Berlin's 10 Best Musicians Right Now
Berlin. The name makes you think of unrivaled nightlife, a progressive bohemian vibe, and a space where artists are free to create and explore. The German capital’s culture is influenced both by its unique history and its diverse population of 4.5 million.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, West Berlin artists began exploring the vast empty spaces of East Berlin, hosting pop-up parties that carried well into the next day. One of the quirks of the city was that its free-spirited, open youth identified most with the harsh, mechanic sounds of techno. The genre reigned supreme in the ‘90s and still has a hold on the region in many ways. As the local creative community grew and consolidated, connections with other nightlife hubs around the world developed, and DJs like Ricardo Villalobos and Richie Hawtin, among countless others, began to frequent burgeoning clubs like the internationally-renowned Berghain and Tresor.
While artists in creative centers like Williamsburg and Shoreditch have for years been familiar with the El Dorado-like mythos of Berlin, the carefree appeal of the city is spreading to more commercial avenues. Today, the most famous clubs are listed in guidebooks, and visitors can take structured tours of the city’s music history. Berlin has been vibrant in the arts world for years. And the artists in neighborhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukoelln show no sign of slowing, making Berlin’s music scene one of the best in the world for electronic music. These are the ones that you shouldn’t sleep on.
Dixon, a proudly native Berliner, has been one of the major heads of house music in Berlin since the ’90s when the first wave of dance music took the city by storm. DJs earned their stripes through high-stakes residencies at various illegal and psuedo-legal parties, a scene he thrived in. Today, in addition to co-owning a bakery and being an avid footballer, Dixon runs the label he co-founded almost ten years ago, Innervisions, continuing to release killer dance music.
Moderat, the electronic music supergroup, or more accurately in this case, super duo, has made a respectably expansive career in electronic music that spans from pop to IDM to minimal techno. Producers Apparat and Modeselektor, already highly-regarded Berlin musicians in their own right, forged together their individual styles to create Moderat. Their 2014 European tour this Spring has almost universally sold out, as fans anticipate what’s been called one of the best shows in electronic music right now.
Jerome Sydenham is a prime example of the kind of internationally-minded artist that Berlin attracts. Born in Nigeria to English and Jamaican parents, he spent his youth in the UK, later moving to New York City to pursue music. After briefly living in Denmark, Sydenham moved to Berlin to further develop his label, Ibadan Records. While he’s fully established as a reigning house and techno DJ, Sydenham was one of the first to introduce a funky African-electro vibe to the equation.
Brandt Brauer Frick
This pioneering trio approaches the city’s beloved techno from a unique perspective, utilizing classical instruments to recreate the mechanical beats. After signing to !K7, the famed German electronic and indie label, the band added more instrumentalists including a cellist, violinist, trombonist, and multiple percussionists, developing the project into its live form known as the Brandt Brauer Frick ensemble.
Now reaching a decade operating her Planningtorock electronic music project, Jam Rostron, has witnessed plenty of the evolution of the Berlin music scene. Even so, her musical objectives have remained steady, focusing on taught, creative electronic pop and clear social commentary on issues like gender equality. Shortly after co-writing an opera with Swedish electro-poppers The Knife, Rostron signed to James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem)’s DFA label. Last year she released her third studio album, with a renewed focus on social commentary, titled All Love’s Legal.
The Whitest Boy Alive
The Whitest Boy Alive were the hottest band alive in 2007 Berlin. Their taut millennial disc-punk vibe won fans over worldwide, leading this Norwegian/German band on several international tours. No doubt influenced by the dance music around them, the band started as an electronic project but quickly morphed into a more traditional band setup. While they haven’t released any new tunes in the past couple years, they’ve been busy running their label, Bubbles Records while singer/guitarist Erlend Øye released a handful of solo recordings.
If any artists on this list can dispel the stereotype of Germans lacking a sense of humor, it’s Stereo Total. Their music, sung in unaffected French, German, or second-language English, straddles both brash punk-y garage rock and electro-pop. The duo, Françoise Cactus and Brezel Göring, have realized 13 albums since 1993, and have become big hits outside Berlin in underground scenes in Japan and the US with their playful and straightforward new wave tunes.
The Houston-born, Berlin-based DJ, Lotic, aims to bring a more abstract, perhaps intellectual side to his production, which fits his resident DJ responsibilities at left-field club Janus (recently profiled in The New York Times). His most recent EP delves into ideas of destruction and sonic evolution through appropriated samples. If Lotic represents the wave of American musicians who have moved to Berlin in the past decade, Berliners need worry not.
This pop duo, formed by Inga Humpe and Tommi Eckar, have covered a lot of territory since their formation in 2000. Throughout their career, they’ve experimented with genres like pop, techno, punk rock, new wave, and even bossa nova. After recording in Berlin, LA, and San Francisco, their seventh and most recent release, Achtung Fertig, found the group returning to their electronic roots and embracing dance pop once again.
Named for the circular runways used for UFO’s in 1970’s Italian cinema, Discodromo is a house and techno DJ/production duo who quickly made a name for themselves in Berlin clubs like Panorama Bar. More recently, Disscodromo has helped to form the record label CockTail D’Amore, further expanding their reach in the dance music world.
April 14, 2014 via Pepsi