You know what's amazing about Berlin? Ok, sure, plenty the parties, the record stores, the time-drift, the open spaces, the visible history; we could go on all day. To save us time, I'll just tell you what: it's the collaborative spirit. Dropping by Hardwax on your average Wednesday feels like the VIP tent at a summer music festival, it's so full of talented musicians - some from around the globe, many from just around the corner, all sharing stories, trading tips, stocking up their boxes not just with hits but, I like to think, also something of the collegial spirit of the place, little communal seeds to be spread on dancefloors across the world.
A few doors from Hardwax, Luciano's studio offers a similar experience, but even more intense: on any given afternoon, half a dozen people might roll by, from the Exercise One guys in the studio next door to likeminded Berliners to whoever might be in town for a gig. Some people need to lock themselves away in a sealed bunker, but Luciano's place isn't like that: as I wrote in another story, it feels more like a salon. And with the speakers buzzing, the machines fired hot, and the hour growing fuzzier with each spliff, sometimes it can be quite an alchemical combination, the stuff of everyday life being spun into gold circuitry and filigreed beats.
These two tracks are a lot like that. They're the work of Luciano and Thomas Melchior, a longtime Playhouse and Perlon artist and wry-smiled philosopher who doubtless needs no introduction. Neither is a stranger to collaboration: Luciano's worked with Ricardo Villalobos, Dandy Jack, Mathew Jonson, Serafin, Quenum; Melchior started off his long career working alongside Tim Hutton as My Little Yoni and Vulva, and went on to do numerous projects with Baby Ford (as Soul Capsule and Sunpeople) on Ifach, Trelik and Aspect Music before he cemented himself in the catalogues of Perlon and Playhouse (under his own name and as Melchior Productions respectively).
I don't know if the two had ever worked together before this, but I do know that just a few weeks ago, on a blustery winter day, they were back at it, taking turns between the couch and the captain's chair as they pieced their mind-meld together sample by sample, cooking up enough creative heat to steam the frost off the windows.
But you don't need to watch them at work to understand the process; these two tracks are 25 minutes of the purest wordless communication, like two SCUBA divers trading hand signals 10 meters down, or a locked gaze on the dancefloor. You can hear bits of each individual in the mix - Melchior's characteristic skip and swing and his dexterity with vocal samples, Luciano's gliding polyrhythms and soft, seamless ruptures - but here their signatures blur into a fluid scrawl all its own.
A - Solomon’s Prayer: rescues African vocals back from Paul Simon and bad trad house, layering a long, mournful chant over a slow and rollicking groove that leavens fidgety Latin shuffle with insistent snares and a gentle reggae skank. Or perhaps the vocals aren't mournful at all, but celebratory: having no idea what they say, they could hit you differently depending upon the hour, the context, the quality of light on the horizon. When the solo voice gives way to the chorus, though-harmonies fattening like a Baobab's afternoon shadow - it feels like a million hearts opening up at once. And so goes the track, exploding in slow mo, gated snares sprouting Afrobeat basslines giving way to cool filter washes uncurling into a vein of sitar; growing and alive until the last echo unfolds and fades to nothing.
B - Father: sounds simpler, on the surface. After almost two minutes of introduction, filtered shakers chirping cricket rhythms underneath field recordings (what sounds like a meeting of friends at a faraway airport, in at least two languages) the beat drops: a monstrous kick and an Mbira figure plunking steady triplets. And from there it just builds and builds so gradually you can't really track its progress. Every now and then you become aware of another sound, one that's been chiming for bars now without announcing its entrance: eyelashed ride cymbals, harp sweeps, a reedy sliver of saxophone, congas that sound like they come from a campsite across the lake. Everything's rich with detail, and space comes alive as the smallest sounds poke pinholes in the pillowing reverb. Chants go spelunking in vocoder depths, and then a gravel-voiced radio announcer hacks into the airspace to proclaim, "I am the radiance of the sun and the moon." Everything dissolves into an open-ended soundtrack swell, and then silence calms it all with a Belladonna kiss.