Public Service Broadcasting will be releasing their brand new album ‘Bright Magic’ on 24th September 2021. You can pre-order it HERE, including the gatefold limited orange/black marbled vinyl LP edition.
Watch the video for their latest single ‘People, Let’s Dance’ (ft. EERA) HERE.
(Previously on Public Service Broadcasting…)
PSB have been “teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future” for more than a decade now. 2013’s debut album ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ used archival samples from the British Film Institute as audio-portals to the Battle Of Britain, the summit of Everest and beyond. Two years later, ‘The Race For Space’ used similar methods to laud the superpowers’ rivalry and heroism in orbit and on the Moon. In 2017, joined by voices including Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield, ‘Every Valley’ was a moving exploration of community and memory via the rise and fall of the British coal industry. Pointedly topical in its analyses, it reached number four on the UK charts.
Now they have a new destination. Still with the core aim of achieving communion with times and places far removed, it is their most ambitious undertaking yet. With ‘Bright Magic’, prepare to arrive at Europe’s heart and de facto capital, the cultural and political metropolis that is the ‘Hauptstadt’ of the Federal Republic of Germany – Berlin.
“Doing this felt inevitable, somehow,” muses PSB’s auteur J. Willgoose, Esq. “In my head, it was whirring and pulsing away for a long time, even before ‘Every Valley’ – this fascinating, contrary, seductive place. I knew the album was going to be about the city, and its history and myths, and I was going to move there. So it’s quite a personal story. I’ve said this a lot: it’s become an album about moving to Berlin to write an album about people who move to Berlin to write an album…”
Though PSB’s use of electronics and surging guitar rock remain familiar, ‘Bright Magic’ uses samples, and the English language, sparingly. It differs from previous PSB albums in other ways: less linear and narrative, instead it’s an impressionistic portrait of a city from the ground up. A Eureka moment of sorts came in November 2018 when Willgoose heard Walter Ruttmann’s radical Berlin tape-artwork Wochenende (or Weekend), which is sampled on three of ‘Bright Magic’’s tracks. Created in 1928, the piece collaged speech, field recordings and music into a sonic evocation of the city. Resolving to integrate these long-gone fragments with new manipulated sound sources, he set about making his own Wochenende, a narrative drama for the ears which decodes and realises the dreams of Berlin he’d constructed in his mind.
After some heavy reading and investigatory stop-offs while touring with PSB, he arrived at a conceptual framework. “I had the title ‘Bright Magic’ in my head,” he says, “and I started to get a feeling for where that title wanted to take me, towards ideas of illumination and inspiration, electricity and flashes of light and colour and sound (all the tracks would eventually be colour coded). I sent it to the rest of the band, and said, I know it’s going to change, but we’ll see how the city itself colours that.”
He reactivated his GCSE German and moved to the city from April 2019 to January 2020. Combining sound archaeology and the flâneuring of the psychogeographer, one street-level pursuit of Berlin’s energy involved Willgoose walking the Leipzigerstrasse, site of the city’s first electric streetlight, using a wide-band electromagnetic receiver from Moscow’s Soma Laboratories. “I walked up and down recording electrical currents and interference,” he laughs. “You can hear a few of these little frequency buzzes, clicks and impulses in Im Licht (a song inspired in part by pioneering lightbulb manufacturers AEG and Siemens). It’s what I was trying to do in the wider sense, I suppose – to capture those tiny little pulses you pick up while walking through a city.”
He wrote and recorded in Kreuzberg’s famous Hansa Tonstudio recording complex, having been tipped off that a space was free by Manics producer Alex Silva. This brought closer several inescapable musical touchstones: Depeche Mode’s classic eighties triumvirate, U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ and, crucially, Bowie’s “Heroes” and ‘Low’. “The whole shape and structure of the record is very much in debt to Low,” says Willgoose. Indeed, the ‘Warszawa’-evoking ‘The Visitor’ – whose designated colour is the particular Orange of that album’s sleeve – was initially intended to feature a sample of Bowie reflecting, says Willgoose, on “how he viewed himself as this vessel for synthesizing and refracting other influences, and presenting avant-garde influences to the mainstream. We tried to absorb a bit of that spirit.”
There are other guest voices. One is Blixa Bargeld, severe veteran of The Bad Seeds and Einstürzende Neubauten, who becomes the voice of Berlin’s industry on the robo-teknik ‘Der Rhythmus der Maschinen’. “He doesn’t suffer fools, Blixa,” says Willgoose. “But he went into it in a really flexible and collaborative spirit. Boris the engineer turned to me at one point and said, I am enjoying seeing you have an intense experience!”
The former track is from part one of the album, titled ‘Building A City’. Immediately after, part two ‘(Building A Myth)’ finds the scene shifting to a three-day weekend club environment for ‘People, Let’s Dance’. Voiced by Berlin-based musician EERA, with a re-played interpolation from Depeche Mode’s ‘People Are People’, it opens up another aspect of Berlin as a long-established free zone for pleasure, art and expression. Andreya Casablanca of Berlin garageistes Gurr stands in for Marlene Dietrich in ‘Blue Heaven’, an anthem of proud self-determination with its lines, “They call me a traitor / They spit in my face.”
By such small details the whole becomes clearer. The work of nude dancer, drug user and bisexual Anita Berber – who co-wrote Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy in 1923 – is referenced on the melancholy Gib mir das Licht. Emblematic of the end of the liberal Weimar Republic, it speaks of the artistic milieu that was snuffed out and scattered, from the Bauhaus movement to Fritz Lang and Dietrich, after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. Part three of the album is called ‘Bright Magic’: part requiem and part restatement of faith, its three shimmering instrumentals, inspired by experimental “visual music” films from the 1920s, are pure electric drama, abstraction and atmosphere.
The Third Reich period, or the Cold War division of Berlin that followed, are not directly referenced on ‘Bright Magic’. As Willgoose explains, “the record isn’t presenting itself as a comprehensive history of the city. The title came before everything, and I thought, Bright Magic, how’s that going to work if I’m mentioning the Stasi or the Nazis or the Wall or the airlift? And it didn’t. Instead, that sadness is implied.”
Similarly ignored is the word ‘Brexit’, though the city’s open spirit provides telling contrasts. “We’re kind of surrounded by people trying to dismantle stuff at the moment,” says Willgoose, an ardent pro-European. “I’d rather look at those who want to unite and combine and create things. This is a very European, vocally so, record, at a time when the nation feels like it’s retreated elsewhere, away from reality in a way.”
In this, ‘Bright Magic’ is not just about one city, but all centres of human interaction and community which allow the free exchange and cross-pollination of ideas. “It’s not unique to Berlin,” says Willgoose, back home in London, “but it has been unusually good at allowing that to happen at various points in its history. It’s been really sad that London has been unable to perform its function in the last year or so, and I’m very much looking forward to celebrating that again.”
Public Service Broadcasting have returned. Expect a new ‘abstract expressionist’ inspired stage presentation, with their corduroy-suited suits re-rendered in brilliant white (“It’s a nod to the Thin White Duke,” says Willgoose). They’ll play it live in Berlin, of course, and the other cities of the world where progress, unity and possibility are embraced. Mach schau, PSB, mach schau!