IndieBerlin interviews Neelesh from The Crooked

Neelesh The Crooked

Neelesh discusses living in Berlin, moving to Toronto and compares the music scenes of both cities. Also, he promises to visit Berlin with his new band The Crooked.

Indieberlin: So Neelesh, you moved out of Berlin early this year. How long were you here for and where did you live?

NV: I lived in Berlin for four whole years, almost to the day. My first place was a room in Hackescher Markt. I moved down to Bergmannkiez, then to Kotti for a while. Finally, I spent two years on the Kiehlufer in Neukölln.

There is a dark and seductive energy in Berlin. For me, it was irresistible.

Indieberlin: What brought you to Berlin initially?

NV: Probably the same vague, creative impulses that drive many people through the gates. Berlin is a magnet for an entire rainbow of artists. You have the ambitious, who use the city to develop and hustle their art. And you have self-described ‘creatives’, who use the city for hedonism in a low-cost and nonjudgmental environment. I was somewhere in between.

There is a dark and seductive energy in Berlin. For me, it was irresistible.

Indieberlin: So why did you leave in the end?

NV: Part of it is getting older. I would periodically come back to London and meet friends with rewarding careers, life partners, and even property. In comparison, I was languishing in the Berlin startup scene, chronically underpaid, and with no real musical prospects either. Without a fruitful writing job or music project on the go, Berlin was fading for me. Shockingly, you arrive at an age where unlimited nightlife and tolerated street drinking aren’t the most important things.

There are cities that people go to lay roots – cities like London or NYC. But in my narrow perspective, Berlin is more of a harbor. People come to the city at a loose time in their lives, receive some sort of experience, and then move on. Very few folk stick around for the long term.

Toronto actually has a rock scene. Berlin has one too, but it’s pushed out of frame by techno.

Indieberlin: So you’re now in Toronto, how’s the music scene different to Berlin?

NV: Toronto actually has a rock scene. Berlin has one too, but it’s pushed out of frame by techno. I found most Berlin rock to broadly fall under the same categories, none of which particularly appealed to me. Most bands are gradations of either dreamy experimental indie, rockabilly or political Oranienstraße punk. Toronto is a lot more diverse, musically. And in most other ways for that matter.

That said, Berlin’s scene is energized by the exuberance and underregulation of the city’s nightlife in general. Some blues and jazz nights are legendary. I suspect it’s because Berlin is so hip, and there’s a retro appeal in such old-timey music.

Where else would you find somewhere like Das Edelweiss? Two hundred people sweating to live jazz until 4am in a smokey, repurposed train station. Or the insane crowds at the Monday jam at Cafe Sandmann.

I often visit jam sessions and open mics in Toronto. Hell, I even host my own blues jam in downtown. Nothing comes close to the attendance and electricity in Berlin, even if the quality of the music in Toronto is much better.

Unlike Berlin, Toronto is a prosperous alpha city.

Indieberlin: What inspires you about Toronto?

NV: Everything at the moment, because I’m still new. Unlike Berlin, Toronto is a prosperous alpha city. That wealth is expressed in the city’s shattering skyline. You don’t really get urbanity on this scale in Europe, not even in London or Frankfurt.

‘This is a real city’ are words I’ve heard slipping from my mouth. There is a gravity around Toronto which everyone feels. It seems like a place where important things are happening.

my chapter in Berlin was defined by youth and exploration

Indieberlin: But would you ever consider coming back to Berlin?

NV: Never say never. But my chapter in Berlin was defined by youth and exploration. If I came back now, at the languid age of 26, I would have a different head screwed on. No more slumming around Kreuzkölln, maybe I’d move out West and experience the more balanced side to the city.

Indieberlin: So you’re in a band now? Who are The Crooked and how did you get involved with them?

NV: The Crooked came together early this year. The band is new, but the constituent members are well-known in Toronto rock circles. You could almost consider them a supergroup of the scene. Almost.

I dropped into the band immediately. No kidding – I met lead singer J.C a few hours after landing, still jetlagged to the point of delirium. My audition was the next day and I was confirmed soon after. A weekend later was the band’s first show: headlining Lee’s Palace in front of 350 people. It was a bizarrely accelerated entry into Toronto’s music scene.

The Crooked is thoroughly rock

Indieberlin: What do The Crooked sound like? Do they differ from your previous bands?

NV: Well, The Crooked is thoroughly rock – the screaming guitars, big drums, and singable choruses are all there. But there’s also a conscious focus on ‘crooked’ elements – be that displaced rhythms, unorthodox sounds, and dark or even mystic themes. Our recent video Tarot Cards has a Latin backbeat and even features an air horn for christ’s sake.

What I like about this band is the artistry. The band bobs away from cliches, be that songwriting device or your typical rock performance video. For Tarot Cards, the band painstakingly recorded a stop-motion candle sequence that was synchronized to the drumbeat. We then projected this film onto us during the shoot.

Indieberlin: What’s the plan moving forward?

NV: There’s real momentum behind this band. We’re growing a fanbase by drip-feeding video singles and gigging routinely. This month we’ll be playing around Ontario and Quebec. But the trousers come off next year when we release our E.P and begin furious touring to support it.

We’re also looking internationally – and Germany is an obvious target. Both J.C and I have contacts to help bring The Crooked over for a German tour next summer. At least for me, it’ll be a wonderful collision of two worlds. We’ll let you guys know for sure.

Featured image photo by @vangeliserts

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