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.