Why is it that duos make some of the heaviest music? There’s the blistering pop-punk of Vancouver’s Japandroids. There’s the blistering garage-punk of Chicago’s White Mystery. There’s the bass-and-drum assault of Providence’s Lightning Bolt and Seattle’s Big Business, although the latter added a guitar on their last album… and became decidedly less assaultive in the process. There’s the mean-mugging, ear-shattering electro crossover of Justice and Sleigh Bells. There’s Sunn 0))), of course, which will always be two vets toppling Richter scales with reverb, Oren Ambarchi’s synths and Atilla Csihar’s vocal cords notwithstanding. Even the Black Keys and the now-defunct White Stripes cut their teeth on blues-rock muscularity before folding into the hook-savvy mainstream. If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the patron saints of quiet rock, linked the two-man band format with a delicate touch, then these bands have mounted something of an emphatic counterlegacy.
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In the late 1980s, British band the Cult held the banner high for glam-free, classicist hard rock. Given focus and muscle by producers Rick Rubin and Bob Rock, Cult LPs Electric (1987) and Sonic Temple (1989) found commercial favor by splitting the difference between AC/DC and the Doors, and matching ginormous meat-and-potatoes riffage with panoramic-voiced singer Ian Astbury’s unquenchable fascination with Native American spirituality.
Over two decades later, the Cult is still at it (with Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy being the only members left from the glory day), and is releasing its first album in five years, Choice of Weapon, today in the United States. Fans of head-nodding metal-inclined Cult classics like “Love Removal Machine” will find plenty to like in the album’s lead single ”For the Animals”, and I myself have a soft spot for well-executed rock ‘n’ roll swagger of the sort employed by that track. But in spite of the virtues of its signature sound, the band was definitely more interesting when very early on, under the moniker of Death Cult, it was poised to lead the second wave of gothic rock.
When Americans stereotype the German music scene, they think of techno and Berlin nightclubs. There is however, a much more extensive network of national clubs in Germany that hosts international indie bands. One club in the city of Dresden is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month—Beatpol concert hall is known for its ambitious approach, in terms of curating international music within the Dresden area. The venue has hosted hundreds of American indie bands since its opening in 1991. Names like The National, Interpol, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, and Death Cab For Cutie all toured through the 500-person capacity club during their early careers.
Tucked away in the outskirts of Dresden, Beatpol is housed in an old ballroom that the city has used for various forms of entertainment for over a century. “It’s a lone soldier in Dresden. The venue has a soul, and people notice that,” said Johannes Zink, Beatpol’s lighting technician.
Beatpol is a place where people come to experience live music exclusively. According to Beatpol manager Hans-Jürgen Lachotta, “Beatpol is located nowhere near the club/party scene. Whoever comes to Beatpol comes because he or she wants to hear his or her favorite music, or get to know new music”.
The city of Dresden houses most of its youth culture in the “Neustadt”, or the “new” part of the city. The area is on the north side of the city’s main river and is packed with bars and clubs. Beatpol however, is several tram stops away from the Neustadt, back on the other side of the river in an older neighborhood called Cotta. Surprisingly, the location has proved to be a more positive attribute, contributing to the venue’s purpose.
“In my opinion, if Beatpol were located more centrally in the city of Dresden, more people would come to the club—but Beatpol’s mentality is not about profit, but about organizing good shows with great bands”, explained Dresden student and Beatpol frequenter Jan Zscheile. “For this reason, Cotta is a perfect location… the audience consists of mostly concert-goers and music enthusiasts. With only occasional exceptions, there aren’t intoxicated, thoughtless people who just simply ‘go to the show’”.
What makes the venue unique as a whole is its ever-present philosophy of team management. Lachotta, a man who lived through World War II and was a citizen under Soviet Regime until the fall of the Berlin Wall, maintains the venue with positive notions retrieved from Soviet times: Not one staff member is more important than the other; at the end of the night, each concert is a success because of the entire team.
Beatpol’s personal chef Eric Spiegelhauer credits the venue’s success to Lachotta’s work philosophy, “Throughout the years, he’s never sacrificed or given up his strong ethical values. He’s never done the business just for himself, but for the sake of music—for the bands, for the club, for the staff, and for Dresden”.
Spiegelhauer, a hired chef for the touring bands and staff, is another part of what makes the venue so distinct. Before every show, Spiegelhauer prepares a number of traditional and non-traditional German dishes for everyone to enjoy in a family-style dining setting. When Iron and Wine toured through the venue this past summer and the band’s tour manager asked lead singer Samuel Beam what he should try from Spiegelhauer’s cuisine, Beam replied, “All of it. It’s all so good”.
These small, individual details that the Beatpol staff preserves are key to maintaining a long-term audience and a long list of bands that insist on coming back to the venue, even when they’re meant to play larger shows. The high standards are something for American venues to take note of, according to many American bands that pass through Beatpol, such as the Portland band The Thermals:
“You feel like a guest over here. They take putting on shows more seriously here. You show up to a club in the US and just the sound guy shows up, he just woke up, and he’s super bummed out and grumbling. Maybe the promoter comes to the show? But here, even with the lights and sound, they take everything more seriously, like, ‘we’re putting on a concert’. In the US, it’s just another show,” explained Thermals guitarist and singer Hutch Harris.
As for the future of Beatpol, Lachotta remains hopeful, “There have been music highlights on and off in Dresden, but they come and go. I’m proud that we have a place for people in Dresden, where they can come just for the music. Perhaps every band won’t be the taste of every audience member, but at least people can always expect high quality. We repeat good work and insist on high expectations. It’s an ideal location and venue. I hope the future will be long and bright”.
Jennifer Brown volunteers at and works as the American Translator for Beatpol. Her insight and access to this venue allowed her present the German (or perhaps European) take on the touring and venue system for bands.
In the Bible, there is an interesting story about a largely disregarded prophet named Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet in Israel, before and after its capture and exile to Babylon. In a time when most people in that nation were living in what they thought was “love, peace, and happiness”; Jeremiah was walking around telling everyone that judgment and destruction were imminent. For telling the inevitable truth, Jeremiah was ostracized and out of sync with the culture around him, all the while attesting to a future doom that was yet to come. In the same vein, a largely unknown folk songwriter at the onset of the 1970s named Bill Fay released the album Time of the Last Persecution from the fringes of the music culture, heralding the end of the era of hippie idealism with messages of judgment, human despair, and eventual consummation.
Bill Fay’s recording career was short, to say the least. Besides a 1967 single and two albums released within a year of each other, there is not much material to draw on. His third album Tomorrow and Tomorrow didn’t see the light of day until nearly 30 years later. Just last year, Fay released a double-disc collection of both old and new material titled Still Some Light, which featured a collection of songs from his 2009 home studio recordings. Beyond that there is not much to speak of.
Although his first self-titled debut album received some notice at the time of its release (with the gorgeous song “Be Not So Fearful”), it would be his second, Time of the Last Persecution, that would remain firmly fixed in the imaginations of many, especially notable fans such as Wilco, Six Organs of Admittance, and Sonic Youth member/Wilco producer Jim O’Rourke.
Today marks the 17th anniversary of the suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, so in tribute to Mr. Unwilling Voice of a Generation I’d like to briefly draw attention to one of his group’s underappreciated gems. Specifically, I’m talking about the first brand-new release the grunge trio unleashed upon the world after conquering the mainstream with its blockbuster second album Nevermind—a song the group elected to issue on indie label Touch & Go as a split single with Texas noise rockers the Jesus Lizard.
It’s wonderfully perverse that Nirvana put out “Oh, the Guilt” in such a manner. Prior to the single’s February 1993 release, Nirvanamania was still riding high, as evidenced by the Christmastime arrival of the rarities collection Incesticide to satiate fans eagerly awaiting a new studio album. So what did the group follow that with? A rarity! The single had a worldwide pressing of 200,000 copies (only a fraction of the million-plus sales “Smells Like Teen Spirit” racked up in the United States alone), with many of them issued as vinyl records, then considered a dead format by all but the tiniest of labels. It’s now widely available due to its inclusion on the 2004 box set With the Lights Out, but in case you haven’t had the opportunity or drive to scour through three dense discs of odds-and-ends to uncover it, it’s high time you learned that “Oh, the Guilt” is one ripping piece of scuzz-filled rock