Interview: Four Track on Stage

Four Track on Stage - Photo courtesy of Four Track on Stage

Four Track on Stage - Photo by Simone Wallinger

The term anti-folk is a bit of a misnomer.

Contrary to what its name implies, it neither refers to folk music, nor does it refer to the opposite of that.

It first came into use in 1980s New York, when folk clubs in Greenwich Village began to kick out artists playing music that didn’t meet a strict definition of folk. The result was a group of fringe musicians creating their own genre, as a response to being excluded.

Although anti-folk has been an established genre for nearly three decades, it wasn’t until the 2000s that it began to make its way across the Atlantic, to Europe. And it was seven years ago that it began to take hold in Berlin – at least formally – in the appearance of a once-a-month event dedicated to anti-folk music.

“I was just interested in music and especially in, like, folk music, which I kind of always liked,” one of the founders, Falk Quenstedt, said. “[So] we just started, like, a monthly event.”

The event, called Four Track on Stage, began in Mitte, and went through a steady rotation of venues for the first few years. For the past three or four years, it has been held at Madame Claude, always on the first Tuesday evening of each month.

In addition to Quenstedt, Four Track on Stage also consists of Sebastian Hoffman, Charlotte Bartels and Heiko Gabriel.

“Every one of us found, like, his [or her] job,” Quenstedt said, sharing how each member of the collaborative was able to discover a way to contribute to it. Quenstedt does the sound, Hoffmann is in charge of booking, Bartels designs the fliers and Gabriel is the emcee.

“We usually book local acts, but also touring musicians from basically anywhere, and we’re not really that picky when it comes to booking [and] trying, like, a lot of experiments,” Hoffmann said of the artists. “It’s really diverse. It’s not really important how famous the people are.”

Additionally, not every musician who performs is associated with the anti-folk scene. And while the genre name sounds relatively straightforward, Hoffmann insisted that it isn’t, and has little to do with being against folk music. Rather, it is a subversion of that.

“It’s kind of like this fluid community of people who don’t even necessarily play folk music but [instead play] styles of music that are really not well-perceived by other venues or other musicians,” he said. “It’s kind of like this kind of freak underground thing.”

Additionally, he insisted that some people are hesitant to refer to the genre as anti-folk, not only because it may or may not be folk music, but also because the word “anti” alone has a built-in negative connotation.

Quenstedt agreed, stating that the anti-folk music is “not just folk, [but] the biggest part still is folk-y.”

Now, seven years after its formation, Four Track on Stage is a staple in the Berlin music scene, which is almost an entirely positive thing, for both the organizers and the artists who play.

“I think getting people out is not a problem anymore [although] it used to be,” Hoffmann said, explaining how they used to fret in the first few years over how many people would show up. “Now it’s like insane.”

Four Track on Stage is also always a free event, although after each artists performs, a tip jar in the form of an old Trink Fix can is passed around. All of the proceeds go to the performing artists, with each performer making anywhere between 25 and 150 Euros, depending on the evening’s draw.

In addition to the monthly night, Four Track on Stage is also responsible for the Down by the River Festival, a daylong event that has taken place in the summer for the past three years.

Whereas noise restrictions at Madame Claude prevent non-acoustic acts from performing, full bands are welcome to play the festival, with half the acts representative of the Berlin scene and the other half made up of touring bands.

“It’s really, like, based on friendship,” Hoffmann said of the spirit of the event and the overall mission of Four Track on Stage. “It’s also kind of like a discovery platform for us…I think we’re still surprised by what we find.”

While planning can be stressful from time to time, ultimately, the folks behind Four Track on Stage keep doing it because it’s what they love.

“I pretty much like the time after the shows, to be honest. To hang out with the musicians at the bar and to talk,” Quenstedt said, explaining his favourite part of it. “It’s also good for us. We just see all these nice acts we like.”

Hoffmann agreed, and also shared how it’s not only about the community with D.I.Y. musicians, bookers and promoters worldwide, but also the satisfaction of knowing they’ve done something positive for the scene.

“I think, like, a lot of artists have played their first Berlin shows at Four Track on Stage and later, became, like, professional musicians,” he said. “So it’s kind of funny to see, like, people that we kind of, I mean, we didn’t discover them per se, but we like, gave them a stage for the first time, you know?”

Four Track on Stage hosts its September event tomorrow at Madame Claude in Berlin. The show begins at 21.30.

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