Kiki Bohemia, a real Berliner, born and bred in Prenzlauer Berg is a ‘one-of-a-kind’ performer. She isn’t just a musician, she is a music lover and deeply involved in many ‘artistic pies’ all around town. Her music is pop, psychedelic and electro acoustic. She first began singing in a swing band, Bohemia Crystal, but later on she moved her directions towards electronica style. Her debut album ‘All the Beautiful’ came out in October 2008 and ever since, she has been playing and supporting many superstars on mayhem tours. One of her tracks, Nightwood, jumped onboard a tribute album for the group, This Immortal Coil. This week she will grace the stage at the Admiralpalast alongside the pop princess from France, Emilie Simon. Over a few bottles of Club Mates on a sunny Saturday morning, we verbally plundered Berlin, its music scene, its divas and wannabes and whom we really like in this town.
So KIKI Bohemia is a real Berliner?
Yes, as a baby I grew up in Dimitroff Strasse (nowadays, Danzigerstr) in Prenzlauer berg and later in Greifswalderstr. My Father still lives there. My mother and I left for West Germany in 1985 and lived near Stuttgart.
How was it leaving socialism and DDR behind?
Shocking. I couldn’t believe how cultured shocked I was in WEST Germany. How money played such an important role in defining the people in the WEST. In the DDR the only ambition wasn’t just to make good money. When I was 17, I left WEST Germany again and came back to Berlin. I never wanted to live in WEST Germany ever again.
How did you get involved in music?
Through my parents. My father was a famous musician since the DDR times. His name is Wenzel. We have worked together before. We still do in fact. Although my father comes from a different musical background to me, he respects my work. He is more into the classical German Brecht style. And my influences come from the English and American pop world.
Were you listening to such music as a kid?
Yes, when we went to the WEST, my mother married a singer/songwriter with a great record collection. I survived West Germany by listening to these records and getting lost in the music. I was a ballet dancer as a teenager but music always intrigued me yet made me happy and going to see concerts was so cool. I’ve always been a music freak. Growing up and being exposed to diverse music style was a blessing.
What was your first musical endeavour?
I started singing in a swing band with two friends who played piano and trombone. We didn’t want to be a ska band but a real Swing group. The real Swing music taught me the basic of song writing: how to write a song that will last forever. So I spent two years playing in this Swing band but my attitude towards music was always very punky. I never wanted this to be a professional band. Not a real career band. We didn’t take ourselves seriously at all and we had a residency at 8MM bar, where we would play in front of the screen that showed jazz movies. Then we would play at various clubs with real Jazz musicians. That was great. However I am a bit let down by how people interpret Swing music these days. It is on an artificial level and it is a bout the fashion rather than the lifestyle. This entire burlesque scene isn’t about living it, but about wearing it.
Swing music just like punk is a way of life?
People are not living the Swing mood and the entire background to it, these days like they used to in the past. For me just like punk and rock and roll you must live it and feel its energy. Yes, Swing is way of life.
And not just another pop culture fad that comes and goes, right? It’s all in the attitude as well?
Yes, people have to live it rather than be influenced by the fashion and the look of swing. It doesn’t need to be addressed, but lived. That’s why I love living in Berlin Wedding as well. The people there are so normal and they carry on with their lives in such a normal mundane way and not influenced by new cafes, trends, bars or whatever. No scene, no scensters. I love it there.
What ended your involvement with the Swing band?
I’ve always dreamed and wanted to become a solo artist. So I bought a loop station and began playing with an organ, accordion and drum computer and was singing along to whatever I was creating. A series of self-recordings took place and when I play live, I bring another live musician to keep me company, a cello performer. So the live experience becomes a mixture of live instruments, loops, effects, pedals and improvisation.
Your live concerts have an experimental outcome and not so much predefined sound and pop songs?
Yes, I love drifting into the experimental mode of droned noise. I still want to put out a instrumental album with my label, the Berlin based, Matrosen Blau. Its very small but open to a few Berlin bands that do the same kind of experimentation with music. They are around since three years and I have a good relation to them. They even put out some of my dad’s music.
And your track Nightwood is on the tribute album for These Immortal Coil? How cool is this?
Very cool. It was an interesting thing to do. We were even going to go on tour promoting this tribute album but one of the major bands, pulled out in the last minute. So now we stay put and wait for better news of a future tour.
What should the audience expect to see and hear from Kiki Bohemia on stage in the near future?
I love old technology but I am happy to live in the future .My first recordings were on an IPOD but still I love working with tapes and recording on 4trac. I only began using a computer lately. I had to find a way to play live without using all my energy on so many various instruments all at the same time. So I got a computer to do all that for me when I play live. It makes it easier. I use the computer as a recording tool as well because I really prefer my live recordings. But I am still quite uncomfortable using a computer on stage. But it sure helps me to play live. So yes, when I play live is together with my cello player and we try to be poppy and play real nice pop music when we play in commercial venues. When we don’t, we are more experimental, louder and drone like.
Do you find the live music scene vibrant in Berlin despite the fact that so many small live music venues had to close down?
The Berlin live scene has suffered in the past few years. A great deal of small and independent places had to close because they were shut down due to noise complaints from neighbours who move to these areas but cannot cope with the loud energy and lifestyle of others. Most clubs to survive have to employ djs now rather than have bands playing. Which is a pity. Clubs have to earn real money to survive. So the pressure is on in a different way. So clubs limit themselves now to only dj gigs rather than having live concerts. But Berlin is still cool. It reinvents itself all the time. It has always been very good at that.
Hopefully the gentrification of the scene areas won’t kill the city and its creative people.
Lets hope not. Can you believe, that one-day I was at the Nemo bar in P-berg playing kicker while some yuppies made fun of my Berlin accent. So I lost it and asked them where do they come from? They said, from F-hain. So I told them not where you live but where do you really come from? Embarrassed they said, Stuttgart. So there I told them, I am from Berlin and I am at home here and I can talk my Berlinish, without being laughed at. Me saying that shut them up.
Yes, Berlin always reinvents itself but lets hope that the Berlin accent won’t. And another wish we both had was that the city’s live music scene wont be buried and forgotten about. It is what makes this city so…..so…..so……hip? No, not hip. It’s this city’s BOHEMIAN lifestyle.
Kiki Bohemia will play on the 17th April at Admiralpalast, part of the LSFM female independent festival alongside Emilie Simon.