As a London-based musician, one of the more exciting things to happen to me lately was to be invited to the very first festival organised by Bang On Berlin; a Berlin-based DIY radio show with a mission to promote female talent. My preparation before, time during and conversations after this trip seemed to point to a remarkable change occurring – musicians are moving to Berlin, it seems, en masse.
Curious as to what kind of factors were causing such a shift – I sat down with a few Berlin-based musicians to try to get to the bottom of it. I spoke with HAWK’s Julie Hough, Luckless’ Ivy Rossitier and Party Fears, aka Maggie Devlin and Eilis Frawley. Turns out, there’s a lot to like about the quality of life in Berlin:
1. Berliners love Berlin.
‘This will sound a bit intangible,’ offers Julie, who moved with her whole band from London to Berlin in 2016, ‘but Berliners take an amazing amount of ownership for the space around them. Parks and public areas are used for all kinds of activities.’ I witnessed this firsthand when Julie kindly took me to Templehof – a disused pre-war commercial airfield that has been re-appropriated as a public space – now used for recreation and temporary refugee housing. It was mind-blowingly large and took over half an hour to cross on foot, but was also brilliantly populated with barbecues, sunbathers, skaters and organised sports. Additionally, Bang On Berlin Festival was held in a makeshift bar on the top floor of an abandoned factory; which was a pretty impressive reclaiming of space.
2. It’s not just a city, it’s an attitude.
In the music industry, fatigued artists can often feel like the goalposts are constantly being moved further back, and success is quantified purely by streaming statistics. For Ivy, the appeal of Berlin lies in a shift of emphasis: ‘People here don’t have vertical ascendancy as their main focus in any aspect of their life. Here, it seems like people are more interested in developing their lives laterally, acquiring new skills, ideas, interests, than in pursuing some kind of brass ring in whatever their chosen area of proficiency is.’
Not only this, but there is more room for women too. ‘As a female performer and fan, I’ve felt more accepted,’ says Julie, ‘We immediately met a lot of friendly fellow bands organising gigs and going to each other’s shows. I feel like I’m part of a very supportive community. The London scene felt more competitive than community driven.’
‘Discovering so many female musicians in Berlin has been really special,’ adds Maggie, who moved with her bandmate Eilis from Seoul. ‘There are a lot of like-minded people here who are all struggling and achieving and struggling and achieving again, so you can get coffees and celebrate or commiserate!’
3. The music scene is more creatively driven and artist-friendly.
Turns out, contrary to popular opinion, there are no rules when it comes to making and performing music in Berlin. The scene is smaller, but tighter-knit. ‘One friend describes it as “The Wild West”,’ Ivy muses, ‘There’s no one accepted way of doing things, and there’s no centralised power structure lending sense to people’s endeavors here.’
Julie also highlighted the difference in the way Berliners enjoy music: ‘Music fans seem to fight to keep venues going and are happy to stick to curfews and generally not be rowdy assholes if it means the venue won’t get complaints. They’ll pay to hear bands they haven’t heard of which means the venues can take more of a punt to book new acts.’
Julie’s last comment takes me aback – people pay to see bands they don’t know? But my incredulity dissipates as Eilis confirms this. ‘People really show up to gigs here and it’s exciting to regularly play to a new crowd. People care about the DIY music – with so many collectives, DIY venues, and local promoters.’
4. It’s affordable.
Maggie is pretty frank about this. ‘It’s cheap, and you don’t have to offer a caveat when you say you make music. When we first arrived everyone was like, “Why did an indie band move to a city obsessed with techno?!” But Berlin offered access to loads of new countries and affordability, as well as the well known allure of the city.’
This seems to be the icing on the cake, as Ivy also testifies, ‘It is an affordable place to base oneself and to extend out into the rest of Europe from.’ It seems that as the bigger cities slowly outprice artists from their homes, Berlin is reaping the benefits – as the growing music scene becomes richer, more diverse and egalitarian.
On a personal note, the temptation to up sticks and truck on over is enormous, but – for the sake of my partner and my collaborators – I have vowed to leave ridiculous, expensive London only when it stops serving my career to be there, which is yet to happen. Although, ironically, I’ll be planning a trip back to Berlin as soon as I can afford it…
To find out more about the artists and events in this article, follow the links below:
Bang On Berlin (Radio and Festival)
HAWK on Spotify
Party Fears (Maggie and Eilis)
Party Fears on Spotify