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  • 2022 in music: The best Berlin releases, biggest trends, tops and flops

Year in review

2022 in music: The best Berlin releases, biggest trends, tops and flops

Was 2022 the year Berlin finally put the coronavirus pandemic behind it? The year we gave in to corporate oligarchy? We round up the biggest trends, the best releases and more.

Photo: Evengia Gapon

Berlin music trends in 2022

Big Bad Benz: XXL Venues Rules

Take the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Berlin’s premiere venue, and imagine the heating costs alone to put on a single concert there. While the big bad Benz will have no problem paying its bills, smaller venues just might. It certainly discourages promoters from taking a chance when a capacity crowd is only just covering expenses. The heart-breaking irony here is that while the largest concerts cost the most to attend, to produce and to the environment, they are the only guarantee of success in a long-worrying trend that has taken a sharp spike this year and almost certainly will grow into the next. If you want to do something about it, it’s time to go out and see more local bands at smaller spots. Sure, it’s hit and miss, but when it does hit, it’s that much more fulfilling.

Corporate Oligarchy: Festival Brands Takeover

Big inner-city festival, imports like Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, or household Pure & Crafted are everywhere. By way of brand recognition and corporate sponsorship, Pitchfork was able to bring almost every hot act you’ve heard of to a single event spread across a few venues. When the US brand rolls into town, artists who want in are expected to sign a non-compete clause, ensuring they will not perform again in Berlin for a given period of time. It’s common practice especially at nightclubs like Berghain. Of the 22 acts that performed at Pitchfork, most would have been money-makers by themselves. Except they were out of reach for smaller venues with an eye for curation. Expect to see the proliferation of inner-city festivals into 2023, as the economic crisis continues to bite and gnaw its way up the chain until corporate sponsorships are the only viable business models left.

Scare: The Needling Alert

At the risk of sounding like a negative Nathan, it cannot be left unsaid: 2022 was a shocking year for safety in live music. Needle-spiking was the flashlight issue. The practice of literally injecting people with substances such as scopolamine, fentanyl and GHB has been an issue for as long as people have had access to cups. But let’s call a spade a spade: nightclubs in particular were places of risk of needling. As were certain individuals, largely female-identifying or presenting, often among crowds with a strong LGBTQ+ presence. Too many clubs were shamefully slow to react or even admit that needle-spiking was a thing – let alone confront it with the duty of care that any host owes their guests. This must change

2022: An Intoxicating Music Scene

Live music and drugs go hand in hand. Live music is a drug, drums are a religion, dance is trance, to submit to rhythm is a collective effort to dwell however briefly on a different plane, unbound by the cruelty of the prevalent social experience. Now, the price of ‘party drugs’ in Berlin has stayed broadly consistent through it all, while Diazepam and Alprazolam (Valium and Xanax to those as yet unmotivated by the boundless horizons of cloud technology) – no matter your plug – have become significantly more expensive and visible. As one of the only working free-market models out there, this ought to say something about the relationships between mental health and the predatory nature of liberal economics at large; got, got, swap, need. Right?

2022: Tops & Flops

Top: Donau115

The music weaves haunting notes, pizzicato strings. The rhythm is calling, alone in the night as the daylight brings a cool, empty silence. Of all the places and spaces for jazz music out there, this space is the place. Pearls like these take time to form. They begin with a speck of something good and the recognition of something right. Over a few short years, the host offers something of themselves to their guest, who, in turn, resolve to stay. That Donau115 exists at all is testament to the fact that with real care and genuine community every single place can shine, no matter the space. Who needs Vienna anyway? Neukölln’s got jazz!

Flop: Waldbühne

Is there an outdoor venue in the entire world where you’re more likely to get shushed than Waldbühne? And no, not by the octogenarian audiences who have known the venue in its heyday. This may all boil down to a noise dispute presumably brought to the Bezirkamt by the surrounding Sprudelwasser-sipping residents. As a result, bands start playing there at 6pm. Let’s not get into how crushingly far away Waldbühne is… This place is just bonkers. It’s officious, and it looks awful, and it has sucked so much joy from concerts like Björk, Nick Cave and so many more that fans have waited a life time to see.

Best gig: Gorillaz

Confession: I cry at concerts. And that night in June at Parkbühne Wuhlheide, I cried a lot. That’s how god-damned good this concert was. I was brimming with the rouge-tinted gusto of a school teacher on an overnight trip once the kids have finally gone to fucking sleep. There, amongst the audience of era-defining Gorillaz – joined by a huge live host of exceptional soloists and terrific musicians – I watched the others around me. First I saw them smiling. Hesitant, abashed. Now surprised. Then renewed, then reflected; lucky, loved and in love. I can call the night out, play by play. But instead I want to toast to those magnificent people who bared their souls, as they roared among thousands of others that no matter what, they would always, ‘Feel Good’ (sha, sha-ba-da, sha-ba-da-ca).

Top 5 Berlin releases

U.S. Useless: Trust, Loss, Forever

It is one of those records that jangles and hums on its way to your very essence. The album was never meant to see the light of day, and were it not for the quiet determination of a group of independent artists, it never would have. I will always cherish having had the fine fortune to stumble across it. A side- bar to a humble conversation, a tangent I swore I’d follow up on, a white lie I gave a chance – and my favourite record of the year 2022.

Glaas: Qualm

This is an absolute rollocker, like one of those old-school wooden roller coasters with no loop-de-loops or safety equipment of any kind, but damn – they threw you around! Leaving you battered and bruised, sweating and grinning, it’s like a one-star massage where your anxieties are pummelled right out of you. An album for listening to loud, there is so much nuance here. Think of it as meditation, just with a bit more knuckle.

Stella: Détends-toi

Stella Zekri has been spinning tunes that have lived rent-free in my head for as long as I’ve been in Berlin. Détends-toi (“relax”) is not an admonishment, but rather a suggestion that those things that go bump in the night, as one steps onto the road less travelled, are ones to be cherished. Amongst the rough and tumble, the Berlin-based Parisian moves to a sumptuous time signature, lingering in slower syncopations – this is dazzling beauty.

Julia Reidy: World in world

A guitar in Reidy’s hands is a ruminative, searching instrument, at times lonely as the twangs, the slides and the subtle vibrato overlap. Calloused tips are dragged along steel coils, gliding numb to a sound that expresses such pain as to make the medium feel almost ironic. Listening to this album all the way through is an absolute must. Play it in waves and lulls, letting your mind drift into that particular space where you hear nothing, think nothing, yet are completely absorbed.

Apsilon: Gast

This debut is a knockout. Everything about it is generations in the making. What’s most impressive are not the snarling hooks but the firm bars, the long-established jab. It is one wrought with tight-clenched teeth, rip curl-lip and keen-eyed stare. Gast takes aim at a punch-drunk city, sprawled betwixt the ropes and writhing in the pleasure of the blood and sweat of its beige-tinted bacchanal to hear that Apsilon, chin-up, is ringing the bell.