? Why? I could probably go and see this band once a week. As it is I last saw them in Brooklyn on One Of The Best Days Of My Life ™ I am ONLY going to watch them in amazing places that begin with B from now on. Watch out Baltimore and Birmingham. I vow that I will play ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ every time I DJ for the rest of my life, including at my RnB night and at my nephew’s christening.

At some point I eat a vegan hotdog and a tofu burger. There’s loads of nice veggie food around. I simply can’t drink any more beer. Matthew buys me a necklace made from the jackplug off a pair of headphones which I adore and later lose under the most debauched of circumstances. I haven’t told him about this yet. I guess we’ll soon discover whether he reads my blog or not won’t we …?

Home, wine, cigs, balcony, TV tower, sleep sleep …

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Berlin Part 4 …

It has been noted that the three of us have had neon Berocca wee all week. Vitamin fortification is required though, especially as today is festival day! BerlinFestival is held at the deserted airport at Tempelhof, it’s one of the biggest buildings on the planet, a vast arc of a place, all concrete and corrugations and sans serif typeface. The stages are positioned inside old hangars with the crowds spilling out across the disused runways. The atmosphere is ghostly at first but as it warms up, and especially later when it gets dark, it feels inspired and utterly Berlin.

James Blake is the first act of the weekend, a 2pm slot which is odd for someone who’s a Mercury nominee back home, great for us though, we get to the front with just a short amble. My ideal venue for James Blake would be a very tiny musical theatre or concert hall but he’s still wonderful outdoors, him and his two geeky sidekicks. They don’t move much. ‘They make Kraftwerk look like Bucks Fizz,’ says Geordie. It doesn’t matter, the magical space station soul comes out of the speakers like radiation. Honestly, it makes your hair move. It might sound a bit obvious, but wouldn’t it be amazing if he covered Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide and Seek’? ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ is riding high on my songs of the year and he finishes his set with it. The lump in my throat is partly the song and partly the crippling bass which makes me sneeze at one point and also makes my Adam’s apple feel compressed. Turn it down just a notch James.

There’s time for a wander as the site begins to fill up. It’s easy as pie to spot English hipsters, they're the ones dressed like German tourists. Irony. There are no queues, food and drink isn’t ludicrously overpriced, there are no police on site and nobody telling you where to sit or smoke or anything. In the crowd I see the man I'm going to marry. And his girlfriend. We watch a bit of Yelle, manic and shrieking in a cat suit. The Rapture play a decent set but mostly we’re in it for the ‘hits’. They put us in proper dancing mode though. The drinks flow a little faster. My on-the-night review for the next couple of hours reads: ‘The Drums: Meh. CSS: Yeh!

At some point we decide to start a band called Flamingo Cheese. This is later changed to Post Modern Cow. Then Hercules and Love Affair play an amazing set. ‘Dance Energy’ vibes all the way. I think the reason I don’t get on with the albums so much at home is I just want to be on the dancefloor when I hear them. Vogueing in Hangar 5 is just as good tonight.

After a couple of mango margaritas, Primal Scream performing the whole of ‘Screamadelica’ suddenly seems like the greatest idea ever. On our way to the main stage a crazy hippie asks for a light. He more or less says, ‘I had that Primal Scream in the back of my cab last night,’ in broken English. He seems to think the Primals are Mancunian and since he’s so excited that we are too we don’t bother to correct him. By the sounds of it he picked up the band at the side of the road in the small hours and was ordered to drive them to Hitler’s bunker. In gratitude they put the cabbie on the guest list for the festival. He’s the most exuberant man on site.

The main stage is predictably rammed, though many people don’t seem to know the album all that well. It’s a set text, surely? We have to dance like crazies so we hang back, and this is where the sound system comes into its own. You must be able to hear this in Hamburg. Amazing. Typical me I’m at the bar when ‘Higher Than The Sun’ kicks in but I have a little barfly dance anyway.

Matthew trundles off to see Wire while Geordie and I barrel down the front for my (I think) sixteenth Suede gig, which is now a polished and wordless affair but still utterly exhilarating. They play ‘To The Birds’ and I am fourteen again, and forever, playing my two Suede 12” singles over and over and over again on a cul-de-sac in Lancashire. The last four tracks go like this: ‘So Young’, ‘Metal Mickey’, ‘New Generation, ‘Beautiful Ones’. Tell me they’re not the greatest live band in the world.

Then it’s all over and the fun bus drives across the tarmac and delivers us to Arena Berlin for the after party. My friend Craig, occasional resident in Berlin, comes to meet us and we sneak a drink at Barbie’s first. The next few hours at Arena are a mess of chain smoking, ex-pats from Leeds, drinks in the Glashaus, a DJ set from Boy George, and dancing; dancing on sand and concrete and cobbles. Techno techno techno techno.

It’s impossible to stop of course so Craig and I see in the dawn and beyond at Roses Bar, which is basically an explosion in your little sister’s jewellery box. Craig lights a fag at the wrong end, and persists with it. It’s that kind of night. I fall in love with Eleazar from Cologne. I get on the U-Bahn somewhere and get off somewhere else and I finish Friday, or rather begin Saturday, by walking in circles and thinking what a great name for a film ‘Lost In Alexanderplatz’ would be …

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Berlin Part 3 …

Back at the flat, Geordie reads me the opening chapter of Max Schaefer’s Children Of The Sun. It’s a magnificent piece of writing. The novel explores the history of connections between gay men and right-wing skinhead culture in Britain. Folsom is on the week we are there and over the next few days I see gay men wearing fetish gear that very occasionally borders on Gestapo style. The thin line frightens me, it might frighten me even more were I Jewish, as Larry Mass points out in Confessions of a Jewish Wagnerite. But these men are free to do as they wish. They are at least free.

I’m starving. Schwarzwaldstuben is a cute bar/restaurant where I consume the largest goat’s cheese salad on the continent followed by some kind of fried pasta arrangement and Rothaus beer which is the nicest thing I drink on the whole trip apart from the lovely wine which I will never remember the name of. The waiter is a 9 out of 10. We see lots of these. Really, it’s not worth calling anything less than an 8. Especially in a city with trams, it’s just dangerous.

My friend Kostya was in Berlin the week before us and has concealed a postcard of Marlene Dietrich behind one of the litter bins on a corner near the restaurant in an act of psychogeographical treasure hunting. Alas it is nowhere to be found. I expect it was sluiced away by the rains. Oh well.

Next it’s off to the Philharmonie where Marek Janowksi conducts the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester through two Brahms followed by Busoni’s Piano Concerto. There is a mixed choir followed by an all male choir. Any kind of vocal harmonising floors me at the best of times so I’m damp about the eyes when the first note hits.

'What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about,' said Sir Thomas Beecham on Beethoven's Seventh. This kind of applies to the Busoni, which at times, I kid you not, is like Rachmaninoff meets John Williams. But it's so vibrant and unruly it eventually endears itself to you.

I have gone a pretty full arc of emotion by the time we leave, which of course means only one thing, that a drink is in order. In fact we have very nearly made it to the front door of the apartment when I hear music and see a shaft of red light spill onto the kerb from a bar with no name so we dive in on impulse. At the back of the room is a crucifix emblazoned with the legend ‘CLOSER TO GOD IN HEELS’. There is no beer and due to a linguistic breakdown with the bar tender Geordie emerges from a fug of cigarette smoke carrying €44 worth of spirits instead. Oh well, we are on holiday. Chin chin.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Q&A with Bryony Kimmings …

Mother’s Ruin provides a spiritual home for queer performance renegades, outré comedy extravaganzas and fabulous show-offs in general. On Friday 23 September MR returns to Contact Theatre Manchester for a special event featuring adorable hostess Timberlina, avante drag artiste Dickie Beau, and most exciting of all for me, Bryony Kimmings’ ‘7 Day Drunk’ which has wowed and wooed audiences in Soho and Edinburgh and is now gracing your very own doorstep. I grilled Bryony about performance, booze and the gritty facts of life …

Tell us about your very first foray into performance?

I used to dress up in my mums skirts and heels in the back garden of our little council house and do the Tarantella for our neighbours aged 6. I think I must have been watching Top of the Pops as my mum said it had a strong Kate Bush vibe!!

Apart from that, after graduating I took a piece to a few festivals around the UK with some friends in a company. We were robot clones on a journey to save the world. Kind of cartoon live art… a bit rubbish but it certainly cut our teeth!

Edinburgh Fringe: is it the best gig in the world? What was the highlight?

The best gig in the world?! NO, the best gig in the world would be main stage at Bestival with Bjork on one side of me and David Bowie on the other doing some kind of triple mash up with some uber-keyboard rifts!

BUT it is certainly an amazing festival to be part of, always something to see, do, eat, run at, love or vomit onto. The highlight for me was quite simple… my favourite artist Taylor Mac coming to see my show. Felt like a doofus all the way through trying my best to stop myself screaming out “Hey Taylor! Thanks for coming man, loving your work!”

‘Sex Idiot’ took an STI test as a starting point, much like the piece by David Hoyle. Does your work need to be brutally personal? Do you think you could make art that was a complete fiction?

I think I CAN make work from complete fiction, I write stories, one day I would like to write a film.

BUT I think there is something more connective, visceral, appealing and endearing about a work that comes from the heart and soul of another human being, this is why I identify myself as a Live Artist, not a theatre maker or playwright.

I use my own stories to lube up other peoples recollection of stories and times in their lives, to begin exploring something I find (and hope others find!) interesting. I have no intention thus far to make things up in my own solo performance work… my next show is about other peoples stories, so stepping away from simply my boring life and moving towards others too, I guess as a natural progression!

Your new piece ‘7 Day Drunk’ is about the creative urges that come out of getting lashed. Do you have a love affair with booze and are pissheads just ruining it for the rest of us?

I don’t really know what this question means? I don’t have a love affair with booze, I think I have a normal young women’s relationship, slightly hazy at points, often worrying but not an addiction.

BUT I am fascinated with it as a social construct, as a habitual legal but fatal drug, as a blip in history and an amazingly fun but destructive past time. People should be more aware about the affects and what it does to people, fact. We all quaff it down without asking questions. Like SOMA in Brave New World!

Which other performers do you admire?

Currently I am hot for…


Amy Lame

Taylor Mac

Miranda July

Neil Hamburger

Dr Brown

Dan Canham

Concha Buika

Laura Marlin

Mixed bunch… I have art crushes a lot!

Quick fire round …

Milk or Martini?


London or Leamington Spa?


Gender or bender?

Both, man.

H&M or Harrods?

Harrods for glamour, H&M for me bits.

One night stands or one true love?

One true love of course, else all is lost!

Tickets for Mother's Ruin are available HERE and HERE.

Thanks to Bryony Kimmings and James Stanley.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Berlin Part 2 ...

Near the apartment the Zionskirche emerges ruddy and defiant from behind bushels of leaves that were nowhere to be seen last time I walked here, frozen and looking for eats with Katie. Mitte and Prenzlberg are splendid in September sun, even if it doesn’t last all that long. While it does last we decide to head to the top of the Fernsehturm. The elevator only takes a handful of ear-popping seconds. The city was snow and ice monochrome last time I saw it from this height. Today it is blue and brown and bustling. As soon as I see the kitschy cocktail bar sign at the top I’m reminded of the film idea we devised on my last visit about a Fernsehturm barman who has worked in the tower before and after the fall of Communism. He eventually dies from the bends or something, or that’s what it seems like, perhaps it’s a broken heart. It is 1,605 kilometres to Moscow.

Back on the ground, the Radisson Hotel houses the AquaDom where thousands of tropical fish swim ceaselessly in a million litres of water suspended in the hotel foyer. It sounds strange, and it is, but it’s also grand and soothing. Next visit I will take the glass elevator that climbs up and down the centre of the spectral blue tank. It’s a little bit whale-y for my liking but I’ll manage.

The Humboldt Box is a temporary information and exhibition space overlooking the rebuild of the Stadstchloss Palace at Museum Island. I was going to try and discuss the debates surrounding the project, but I’m pretty sure I don’t get a vote. The Palace was a royal residence, a symbol of perpetual violence to the people by the Prussian Kings, built in a religious style to boot. Whatever degree of cultural vandalism you consider the GDR’s demolition of the Palace to be (and it was already in near-ruins following the bombings in WWII), the rebuilding project, even if it resurrects only the frontage, resurrects things some people might think were equally as inhuman as short-lived Communist oppression: christianity, militarism, royalty. I don’t think twenty-first century Berlin needs it. I don’t think they ever did. But then, Humboldt Box does a mean apple strudel and coffee and the building project will only get more enticing to watch as the months go by.

The ‘Mother and her dead son’ memorial is one of the saddest and loveliest pieces of public art I’ve seen. It’s raining a little when we’re there and she shelters her grown son’s head from the water that falls through the skylight above. People contemplate from a respectful distance but there’s really no need, it pays to stand close and see the grief on the dark bronze faces. From here I take an inevitable sad turn. Humboldt University courtyard over the way houses its own memorial, a set of underground bookshelves that stand empty to recollect the book burning that Goebbels held here in a futile attempt to murder ideas as well as people. Bullet holes in the pillars of the Alte Museum hypnotise me a bit. A man plays classical music on an electric piano nearby. There should always be music around, especially where there are bullet holes.

Berlin Part 1 …

From October, easyjet will fly direct to Berlin from Manchester so this ought to be my last schlep to Liverpool for the privilege. My dear friend Matthew and I get to the airport in plenty of time but somehow we almost miss the flight so our names are called out and we have to slope onto the plane like naughty children who’ve brought the wrong shoes on the school trip. We can’t get seats together, we are separated by a party of leather boys and daddy bears, amongst whom we blend seamlessly.

A mighty tail wind gets us to Berlin twenty five minutes early. No sooner are we reunited on the tarmac at Schonefeld but we get separated again when we accidentally get on separate trains. It’s like Carry On Germany. Before I know it I’m knee deep in commuters on the worst labelled platform in Europe. Alone. I weep with gratitude when I eventually reach Alexanderplatz where Matthew and Geordie are impatiently waiting for me. But these things come in threes. After we’re shown up to our fantastic fourth floor apartment on Christinenstrasse we head out to stock up on groceries but can’t get back into the flat again because neither of the keys work (clarification: we can’t make either of the keys work). Cut to us sitting at a stranger’s dining table while she bathes her two children next door and we wait for the apartment manager to arrive. Best to get these things out of the way on the first day I suppose …

Everyone knows that foreign crisps and balconies are the two best things about any holiday, and we have both in abundance. ‘Erdnussflips’ are basically peanut flavoured Wotsits. I’m not kidding. They’re vile. I eat just short of a kilo of them. Our balcony has a beautiful view of a bright bone-white moon and the silver space station on a spike that is the Fernsehturm. It looks just like a tower in the underwater city I drew for an art competition at school. Reader, I won that competition.

It’s already late so we head to a low-key neighbourhood bar for Krombacher and Berliner Pilsner and Schofferhoffer and lots of laughs, lots of laughs. Our street borders the two districts of Mitte and Prenzlauerberg and it takes a while before I realise it’s just a couple of streets from where I stayed last time. The city was feet-deep in January snow then, it looks like a completely different place in September. Next day I wake to fresh coffee and ‘King Of Limbs’ and square windows instead of round ones. I am far away from home and happy.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

In defence of R‘n’B

My friend Anthony and I run a little gay R‘n’B night here in Manchester called ‘Off The Hook’. Out and about one evening, plastering the Gay Village with flyers depicting a beautiful butched-up Kelis, I approached the barman in one of Canal Street’s less salubrious dens to ask if I might display a poster in the bar. The worried lad went to fetch his manager who studied the offending item. ‘We won’t have anything to do with R‘n’B,’ he told me in no uncertain terms, sliding the beer-sodden Kelis back across the bar.

Shortly after hearing this confusing ‘policy’, a couple of DJs I admire took to publicly knocking R‘n’B music. I would hazard a guess that ‘trance’ and ‘death metal’ aren’t riding high in their iTunes playlists either but for whatever reason they were spared.

Back in the day, ‘disco’ was the ultimate curse word when it came to musical critique but in the time-honoured camp tradition of treating frivolous things with deathly sincerity, disco is now a serious business. Promoters who until recently denounced certain crowds as ‘disco dollies’ are now proudly splashing the d-word across their flyers. R‘n’B has become a musical punchbag in its place.

A multi-million dollar industry doesn’t need me to fight its corner of course, but if we’re talking cash it seems R‘n’B is the final remnant of the pop world where the pink pound isn’t shamelessly courted. Not to knock Gaga but I much prefer Cookie Crew’s ‘Born This Way’ to hers. That’s part of the pleasure. It’s like the good old days where you could find things with ‘gay appeal’ that weren’t strictly speaking meant for you. It’s a relief not to be fed with a big pink spoon for a change. Kelis may have played Manchester Pride but she doesn’t seem to much care what kind of boys she brings to the yard, so long as they come.

Queer people seem to respond to a sexy dichotomy of camp and butch-femme that rules the roost in the R‘n’B world. After watching Beyonce tear Glastonbury a proverbial new one this year, I emerged from the swamp to find the rest of world in agreement: Beyonce, not Lady Gaga, is First Lady of Pop. If you don’t like R‘n’B, just let it be. As for me, next time I drop Destiny’s or Sunshine Anderson or Adina Howard and that whoop and holler goes up from the crowd, I’ll still be hooked.