Music: An interview with Berlin trio Camera at Microfestival

 Berlin three-piece Camera suffered 16 hours in their little tour bus to play at Liège’s Microfestival last Saturday in a commendable act of dedication. The one-time buskers are described time and again as the neo-krautrockers to watch out for, a label they’ve made their peace with, says synth man Timm. In this interview, he talks playing metro stations, crashing film award parties and why improv still rules. 

You just played the Microfestival and have toured quite a bit in France and the Netherlands. Your tour schedule also includes about 20 shows in Berlin metro stations. What’s that about?

We don’t really do that often anymore, actually, but we met as street musicians so it made sense for us. I just walked out of a music shop when I saw our drummer Michael play at the Eberswalder metro station and I was intrigued by his sound. I like that about street music; it can really make you stop and forget your daily routine for a moment. He was playing something with didgeridoo, a bit of another style than we’re doing now as Camera.

How did the police react to your pop-up concerts?

Usually you need a permit, but we never applied for one. We just built up our stuff and started playing. We especially liked the metro stations because there you have a roof and the sound is much better. But of course sometimes the police showed up and sent us home.

And how did you meet Franz, the third addition?

He joined us later. Michael had already known him for a while and they had played together. For a while it changed a lot and we played with lots of different people, but over time it became clear that Franz was the right one for us.

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Are you most comfortable playing on the street?

I personally prefer small music clubs but it’s hard to compare, the conditions are so different. I like festivals because they allow people to who’ve never heard of us to discover our music. But the atmosphere in clubs is much more direct and intimate. It’s a different kind of exchange. At festivals there can be quite a distance between the band and the crowd.

What’s been your most memorable gig so far?

We once played a private concert at Gunther von HagensBody Worlds exhibition, among the preserved bodies, which was really a strange setting. But the biggest highlight was probably when we got to jam on stage with Dieter Moebius.

Speaking of jamming: you guys are very keen on improvisation. That’s rare (and risky)…

Our concerts are never the same – we always improvise. It’s what we do. We come back to certain themes but the set is always different. There’s definitely a risk: the gig can develop into something really great but in can also go into the other direction. You never really know. But it’s what we have the most fun with. We just continued doing on stage what we were used to doing at home.

Your music is completely instrumental. Ever thought about adding voices?

We already jammed together with singers and it’s fun but it’s not something we plan to develop in the longterm.

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You’re known for crashing events and have been labelled as a guerilla band – are you political?

No, it really doesn’t have a political basis. But we like the idea of crashing parties and just pop up and play, like at the German Film Prize event. It’s interesting to do something really unexpected and surprise people. It’s a thrilling contrast.

How do people react?

The guests at the film prize quite liked it I think, but the event organiser wasn’t happy at all. And after a while we got kicked out, of course.

You’re constantly put in the Krautrock category. Are you comfortable with that label?

We feel a bit ambivalent about that. It’s a label that others are giving us, not one that we chose ourselves. But the listeners like the term and we kind of accepted it.

How would you describe your music yourself, then?

Usually I describe it to people as psychedelic instrumental rock music.

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You released your debut album Radiate! last year. Does writing and recording songs kind of clash with your improv style?

For the album we had the same approach as always. We just set up our stuff in the studio and started jamming. At the beginning we thought it would never work but after a day we had got used to the situation. We recorded a lot of material, then listened to it and picked the parts that we liked and wanted to work on further. We recorded for one week and then mixed everything for another; we had to be quite fast because our budget was limited. The studio was in Berlin’s Funkhaus, an old GDR-era building, and there’s lots of old analogue gear. Very charming.

What’s next for you?

Until October we have a lot of concerts planned and then we want to start recording again and finish another album by the end of the year.

What can we expect? 

We’re not entirely sure yet which approach we’ll take this time. But we’re thinking about recording in our rehearsal room where we won’t have the time pressure that we get in the studio. That’s way there’d be lots of time to experiment and play around, which opens up a lot of new possibilities. The music can only benefit from it.

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