By the end of the evening, most of their equipment was destroyed and so was I. They had arrived in Berlin after a sleepless night in London, and proceeded to throw themselves violently into the action of a midnight performance at Bassy which was over seemingly minutes after it started.
For the Bellmer Dolls, it was the sort of artificial homecoming that produces legends. Artificial, because, although the band is about as New York as they come, they take their name from the surrealist sculptor Hans Bellmer, who pissed off the Nazis with his demented adolescent doll sculptures, wound up being labeled a “degenerate” artist, and had to flee to Paris during the Second World War. Add in a dash of Brechtian dynamism, a heavy nod to the Birthday Party, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why the trio refers to Germany as their “Fatherland.”
They arrived exactly a month after the release of their debut on Hungry Eye Records, The Big Cats Will Throw Themselves Over. Their sound is a jangly cacophony of messy guitar and throbbing bass-driven anti-melodies given over to despair and the sort of dark existential angst that threatens to explode inside your chest. Noise rock for paranoids.
Axe-wielding frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis, a Greek dude whose onstage recklessness revives the ghost of Johnny Thunders, apologetically explained to the crowd that he had to borrow a friend’s guitar for the gig – his own had been destroyed at the gig the night before, in London.
You could see why. Mavrogeorgis doesn’t so much play his guitar as allow his guitar to play him. Swinging the thing around his neck as he grabs the microphone stand in order to choke out a few intensely enunciated syllables before falling into some sort of epileptic trance, I kept expecting to see him shatter the thing into splinters – possibly with his knee. Luckily for his friend, he was able to save this guitar from wreckage at the young rock god altar.
Frankly, I don’t know what Mavrogeorgis would do without bassist Anthony Malat. Malat does everything – maintains the drive on his four-stringer alongside partner-in-rhythm Daniel Sheerin, clothes the band with the latest fashions from his Sinner/Saint label – What else does he do? Drive the van when they go on tour? Clean up the vomit? I was too afraid to ask.
All I know is, it was over before it even began. Which fits in with the Bellmer Dolls’ approach, it seems. Their first album only has eight tracks on it, their set was cut short thanks to the anarchy that resulted with the tiny stage set-up – it was all spills and tears and dashes of lightning and raw energy. And yet, despite the brevity, everyone was completely drawn in, mesmerized by the jolting inferno emanating from the darkened club that night.
Bassy has a pulse all its own. It retains the illegal feel of the original club, before they relocated to the more kosher (yet still charmingly ratty) environs of the former Pfefferbank. Before and after the Bellmers, we were treated to the sophisticated rocker stylings of DJs Snakefinger, Nadine O.D., and the Return of the Rat (aka dorfdisco editor-in-chief Oliver Schuetz.) The party went on deep in to the tonight, thanks to the discovery of free booze in the V.I.P. room, before moving next door to 8mm, where the band drank the rest of the night away alongside dorfdisco contributors Lady Gaby, Schuetz, and Andy Leuenberger before hopping on a plane back to London the next morning.
It was a small taste of a sound that seems to belong more in Berlin than in New York. Scratching my head throughout the alcohol-tinged haze of the following day, I wondered when the Bellmers would be returning to their spiritual home.