Despite the volcano catastrophe that shook up the stranded tourists somewhere in this world, and the music business as well for the last week, some bands made it to Berlin in late April to play at the LSFM festival that celebrated independent female musicians over the stretch of a month starring electro, singers/songwriters, pop, noise, local and international DIVAS.
Men (ex Le Tigre) were travelling on a tour bus so they were sorted and graced the stage last week in Festsaal Kreuzberg with their gender bender queer performance. Not so lucky were the other band, Human Toys who were stranded in their hometown, Paris and couldn’t manifest themselves on the same stage. Well thank God there were three bands on the bill so although one of the favourites didn’t show up, another local band did, the duo Cat N Guyen who won the hearts of the public and became my winning favourite performance of the evening.
Before the show, the smoking audience were outside chatting and enjoying the night’s breeze with or without the ashes of the Icelandic volcano. God knows how much of it spread in the stratosphere of Berlin, but on the last night of the LSFM festival, the sky was ash less and buzzing with queer vibes anticipating the live performance from the NY group, MEN, one of its founding member, JD Samson of Le Tigre.
The first band on the bill were the Berlin based duo, Cat N Guyen, accompanied by a visual artist playing on a laptop that was spewing visuals behind the jumping musicians. Cat N Guyen are young, energetic, funny, comical even. The boy in the band is dressed in a cat boy suit. Not even a very modern suit but a 50s style number, reminiscent of old Batman and Robin TV shows. You know the type; pyjama style tights, with or without a tail (can’t remember anymore), mask, and cat eyes purring over the bass lines. In any case, he was a super hero playing and switching instruments, adding toys to the songs and covering the stage like a true Superman/Cat boy hero.
The singer, a blend between a rapper with ‘bling bling’ hanging off her petite state of being, and a ballerina, gave the stage a very humorous sensation as well. Bling Bling on top, a longer ballerina ‘to too’ around the waist and VANS shoes with a baseball cap to finish off the entire ‘attire’/’costume’. Their Hip Hop style was fresh, edgy, full of passion for mundane yet strong stories inspired by comic books, films and superheroes. Its result being a parody of hip hop as they added grunge, noise, effects, pedals and turned it into a dirty, gritty style of rap.
Together masked and unmasked, they make a delightful trashy musical pair. When I asked them to define themselves they nodded and told me their style is Trash HOP, but with riot like energy and messages. On stage they have no laptops making the music but for producing the visual art images to add more and in other cases less, meaning to their songs. One of the most striking images for me was an image of a ‘plattenbau’ with a chain shaped as a huge dollar sign, hanging over its façade.
‘We don’t like to play with laptops on stage. We prefer MP 3 players and tapes. We always pay attention to the quality of the sound when we play live and we talk to the sound technicians during the sound-check very careful about our needs and requirements. For us, sound is a very important detail of our performance.’ Indeed a first-rate sound is vital to their live shows, as one must hear every effect, every glitch and every word of the lyrics. That’s the package that gives this group charm, a playful, comical edginess that turn their live performances into an animated, vivacious, humorous, frisky adventure to take us upon. And the audience WERE taken on this trip. They danced, jumped and wondered at the huge visuals bouncing on stage behind the comic trash hop figures, CAT N GUYEN.
The second and last band on the bill were the much-awaited queer sensation group, MEN from NY City. A trio led by the enigmatic JD Samson much known for her talents in Le Tigre, the feminist electro punk, riot girl group that dominated the world scene since the late 90s. JD seemed totally in control of the stage before and during the concert. As I came into the venue, I spotted her sturdy ‘boy like’ body handling the band’s merchandise. During the break instead of signing autographs or drinking beer, she was too busy setting up their instruments on the stage. A huge banner behind them stating: Who am I to feel so free! The title of one of their songs pretty much encapsulated the attitude and moods of their concert.
Men are electro pop; their music would fit in at any PRIDE even almost LOVE Parades. Although often they have been rejected from certain Pride Parades for being too experimental and not mainstream enough. In my opinion I would label them danceable and mainstream rather than experimental. With lyrics such as Fuck your friends to make babies and Who am I to feel so free they push and encourage the joys and importance of queer & feminist art and movement.
The gender bender quality of the group was unmistakable, with JD sporting an Errol Flynn moustache, hip-hop shorts, unshaven legs, while the boy in the band wore pearls, long tights and make up. The band gave the audience what they wanted: Chants, courage, queer and feminist politics: Have a good time, no matter who you are, seemed to strike a chord with every queer and feminist body in the room. Men were tight, professional, happy, crazy, but not punk enough for me however. But who am I to feel so demanding? I got the feeling that this outfit desires to head for the mainstream gay scene, get on their dance floors, have their audience clap their hands in ecstasy rather than clench their fists with anger.
Men although on the verge of mainstream electro disco style of music, express lyrics and political topics that the queer community needs to hear again and again in order to stop feeling and be treated like ‘freaks’ in our society. Well maybe in Berlin there is no need for such a push since the ‘Queer is in’ stamped all over the city, yet I can imagine in other homophobic parts of the world, the energy and messages of MEN is much more relevant yet deprived. ‘We try to create a space where everyone can celebrate their bodies and who they are’ JD shared her views about the message behind the MEN project on the phone to me. And I think they created this on the night at FESTSAAL Kreuzberg, where queer next to straights next to gays, danced to the electro house, disco sounds of MEN.
After the show, the Men entourage took the time to drink beer with some of their fans at Monarch’s BAR next to the Festsaal Venue. Part of this entourage was LUCY from No Angels, the Pop girl group, (Germany’s answer to Spice Girls) which represented Germany at Eurovision a few years back and flopped. I sensed that Lucy was a fan of MEN and was at the concert to find out what queer music is all about and to show Berlin who she really is, herself: Queer Pop Princess!