by Larissa Loyva, January 2015
The timing of these re-releases is perfect. It’s given me a little peek back into the formative years of me and some of my friends. I thought the members of Radio Berlin and the kids they hung out with were so cool and sophisticated and fashionable, even though we were all about the same age (early twenties). We met through The Hive Creative Labs, where my band, p:ano, also recorded.
Radio Berlin had a musical sophistication rarely seen in a group of their age, influenced by the likes of Gang of Four, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. They were just ahead of the post-punk revival that came a few years later, so it sounded more soulful and naive, unlike their contemporaries, local (such as The Red Light Sting and Hot Hot Heat, who were more hardcore) or otherwise.
I’m lucky that one of my favourite bands has also been a band from my hometown who I got to hang out with and even collaborate with–I was thrilled when I heard of an opening for a keyboard player in one of Jack’s other projects, A Luna Red; I got an eye-opening glimpse into Jack’s creative process. Radio Berlin always had an inherent understanding of where the songs are headed, often with little indication of a tonal centre or even the metric centre. It’s merely implied and perfectly organic. Josh provided the metronomic yet musical backdrop of drums, while Chris’ and Jack’s plaintive vocals soar over throbbing, ever-moving bass lines and Jack’s (and later Lyndsay’s or Warren’s) stabbing keyboards and guitar.
You can hear the progression of a band that grew musically, but remained true to their sound and aesthetic over the course of their three albums. You can also hear Colin Stewart, The Hive owner and producer, growing and maturing with Radio Berlin. You can hear them moving on to other bands like Black Mountain. They were right to call it quits when they did; this trio of albums is a perfect product of its time. There is no indication of growing pains. Sibling, their debut, is moody and angular, and a little softer around the edges, brimming with unorthodox keyboard chord clusters and jagged bass lines. The Selection Drone feels more confident and energetic. Glass is polished and sharp around the edges, with more emphasis on electronic drums and the computer-generated glitchy sounds and effects more popular at the time. Sometimes the songs feel busy but nothing ever feels superfluous.
Vancouver is blessed and cursed. Its location keeps us cut off from the southern American cities (Portland, SF, LA) and the bigger Canadian cities to the east (Toronto, Montreal). Mostly this gives us the freedom to write our own musical rules and bands form and break up in this little microcosm. Unfortunately, it also means that some bands that could go on to greater success and exposure never get the chance. A band like Radio Berlin had personalities that would have been too creatively and socially stifled if they had to keep slogging it out year after year in Vancouver in order to “make it” (most of them have since moved away from Vancouver to more exotic locales).
Listening to these songs takes me back to a Vancouver of a decade and a half ago. We have suffered the loss of many mainstay clubs and music venues that Radio Berlin once played. You can’t talk about the Vancouver music scene without mentioning long-lost places like Ms. T’s Cabaret, The Starfish Room, Richards on Richards, The Picadilly, The Lamplighter, or The Purple Onion. Of course, people move on and create new venues, but Vancouver’s musical history disappears with them, especially from that delicate time just before everything was documented forever on the Internet.
Making and releasing these records was a labour of love for many people. They really set the bar high and I’m happy to report that practically everyone who made these albums happen is still involved in music or other creative jobs. We’re fortunate to have this collection of songs and memories that were special to many of us at such a formative time in our young lives.