Editor's choice

Live music returns to Berlin

But let's not forget the local artists and venues who kept the scene alive during lockdown.

LAYLA. Addictive, trappy, and witty. Photo: Philipp Gladsome

We’re finally saying it: live music is back to normal. We know this because streets, subway stations, and that sterile, unavoidable and total unangenehm bit of Friedrichshain next to Pirates of Berlin is one again plastered with giant posters hawking big name acts like James Blake, Dua Lipa, Foals, UFO361 and Mogwai.

Berlin is a capital city, Berlin is music, and thus normality requires that Berlin has capital city concerts: from huge stars and dusty ex-icons like Yes and Mark Almond, to the smudged, bedraggled vagabonds like Pete Doherty. It’s clear as day, billboards everywhere lazily smeared with the familiar faces of artists all over the world that have at last plucked up the courage to embark on the customary biannual panhandle tour.

It’s worth remembering that the scene survived in the last two years largely due to a group of fantastic local artists and venues.

Still, the health of a music scene always depends on which way you look at it. While it’s undoubtedly a positive thing that Berlin is back on the map for the largest touring stars that swell the city’s musical reputation and pack out its many arenas, the fact that things are back to normal begs the question of what we want normal to look like. Yes, admittedly everyone is comforted by its return, but there’s a niggling sense that this new normal bears more than a passing resemblance to the old normal, which, to be honest, wasn’t always that great for music in Berlin.

So, what is to be done? It’s not exactly revolutionary to say that the first thing is to start going back to concerts. The second, and more important thing, is to start going to different types of concerts. With that in mind, we’re taking the vanguardist approach of selecting a couple of shows in places that might, in one way or another, help move that needle.

One way might be to start with German language music, and for that our pick of the month is LAYLA. Addictive, trappy, and witty, this Berlin rapper was one of the standout performers at last year’s Pop Kultur festival. On stage, she can switch between grinding beats, free-flowing bars and sultry R&B at the drop of a hat. What is special though is the pizzazz. That quality in an artist that allows them to switch between performer and star, and LAYLA most certainly has it.

Or, we can think about the kinds of venues that deserve support. It’s true that most artists don’t get to pick where they’re going to play, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth showing some love to some special spaces. Places like Schokoladen, 8MM, SchwuZ, and many more have been around the block and never stopped, all the while staying consistently excellent.

At Schokoladen, you can catch the fantastic Nichtseattle, whose brand of sparse, folkish, indie is a reminder that sometimes all it takes is one woman and her guitar to transform bare walls into the most intimate of spaces. Hers is a beautiful form of sonic interior design, the kind where a room of strangers start to talk in hushed tones, moving gracefully together through the ever shifting aural furnishings. Simply a great gig in a great place, it’s the reason that her newest stuff is coming out on Staatsakt, one of Berlin’s premier indie labels.

SchwuZ meanwhile plays host to the closing party of CTM Festival, an event that is synonymous with forward thinking, transdisciplinary artistic structures.

In the end, the idea should be to find new live music by going out and visiting venues, seeing bands that play on Tuesdays, or listening to local radio stations like Cashmere and Refuge to find out who the people are that are making the music happen. There’s no perfect solution here, and there’s nothing wrong with going to see big name acts either. It’s just worth remembering that the scene survived in the last two years largely due to a group of fantastic local artists and the venues that moved hell and high water to keep it alive.

Now that things are back, let’s celebrate the people and places that kept that fervour going, and if you are going to see any big name artist this month, please make sure that it’s Róisín Murphy.

  • LAYLA Frannz Club, Prenzlauer Berg May 14, 20:00
  • Nichtseattle Schokoladen, Mitte May 11, 20:00
  • CTM festival Various locations May 24-29



Copenhagen’s finest DJ takes a detour from high-octane trance and techno to present a series of ambient lulls for big rooms. Night Journeys is an ambient multidisciplinary performance par excellence.

  • May 4, 20:00. Berghain.

L.A. Witch

Unabashed west-coast steeze, L.A. Witch’s live shows are a heady ride that always seems to hit the sweet spot. It’s intoxicating loud surf-psych, a trip for sure, but one that peaks exactly on the limit of what you can handle.

  • May 24, 20:00. Kantine Am Berghain.