Egon’s second report from Madlib Medicine Show 2012 Europe Tour Five days between Czech Republic and Poland … Rappers and Krautrockers … vino & espionage … city zoos and Odd Futures … dead dog on floor with records …
It’s inevitable that five days off – even if they’re in “swinging” Berlin (or whatever adjective you wish to describe Europe’s new center for Americans to visit in hopes of the way things were in some bygone era) – aren’t going to pack the punch of an in-and-out-of-the-city show, but these five were especially weird. I start with the train we boarded in Prague – after again visiting a McDonalds and, myself, again restraining myself from eating some Eastern European Mc-whatever) – it was something out of Murder On The Orient Express and was certainly not the whimsical vision of such an archaic carriage as Wes Anderson imagined in The Darjeeling Limited. Note to anyone who’s expecting to save a few bucks on train travel that on a carrier that originates in Budapest: “comfort class” is about as acceptable as it gets. I so felt for the folks piled amongst each other in whatever they were calling “economy” – it made me imagine my father’s relayed memories of childhood train journeys in Kerala-state in India. At least the Czech porter in the dining car was relatively cold.
We arrived in Berlin in the midst of a heat wave: at 6 pm it was pushing 95F and sticky. We checked into our hotel on Warschauerstrasse – one of those trying-to-be-trendy-refurbished-warehouse or whatever – and Madlib and I both found ourselves fiddling with our rooms’ buttons and knobs that didn’t have any seeming purpose before we both found out the reason: nearly every hotel in Berlin (believe me, I checked) doesn’t have air conditioning. I went to apologize to Gibbs – he was on Skype with his manager Lambo and was sitting, shirtless, next to a fan. “It’s ok, man, we’ll make it work.” Damn, did I feel silly for expecting some new American standard of comfort a block away from the Berlin Wall in what used to be East Germany. Madlib and I were lucky enough to meet up with Whitefield Brother Max, whose studio was down the street from our hotel. One could do worse than spending a sweltering Berlin evening in a funky outdoor café sipping Rheingau reislings at fifteen euro a bottle. We ended the night, quite late, in a murky bio-wine and hash-fueled haze, in Max’s studio, listening to his latest recorded experiments and playing Zambian rock and East African highlife to each other via iPhones. Not a turntable nor a record in sight. Damn how things have changed since the late 90s.
The next day, as Freddie and his girlfriend rented bikes and peddled the length of the Wall, Madlib and I took refuge in the only air conditioned spot we could find: a record store Max showed us that, appropriately, carried both records AND wine. Of course they had to keep the spot cool. Sadly, the records would have been interesting twenty years ago and the best bottles of wine were empty filler (mostly off-the-beaten-path Reislings from the early 90s). But a positive call came in: the singer Bajka, a Berlin resident that Madlib and I have been trying to record for the past few years – scored a room in a hotel located in Mitte, the rather posh area of Berlin to visit her father, Uve Mullrich, 70s-era bass player with Krautrockers Embryo. I was going to stay with Uve, so this would work out perfectly – once I talked the hotel into releasing a second room. Three hours later, I did just that.
Thus, on Tuesday, everyone sorted in proper accommodations, we were finally ready to see just what Berlin had to offer. But you know what? For Madlib and I, the fates had other plans: Uve’s friend Marlon Klein – bandleader of Kraut cult-faves Real-Ax Band – was in town; his son-in-law turned out to be a British rapper; Bajka’s new boyfriend ended up being a producer-slash-DJ. There was a well-stocked wine store down the street. I should have known then that I would spend the rest of my time going the length of Leinestrasse from Uve’s to the hotel for the next three days.
Gibbs and his girlfriend managed to get out to the zoo and see other parts of the city. The zoo part came in handy as, when Uve cooked everyone an Indian meal (see Embryo’s key album Reise for why his experience with the Sub-Continent’s cuisine shouldn’t be much of a surprise), Bajka told Freddie all about her perception of KRS-One’s “appearance, like a lion, except with small, kind eyes.”
“Lion? I saw a lion today. A hungry ass lion,” the Gary native responded. Oh, if I could have recorded her response to “Thuggin’” – to say that her faults were pointed at the song’s lack of humor – and Gibbs’ subsequent discussion of the state of the American urban poet – doesn’t do the exchange justice.
By the time we left on Friday for the six-hour drive to Katowice in Poland, we’d seen quite a bit: drunken talks to dawn with wise, old German musicians (their parents, of course, were the German generation from World War II; Uve dutifully pointed out all of the plaques that stood witness to Jews deported to concentration camps in his tony neighborhood); indie-coffee-roasting-pop-up shops alongside the Odd Future-Berlin pop-up shop (and an Odd Future show where Madlib and Tyler met for the first time in one of the more charming meetings I can recall in recent years); rare records straight from the source (nice that Uve kept his vinyl discography in a well traveled suitcase including some doubles, which he offered to us); Uve’s knowledge of Southern Californian geography (I don’t think I could have seen an Angeleno himself laugh so hard when Gibbs rather accurately described parts of Berlin as “what Silver Lake is trying to be”); Max’s cryptic life and career lessons; Madlib’s diversionary tactics to eschew uncomfortable situations (damn, do I learn something on every tour).
And, of course, a case of some good-old-fashioned espionage. The night before we left, Madlib and I splurged on a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy from the 1996 vintage, only after the bottle was vetted by Steve Goldun, our L.A. wine dealer. Well, after the first glasses were poured – and the wine tasted like effervescent old Carlo Rossi – a glance at the cork revealed the cause. “Bulgarian Wine” was burned into the bark. And thus we left Berlin a bit wiser than we’d arrived. And a few euros poorer.