This weekend we’re taking to a city not necessarily known for its indie rock scene: Berlin. Aiden Berglund, aka Grimson, was born in New York City but eventually made his way to the German capital to start his latest musical project. We’re happy to announce the debut record, Climbing Up The Chimney, is out now. Outside of his musical projects, you can also find Grimson’s animation work in Weyes Blood’s “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” music video from last year. Enjoy this guide to Berlin’s indie scene.
—Keenan Kush, Talkhouse Director of Operations
“Abandon NYC for Berlin? Why?”
When I worked at a hostel bar at Rosenthaler Platz in Berlin, I always got asked by guests why I would ever leave the most famous city in the world. In their eyes, New York City was the ultimate destination — something you only saw in movies. Of course, there are a million answers to why I left, including the cost of living, Berlin’s greenery, being able to see the sky, healthcare, and I think the somewhat universal desire to run away from the place you grew up (sorry, Mom). New York’s music scene is, and will always be, remarkable, thanks to the crushing pressure and competition that forces you to self-assess and improve at every step. But in the absence of New York’s die-trying mentality, I found a pretty damn interesting and welcoming scene here in Berlin. I’m going to show you around with a few songs, so you can hear what I hear. This playlist is by no means exhaustive, coherent, or even a halfway decent representation of a city that’s mostly known for club music — but here are some bands that I like, who I think give a rough overview of Berlin’s indie music scene. Hope you enjoy.
—Aiden Berglund (Grimson)
Anika — “I Go To Sleep”
I first heard Anika’s music in college, long before I knew her or knew that she had worked with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow. To me, she is a shining star of the Berlin experimental indie post-punk scene, and her latest records are equally as good. I’ll always have a soft spot for this Kinks cover though.
Plattenbau — “Shape / Shifting”
Staying in the post-punk theme, Plattenbau are one of, if not my favorite, band to see live. I met Lewis working at a friend’s converted cow farm in Sweden in the dead of winter, and only came to know his band’s music later. They represent the darker cynical side of Berlin really well, best expressed by their name — Plattenbau — which describes a kind of cold, low-ceilinged, mass-produced apartment complex that one can see all throughout the city.
Thala — “Easy Out”
The first proper German on our list. Thala turns away from the industrial side of Berlin, and harkens back to ’90s shoegaze and dream pop with an opiate-like voice and guitar strumming. We first met at an open mic called Laksmi right at the beginning of the pandemic, and since then she’s formed into a sensitive and passionate alt-rock powerhouse.
Joey Gavin — “I Want You to Stay”
Upon moving to Berlin, the first places I dwelled were Facebook groups for musicians and open mics. I quickly realized there’s a whole folk scene that is pretty incredibly close-knit, and you have to earn their respect by crafting and performing heart rending songs, making wise-cracks, and drinking until they kick you out of the open mic bar. Joey fulfills all three of those requirements. He left his Irish rock band Thumper to pursue his interior world through acoustic guitar — and that’s how we became friends.
EERA — “Ladder”
I discovered EERA through her partner Tobias, who happens to also play drums for Grimson. He was like, “Yeah, my partner, Anna-Lena, and I moved here from London and we have a dog,” and what he meant by that was: my girlfriend is a legend and you should go listen to her music. I’m never as sad as when I miss seeing EERA perform live. Luckily that doesn’t happen too often. She combines the best elements of PJ Harvey, Radiohead, and Broadcast into fully realized sonic worlds that are my absolute catnip.
Donkey Kid — “nicht zurück”
This is a fun choice because while I know Donkey Kid, I don’t think he likes me very much (we kicked his band out of our rehearsal studio while we had to do renovations). His band is great, though, and I have had the immense pleasure of listening to them through the door while waiting to tell them they didn’t actually schedule their rehearsal. A tight mix of jangle-pop, indie, and groove. Donkey Kid is deservedly very popular, and also German, which is cool. Berlin isn’t only expats.
LOVNIS — “Tudo Isso Eu Já Sei”
In New York, I mostly hung out with people who grew up in New York. In Berlin, that’s different. I mentioned earlier that I used to hang out on the Musicians In Berlin Facebook group, which is where I met Murilo, an experienced Brazilian singer-songwriter who has a penchant for ’60s inspired melodies. He and his now-ex-wife have a Brazilian psych garage group called LOVNIS, whose retro rock fits perfectly in the eclectic, drunken late-night Berlin bar scene.
Olmo, Jesper Munk — “If I Fell”
Both Olmo (Fran Lo Guidice) and Jesper Munk are those kind of effortlessly cool musicians who you can sit talking with at a Kneipe until 4 in the morning. Jesper is a German native who has weaved himself throughout many of the nicest musical projects in Berlin, while still maintaining his own sincere solo music. Here he collaborates with Olmo — half British, half Italian, and just a great representation of the kind of indie music that comes out of Berlin (that I like). Olmo has also worked with…
Alice Phoebe Lou — “Lose My Head”
There is no discussing the Berlin indie scene without mentioning Alice Phoebe Lou. Alice rose to popularity through busking across Berlin, amassing audiences of hundreds at Treptower Park (where I first saw her). Her story is a publicist’s wet dream. But I like her because her music is great and she has some special way of capturing honesty in her lyrics that I find is hard to do tastefully. She is arguably the biggest artist to rise out of the Berlin indie scene, and well deserving of her reputation.
Elsdeer — “Mimicry”
Elsdeer, aka Denise, is another friend I met through the open mic circuit in Berlin. What’s great about the Berlin indie folk scene is that someone will surprise you by not only getting on a little stage and playing a song that you feel like was written for you, but they’ll also whip out another instrument besides guitar or piano and shred. In the case of Elsdeer, she’s as prolific a violinist as she is a songwriter, and her singing and her playing never fail to remind me that folk can be so much more than cowboy chords and heartbreak.
Fabiana Striffler — “Maraschino Cherries”
Although I don’t know her own music too intimately, I’ve heard her playing violin on countless records and live performances across Berlin — spanning genres and sensibilities. I wanted to include this song from Fabiana Striffler because I feel like it represents the playful abstract side of Berlin. A lot of musicians come here to be serious and introspective, but in a city as inviting as this, it’s hard to overlook the joy. To me, this song (and its performer) expresses that childlike wonder.
Public Display of Affection (PDOA) — “Rose”
Here I go again talking about another configuration of some of the same musicians I’ve mentioned earlier — but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PDOA, who have one of the most exciting, energetic, and cathartic live shows I’ve seen. Maddie Rose, who is some kind of actor/dancer/singer/movement-expert extraordinaire, fronts this jazzy post-punk circus act. She’s backed by, you guessed it, Lewis Lloyd of Plattenbau, Jesper Munk, and drummer Anton Remy. A bit like Fabiana Striffler, they showcase the more joyous side of Berlin’s palette.
Mone — “Rat”
On the darker side of folk, we have Mone. She frequents the open mic circuit, but is cloaked in a bit more mystery and gritty musical sensibilities. Originally from the Netherlands (I think), she often writes about identity and romance in more lustful, charming and complex ways. Those themes evoke something very Berlin to me — a place where everything is transient and romantic, and relationships don’t follow the same cookie cutter structure that western pop propagandizes.
Lawns — “Congratulate Yourself”
I mentioned Tobias the drummer earlier. Here, he performs in a brazenly chaotic and adrenaline-fueled punk trio called Lawns. Just thinking about the amount of extraordinary musicians he’s toured with (Gang of Four, Tricky, Mick Harvey) reminds me that Berlin is one of those places where cool musicians hang. It’s an easy place to be, and musicians have a certain temperament that makes cheap beer and fresh air sought after commodity. Lawns as a band illustrates those combined forces of excellent musicianship in a city where people want to let go. You can let go to Lawns.
Michael Brinkworth — “Good Old Feeling”
Michael Brinkworth is another staple of the Berlin indie folk scene. He can be spotted blasting a harmonica, reciting Wilco lyrics, or using an inordinate amount of expletives (he is Australian). What’s great about Michael is the humor and joy in his music. Like much of Berlin’s eclectic busking scene, it’s loud, inviting, a bit unkempt, and full of heart.
Jessie Monk — “Here, Now”
This is an odd last choice for me, but when I was asked to curate a playlist of artists that represent Berlin to me, I immediately thought of Jessie Monk. She is a hippie. A hippie who (correct me if I’m wrong) hates hippies. Her music resonates so deeply in the Berlin scene because she’s authentically herself, even when that means conflicting with herself. I’ve seen this song performed so many times live, and I do prefer the live version, but still – what a song. I find it hard not to cry when I hear it. Berlin is full of people who don’t wear shoes, who have weird culturally-appropriative dreads, who smoke hand-rolled cigarettes. and who have taken more than your recommended dose of psychedelics. Jessie isn’t that, but somehow her ethos channels a little bit of that energy, while maintaining all the songcraft and vocal acuity of a trained music theater student.
I don’t know if I’m allowed to do a little conclusion for this, but I will say this: I feel like I’ve just written a tourism travelog for Berlin. These songs represent my small view of the indie scene, and I omitted a lot of seriously incredible musicians and friends. I should maybe not omit myself, and include one of my songs — which is why I’m here in the first place. My debut album Climbing Up The Chimney comes out September 1. And also — I will one day return to New York, I imagine. You can never really leave the place you are born. But Berlin offers a nice second-home, especially creatively.