Music & clubs

Critic’s 2019 in music review

Our music critic takes stock of the key happenings on Berlin's music-scape last year and highlights his top album, venue, label and concert of 2019.

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Photo by Paul Husband. A Certain Ratio was our music critic’s top concert of 2019.

Best album

rRoxymore’s Face to Phase

Berlin-based producer rRoxymore is a long-standing critic of the state of contemporary electronic music. She has rightfully railed on the shameful lack of race and gender diversity in the clubbing scene and is unequivo­cal in her belief that large swathes of new musical compositions in dance music are derivative. September’s Face to Phase (via Don’t Be Afraid Recordings) deserves credit merely for having the impetus to take a stand, and yet more for its bold, almost total stylistic about-turn from rRoxymore’s previous releases. There are countless moments when the album swells with left-field swag­ger and pleasingly off-kilter kicks that compliment a raft of wobbly, idiosyncratic pads. One of the year’s most original releases, this record speaks to a dearth of inventive and challenging dance music which you might not have known was so severe had you never picked it up.

Best venue

Internet Explorer

It might not be much to look at but this venue is a shining example of how to run a DIY space. If you think it’s outlandish to suggest that a disused office block in Neukölln came through with pretty much all of the most memo­rable concerts of the year then it is time for you to get out more. Special mentions must go to impressive performances from Canadian mixed-media collective Crack Cloud, No Kiddin Festival, and nascent R&B tal­ent Erica de Casier, all booked by the tireless Shameless/Limitless crew. Alongside friends and family at Neu­kölln institutions like Tennis and Loophole, the Kiez has never looked better for live music. Internet Explorer has not just been home to some of the year’s best acts, but has also played a crucial role in breaking new talent from the underground. A recom­mendation here is worth its weight in gold for a young artist in Berlin, so enjoy it while it lasts because it’s closing its doors.

Best label

Sound Metaphors

There are plenty of labels that have put out more music than the Kreuz­berg record shop’s two EPs this year, but none can claim a sunnier disposition. Simone – Mabsouta is a Betamax beamer that will keep you grinning as long as it’s spinning. The B-side holds a percussive foot-tapper courtesy of Habibi Funk icon Hamid El Shaeri. Rajan – Time, meanwhile, is precisely the kind of feel-good new wave deep cut that the record shop has built its reputation on. Sound Metaphors’ signature silliness is stamped on everything they do, from their joyful H.A.N.D (Have A Nice Day) parties, to their DJ sets at Cocktail D’Amore and Panorama Bar this year. In a city that often takes its music way too seriously, Sound Metaphors are a much-needed reprieve from the dour connoisseurs of run-of-the-mill Berlin techno.

Best concert

A Certain Ratio

Always a contentious category, this one gets a little extra spice by virtue of circumstance. Considering the fact that the Manchester band were celebrating their 40th-anniversary and touring in promotion of a 53 track box set of previously unre­leased cuts, inauspicious omens by anyone’s measure, arriving to a ven­ue where the bar staff outnumbered the guests seemed about right. Yet, A Certain Ratio also take home the award for the surprise of the year. First, Martin Moscrop and Jez Kerr ran their own merchandise stand – a jaw-dropping moment for long-standing fans who would likely not regain any meaningful level of facial tension for the rest of the October night at Columbia Theater. Honestly, never have so few done so much to achieve a vibe – this was acid-house-inspired freshness from the baggy generation and more than energetic enough to bring the paltry hundred-strong crowd to rapture. Never judge an album by its cover and always dance like it’s your last. Bravo.