There are few things in life as reliably miserable as January. So, if you’re struggling to keep up with your New Year’s resolutions, do yourself a favour and get some psychological nourishment – something stimulating, preferably cheap, local and indoors. Berlin is blessed with plenty of excellent lesser-known kiez venues that are the perfect excuse to get out of the house more this winter and try something new.
Despite its dry nomenclature, the Geoff Stern Art Space is something of a hidden gem for music-lovers in Kreuzberg’s Bergmannkiez. One of Berlin’s precious few dedicated sound art spaces, their Sonic Space exhibition series is an excellent introduction to important artists in Berlin and internationally. Incumbent resident Toshimaru Nakamura has spent the last two decades focusing on the creation of hypnotic, meditative loops and melodic drone by manipulating the glitches that occur when you plug a mixing board into nothing but itself. While this is absolutely one for the heads, the venue itself is well worth a visit to stretch your understanding of sound and the provocative possibilities that lie at the edges of music.
Bar Isotop in Schöneberg is one of the city’s best spots for improvisational performance art and few, if any, have done more for that scene than Tristan Honsinger, whose life’s ambition has been the total integration of music and theatre through the medium of free jazz. His quartet Hook, Line, and Sinker first formed in Miss Hecker’s legendarily clandestine Berlin salon in 2010, and has been playing together ever since. Curated by Au Topsi Pohl, Isotop welcomes musicians to take over the space in week-long series rather than individual gigs. Tristan Honsinger and his music will do three evenings only, but the quartet will be joined each night by unknown guests of undoubted repute. Honsinger’s music can be challenging at points, but the payoff is huge.
If that still isn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, then take a trip out east to Schöneweide. Though you might not know it, the Spree-side suburb is home to a thriving arts scene which arrived in the 1990s to repurpose the titanic warehouses of Berlin’s suddenly defunct “Elektropolis” into a village of studios and ateliers. Industriesalon Schöneweide is one such spot. Having started life as a GDR television factory, it now provides just the right level of machinic chic to host a regular Jazzcafé. In the January edition, Rieko Okuda meets Hanna Schörken for a provocative performance that aims to evoke the shifting uncertainty of urban encounters. Okuda’s piano work is fluid and expressive, and the pair will open the Sunday session before handing over to Didrik Ingvaldsen, whose quartet hosts a rotating line-up of Berlin’s exceptional young jazz musicians.
Turn to Clash Bar for something a little bit more mainstream (if you could ever call Basque alt-rock mainstream, that is). While the raucous bar is hardly virgin territory for most Berliners, the place takes on a whole new level when the Basque bands come to play. Zea Mays may be a little bit different from the bar’s punk roots, but the Bilbao band has shared the stage with icons like Patti Smith and Pixies. Their newest album has turned away from the 2000s alt that made their name, and towards a harder, more contemporary psychedelic sound. Clash is a home away from home for many in Berlin – including Basque natives – and on nights like this one, there is simply no place like it.
Hook, Line and Sinker. Tristan Honsinger and his music | Isotop, Schöneberg. Jan 2-4.
Toshimaru Nakamura | Geoff Stern Art Space, Kreuzberg. Through Jan 16.
Zea Mays | Clash, Kreuzberg. Jan 19, 21:00.
Jazzcafé | Industriesalon Schöneweide, Treptow. Jan 26, 15:00.