Have you ever wanted to get so close to your favourite band that you could see their sweat as they perform? A new event series that takes place in a Wilmersdorf co-working space is looking to give a whole new meaning to the term ‘office party’. Small concerts and home gigging are not new phenomena – musical audiences are always looking to placate their desire to see shows in more intimate settings. In Berlin, entrepreneurs and promoters are taking things into their own hands throwing concerts in new and unexpected locations.
One such entrepreneur to recognise the bright opportunity was John Neilan, owner and founder of Tuesdaycoworking. Originally from Ireland, Neilan has been a Berlin resident for two decades, completing a Masters in German Studies at Humboldt University before going on to set up his coworking business in 2016. Since its inception, Tuesdaycoworking has grown to include four spaces in the city, each one offering different benefits and community-building events.
We set the space up to look like a jazz lounge, with small round two-person tables and candlelight
The one on Wilmersdorf’s Bundesallee is a modern, two-floored office adorned with an antique chandelier that hangs above the entrance. It’s this antique that the coworking space took inspiration from when it came to naming their intimate musical event series, Chandelier Sessions. Taking place roughly once a month, the sessions feature a wide selection of talent, like Croatia’s M.Rider and Ireland’s Christian Cohle. “I’m pushing the Chandelier Sessions as Berlin’s answer to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts,” says Neilan. “We’re talking small, intimate gigs with a super attentive audience and free entry. A donation hat goes around during the show with 100% of the proceeds going to the artist or artists.”
With a little stage erected inside the office, Neilan invites bands from different genres to perform beneath the glistening chandelier. Hosted by local DJ and activist Ludmila Pogodina, there are interviews and chats with the artists alongside their jamming, making it an intimate and interesting way to interact with upcoming, exciting bands. Upstairs, tucked away in one corner of the two-storey office, there is a little bar, where guests can purchase a drink and watch the show from above.
“The working title initially was going to be Sundown Sessions, as that was when we wanted to do them, at sundown,” Neilan explains. “But logistically, it would have been a bit tricky in the winter to close down the coworking space at midday in order to perform the soundcheck, so we thought, okay, let’s work with this big old chandelier.”
The events are an opportunity to create something new and exciting within a modest setup. “I always wanted to do something like this and with the coworking space providing the equipment and location, it was an easy enough decision to go that one step further,” he says of the initial idea. For Neilan, running a concert series is a passion project, one rooted in his national identity. “I come from Galway – Ireland’s cultural capital, where live music is everywhere and in a lot of cases free and excellent. I missed that in Berlin sometimes, and it was particularly noticeable in West Berlin, so I wanted to do something about it,” Neilan elaborates. “This shouldn’t be interpreted as a slant on the city, as it was Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf’s Cultural Advisory Board who provided the funding for our first four concerts.”
With the idea in motion, Neilan started putting out feelers in search of artists willing to perform beneath the chandelier. “Even if we couldn’t offer a lot of money, there seemed to be a hunger among artists to just get on stage and play to an audience, so we never really had to spend a lot of time persuading anyone,” Neilan says of the first events. “Then, the subsequent five bookings came through word of mouth. On two occasions, it was people who attended previous sessions who ended up performing!”
Although Neilan had hosted concerts in the office space before starting the Chandelier Sessions, it wasn’t officially launched until September 2022. Over the course of the last year, the chandelier has hosted a plethora of acts from different backgrounds and musical genres. Crowds have been fortunate to see performers such as Irish electronic-producer Christian Cohle, blues-rap group Between Balconies, Ukrainian composer NFNR, pop sensation Mathill, and Berlin-based Croatian synth-pop artist M.Rider.
We’re talking small, intimate gigs with a super attentive audience and free entry.
“We had an all-female show a couple of months ago, with two female artists Lisa Akuah and Neukölln Song Slam-winning Käthe, that was pretty cool and one of our best-attended shows so far,” Neilan says when asked about his personal highlights. “We also had the Cavoli Hammond Quartet play. It was a really small audience, so we set the space up to look like a jazz lounge, with small round two-person tables and candlelight. That in combination with some insanely good musicianship gave me goosebumps. But the ultimate highlight was when my wife Olesia and I contacted one of our favourite singer-songwriters, Seamus Fogarty, who emailed us back within half an hour. He flew over from London especially to play a fantastic gig with his brother on accordion, all on Olesia’s birthday.”
With concerts lined up for the foreseeable future, Neilan is starting to work on making the project sustainable, not just as a business but also for the people contributing to its success. “We have a small team of tragically underpaid but super professional moderators, videographers, photographers, sound engineers, bar staff and promoters all familiar with and working towards the same thing now,” Neilan says. “I’m going to try to tap into another funding pot so we can get more money for the artists.”
Chandelier Sessions offers alleviation to the well-documented issue of rising concert ticket prices and music venues being forced to close down due to gentrification. Having more intimate options brings much-needed relief for both artists and music lovers, helping them maintain close relationships in a city that increasingly drives them apart. “When I came up with this, I certainly wasn’t thinking about making a statement on the cost of going to concerts or the cost of making music in Berlin, though I’m sure a lot of music-lovers and artists are having a tough time of it right now,” Neilan says.
As for the chandelier? “We actually inherited it from the previous occupant of the space, just hanging there beside where the artists perform,” Neilan says about the antique. “Taking it down would have cost a shedload in itself, so we decided to work with it instead. We’re delighted to have it, literally shining a light on all these incredibly talented artists.”
- Chandelier Sessions will be welcoming Irish musician David Hedderman on Dec 2, tickets available on Eventbrite