Illustration: Richard Manders


It’s early and the fuzz of yesterday has barely cleared. Resting well is something I’ve long forgotten, especially in these days of squatting at Brain Wash HQ. Taking cheap flights has a lot in common with taking the bus; they’re much less painful than you ever imagine but they are packed with cunts. A luxurious nap filled with wonderful weird visions was broken a few times by the old couple sat next to me. I had the aisle seat and they had no empathy. A stern ‘excuse me’ in my ear to wake me, like I’m just somebody needlessly in the way in the street. I just comply and ignore them, too tired to call them bastards. When the air hostess (male) comes round to ask the old guy to open the window shutter for landing he gets a huffy response of ‘I would’ve liked to have finished the page,’ which shows this old bastard’s colours, more than the fact he’s reading some royal biography.

By my side the old lady prays with a rosary, presumably for a safe landing. I hope she’s not praying for me, I don’t want to go where SHE’S going. The great Australian orator Jim Jefferies recently pointed out that if the Devil does exist he wouldn’t bother torturing bad people on God’s behalf, so interesting people have little to worry about. I’m fairly sure this woman is only praying for herself, such is the nature of these awful fanatics. Well fuck her, as I’m pretty certain she’s pissing in the wind either way. The plane doesn’t crash and burn and these arseholes can get on their way to laying flowers at Hitler’s death site or whatever Daily Mailers would do in Berlin. Despite these monsters I enjoy dipping between dreams and Bukowski; deep parallel madness and fantasy thoughts of endless bars and whores.

My business here is mainly pleasure, though there is Berlin Music Week to scour for a story which I already know will entail getting drunk at a MONEY gig with the men of Sways Records, as these things forever go the same way. The key adventure, however, is reuniting with Joe Copplestone and Jim Warrier, the people spreading the good name of Brain Wash in Berlin. Joe is a fine writer and one I’m looking to stay close to and steal ideas from. Jim is a man who creates visuals to induce a sober trip, electronic psychedelic realisations. Joe’s been here for some time with his young lover Kali but Jim is new to the city. I find them in their new flat, a fine unfurnished, unfinished place in an old Party block on the East side. Instead of tourist traps we spend our time in the streets and cheap supermarkets. We need furniture and food.

Days dissolve on a mattress on the floor, smoking and drinking cheap beer. It’s a dangerous place where I can walk into a supermarket and find half a litre of beer for 67 cents. The bounties of the city don’t cease there as I soon realise that I can walk into a bar still drinking said cheap beer and that the barman will turn his eyes blind when we skin up and then go on to serve us a cold brew that’s similarly shit-cheap. Add to this a feeling that the city is crimeless and sparsely populated, there’s a constant feeling of delight. I find cities so rich in narrative that I almost think that they’re worth the cost in their making. These streets of squats and strange communities draped in flags like pirate ships defy the empire-building West though still sailing on a sea of blood.

Joe’s busy making an Orwellian living whilst Jim and I take in Berlin Music Week, stating our credentials as people who bothered to fill in an online form. The industry-heavy affair is of little interest but there’s free water and wi-fi so we take some positives. The press pass will get me into the MONEY gig, which makes me think I should have tried harder to become a journalist, such are the riches of Free Shit. I go to the gig alone, as Jim has visions to create, though I know I’ll see the miscreants of Sways about the place. Life has a lovely swirl as I approach the gig. I’ve been in any bar that appeals since I left Jim after a three-Euro donner and a one-Euro beer. On the doorstep is a small crowd with MONEY’s Jamie Lee at the centre. We greet and talk.

‘When you text asking where I was drinking I was pretty sure you meant Manchester.’ Jamie says this and I feel more than ever like a serious fanboy. I’ve never seen a band abroad before and I’ve also casually made MONEY the band I’ve seen the most, knocking Doves into a respectable second. Soon Jamie’s on stage and topless, whilst I drink and sing with the semi-fictional men of Sways. We’re all fans, though these boys are also brothers and collaborators. MONEY have us moving and living each song. Live, they’re tighter than the proverbial nun’s arsehole, whilst having a sense of joy that creeps through the crowd. Despite being far from home, the boys seem to have the room by the dicks and the crowd reacts wonderfully. That said, a WI meeting is livelier than a gig in London, and the chatter MUCH less inane.

As with most of the MONEY gigs I’ve been to the afterparty swirls deep. Jamie can’t hold his songs in despite the fragility of his voice from a punishing schedule of singing. The bold move of the unaccompanied opening to the shows is probably largely to blame. Jamie wanders to the stage from the back of the crowd, grasping a bottle of red declaring poetry like a wandering bard. He pauses and causes giggles all the while getting through his tale of paradise, acting as both jester and poet. These words and this song show everything that drew me to this band; beauty, meaning and difference without overt pretence. Jamie is sincere and consistent in his ideas and the band creates a feeling of wonderment and excitement, powerful enriching journeys.

Soon we’re in a club by the river, a huge house with the atmosphere of a party that only fuels the drinking. Endless talks on the nature of stuff and things. Beaman is delightful; we talk of his barefoot bass-playing and get to the core of drunken nonsense. Soon the band is gone and it’s the Sways boys I stagger with. Beers and beers and dance moves that should never happen. Bright light of 6, 7am when I leave the place last. The boys are lost, such is the nature of the forgetful drunk. I find transport directionless and take to the city by foot, contemplating the world as it slowly turns into life. Sweating with sadness amongst commuters on morning trains and searching out carbonated mineral water, I make the journey back to Joe’s. At 9:30am I declare death to a day filled with song and unfortunate dance. A day passes face-down on a mattress. No food, only water. Joe’s friends come and go, painting me as a junkie such is my pale condition of near death.

By the time I get level it’s time to take to the streets again with Jim. I accompany him to a meeting at the Berghain to discuss his madness being beamed onto the walls to accompany an upcoming gig. As one far from any club scene (my only flirtation being those indie pop years of 80p bottles, sticky dancefloors and overweight dick-enthusiasts), this is all educational. Jim explains the beauty of the weekend long raves in an old powerstation.

‘In England they’d rip everything out, but they’ve left everything in. You can play with dials and shit.’

There’s a beauty in the ideals of this club and something to be said for it’s selective nature, it’s curated crowds. Though when you get behind the scenes, away from the floors sticky with semen and booze, away from the speed-freak handprints and darkened corridors, there’s just a bunch of fashionable thirtysomethings in shiny offices sending emails on massive Macs.

Our only other brush with the Music Week comes via a talk from the founders of Network Awesome on their wondrous TV station. They also believe in curation, showing active will to cut through the bullshit and show us the things we’d miss (due to budgetary constraints). The rest of the trip is molded by conversations with Joe, in times over zoots where he tells me of his novel. He’s writing violence and mystery, all of the difficulties I never tackle. My only concern is pounding away at the nonsense pussy of revelation, ploughing deeper into an exploration of the ordinary; disgusted by the idiocy, greed and vanity that seem to win out showering us all with their sugary nonsense jizz, brainwashing millions into slow buy now/pay later deaths.

In a flat with no beds, we did have a projectors, allowing us to watch endless episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and have a brutal screening of Mesrine. My thoughts can only turn to practical darkness. I explain why I’ve been uttering ‘DEATH CAMPS FOR IDIOTS’ more times than is advisable in a city of militant anti-facism.

‘I’m talking of trimming the population, on a pop-up basis…you know like firing squads at the X Factor auditions or tanning booths with trap doors that fall to an eternal abyss. At the end of the day, if we’re going to keep taking cheap flights, some people are going to have to die.’ Maybe I should talk to Greenpeace.

As ever, when I’m out in the world my balls turns thoughts to the ever prodding issue of The Lust of Men. The testicular weight of driving dirt is often a terrible handicap, especially in Berlin where the women are exceptionally beautiful. I found them to be mainly riding on bikes, often blonde with fantastically clear eyes. Beyond this the drive to adore and celebrate people of talent is quite wondrous. My wife rarely fears me sinking my hands into the soft flesh of other women but her sideways glances are plentiful when I’m around Men of Thought. Kali calls Joe and I gay more than once on this trip but there’s something serious about uninhibited appreciation of each other that I’m not sure women are capable of. It’s all natural of course, given that we’re just fancy animals. Men are fairly certain that their semen will be spread so can spend their time loving each other, whereas there must be leftover bit of Animal Mind in women that perpetuates behaviours of competing wombs.

And so beyond all of this adventure and cultural exploration, I’d say the key reason to travel is keep up with These People, the ever spreading Gang, the people who’ve got the ideas you want and the ideals you share. I’m certain I’ll find more truths sitting on a dirty mattress talking about the beauty of an extended simile than I will anywhere else. The place is an island paradise, geography is irrelevant, survival is key. And lust, lust is everything.

“I kept after her like a horny redneck drunk on beer in a Greyhound bus passing through Texas.” – Charles Bukowski. 


Words and Pictures By Craig Ballinger