It’s easy to get excited by re-opened venues and big-name headliners, but Berlin’s artistic reputation wasn’t built by superstars. It was built by outsiders, first-timers and people who knew that anyone with an idea could bring it to life in this city. For April, we’ve selected three debut records that reflect that sentiment, proving the weird and wonderful heart of the Berlin music scene is still going strong.
Let’s start with Move78, a jazz hip-hop unit named after the centuries-old Chinese board game Go. Their new record, The Algorithm Smiles Upon You!, is an air-tight EP destined to join your YouTube recommendations sidebar. There’s a real craft to this record, heard in the snug interplay between analogue instrumentation and programmatic hip-hop beats. Berlin’s historic but somewhat rigid jazz scene has lacked the dynamism of those in London and Los Angeles, so this group of three jazz musicians and one producer feels like an important step forward.
Where Move78’s earlier tracks like “Housecat” were about earworms, The Algorithm Smiles Upon You! is a slow-burner, a clever thematic feint that lulls you with docile rhythms before opening up in an ambitious gambit. In an increasingly virtual world, Move78 appear to have found peace in their niche. The lush instrumentation is a real treat and this album seems to find a winning formula.
Proof, the debut album from Bloop, strikes a similar chord with a different sound. “Otherworldly” is a standard descriptor for releases like this (“not for the faint of heart” is another), and there are moments that sound like something is crawling around inside your apartment’s pipes. Except not something, but someone. And not just someone. It’s you. Proof brings you to these altered states by using a complicated realtime feedback loop. Lina Allemano would play the trumpet with one hand and percussion with the other, while Mike Smith would provide the effects.
If that doesn’t strike you as remarkable, the album’s live, one-take recording method should. Proof is full of sharp edges and vivid juxtapositions, and close listening reveals an underlying melodic flow that can be cold but deliciously tactile. It gets under your skin from the first listen and implores you to dive deeper into its myriad meanings. And for all its airs, there’s a genuine sense of humour, perhaps a message from the artists not to take things too seriously and enjoy the trip.
This month’s third excellent debut album is from Soya The Cow. Where the other albums examined our relationship with technology, Soya suggests humankind has a good amount of introspection to move through beforehand. Soya is a self-described feminist, sex-positive vegan drag cow who combines music and activism. This debut album, Purple Grass, is somewhere between chamber-pop and dream-pop, with a dollop of musical theatre. The artist is always winking at something, which stops Soya from feeling too on the nose. Instead, tracks like “Soy Much” are beautifully surreal, sailing through lazy, preconceived tensions with grace. Soya The Cow will remind you why you fell in love with Berlin’s music scene to begin with.