Cold in Berlin
Cold in Berlin are a fierce, brutal and uncompromising band, both sonically and intellectually. It has become all too rarefied for bands to aspire beyond the simple confines of popular music and strive to transcend the verse/chorus/verse defacto of quick-hit-saccharine-gratification and instantaneous-trending-vapidity.
Bands that have the biggest impact, hold the deepest intrigue or endure the longest do so because of an intent to make themselves into something bigger than just music, Cold in Berlin do just that; they’re the kind of band that signposts 18-year-old art students towards meaningful cultural niches neglected by inferior bands and artistic practitioners alike. Cold in Berlin are rare because they enrich.
Having produced three albums to date and now promoting their fourth - Rituals of Surrender - the London based band are carving out a space in the music scene that few others could. Their music is a brooding swamp of darkly heavy riffs, often militarised drum beats and bass lines that hook deep into your entrails; all this fronted by a singer possessed in demonic reverie. Their lyrics are dense, evocative of the romanticism found in Bronte-esque landscapes where carnal lust is ingrained in dirt and to add to the emotional weight, every sentiment is steeped in existential futility.
With such a layered back catalogue and a future poised on a breakout it’s difficult to summarise everything that sets them so far apart from their peers but their inclusion on Afterview will provide some insight.
Interview: Cold in Berlin
Cold in Berlin
From left to right; Alex (drums), Lawrence (bass), Maya (vocals), Adam (guitar)
“And it takes so long for the body to respond these days...”
Q1) Much is said about a band’s first album and ‘difficult follow up’ but you are now on to your fourth. Some of the more thoughtful bands seem to strike upon a reflective mood at this point of their career. How, if at all, does this apply to CIB?
Maya: Thoughtful doesn't have to mean a mellowing of sound or approach. Our first album had a press quote 'Translators for our imploding society'. Clearly things have gotten worse since 2010. As cognizant citizens we can't help but reflect what is happening in the world at the moment. The mood is darker. Anger, despair and hope blaze through each of us everyday. I think our fourth album reflects this.
“Loud is the wolf that howls in the heart of me...”
Q2) Most bands seem to soften as their career progresses, CIB differ in that as you have matured your music has become heavier, more intimidating and more powerful. How do you account for this and is this the case with the new album?
Adam: It was a natural evolution that shadowed us with age. Our latest albums have an emotional weight, which often gets described as ‘heavy’ but this album also features some of the most melodic moments we have ever recorded, especially the inclusion of violins. With previous albums we aimed to capture a live sound in a studio but this time we recorded the instruments separately creating a layered and powerful sound. As the guitarist, loud and distorted seem like the natural state for the tools used. We really mined that thread with producer Wayne Adams, who has a great collection of amps. It was like sound engineering. What you are hearing is technology like, valves and circuits, some of it decades old, being over-driven, glowing hot and crackling like fire.
“Honey wanna bloodbath? Give me a call...”
Q3) Maya - you have a talent for great opening lines. What’s the opener for your new album and how does it fit into your lyrical oeuvre?
Maya: The first lines to the opening song The Power are ‘She was just a girl when the world was born, crawled out of the ocean on all fours, carved her name in the mountains in blood, and turned her heart to good.’ I love stories and try to create a trail for the listener, leaving an ambiguity so that they can hear their own stories inside ours. In The Power - as the earth was born, the story begins but something - some kind of woman - was here already, beneath the water, waiting.
“She goes back to bed with a book....”
Q4) CIB are notable for drawing on a number of literary inspirations; Sartre, Plath, Wilson. Are there any new literary influences to speak of for the new album?
Maya: Writers that influence my lyrics include Doris Lessing, Knut Hamsun, Andrea Dworkin and George Orwell. Often an idea might come from inside something else like film or television. After watching the darkly comic and inventive I Love Dick I knew I must read Chris Kraus’ original novel. Most recently I’ve been reading Roxanne Gay’s Difficult Women. People who write about the difficult nature of women who show strength and live in love and pain.
Adam: I’m hooked on non-fiction at the moment: Surveillance Capitalism, Hyperobjects, The Ministry of Nostalgia, The Death of Truth. Those and HP Lovecraft!
“The privately schooled, music college graduates will continue to churn out vapid indie guitar pop and major labels will continue to release it like there is no alternative.”
“I wanna see your children bleed...”
5) Whenever a line up for a major alt music festival is released it seems to be met with vitriol or at least, disappointment; the common consensus being that things aren’t what they used to be. What are your thoughts on the current music scene and new alternative bands?
Adam: Very little. Major and Alternative are pejorative terms for me. Things are not what they use to be. Capital is using increasingly desperate tactics as it enters its death throes. Read Mark Fisher. Google 'Hauntology'. Popular Alternative music is truly adrift in nostalgia for lost futures. The privately schooled, music college graduates will continue to churn out vapid indie guitar pop and major labels will continue to release it like there is no alternative. Festivals will continue to offer Pop or Rap stars as a thrilling headliner, but it is of course purely a commercial decision. However, the new distribution networks and the freedom provided by technology offers the discerning listeners a far greater choice of more incredible music than ever before. Music that pays no mind to commerciality. The recent Radio 4 series on New Weird Britain documents this growing movement.
“And the darkness bangs...”
6) With an interest in picking apart some aspects of CIB that haven’t as yet been discussed in other interviews - your drum tracks a very distinct, ranging from tribal, military, doom, post punk. What influences you Alex as a drummer, musically or otherwise?
Alex: Probably an overly simplistic approach but I often catch myself coming up with my best work when doing as little thinking as possible. For me, it’s all about immersing myself in the music and seeing what comes out. It’s difficult to put a finger on exact influences as I don’t ever fit something into a song in a deliberate way, I’m inspired with what’s in front of me and let my instinct do most of the work. This leads to hopefully producing the most organic, honest and visceral performance I can, in my opinion that’s how you do right by yourself, the band and the song.
“There is pain buried deep beneath her skin....”
7) The bass lines in CIB are markedly dark, brutal and act as a driving force for the bands power. Lawrence, as bass players are routinely overlooked in the musical process, can you discuss your contribution to the band, your own process and wider influences?
Lawrence: I am happy to be overlooked! For me the bass should be felt as much as heard, and my philosophy for bass is always to keep it simple and give the vocals and guitar room to breathe. This changed a little with the new album; because we only have one guitarist, the bass was able fill the space of the second guitar and this meant more of the songs were bass-led than was the case previously. But I still didn’t give much thought to the basslines; I am much more interested in things like song structure, dynamics and tone.
“There are things I want to say that my heart will not articulate...”
8) One of the things that set CIB apart from other bands is that your sound doesn’t quite fit, like many of the most interesting bands, you seem out of place and time. What is your response to such a statement?
Adam: It's understandable. But our outcast nature comes with some positives. It's great seeing varied groups of people at our shows. Punks, Goths, Metalers.
Maya: It is interesting to me, because we just make the music that comes naturally to us so it seems to fit perfectly.
. “I think it is important that women on stage are real, and loud, and dance and sweat and do not worry about what they look like - but just enjoy the performance. I am not interested in keeping my hair and make-up in place.”
“And beasts will wait silently behind locked doors...”
9) CIB have had the honour of being included in the British Museum as part of the Terror and Wonder exhibition. Your work is now preserved as part of historic record which is a great achievement and shows just how far your music reaches. Could you tell us a little about that experience? And as we are an art focused website what are your interests in the visual arts?
Adam: That was a really great moment, humbling too. We played Whitby Goth Festival and had a blast. A few weeks later we see that the renowned photographer Martin Parr was at the festival documenting the wider scene, but he only photographed one band, us. That photo of the crowd and Maya made its way into the exhibition. This was followed by a request for all our music from a custodian at the British Library, in order for it to be preserved for all time. It fires the imagination. You think of the far future and who may discover it.
Maya: We were in New York last summer and we were lucky enough to see the Heavenly Bodies exhibit at The Met which displayed the most beautiful religious iconography between the most beautiful clothes and dresses. Lee Bul as The Hayward was great also - seeing so many of her pieces in one place. I really like the photos of Patti Smith and have a well worn version of both Dream of Life and Land 250.
Adam: We were fortunate to discover and acquire an early Dan Hillier print. Francesca Woodman’s photography and Anselm Kieffer’s paintings are always a pleasure to return to.
“There’s a slow dawn coming...”
10) What lies ahead for CIB, are there ambitions yet to be realised?
Lawrence: Our fourth album Rituals of Surrender will be released on 11th October on the truly independent label New Heavy Sounds. Having it released also on vinyl will be very special.
Adam: To play some great live shows around the world.
Rituals of Surrender will be released on 11/10/2019
Photographs: David Newbold