Tech review: Sound of Berlin app

View the Original Article

For anyone who occasionally feels a little frustrated with the state of their local scene – the focus on overblown big events, a lack of accommodating venues or just a shortage of people who share the passion for excellent electronic music – far-flung cities like Berlin can seem like the ideal. There’s loads of amazing venues, from revered techno temples like Berghain to the more modest spots like Goldengate, but both contribute just as much to an underground scene that draws artists from all over the world. It’s for these dreamers (as well the early iPad adopters) that Germany’s De:Bug Magazine has created The Sound of Berlin app.

If the iPad functions primarily as a next-generation media reader, offering a fresh way to consume traditional media like newspapers and magazines while also allowing the content producers to inject a few new layers, then The Sound of Berlin tries to take full advantage of these new possibilities. Greeting users with an image of Berlin’s iconic TV tower at the landing screen, the app neatly fuses text with audio, video and plenty of beautiful still imagery, which all does a great job in bringing the underground of the city to life. Essentially, every screen is adorned with gorgeous hi-res photography.

The app’s content is split into ten chapters, each of which brings the same basic structure – an audio interview with an influential individual who’s been selected to help flesh out the subject matter, set against a photographic slideshow that beautifully illustrates the topic at hand. We’re also given an illustrated map that pinpoints some of the key locations worth checking out, plus some readings offering a little more detail for those so inclined, as well as profiles on all the photographers, writers, musicians, artists and so forth who contribute content to the chapters. It’s reserved and subtle for the most part, asking for a little patience if you’re going to soak up the details, rather than bashing you over the head with flash and thrills.

The first chapter After-Club Munching is perhaps the most irreverent and lighthearted, with the members of Modeselektor guiding you through some of the city’s hidden gourmet delights, filled with images of the pair chowing down on burgers, kebabs and other trademark Berlin cuisine. However, even when the duo are assessing their local roast chicken joint, there’s that characteristic German thoughtfulness that makes you feel like you’re being gently welcomed into the surroundings.

Rising From The Ruins leads you through the city’s gritty urban aesthetics in the company of photographer, musician and artist Ben De Biel, who contributes some beautiful black and white photography that details the city’s growth after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the underground art and music scenes that developed in the shadow of this.

Berlin’s love of open air parties is discussed in Dance The Day Away, portrayed as a reflection of the amazing atmosphere of freedom and creativity that’s developed within its borders. With the help of some sumptuous photography, we’re told the story of a typical open-air event as it unfolds. Compared to Australia’s highly-regulated events, the city enjoys a relatively relaxed attitude from the police and authorities who largely allow these parties to take place. Local producers Kotelett and Zadak spell out the motivations of those putting on these events: “They created a platform for themselves & their community, which was far beyond any commercial interest.”

A number of other appropriate topics are broached in the remaining chapters. Musician and store owner Andreas Schneider relates his journey in establishing Schneiders Laden, a world-famous supplier of vintage and analogue electronic instruments, while Temporary Spaces – Move & Repeat looks at the various incarnations of the famous WMF club as it moved through various squats, basements and abandoned buildings over 20 years, used it as a window to explore the utopian atmosphere that developed through the ‘90s, to be inevitably replaced by more commercially-minded ideals.

There’s also some reflection on the stunning urban art splashed over every corner of the city, as much a part of the landscape as the traffic signs or street names, as well as an insight into the East Berlin cultural underground prior to the fall of the Wall, and a very abstract final chapter that serves as a rather surreal reflection on the city’s gradual gentrification.

The Sound of Berlin can perhaps be compared to the city’s own approach to electronic music, when contrasted with the rest of the world – in the place of flashy glamour and cheap thrills, the app’s creators have chosen substance and smarts, with plenty of that characteristic German thoughtfulness to go around.