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Interviews

Cold In Berlin interview

Cold In Berlin generate an exhilarating high tension racket. On stage they're all pell-mell drums and shards of guitar, while vocalist My seems ready to grab the world and shake some sense into it. All of which is the stuff we like around here. The band's intense essence was captured to great effect on their debut album, Give Me Walls. Now, with a second album in the works (via a new deal with Candlelight Records), and the band's wildly impassioned performances gaining them a growing reputation on the gig circuit, it seemed like a good time to take the temperature of Cold In Berlin...

For those who've just joined us, let's do a little scene-setting. Once upon a time there was a band called Death Cigarettes...and then Death Cigarettes became Cold In Berlin. Or is that too simple? Did Cold In Berlin grow out of Death Cigarettes, as a continuation of what you'd been doing there, or was it more a case of ruthlessly terminating one band and starting another? What's the story of Cold In Berlin's birth?

And the obvious question - why did a band from London call itself Cold In Berlin? Have you had any interest from Berlin? Have you had any gig offers in Berlin because of the name?

Adam:  Cold in Berlin did grow out of Death Cigarettes. Some members of Death Cigs didn't want to grow with us. But there was no ruthless termination on our part. Quite the opposite. The people who drove the band creatively were left alone but more determined to continue making music. We found new members and completed the line up of Cold in Berlin. So that now it stands as its own entity.

My:  It wasn't an ending, it felt like a transition, a period of growth - and I guess we grew up a bit too. It is always a privilege to have people in your life to make music with but no one expects everything to stay the same forever. Life changes, sounds change. The birth was a difficult one, it involved hard choices about friendship and work, fun and professionalism.

After the rebirth things did pick up, the industry wasn't so put off by our name. We had a noticeably improved rhythm section, we released our first album, Give Me Walls, to critical acclaim, we started playing Europe and bigger gigs in the UK.

Adam:   Myself and Maya went to Berlin years ago in October and it was freezing. We barely left bed. But when we did we had a great time in an awesome city. But we haven't had any more interest in the band from Berlin than any other European city.

My:   It was soooo cold! I refused to get up until Ad had brought warm food to wake me!

Cold In Berlin in full cry. 'White Horse' from the band's debut album, Give Me Walls. You might want to think twice before accepting Cold In Berlin's invitation to take a stroll in the woods.  

Cold In Berlin emerged amid the twenty-first century wave of post-punk. That mass of bands which has come scrabbling up from the underground in the last few years - bands which might not have much in common musically, but which share a no-shit post-punk approach. Did you look around at the bands that were coming up around the same time as you - the likes of KASMS, S.C.U.M, Ulterior, Electricity In Our Homes - and think, yes, this is our territory, this is something we're part of?

Now we're a bit further down the line, do you think of any bands around now - the bands you're gigging with, bands whose music you hear - as kindred spirits? Or do you feel Cold In Berlin stands slightly apart?

My:  I suppose I don't feel part of any particular scene. I guess most bands would want to say they were diferent? I don't think of London as 'my city' and I certainly wouldn't say we took a look at what everyone else was doing- mostly we ignore it. We just make our own sound, we don't think about genre pockets, I don't think about it.

Cold In BerlinBozley:  I don't know if we have anything in common with those bands. I've heard the SCUM album, that's a pretty good pop record, but I don't see how it relates to what we do. If there was a mass of bands that shared the same approach coming through then I think it pretty much passed us by. For better or worse.

Adam:  I've gotta agree. I think bands join a scene when it suits them or when the media package them together. London trends and its music scenes are so fragmented and eclectic that I didn't feel a part of anything.

I don't know the other bands as I don't listen to my contemporaries. I did see an early S.C.U.M gig when they had no drummer and they all just played Korgs - it was really experimental, though in a pop framework. I loved it. Now they have been carefully managed into something safer, more commercial.

Those other bands have either moved on or split up. And here we remain...the last band standing.

Twenty-first century post-punk has largely been centred on east London.  It's an area where lots of small venues exist that give new bands places to play. Go back a few years and Camden - the nursery of Britpop - fulfilled that role. In the original post-punk days it all shifts west, with venues such as the Hammersmith Clarendon and the Fulham Greyhound nurturing the new bands of the time.

But now people talk about the 'Shoreditch scene', or namedrop Dalston as if it's an enclave of cool. And there does seem to be a certain crowd that always turns up to events in east London, but nowhere else. I remember when KASMS supported The Slits at ULU, and all those pointy-booted new wavers that you always see down the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen just didn't show. They wouldn't travel from EC1 to WC1! So how do you feel about the whole 'Shoreditch scene' phenomenon?

My:  I'm not really sure it exisits as anything other than a 'look' to be honest. There are some great people running nights and art spaces and collectives all over London and around the UK, including Shorditch but I wouldn't trust someone that thought Shoreditch had something that was unobtainable elsewhere.

It is always great to play venues where you know you will get a good crowd because of the location. But ultimately we want people to support the music. An audience made up of like minded people is great, but again, it's not something we really dwell on. We just turn up and play.

Do you think Shoreditch has been good for Cold In Berlin? Do you think Cold In Berlin has been good for Shoreditch?

Bozley:  We've been playing in Shoreditch less recently. The crowds are hard work and don't really seem to understand why we don't dress like them or where the synth player is. It's been good to play so much there in the past though, we've really had to learn how to force the issue in a room full of people who often couldn't care less.

Adam:  I don't feel anything about it. It's just a place. Its heyday was around 2002. We're living with the fallout now - the developers have moved in.

It's useful to have a location kinda dedicated to music and night life. It might be harder to get people to come to gigs if the city was more atomised and it was miles between a good pub, the gig and the club. I don't think either would be wanted to be too associated with the other. We've never felt like an East London band, as we don't work the scene.

Cold In BerlinIf there's one word that describes Cold In Berlin's music it's got to be 'tension'. The album is a relentless blast: the live shows are exercises in intensity. Where does all that high tension come from? Does it reflect the environment where the music is made - the non-stop rush of London?

Bozley:  London can be a tricky beast. One that is constantly snapping at your heels. It feels like if you stop going forward for a minute it will swallow you up and send you back to whatever corner of the world you came here from.

I think that's a factor in why so much great art is produced here - maybe in other cities it's easier to wake up in the morning and do nothing, but here there's always an urgency - it really is sink or swim.

My:  I feel differently, I think. I think I would be making music like this wherever I was. And my reaction to the world seems the same where ever I am. I have always felt the strange mix of apathy and rushed endings, so it's not about London for me.

Perhaps it's more about Britain - as I have always lived here. Maybe Britain exudes the sense of loss that I need to keep creating.

Is it difficult to conjure up that intensity on stage? Especially if you've had a long journey to get to the gig, the day has turned into a bit of a slog, but when showtime arrives you've still got to get up there and turn it on. Do you have to think yourself into a Cold In Berlin mindset in order to deliver that performance? Or does the essence of Cold In Berlin-ness just appear as if by magic?

My:  I can feel myself change, but I never know how I manage it. One minute I am me and the next I am in Cold In Berlin, ready to go on stage. As soon as the drums and guitars start, I just click into myself.

Everything else just happens, nothing in the performance is planned. Sometimes the gig feels really energetic and I am in and out of the crowd, sometimes I feel stiller or like I'm trapped on stage.

Bozley:  Being in a band is hard. Luck always seems to be against us and everything seems like a struggle. We rarely make it to a stage without being really pissed off about something. I guess a mixture of that, the songs, and the style of music inform how we play. You can't take a holiday from yourself. I think the music conjures something within us. The more trying the circumstances, the darker the sound.

Can you envisage writing a slow song? Will there ever come a time when we hear Cold In Berlin say on stage "Now we're gonna take it down a little..."?

Bozley:  I think the new album is a bit smarter in that respect. It's more dynamic and that in turn gives the songs more room to breathe.

Adam:  Several new songs have a certain pace about them that is more powerful than anything just speed can deliver.

My:  I thought we did have slow songs!

  New material from Cold In Berlin: '...And The Darkness Bangs'. A veritable epic.


Now that you've got a debut album out, and there's a second album in the works, do you feel the band has achieved some sort of maturity, taken a step up the ladder? Do you feel you're officially not a 'new band' any more: you're somehow established?

Bozley:  We started at the bottom, continued along the bottom, and after a long struggle, we've finally found ourselves to still be at the bottom.

Adam:  I don't feel mature, our actions often aren't. But our music is better than ever. I'm so proud we have written a recorded a second album, most bands don't even get one out.

But already we're thinking about the third album. We just want to keep making good records and playing them to who ever will listen.

My:  I hate the word matured! It makes me think of wine or cheese! Our noise will always evolve - we are very easily bored, so I hope that is reflected in our song writing.

How do you think Cold In Berlin has evolved, from album one to album two? What will we hear on the new album that we haven't heard before?

Adam:  We're still digesting what we've created ourselves. If album one was dark and spiky, album two is like a solid black wall of sonic death. Darker, heavier, slower, faster, better. Maya's vocal range sn just incredible on the new album, from the harshest growl to the softest coo in one chorus, one song in a higher register, the next in a lower one. I wonder who they are going to compare her to now?

Massive drum overdubs, backwards guitar, historical reenactments, detuned pianos, maybe even a guitar solo!

Cold In Berlin'Give Me Walls' sounded to me like the bottled essence of Cold In Berlin's on-stage incarnation. Is that your approach - to capture what the band does live?

My:  With both albums I wanted to create work that stood apart from the live performance, because I didn't want it to lose anything. I wanted to offer people a different experience.

Bozley:  I think we surprised ourselves to some extent by making an album that sounds very live. The songs themselves are a bit cleverer in terms of space - both dynamically and in our use of reverbs and delays.

My:  We recorded it very organically, there wasn't time for any messing about or loads of takes. We just knew the songs, got them down, moved on.

It was great - the pressure, especially on vocals really kept me at my best, I knew I could get the real emotion and keep it. It adds to the tension and the drive of the album I think.

The entire music biz is based around the concept of the album as the hook upon which everything hangs - tours, interviews, the whole machine. Everything depends on The Album. And yet we're now in the age of song-by-song downloads, where people can select just those bits of a band's output they like, and leave the rest. Individual songs are becoming more important than collections of songs - increasingly, that's how people consume music. So is an album still the key thing? Or is it time to base the music biz on a new model?

Bozley:  We write songs for albums and then release the albums. I don't know how people choose to listen to them, but it sort of doesn't matter.

Cold In BerlinAdam:  I see it in two ways. First, as a music fan who has favourite albums that mean so much to me - and secondly, I see the choice the internet gives the modern music consumer. That kinda negates any old skool mentality about such things as 'the album' and 'the single'.

The consumer is creating the new model. The record industry has been in free fall and desperately trying to keep up since Napster...

These days, is it more important for a band to be on the web rather than on a label?

Bozley:  I don't think you can compare the two. There's good labels and bad labels.

The thing that gets forgotten in the new DIY internet model that has apparently given musicians freedom and control, is that the most important thing for a band to be successful is still money. It doesn't get talked about because it's not very romantic, but for a band to get anywhere, someone has to foot the bill for PR, advertising and manufacture.

It's all well and good linking people to your Soundcloud page, but without a well funded label or some serious money in your pocket, you're unlikely to get anywhere.

Now a slight detour. Witch house! There seems to be a pretty strong Cold In Berlin connection with the witch house world - the London club (as far as I know the first club anywhere to specifically identify itself as witch house), and theband's connections with witch house artist Heretics. What do you like about it? What made you think, let's do something with this?

Adam:   I co-run Witch House London with friends, Crim3s, Post Religion and Robot Elephant records. It was the first new music I had heard in a long time that I liked. I've always loved dark electronic music and this sounded like the latest evolution of that.

When I got into the scene I realised that no one was running a club night in London, so I hooked up with some professional promoters and started one. Heretics is a friend of the band. Bozley sometimes plays live with them. He's a talented electronic musician who goes by many names, Heretics is his dark synth pop alias. He knocked out a banging remix for us under that alias.

Witch house flyers...

The first thing you learn about witch house is that most of its artists are very coy about the name. It's harder to get artists operating in the witch house area to utter the W-H words than it is to get goth bands to admit they're goth. But you're very upfront about it. Did the way everyone else was tip-toeing delicately around witch house make you decide to cut the crap and grab it?

Adam:  As previously mentioned, scenes can be positive or negative, depending on how you use them or are at the mercy of them. Witch House was one of many terms coined to describe new music emerging online around 2009- 2010. I think it stuck as it was better than ones like Rape Gaze...

So, for a while everything was fine. There was this great new music that you really had to search for, many artists having ungoogle-able names, it wasn't forced down your throats. Then Salem's album came out. It's a great record but it's success shone a spotlight on some very dark bedroom producers who decided that they we're going to be pigeon holed by a term someone else had coined.

We have no such qualms, it's just a good name to hang a club night off. Ours is called ▼▼ †† LND. We play a wide range of new and old dark electronic music.

Now a phenomenon that initially only existed on the web - give or take a few lo-fi bedroom-electro bands in the 'burbs of US cities - has a club night in London. I suppose that's a very twenty-first century way of doing it: real-world geography is irrelevant. Quite ironic given that we've been talking about the Shoreditch scene - a phenomenon based on a very small real-world area. But is witch house for real?

Adam:  Witch house is not real, it never existed and those who previously embraced it have now denounced it. We're making it real again. The return of the repressed coming back to haunt them. Rather like grunge did for bands who had higher aspirations.

Witch house was a label for music that purposefully avoided definition. Things move so fast with electronic music genres online that we're already post-witch Hhouse. Now some artists don't mind being defined by the tag. Some have tried to move on from it. That's what drives the artists in the scene sonically, and makes for interesting listening.

And to swerve back onto to the main road... What happens next for Cold In Berlin? What are the plans and schemes and strategies? The new album is looming - once it's out, what's in the works?

Adam:  Our album And Yet and the single '...And the Darkness Bangs' are out now. We've got festival dates all over Europe to begin the promotion...

Cold In Berlin:

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▼▼ †† LND:

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Cold In Berlin


Click these links to find Cold In Berlin live reviews from the New Cross Inn, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, Supernormal Festival, DV8 Fest, Bull & Gate, Hope & Anchor and Electrowerkz.

For photos from the gigs, go here.

Back to the interview index page here.

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Page credits: Interview, photos and construction by Michael Johnson except the studio photo at the top, which comes from Cold In Berlin themselves. Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston. Red N version by Mark Rimmell.
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