Finally it’s the night of the recording. We all meet up at Tacheles and then head off with Rainer down the road. It’s ten minutes’ walk away and we amble along chatting, carrying our instruments, Rainer, Clemens, Mike, Marlon and myself.
We get to a crumbling old house, walk through into the hof, then through another tunnel into another hof, then down a very dark, narrow stairwell to a rusted metal door. Rainer inserts some large keys and pushes the door open. Inside we find a single largish room, set up with a drum kit in the middle against one wall, amps, microphone stands, an old 16-inch recording machine and sound board. The floor is mostly bare concrete, covered here and there with a stretch of dirty carpet. The walls are festooned with posters of what must be old East German bands.
We get set up: Clemens plugs into the bass amp and turns it on and starts twiddling, trying out settings; Mike is in one corner on an old sofa reading through the lyrics, Marlon tunes his guitar while Rainer has headphones on and positions microphones, taps things, turns knobs and generally acts like a sound engineer. I feel very excited – my first recording, and our first recording, of Marlon and my band, I sense the future – could this be the beginning of something big? Will I look back on this night in years to come and remember it as the birth of our band? Will this be the demo recording that makes a label snap us up and put us in a big posh studio and then send us out on tour?
I try to concentrate on the moment. I tune my guitar too, check it with Marlon’s guitar, we check against Clemens. Rainer suggests we play through it a few times with him on drums and then we’ll set the tape rolling. The first time we play it through it’s a bit rough, to be honest. Nerves, I suppose, since we’ve run through it enough times in Marlon’s room, Marlon and Clemens and myself. Rainer proves himself immediately to be a thoroughly good drummer. I’d been afraid that the fact that he was a jazz drummer would mean that he would try and play jazz fills all over the place, but I’m pleased to find that he adapts himself to the needs of the song and is confident enough to not need to be showy. He looks for the spaces in the song and then looks at them again before deciding whether they should be filled, and if so then how. Mike seems nervous but I guess that we all are. I hope that he’ll settle down. I have some vodka in my jacket in case we need some artificial relaxant but I don’t bring it out just yet.
The second time it’s better, Mike also starting to lose his inhibition and groove a little, I can see that he’s comfortable enough to start experimenting a little, and the third time is nice and smooth. We’re all concentrating hard and I can see from the faces of the others that this is as important for them as it is for me. They all have looks of utter concentration: Staring at the floor or their instruments, no smiling or laughing or fucking around. Wanting to get it right.
After the third time Rainer looks around and says, “Okay. I would start the tape rolling now. I don’t know if the next take will be it necessarily, but it’s tight enough to go with. What do you think?”
I appreciate the fact that he comes across as a consummate professional, who has probably sat through sessions like this hundreds of times, but is showing absolutely zero ego, and is emanating only a calm and assured vibe. No judgement, no ego, no stress.
We look around at each other and nod. Marlon looks at me for what is for me at least a long moment, our eyes locked. This is it, then. The magic that we’ve found in each other, the vibe that is he and me together. I nod at him and he nods back.
“Roll it,” he says to Rainer.
The first time that we play with the tape rolling is a fucking disaster. Everyone lets the nerves get to them and Clemens forgets the chords at one point and Mike forgets the words at another. We stop it before it’s finished and stare at each other first in consternation, and then I collapse laughing and the others do too, all the tension draining out of us.
Then we start again. The fifth run-through is great. Relaxed, vibing, in touch with each other, loose, fucking perfect.
We finish and Rainer says, okay, let’s do it again. He doesn’t even shut off the tapes. I thought we’d nailed it and could go home. But no. We go back to the beginning and start again.
The sixth time is very good. Like the fifth but without the magic. Tight now. Confidence returning. The seventh is good and freer but maybe a little too loose. The eighth is good. The ninth is good. The tenth is very good. The eleventh is not bad. By the twelfth I don’t know any more if it’s good or not. I’m just jamming it through, trying to make sure I remember the changes and don’t fuck up. The next is similar.
It’s possibly the twentieth play-through when Rainer nods and says, “Okay. We’ve got it.”
Then I reach for the vodka. Marlon has a six-pack and breaks it out. Rainer opens a fridge and pulls out a bottle of what proves to be very dodgy sparkling wine. We run the tape and start listening back. It all sounds fucking brilliant. When we hear the fucked-up version that we didn’t even finish we all fall about laughing and all the tension is gone. The night burrows downwards.
We leave the studio at some late hour of the night or an indeterminate hour of the early morning. I’m pissed and so is everybody else. We’re high, high on what we’ve just heard. It’s great, it’s fucking brilliant, I’m dreaming a bright future, I’m dreaming the realisation of a thousand nights of lying awake and wanting. Marlon throws his arm around me and we stagger down the road singing a slow barroom intoxicated blues version of the song we’ve just recorded, laughing incoherently as we go.
At some point we reach the house bar and explode into it where there are people everywhere, reeling, I am dimly aware of Christina there in front of me, kissing me on the lips, pushing her tongue into my mouth and grinning at me and Mercedes laughing loud gap-toothed in my face, and then the party starts. Tequila, tequila, tequila, and beer and sound and noise.
Excerpt from The Berlin Diaires by Noel Maurice
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.