Dota – Grenzen (a german song about borders and refugees)

2015-09-10 refugeeswelcomeDota Kerr is a singer-songwriter from Berlin of especially local popularity. She has been making her mixture of intimate acoustic guitar music with poetic everyday life observations revolving around big city life, lover’s grief, cultural and political themes with her trademark witty, intelligent wordplays. Formerly known as Kleingeldprinzessin (princess of small change) and gaining a loyal fanbase by busking, she also integrates elements of Bossa Nova and brasilian traditional music into her music

Dota is going to release a new record on January 15th of next year, and even though it is not yet ready for a proper promo cycle to begin, she released a video of a song of this record that deals with the concept of borders, in order to publish a statement about the current situation of refugees in Germany.

Check out the song in the video and a translation of some lyrics excerpts below. FInd the official german lyrics on Dotas Official Facebook Profile.

(Again we have the problem of translation. The main point of the song is that the german word for borders might stand for borders as well as for „limits“, so every time Dota sings „es gibt Grenzen“ she implies that everything mentioned before is caused by the existence of borders, but also that the circumstances already have crossed the line of the tolerable.)

Who is inside, who is outside?
I draw a line. You must not pass.
Air meets Air here
Ground meets ground
Skin meets the bullet.

There is frontex and push-backs
Fences, weapons, refugee defense conferences
Themediterrean sea becomes a mass grave
There are borders / limits

They lead to nationalism with its nutty consequences
You disfranchise people just because they came from somewhere
There are borders / limits (…)

I sign off, hand me a passport,
that states: „World inhabitant“
Just „world inhabitant“.
Please tell me where to go to for this
I sign off, I re-register
It can’t be so difficult
Just sign me up as world inhabitant.


Where I was when it happened. // BOY – We Were Here (Album Review)

0_BOY_We Were Here_AlbumcoverBack in the late summer of 2011, when Boys break-through single Little Numbers was omnipresent, I was in the middle of studying for an exam in clinical psychology. I vividly remember escaping the university library for a break in the cafeteria, and I couldn’t wait to return to my headphones for that contagious hookline. When Valeska Steiner finally hit the passionate sigh of the line is there a cure for me at a-ha-halll, expressing her obsession with her fling, all I could think of was control groups, RCTs, „needs based intervention“ or „treatment as usual“. In my mind the state of having fallen in love and the vocabulary of treating mental illnesses had gotten mixed up (which makes sense, considering that all symptoms of falling in love could be expressed in clinical terminology, not indicating an illness, but a general change of state of mind. The expression of being „crazy in love“ is not necessarily just a metaphor). Anyway, the way the song conveyed the craving for the excitment of falling in love with its animatedly bouncing piano line, especially in contrast to my current studying routine, had something very tempting.

A lot of the short stories of Boy‘s 2011 debut album Mutual Friends revolve around a general vague vibe of anticipation, the situation of still standing on the threshold of entering a new, exciting and promising stage of life, but already impatiently waiting for the journey to begin. Drive Darling recapped the car ride, in which singer Valeska Steiner‘s mum took her from her hometown Zürich to Hamburg to start her musicial career. The Waitress tried to escape her monotonous it-pays-the-bills job by imagining scenarios of something happening. Even the romantic exhilaration of Little Numbers still stemmed from what could be, if the stranger she presently was only stalking, actually called her.
Since 2011, a lot has happened for the band: A gold certification, extensive touring through the USA and Japan after significant success in Germany/Austra/Switzerland, and various features of Little Numbers in movies, TV-shows and, most prominently, a TV ad for a leading german airline. So if Mutual Friends was capturing the essence of the feeling of anticipation „before“ – their second album We Were Here now recapitulates the „after“.

One of the recurrent themes of We Were Here is the intent to stay mindfully present in the storm of impressions happening around you, which probably can be led back to the experience of extensive touring. How do you stay receptive and interested if something extraordinary (visiting other countries, performing, meeting new people) suddenly becomes a regular, sometimes exhausting job routine?
In this sense, the repetition of the title-giving We Were Here in the songs chorus becomes a retrospective self-reassurance: It wasn’t all just an indistinguishable blur that passed us by in a rush. Everywhere we’ve been, we have been leaving traces. This mindful, probably buddhist inspired attitude reminds me of the opener of another very successful second album of a german band: Back in 2005, Wir sind Helden expressed their proposition of savoring every bit of the experience, not letting it slip through your fingers, in their song Wenn es passiert (roughly translated: A heartbeat just for me and the ones with me / Open your eyes, watch this / who hasn’t got any tears left for this / will become blind tomorrow / if you can’t love this, then what? (…) I never want to ask where I was).

BOY_2015_5_credit Debora Mittelstaedt(c) Debora Mittelstaedt

The back side to this is introduced in Hotel, where the sterile, impersonal comfort in hotel rooms cannot distract from the isolation of the people inhabiting: Different city, different hotel room, but the look of the room stay the same, as well as the feeling: a longing for a home instead of a house.

It’s just a stop along the way /
just a temporary place /
for nameless neighbors in the dark /
wall to wall but worlds apart /
a hotel room is a hotel room is a hotel room

Eventually, BOY even try to integrate the spirit of emotional discovery to their life coming home, not allowing the sudden decline of adrenaline turn into a coming-home-blues. Therefore, New York states that with the right mindset, it’s really not about the place (any street that I’m walking with you / anywhere with you could be new york (…) but i woke up all eyes and all ears, / when you whispered / (…) it’s all really happening here).

Another recurring, more personal motive is how to accompany a loved one through rough waters. Fear evokes associations to Angst (fear), a song by Fotos, the band of Boys current touring guitarist Deniz Erarslan, who Valeska Steiner sang background vocals for on their debut album before Boy had been formed. Both songs describe fear as being possesed by a demon crawling under your skin and invading every aspect of your personality and every area of your functional life as an individual (with every step i feel its weight / in my eyes you can see its face / in Angst) or as a romantic couple (in Fear).
Steiner sings from the perspective of the partner of someone with anxiety issues and illustrates the desperate attempts to help her loved one: the strong will to put up with the fight against this powerful invisible enemy, energised by her love (i’ll shield you ‘til it disappears, all my love against your fear). Eventually though, she also realizes her complete helplessness against the omnipotence of this condition. In a similar context, the character in Flames utters her resignation: „and i call your name / but i can’t get through (…) oh dear love, if only i could find / a way to ease your troubled mind“.

BOY_2015_1_credit Debora Mittelstaedt(c) Debora Mittelstaedt

In the album closer Into The Wild, we find the protagonist torn between the decision of accompanying a loved person into the unknown and missing the comfort of home, or staying home and gloryfing the missed love. Realizing (and accepting) that there is no solution to the dilemma between the travel bug and the wish for a secure and comfortable home, the album ends decisively indecisive on an ambiguous note (so when the music is over / will i finally have my answer?).
Funily enough, the chorus of the song uses a very common chord progression that is also prominently used in U2’s With Or Without You, which in a way makes even sense considering the content. When I returned from a long time abroad, my mother noticed pictures of friends from another country on my wall and said: Well, over there you had fotos up from people here, now it’s the other way round. So it never actually feels right, or complete: There is always something missing.

Boy have often been accused by critics of being too accessible, of making music everybody could agree on, of being too tame and simple-hearted. And again on this record, it is pretty easy to find arguments for this: We Were here is very traditional acoustic singer-songwriter record, with maybe some new traces of the currently trendy 80’s power pop synth lines here and there. But: In a recent review, Pitchfork  defined a good mainstream pop record as capturing emotions everybody can relate to with so much individual personality that they actually can become universal representations of a certain feeling. And in this sense, Boy succeed to create pop music that represents a certain sense of simplicity, a non-judging curiosity and excitment, conveying enough character in order to still be interesting.

Boy‘s melancholy of longing or being stuck in between the attraction of new experiences and the longing for security never turns into negativity, as at the end of the day it’s an expression of richness and content: There’s just still so much to be seen and felt in this world.


  • Promotional photographs of Boy: Copyright Debora Mittelstaedt.
  • Fotos – Angst. From Porzellan – Snowwhite, 2010.
  • Wir sind Helden – Wenn es passiert. From Von hier an blind – Reklamation Records, Labels, 2005.

Hasta las tantas de la Noche // S L E E P (Reseña del disco)

(you can find an english version of this blog post here)

En su jornada, Andreas Spechtl normalmente es cantante y compositor del grupo Ja, Panik. Originado en Austria y localizado en Berlin recientemente, el grupo adquirió su fama por canciones juegetónes con letras combinando palabras de aleman, ingles, accento austriaco, frances, y otros.

sleepcoverMientras su penúltimo disco DMD KIU LIDT (Die Manifestation des Kapitalismus in unserem Leben ist die Traurigkeit) (la manifestación del capitalismo en nuestra vida es la tristeza) saltaba entre descripciones de la party scene de Berlin, el efecto de drogas al diseño de la vida entre la bohemia y la burguesía, y la crítica del sistema capitalista, su último disco del año pasado deseaba diseñar una vida alternativa, un antítesis en la forma del país ficticio Libertatia, con canciónes como Dance The ECB o ACAB (all cats are beautiful).

En su primer disco en solo, Spechtl deja atrás mucho de esa superestructura intelectual, pero de nuevo invita al oyente a un viaje a otro lugar. S L E E P, el título de ambos el proyecto y el disco, es un trabajo conceptual sobre el sueño, una mezcla de grabaciones espontaneas („field recordings“) y reflexiones acústicas multiculturales.

…una ciudad, un cruce, una plaza – casi no importa, en donde nos encontramos. Nuestro protagonista está pasando por las calles, las coches, las personas. Se mueve, oscilante entre una ansia de aventuras, las ganas de explorar algo nuevo, el sentimiento satisfactorio de aun no tener ni idea que pasará – y, al otro lado, tambien con un cierto cuidado, como si fuera andando a tientas, no solo para orientarse, pero tambien para inhalar todo de su alrededor sin perderse algo.

…el nocturno, el tiempo en que parece a uno que las reglas – de los leyes, de la sociedad, de obligaciones – están suspendidas por un momento, temporalmente, en el anonimato de una calle nocturna en el extranjero. Este estado, a un lado, resulta en una gran libertad de hacer lo que se quiera, pero al otro lado tambien incluye un aspeto no pronunciado de un posible peligro amenazando muy sútilmente, una perdición muy desvaída, que de repente podría aparecer o de la próxima esquina de la calle o de los ojos de tu cumpanero a tu lado. En el psícoanálisis se dice que en los que ya andan con sueño se bajan sus mecanismos de defensa y aparece el inconsciente – y quien sepa que aparecerá con eso.

…no se sabe exactamente uno si se está pasando por ellos o si ellos estan pasando por uno, estos ruidos que aparecen y desaparecen imprevistamente y casualmente: unas notas desubicadas de instrumentos de viento, una canción de cuna desformada, el tumulto de las conversaciones en un bar muy frecuentado, un viejito alertando de la gente en Alemania (supuestamente referiendose a las recientes bullas anti-islámicas de PEGIDA en Dresden o a la creciente violenca de noche en estaciones del transporte público en Berlin y Munich).  Nada más se realiza el movimiento, casí está tropezando, que igual podría estar causado por la desubicación de encontrarse en el extranjero, de la noche o del mareo del vino.

Así de manera intuitiva y espontanea, Spechtl combina elementos de sus grabaciones del campo de sus viajes, música africana, un toque de Free Jazz, música experimental, y canciones de cuna en un collage, comparable con el modo de operar de Damon Albarn.

Aunque salen tantos sonidos distintos de diferentes lados , la música nunca parece sobrecargada o expansiva, porque nada más son fragmentos de impresiones que pasan por el ojo (y oreja), como cuando uno está soñando – resulta en un sentimiento de mucha íntimidad y tranquilidad. Por esas medidas, el disco permite al oyente dejarse deslizar en este mundo del sueño – tan cómodo, tranquilo, extranjo, fascinante y amenazante todo al mismo tiempo.

tl; dnr
Andreas Spechtl, el cantante y cantautor del grupo austriaco-alemán Ja, Panik!, ha compuesto un disco de concepto sobre el sueño. Su sonido parece más a collages que a estructuras regulares de canciones, y incluye elementos de Free Jazz, canciones de cuna, instrumentos de viento y field recordings de sus viajes.