It would certainly be quite a feat for most musicians to come to Berlin and sell out four shows in a row, but that’s exactly what Turbostaat did this past week.
Of course, that wasn’t the plan from the get-go. Instead, the Deutschpunk band–which was formed in Husum, Germany, in 1999–initially discussed playing one show in Berlin.
“Actually we wanted to play at Festsaal Kreuzberg,” guitarist Marten Ebsen said, referencing the venue that burned down last summer.
“We thought it would maybe be cool to play different clubs, like a little Berlin tour,” Ebsen shared.
Along with Ebsen, Turbostaat also consists of Jan Windmeier, Peter Carstens, Rotze Santos, and Tobert Knopp. Three members live in Flensburg, with another in Hamburg, and Ebsen in Berlin.
Now that he has been living in the capital city for a few years, Ebsen noted some of the differences between Berlin and the area where he grew up in Schleswig-Holstein.
“When I go out to a bar on evenings in Berlin, I meet many people my age who make music or do artistic things, [but] in Flensburg the bars are usually empty,” he said. “[Additionally], in smaller cities there are few people my age who still make music.”
Another point worth discussing is the way that different subcultures group together in smaller places, partially out of necessity, as opposed to a city like Berlin where there is enough “room” for everyone.
“When you grow up in a small town and you’re a bit different, left-wing and stuff, you have to get along with hippies, goths, punks–all freaks together,” Ebsen explained. “And in Berlin, it’s more separate. [There are] many subcultures next to one another, not together, and in a small town everything is together. And that’s the largest difference, I think.”
Whether that’s good or bad, Ebsen didn’t say, but he did note that overall, “Berlin is super for music,” referencing the many underground venues like Kastaniankeller and Supamolly that function alongside larger and more mainstream venues.
“In Berlin there are always junctures between the whole squat culture and the normal music audience,” he said. “I think that’s also very good.”
Turbostaat has been a band for some 15 years now, and just last year the group released album number five, “Stadt der Angst.” The majority of post-release promotion and touring has been done, but the band plans on playing a few festivals, as well as possibly going on a short tour in October. But the members are also starting to work on new music, though the methodology behind it is not so predictable even after all this time.
“Now in our fifteenth year, everything has already happened: [songs] that one person has written, that the whole band has written together, that a pair of us have written. It’s already all happened,” Ebsen declared, elaborating on how songwriting works within the confines of their five-piece. “[And] always when someone makes a rule, says ‘it is always this and this,’ then it goes totally different.”
Of course, it’s also easy to point to the “Turbostaat sound,” but even then, Ebsen said the way songs come about is not always so clear cut or straightforward.
“One can’t always do the same thing,” he said. “And one doesn’t always have the desire to do the same things.”
That said, one thing that is agreed upon is that the band will always sing in German.
“It was always clear,” Ebsen said of the non-issue of what language to sing in. “When one seeks to go a bit deeper, it’s difficult to do in another language rather than your mother tongue.”
He also noted that German is particularly good for getting your point across and communicating with your audiences–at least the German-speaking ones.
“German lyrics are viewed differently than English. English lyrics on the radio are like a noise. You don’t really hear what they say,” he said, explaining the experience of most Germans. “But in German you understand everything.”
Now that Turbostaat has reached the decade-and-a-half mark, Ebsen reflected back on the time together, sharing that part of what makes the band so unique–the combination of its five different members–is also what can be one of the bigger challenges.
“This is always difficult, to bring everyone together in the same room and to think about the same things,” he said.
Of course, being a band for so many years, one might think it’s easy to not stress too much, trusting that it will work out, but regardless, the members are no strangers to doubt.
“You know that in your head, but always when that’s the situation, then you naturally think, ‘we will never make an album,'” Ebsen said. “It’s always that way.”
Even so, formulaic or not, the way that Turbostaat has gone about writing, recording, and performing music has worked well for the group, which has carved out quite a niche for itself, if the sold-out shows weren’t evidence enough. But as for why they have gotten so big for the kind of music they play, Ebsen merely shrugged.
“I have no idea,” he said. “We’ve only [just] done our thing.”