When René Pollesch arrived at the Volksbühne last summer, he did so as the fourth creative director in as many years at a theatre rocked by scandal after scandal. Though if the feeling among some critics and theatre-goers in Berlin is that the ship has steadied with Pollesch at the helm, it is at the price of stasis. For now, the sea is still, but sales have gone slack and the jury is out.
However, one wing of the theatre that does deserve credit is its music programming. Even through the darkest days, it has consistently presented excellent new music. Venues the size of Volksbühne often struggle to find acts big enough to justify their booking while staying interesting enough to maintain the venue’s status.
In Anika and Klein, the Volksbühne team proves that they are still more than capable of confronting the problem in at least one aspect of their programming. Change is Anika’s first release in 11 years, and no one would blame you for having forgotten that the politico turned songwriter is still very much on the scene.
Yet, both the artist and the bookers merit from having kept their fingers firmly on the pulse, because her new album is a real under-the-radar hit of icy electro-pop.
It’s the same attention to detail that brings artists like Klein to Berlin. The British-Nigerian musician counts her credits on labels as diverse as Hyperdub and Pentatone – the esteemed classical label – as well as a self-released, cheekily titled Now That’s What I Call R&B. In essence, Klein is a multi-talented artist brimming with intersectional ideas in the production of her art, and her performance is a date that should be pencilled into everybody’s calendar – ahem, Herr Pollesch.
Musically, at least, Volksbühne is one of those venues, along with Silent Green, 8MM and Loophole, where you don’t need to know who’s playing to trust that you’re going to enjoy it. In fact, the number of gems discovered there means that it’s often more fun when you don’t.
At a time when one of the world’s iconic stages is struggling to get back on its feet, there are promising signs from at least one part of the programme that there are better times ahead.