Welcome to the first of NZ Musician’s newest feature column. Long a centre of artistic creativity and underground highlife, in recent years Berlin has become a home away from home for increasing numbers of Kiwi musicians and bands looking to establish themselves in Europe, whether permanently or just over the busy summer festival season. There are heaps of us over there and now NZM has a place they can tell their stories. Brodie White is first in the post with Sun And The Wolf. With the kind assistance of Crazy Planet Records we are thrilled to introduce: Postcards From Berlin.
It was mid 2008 that we boarded the plane for Berlin.
After a number of years, solidly touring New Zealand as The Have, we decided to pack our bags and make the move to Europe in search of inspiration, adventure and to effectively start from scratch. Our bass player and fellow founding member, Blair Gibson, chose instead to stay in NZ and pursue a new musical project, Snakes Of Iron.
Peter [Mangan], Mike [de Marie] and I had tossed up between a bunch of alternatives, London (too expensive), US (way too much visa admin), Melbourne (too easy). The temptation of Berlin’s cheap rent, abundant culture and cheap beer was rather difficult to resist. The language barrier didnt really seem like it would be too much of an issue at the time. People wed spoken to assured us that “…they all speak English over there. We found out that wasnt entirely true.
Our lack of language was a definite hurdle while on the hunt for work. “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch,” and “Sprechen sie Englisch?” were pretty popular sentences in the Sunny Wolf camp. Mike and myself [Brodie White] were bouncing between odd jobs. Peter landed a job at 8MM Bar, a legendary, shoebox-dive bar, in Prenzlauer Berg. The bar is a late night/early morning spot for musicians, artists, drunks, good people, the odd scumbag etc…
Through many late nights and early mornings at the bar, we managed to establish a good base for ourselves in Berlin. Consequently, we ended up doing our first bunch of demos as Sun And The Wolf under the defunct Tempelhof Airport in Berlin.
Our first shows in Germany came pretty unexpectedly. We were sitting at a kebab shop, plotting our next move, when Mike saw in a local music rag that The Datsuns were coming through Germany and we were supporting them. Wed been in contact with their management a month prior, but hadnt heard back so thought it was a dead end. Apparently not. The first show of the tour was in two weeks time. We had about four songs to our name and no bass player. We got to work pretty quickly.
The tour was three shows and we had by then buffered our set out to about seven songs. We crammed our gats and amps into a 2-door hatch back (the language barrier screwing us once again as we thought we had reserved a 4-door stationwagon) and got on the autobahn. We managed to pull off the two guitars–plus-drums thing pretty well and the shows were great. We ate a lot of cold meat, cheese and bread. Our euro-cherry had been popped.
The following two years were spent eating more kebabs, bouncing between jobs and apartments, learning Deutsch, writing and gigging. We eventually acquired a slightly manic Israeli bass player to fill the lower frequencies and not long after Sun And The Wolf had a debut album, ’White Buffalo’.
The album was recorded in the summer of 2010 in a bunker studio in Prenzlauer Berg owned by Frank Popp, one of the ringleaders of the 60s garage/psych scene in Berlin. White Buffalo was eventually released on his TV Eye label in Germany. The album was more recently distributed in NZ via fellow Kiwi and part time Berliner, Reuben Bonner’s label Banished From The Universe/EMI. With a new album up our sleeve, we began gigging solidly in and around Berlin.
The year or so following our album release saw a new and less manic bass player, Dino Gollnick (ex-Ladytron, The Beatings) enter into the fold. We toured Germany with White Denim, The Entrance Band, A Place to Bury Strangers and Sleepy Sun. We also managed to wrangle support slots for Kasabian at Columbiahalle in Berlin and Wolfmother in Frankfurt.
The launch of the album was followed by the release of two singles, You with a video directed by Chris Koll and Crocodile with a video directed by revered Berlin film-maker, Uli M Schueppel. Uli’s most notable work was the documentary The Road To God Knows Where, a documentation of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ tour through the U.S. during the ‘90s. He approached us on another hazy night at the bar…
The most recent development in the Sunny Wolf camp is the establishment of our own studio. With the abundance of vintage gear in Germany weve been able to kit our studio out with a collection of great old gear at pretty reasonable cost. We’ve spent the majority of the winter months tucked well underground, out of the cold and hard at work on the follow up to White Buffalo. The new album will be ready towards the middle of this year. A teaser track is included on the upcoming 8MM Musik compilation set for release in May.
For anyone reading this article and considering making the jump to Deutschland, here are some phrases that may come in handy:
“Darf ich ein bisschen brot haben?” (Can I have a little bread.)
“Wir brauchen eine Combi bitte!” (We need a stationwagon please!)
“Pommes, rot und weiss bitte.” (Fries with ketchup and mayo please.)
“Kräuter und scharf, ohne zwiebeln.” (Herb and spicy dressing, without onion. Used when ordering a kebab – a good way of avoiding powerful döner breath.)
“Nein, das sind Hobbits nicht wirklich. Sie existieren nicht.” (No, Hobbits are not real. They do not exist.
Being right on the other side of the world New Zealand has long held appeal for adventurous German tourists as a land of empty landscapes and outdoor adventure opportunities. Matthias Mueller, who is CEO of a Berlin-based record label and booking agency Crazy Planet Records, fell in love with the country for a whole other reason, our music.
Mueller has been travelling regularly to our corner of the globe since 1999 and Crazy Planet Records has been involved behind the scenes of NZ music for the past three years. His company are keen to support local groups that they feel could work in the European market. This has included releasing a Cornerstone Roots album in Germany and booking several tours and festival shows for Kiwi acts such as Sola Rosa, Cornerstone Roots, Six60, Funkommunity, Hollie Smith and others. Mara Simpson (Mara & the Bushkas), who is herself now based in Berlin, recently completed a 30-date NZ tour that was supported by Crazy Planet.
In Europe, Crazy Planet Records recently signed a deal as a partner to publishing heavyweight BMG Rights Management who administer the publishing rights of David Bowie, Fleet Foxes, MGMT, Foo Fighters and Aerosmith among other major artists. Publishing has become a cornerstone of the evolving music industry as acts generate ever more important chunks income from syncing to movies, games and TV and from other rights such as airplay or live performance.
With that agreement in place Mueller has this summer been closely checking out the NZ music market with a view to signing artists to the international rights management company. Kiwi Alistair Tocher is employed by Crazy Planet in their Berlin office in sales, online marketing and booking agent roles. Along with Mueller he regularly returns to his Wellington home to enjoy our southern summer and research our music festival scene.
Crazy Planet Records has also established a collaboration with Auckland radio station BaseFM and has an office in Auckland headed by Jasmin Ziedan. The record label and booking agency is also now collaborating with NZ Musicians to bring our newest column, Postcards from Berlin, which will bring insightful regular updates and anecdotes from Europe-based Kiwi artists.
More info can be found about Crazy Planet Records at www.crazyplanetrecords.com