Travels With Clarence: Ä, Neukölln, Berlin featuring Anna Vo and Barnaby Tree

Written by Clarence Knight on 9th June, 2010

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Roving reporter Clarence Knight is currently making her way across Europe, soaking up the sights and sounds of a continent as far removed from Australia culturally as it is geographically.

Between admiring centuries old architecture and struggling with foreign languages, she’s taken the time to report for Music Feeds on some of the more exciting musical adventures she’s been having. In her first fax back home, Clarence recounts a chilly night spent in Berlin.

On a cold and misty night in Germany’s capital, the dapper bohemians and anti-hipsters gather in the warm glow of ‘Ä’, a smoky late night café in Neukölln, one of many creative districts around the multi-faceted, art-infested city. Tonight, they’re here to witness two expatriate solo performers, and to smoke cigarettes (and who knows what else) inside, away from the biting cold. Because here, no one cares about ‘petty capitalist laws’ like smoking bans. *cough!

Australian psych-experimental noise artist Anna Vo is first up, playing unassumingly in a neon-lit corner of the bar. Amongst the half German, half English chatter, it’s only a matter of moments until all attention shifts to Vo and her tangled web of pedals and gadgets, as she sets about creating an ethereal soundscape of loops and jangling bells, her voice soaring over the top with an almost Björk-esque flavour. I find out later that before moving to Berlin, Vo toured extensively in Australia with Sydney hardcore band Crux and performance art collaboration Yellow Fever. Her broad array of influences and experiences shape the neo-noise she makes tonight, with tinges of light and shade, atmospheric pop and gut wrenching darkness… looped, and looped, and looped.

We take a break. I order a Shoko mit Kaluah (hot chocolate with kaluah… hey, its freaking cold outside!) and settle into a comfortable corner couch to absorb the next performance about to take place in front of me. Clearing a space in the middle of the room for himself, British musician Barnaby Tree begins with a long, sombre note on his instrument of choice, the cello, before launching into a string plucking, vocal licking and downright cute folk-pop song, with stylistic and lyric resonances not unlike Kimya Dawson.

The cello-lead quirky pop vibes continue, as Tree’s voice rises and cascades in perfect harmony with the notes being played by the strings. Leaving the small crowd completely in awe, he effortlessly shifts from melancholic classical soul to upbeat calypso, busting out impromptu freestyle hip hop rhymes and even beatboxing. And yes, he’s still playing the cello. This dude is by far the most versatile classical musician I’ve ever seen.

Tree works purely on tips, with a cardboard box being passed around during his set. By the time it reaches me, its pretty damn heavy. The crowd requests an encore, and yet another. As a Berlin-based friend of mine once said, in a city so full of artistic soul-searching expats, it can be hard to sort the gems from the shit.

I think I got lucky here. Danke.

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