Over the last week, Telekom’s Music Talent Space program backed three up-and-coming acts with a week of workshops led by industry stalwarts. The festivities came to a conclusion last night, when TMTS participants Adi Ulmansky, Fé, and Poolside traded the expansive isolation of Schöneweide’s cavernous Funkhaus studio complex for a show at Fluxbau.
Adi Ulmansky took the stage first, sporting a Cobrasnake shirt emblazoned with the Wayne’s World slogan, “Partytime, Excellent.” The Tel Aviv singer/producer veered between prowling half-tempo numbers and more confrontational hip-hop cuts, and occasionally stepped away from her stripped-down laptop setup to engage an absorbed crowd.
Her performance was bolstered by some of the subtle touches she worked on during her week at the Funkhaus. According to Ulmansky’s dialogue between songs, last night marked the first occasion when she performed with another human onstage. During a few of her more complicated numbers, an extra bandmate, Andy Penn, joined her to provide extra production heft, which allowed her to command the stage with saucy raps that would make her TMTS mentor Peaches proud. Her computer was evocatively draped in tangled branches peppered with the odd petal, illuminating the sinewy quality of her music as much as its precise electronic accompaniments.
Fé was a completely different beast, one that engineered fiercely anthemic pop-rock with a humble arrangement of gear. The British duo traded roles as frontman from track to track, and each was able to lead or add cooing harmonies to the other’s lines over taut guitar jabs. The singers won over their German audience by resurrecting and modifying Britpop tropes. For instance, they harnessed mellow Ashcroft-esque vocals to a muscular rhythmic pulse decorated with subtle electronics. Much of the band’s week at the Funkhaus was spent consulting stylists and photographers in order to develop a powerful and unfussy image, but by the time Fé busted out an improvised blues number while repairing a guitar string, it was clear that they offer as much substance as style.
Poolside were a brilliant headline act for a winter night on the Spree. Their carefree falsettos and slinky bass lines whisked away the sub-zero temperatures and took the crowd somewhere a little more tropical. The American/Danish pair’s band brought the relaxed funk guitars into sharp focus, while shimmering electric piano chords and spring-loaded drums made their laid-back haze really groove.
Last but not least tonite: @poolside @musictalentspace! Pure bliss! #TMTS Ein von Telekom Music Talent Space (@musictalentspace) gepostetes Video am Dez 12, 2014 at 2:52 PST
The major achievement of the TMTS program was that the show, although eclectic, was remarkably cohesive. The proceedings flowed slickly from one performance to another, all of which are both visually and musically tight. TMTS helped these musicians take control of their future in the industry, and let’s hope they run with it.
Just before 11 a.m. on a frigid and rainy Monday morning in Schöneweide, a neighborhood in Berlin that feels like an outlying suburb, is apparently an ideal practice time for a death metal band at the Funkhaus studio complex. I can hear the snarling vocals and guitars from outside the door, which is padded with a layer of chewed-up foam that’s roughly the same yellowish color of the peeling paint in the narrow hallway. This is one of the first clear signs of life I’ve encountered on the Funkhaus property, and I’ve been wandering through the dank, unmarked corridors in an effort to find the Telekom Music Talent Space.
The campus houses several large brick buildings that resemble abandoned Soviet military camps in outer Berlin, and there are just enough people around to give visitors the sense that they’re not alone. This industrial archipelago was erected in the 1950s for use as an East German radio station and therefore a propaganda mechanism for the government, which might explain the bland creepiness that lingers in its quieter passageways and its architectural likeness to Communist army bases. The acoustically-refined chambers were meticulously constructed for the express purpose of recording and performing audio, which makes it an ideal space for contemporary musicians to work at a vibe-y spot on the banks of the Spree. Here is a picture of the Spree as viewed from the Funkhaus land:
The headquarters for the Telekom Music Talent Space are located in one of the far units, and I can tell because there’s a little square lit-up rectangle posted outside the door with the Telekom logo. A man with long grey hair and a brown brimmed hat passes me as I step into the lobby and makes his way toward the stairs. I follow his lead up a flight of steps and introduce myself when he hangs up his cell phone. His name is Antony Hequet and he speaks with a certain slow pace and gravelly baritone that I associate with Native American accents. I am very sensitive to vibes, and it’s immediately clear that this guy has a lot of them.
My instincts were correct. During the course of the tour, Hequet revealed that he worked as a studio engineer in New York City and later spent time studying to be a monk (or something) in the mountains near Geneva before landing in Berlin and finding the Funkhaus by a stroke of kismet. He also lost a foot in a motorcycle accident, but his martial arts training lends him a grace that makes this virtually imperceptible, except when he’s walking upstairs. He often speaks in Kesey-isms, such as talking about peoples’ interests and inclinations as their “trips.”
Antony leads me into the lounge, which is lit with pink lights and contains several semi-comfortable pink and purple chairs, and lots of Telekom-branded paraphernalia, including a bunch of pink Telekom stickers. I took some with me so that I can paste them up on the walls of punk clubs in Kreuzberg and on the big box that Burgermeister constructs to insulate itself during the colder months.
Hequet corrals the various appendages of the crew for a tour of the spaces devoted to TMTS, which is a week-long effort organized by Telekom’s music program. They’ve invited two bands and one solo artist to participate in a series of workshops and conferences designed to help them with art direction, stage lighting, vocal coaching, and performing in order to help them ascend to greater recognition in the music industry. Hequet takes the camera crew and artists through the Funkhaus’s insulated studios, large halls, and ornate theaters.
The first group selected to participate in TMTS is Fé, a pair of earnestly adorable Brits who look like models in an ad for whiskey or leather shoes and a little bit like the band Stillwater from Almost Famous—for reference, watch the video embedded above. The duo make what they called “muscular pop” in their introductory interview with the TMTS video production crew, and they’ve been working on demos with Ewan Pearson. The demos are about love and, to give you some idea, sound a little like Modest Mouse or Washed Out, but the electronic aspects of the latter influence are less apparent when the duo performs acoustically, as you can see below.
The second band is Poolside, two total dudes who flew out from LA and make lackadaisical indie-disco, which they present to the TMTS assembly with the flair of funnymen.
The last participant to introduce herself is Adi Ulmansky, an Israeli electronic producer and singer who pointed out in a lighthearted way that she’s the only female artist involved. She’s got angular features and dip-dyed hair, acid washed jeans and Timberlands and a fringe jacket, and her voice sounds almost unhumanly saccharine on tracks like “Was It You?”, her collaboration with Israeli brostep kingpin Borgore.
Yesterday’s proceedings were an inauguration ceremony of sorts. These three musical acts were inducted into the Electronic Beats family, which means they’ll probably pop up at EB-related events and in our publications in the future. Hopefully, the Funkhaus will become a staple for us as well, because, in all non-corporate-sponsored honesty, the space is pretty amazing. Like Berlin’s most interesting edifices, the Funkhaus has lived several lives and incubated decades of creativity, and the history and character are emotionally (and spiritually?) palpable on its grounds. “It’s on its own space-time continuum,” Hequet told me as we bustled down one of the hallways. I think I know what he’s talking about—despite its proximity to Berlin, the Funkhaus feels ages away, a serene hideaway where it’s perfectly acceptable to play very loud death metal at 11 a.m. on a Monday morning. In a city that’s become world-renowned for nurturing bohemian productivity, the Funkhaus is its own nest, and well worth a piece in its own right.
For more pictures, videos, and updates from the first day of TMTS 2014, click here. To get a better look at the Funkhaus and Antony Hequet, click here.