Whenever I’ve given interviews myself, and I’ve been asked about the music, I’ve always extolled the merits of the dark indie music scene in London. In the very vanguard of that sound, pioneers in reintroducing smart, sexy, deadly music to goth in the UK, is Cold in Berlin.
Cold in Berlin make hypnotic, dark and spiky music with mesmerizing and terrifying vocals that had me hooked from the start. Ten years ago today their debut album hit and this tireless band have been creating, performing and releasing ever since…
I saw them when they first came to Leeds in 2012 and I’ve seen them a dozen times since, and still nothing to compare to the experience of lead singer My stalking into the midst of nonplussed audiences, and scream the lyrics into the faces of the more dedicated fans who know her tortured, tantalising lyrics and bellow them right back at her.
Their 2015 album The Comfort of Loss and Dust was one of the rare reviews I conducted via the blog, and I loved it although even then I was comparing it to their debut… still bewitched by storming anthems like White Horse, which will get me on a dancefloor in a heartbeat. So when founders Adam and My reached out to me about the tenth anniversary of their debut release, I jumped at the chance to talk about this formative album.
1) First off, how’s lockdown treating you? Is it drying up creative juices, or inspiring you to new heights – or depths – of imaginative exploration?
Adam: Like a lot of bands and musicians I think we were shocked by how much the pandemic has particularly affected our industry. I can’t imagine playing or attending a gig until late 2021. It’s really been devastating to venues and promoters. Personally, 2020 has been very numbing – all the loss and the political failures. I flip between rage and apathy daily.
My: I feel real sadness for the live music scene. For me, it is a source of inspiration and allows me to exist in a very particular world of noise – whether watching or performing, which is just not available from anywhere else. I am not sure what will happen but I hope we find a way back. The whole experience of lockdown has definitely been a time for introspection for me, in a hopeful way it could be compared to waiting out a long winter – the words are forming underneath, our collective pause has potential to grow into something interesting.
Adam: We have managed a few practices with new material. A beat driven hypnotic form of goth inspired by the German Krautrock.
2) You formed and released your debut album Give Me Walls all in 2010 – an incredible burst of energy. What prompted the genesis of Cold In Berlin, and how was the process of recording that first release?
My: We recorded the album in Bushey, North London. The studio was converted from buildings that were a part of the local fire station. It was an odd time, but the album had to be finished and we couldn’t stop until it was. The sessions were great – energetic and fast paced, which is reflected in the album.
Adam: With the 10th anniversary of the release of coming up on November 26th I was looking back through our archives and I was shocked by the pace of events throughout 2010. We started as a dark and noisy punk band – Death Cigarettes – which was me and Maya and two friends from York. Then just when that band should have recorded an album we fell apart.
But Maya and I were determined to not let all the work go to waste. In 2010 we reset as Cold in Berlin, started working with two session musicians we were friends with, rewrote the tracks we wanted to record, recorded them in a week, recruited Lawrence as a permanent member, then returned to the live scene to promote the album release.
3) Glowing reviews started piling up from the start, with a lot wanting to put you in the ‘goth’ bracket. How do you feel about that? A lot of artists see it as unnecessary pigeon-holing, inaccurate, even offensive. But it’s in your bio, and a lot of goths go to your gigs, buy your stuff, and support you – like me! Do you feel having a ‘goth’ tag hinders or helps you?
Adam: The critical success was very welcome in those early days. We were adamant to never pigeon-holed ourselves. There’s your tastes as an individual and the sounds you produce as part of a creative unit – and sometimes you have no control over that.
I think we were still learning what we wanted to be and finding the strength to just be true to who we were. We went where the music took us and in the goth scene we found a home.
My: I think naming a genre helps people feel a part of it. I don’t mind that at all, I became myself because of the band, writing and performing together so I understand that.
However, I don’t think we fit neatly into any genre to be honest which is why our fans are all so different and love lots of different music. I love being part of the ‘goth scene’ – it is a fun safe space to be myself and express myself.
I think we can find peace in finding our group (or whatever you call it) but there will always be a little piece of me that knows I am strangely most myself when I don’t fit in.
4) Your later releases become wonderfully complex explorations of dark mysticism – but “Give Me Walls” is a raw, rock’n’roll record obsessed with sex, death and frustrated millenial energy. Is that an accurate description? How do you feel looking back at this album from ten years on and reflect on how you’ve changed?
My: Looking back I feel totally privileged to have found a bunch of people that wanted to make music with me and support us in putting on shows, making videos and recording an album. The press around the release was interesting.
As a women I didn’t feel obsessed with sex at all, singing about what physically drives you as a women was tricky because ultimately you are putting yourself out to be viewed by the male gaze – which was certainly the case at the time. Lyrically, most of the album was really about love and depression – the weight of the darkness associated with a certain type of self-destruction that I think most young people experience but from a female perspective.
I think people find it hard to really hear and accept the female experience of pain and to understand it, so they put it into terms they understand themselves. So it becomes sex-obsessed and frustrated. The nuances are missed because it is hard to square it with our accepted norms of the female experience, even though I think most women understand it is at complete odds with this.
This is changing now thankfully, as there is more representation in every sense in dark and heavy music, which is fantastic and can only be a good thing.
Adam: When you’re in your early twenties, your death-drive is peaking and you’re trying to squeeze everything you’re feeling into one song. It was the beginning of austerity Britain and the London riots followed in 2011. Speed and rawness reflected everything that was swirling around us. Give Me Walls will always be an album I’m proud of. As a debut it has ten years of build up crammed into it. So it was a very cathartic release.
Change is hard to quantify. Sure, we’re older and wiser, but immersion in music makes you feel ageless. That’s the beauty of it.
My: People often say our albums are quite different to each other and I can see that when you view them from the outside. From the inside though, lyrically they are all connected so completely to my experiences that the threads connecting them can’t be unpicked.
Adam, Lawrence and I have certainly grown into each album over time and you could probably trace the songs through each album if you wanted to – maybe Powerful Woman on Give Me Walls, sits next to The Power, on Rituals of Surrender and Mysterious Spells on The Comfort of Loss & Dust, certainly sits next to Sacred Ground on Rituals of Surrender, but this isn’t really intentional.
“Lyrically, most of the album was really about love and depression – the weight of the darkness associated with a certain type of self-destruction that I think most young people experience but from a female perspective.”
5) Finally, if you could open a portal back to CiB in 2010, what would you say to them?
Like a Rick and Morty bit!?! Weird for all involved! I guess I’d just say, “Keep going. You’re going to make good music in the future.” Anything more might jinx things.