- 01 Oct 21
Sample-happy electronic crew go Deutsche
Berlin has long proved a lodestar to musicians, becoming a darkly twinkling object of fascination for everyone from Bowie to U2. Latest to catch the Mitteleuropa bug are Public Service Broadcasting, the often mesmerising, occasionally twee UK ensemble, who have acquired a fanbase with electronica compositions incorporating snatches of old public service information videos (they are, then, a group that does exactly what it says on the tin).
Bright Magic is a departure. Gone are the vintage flourishes, replaced here by a tripartite love-letter to the German capital, to which band leader J. Willgoose, Esq relocated between 2019 and 2020. And much like Berlin itself, the album juxtaposes the old and new across its three distinctive segments.
The spirit of chilly Cold War euro-techno runs through opener ‘Der Sumpf (Sinfonie der Großstadt)’, an instrumental radiating so much monochrome hauteur it’s almost a surprise it doesn’t sprout icicles. The (slightly cartoonish) caricature of Berliners as downcast and strait-laced is meanwhile evoked on the teutonically grim ‘Der Rhythmus der Maschinen’, featuring a soul-curdling spoken word piece by Blixa Bargeld of industrial eccentrics Einstürzende Neubauten.
Berlin isn’t all stark architecture and communist tower blocks, and the modern city of 24/7 hedonism comes alive as the LP proceeds into its middle section with ‘People, Let’s Dance’, showcasing Berlin-based, Norway-born singer EERA and the recycled riff of Depeche Mode’s ‘People Are People’. And yet such delirium is merely temporary. It ebbs away as the project enters its closing chapter and evokes the grim spirit of side two of Bowie’s Low. That opus was, of course, recorded at the famous Hansa Studios in Kreuzberg – the same space where Willgoose and collaborators assembled Bright Magic. Tonally, thematically and technologically, it adds up to quite a shift for Public Service Broadcasting – a firmly-established band who have embarked on a new career in a new town.