I’ll come clean, as I like to do once every few months. Good for the soul, I feel.
When I first heard the phrase “synth punk” I wasn’t, well, completely bowled over. Put it down to having missed the punk revolution (secret Sade listener, since we’re coming clean); put it down to not being angry. Put it down to being easily confused. (Synth? Punk? Isn’t that an oxymoron?). Put it down to what you like.
I know that you felt, sensed, that I was going to say this, so I’ll just get it over with: Mexican Radio changed my mind. Hallelujah brother. I’m a believer.
Why? Yes, there are the matching one-piece uniforms with white lightning symbols. Yes, there are the clever lyrics that are spat out in that peculiarly punkish manner but refer to anti-societial movements from 19th Century Russia and similar. Yes, the fact that all three members of the duo have played for so long in so many bands that they carry the gig off with the kind of professionalism that a good many just-starting-up bands would do well do learn from. Yes, keyboardist and second vocalist Dyan Valdes remains in character throughout, pretending to be in a radio show, but all of that wasn’t it.
What it was after all was just that fucking energy
Yeah. The fucking energy. Music, musicians, bands, are all too often just that little bit jaded. Just a little bit not-putting-really-everything-into-it. Like they’re half enjoying being up there but in the back of their minds they’re looking forward to a cup of tea and slice of toast when they get home and putting their feet up; or at least to the post-gig beer and natter.
Mexican Radio are different however. Even though they’ve spent a good few years doing this (Dyan and Nathaniel spent the zeroes in successful indie band The Blood Arm; drummer Hannes has drummed in just about every Berlin band you know, notably (because they’re one of my favourites) the Mokkers), they got up on stage with an enthusiasm and an intent that promised us something different.
Dyan Valdes holds things down as main keyboardist, while Hannes pushes an insistent beat all the way through, occasionally spilling over into almost jazzy use of tiny cacaphonies and threatened avalanches of sound that pull back at the last moment. Nathaniel takes the main vocals, while adding keyboard disquietudes and textures on top of the what other two are producing.
The single of the night – it’s a release party for their second single off the album, Night of the Nihilists, and accompanying video – is also the home run of the night. Its driving, hypnotically insistent groove gets the last doubters away from leaning on the bar and pogoing around energetically. With weird visuals swirling around the and Nathaniel wandering the crowd before climbing up onto the bar, repeating over and over, “Hedonism! He-he-Hedonism!” it led perfectly into the video of the same song that they played up on the wall behind the stage as soon as the last notes of the song died away.
Long live Mexican Radio! Hedonism!
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.