When psychedelic music originally caught on in the 1960s, it was an era of peace and love and discovery. There was also a darker side to all that, with bands like The Doors opening that door to the world. Over the years, it seems we have seen psychedelic elements woven into music created by bands across various genres, including indie pop, rock and also what could be called circus punk. The latest single ‘Berliner Grotesk’ from Anton Barbeau sits at the crux of this fascinating sonic territory.
Found on his new album by the same name, the ‘Berliner Grotesk‘ LP is the final instalment in his Transfiguration Trilogy, following ‘Magic Act’ (2016) and ‘Natural Causes’(2018). It is a tribute of sorts to his adopted city. Leaning heavily on synthesizers and other keyboards, the record blends Barbeau’s distinctive quirk pop with charming dark cabaret. His description of his own music as “pre-apocalyptic psychedelic pop” is quite fitting here.
A Sacramento native, Barbeau now lives in Berlin, Barbeau is a prolific artist, whose music is steeped in psych-rock and underground club-tronica. His work blends an unerring ear for melody with a zany eye for poetry. While Barbeau’s work is often correlated with the likes of XTC, Robyn Hitchcock, David Bowie and Julian Cope, for this new song in particular, we should also be mentioning several other artists existing in that cabaret-zone of my mind, including Dresden Dolls, The Tiger Lillies and Vermillion Lies.
Barbeau has made around 20 albums and has worked with members of XTC, The Soft Boys, the Bevis Frond, Cake, the Loud Family and Mystery Lawn label-mates the Corner Laughers. Earlier, he had a band Three Minute Tease with ex-Robyn Hitchcock cronies Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor. When in California, Barbeau plays with his band Kenny. He also writes for and produces albums for Allyson Seconds. In addition, Barbeau is vocalist and lyricist for France-based collective Salt, whose debut album ‘The Loneliness of Clouds’ was recorded at Abbey Road in London and Ferber in Paris, and produced by Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, R.E.M. and Big Star fame.
“This song, and much of the Berliner Grotesk album, seems to be about love, though there aren’t many actual love songs on the record. I did try, soon upon moving to Berlin, to write this kind of dirty cabaret waltz, but my first attempts were terrible and I dropped the idea for another 7 years. Oddly, this particular song emerged from a failed attempt at making the ugliest industrial track I could. My hands are too chord-seeking, and my brain always craves song structure. I guess a trick for me is to attempt one thing, fail, and do something completely else,” says Anton Barbeau.
The intriguing dark waltz that is ‘Berliner Grotesk‘ comes to life in its accompanying cabaret-style video, created by Julia VBH and Anton Barbeau.
“We were trying for a Cabaret vibe, but with a touch of Judd-era Split Enz thrown in. It was filmed, probably ironically, in Auburn, California by Julia VBH and myself, with a few scraps of actual Berlin footage added for good measure! Our entire budget was spent on the $25 table cloth we used as red velvet curtains. We gathered some friends and someone yelled ‘action’ and this film was born,” says Barbeau. “Our friends all fell naturally into their roles with zero rehearsal and minimal instruction. Everybody brought their own dress-up kits, and Alison brought Louie the Poodle as well. That’s my dad reading the newspaper, first time he’s been in an Ant video.“
Do also check out the full album from where this originates.
Anton Barbeau – Performance, recording and mixing in Berlin
Morris Windsor – drums
Jon Bucket – sound engineering and tracking of drums in Swindon, UK
Myles Boison – mastering engineer
Video created by Julia VBH and Anton Barbeau
Photography by Julia VBH
July 19 Grass Valley, CA – Wild Eye Pub (6:30-9:30 PM, $10-12)
Aug. 15 Auburn, CA – Auburn Co-Op (5-9 PM)
Aug. 23 Sacramento, CA – Old Ironsides
Aug. 25 Chicago, IL – Bucktown Arts Festival
Aug. 30 Sacramento, CA – Luna’s (with Allyson Seconds)
Sept 14 Burbank, CA – Joe’s Great American Bar and Grill
Nov. 15 Berlin, Germany – Madame Claude
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Written by Mike D.