Breton: East Berlin War Stories

Clash meets the Brits recording abroad…

It’s an average day in the recording of Breton’s second album, and they’re sitting beside a giant UFO in the grounds of an ex-communist radio station.

“This place is f*cking weird. It’s like being in a David Lynch film. I mean, in front of us there’s a naked man in a pink speedboat, just chilling,” frontman Roman Rappak says, pointing at the river Spree. “When people say ‘That’s so Berlin’ they mean tote bags and fixie bikes. It’s two different worlds here.”

After leaving the disused branch of NatWest in Elephant & Castle where the band used to live and work, Dan McIlvenny, Adam Ainger, Ian Patterson and Roman relocated to the German capital for the studio set-up of a lifetime. Back in the peak of the July heat wave, Clash flew over to witness ‘War Room Stories’ (Clash review) in the works.

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Breton, ‘Envy’, from ‘War Room Stories’

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As a scene, indie has long been pronounced dead. But Breton is a British guitar band that surpasses that very definition – a DIY art collective rather than a blank-eyed mob of apathetic strummers. Crafting cutting-edge visuals and constantly pushing the envelope in terms of creativity, the band is a multimedia tour de force. They might seem infuriatingly ‘art school’ if they weren’t so down-to-earth as individuals.

Berlin exists as the playground of the hip and the musical elite – those not looking to rave for hours, but two days straight. The boys dutifully take us to a few watering holes in the city on our first night, but it soon becomes clear that they’ve been locked away in the studio rather than hitting up Berghain or Watergate.

“When it’s that sunny outside, studios are horrible, bleak places,” Roman says, between mouthfuls of sushi. “But I don’t feel it as bad here.”

His words ring true as soon as we reach the unsettlingly quiet outskirts of East Berlin to find the Funkhaus (we’re not talking ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ – ‘funk’ is German for ‘broadcast’). It’s a huge, imposing compound of angular red brick – the old headquarters of the GDR radio, where 3,000 communist workers used to write and broadcast propaganda to the Eastern Bloc. Period features are everywhere – we’re shown an area where a clock used to hang on the wall, where you can see the microphone that the Stasi used to spy on that room.

The band, without an unwell Ian, takes us round the vast foley rooms that were used to stage radio plays (“Das Archers,” quips Roman). As there were, of course, no sound banks or effect-filled hard drives back in those days, these now-surreal studios were built where you can pull up floorboard panels to find gravel, cobbles, or grass. You can twist and turn all manner of doorknobs, handles, locks and bolts which are nailed to a fake door, purely for the purpose of sound effect creation. And being the resourceful individuals they are, Breton saw that none of this sound design went to waste.

“A recording isn’t necessarily capturing a performance,” Roman begins. “You could quite easily input everything into a computer and it would all play perfectly, on the beat. Compare that to a recording of an iPhone in a room of people playing it and there’d be shitloads of energy while the crystal clear computer recording would be this boring, soulless kind of song… It’s recording an atmosphere.”

An atmosphere is exactly what that this place can deliver. The foley complex houses a stone cave with vaulted ceilings for epic reverb, where they’ve recorded Adam’s drums. There’s an old ’50s payphone through which they send vocals, recreating the exact noise and distortion that there would have been. “In a way, it’s coming back,” Roman continues. “People are starting to use the old American and British studios. Dialing up ‘room sound six’ on your Mac is cool… except it sounds like everyone else’s record.”

Noting the irony of talking about democracy in this building, Roman goes on to chat about the six degrees of separation effect on music. “If something gets shared on the Internet then it’s a much fairer way than depending on heavy rotation on MTV. If you see something that eight of your mates have all shared – from different parts of the world, walks of life – then chances are it’s a good track,” he says.

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Breton, ‘Got Well Soon’, from ‘War Room Stories’

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Breton’s debut LP ‘Other People’s Problems’ (review), released back in 2012, saw the band using samples as they continue to, but with rather muggier electronics present. “We didn’t realise it at the time,” says Roman, “but there was a particular type of person that listened to it that was in a hoodie smoking skunk at his mum’s, listening to Burial. As much as those dudes are really cool, you very rarely meet any of them!”

After almost two years spent playing live shows and trooping the festival circuit, their sound has shifted towards capturing the energy of performing. “It’s freed us up,” he admits. “People in the audience are as much part of a show as the band, so this new album’s kind of a nod to that.”

‘War Room Stories’ is, in essence, an album of experiences, past and present. “What we’re trying to express is the furthest point of all the music that we like, of the ideas that we have, all the arguments we had, the things we’ve fell in love with, the shit things and the good,” says Roman. “It sounds like such an obvious thing, but it was such a revelation to us.”

The next day, the band travels to Macedonia to record the 44-piece Radio Symphonic Orchestra for four hours. That’s Breton for you. No doubt they’ll return home with a few more stories to tell.

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Words: Felicity Martin

This article is an edited version of a longer feature that appears in issue 91 of Clash magazine, with exclusive photography – details 

‘War Room Stories’ is released via Cut Tooth / Believe on February 3rd. It is reviewed here. See the band live as follows…

3rd – Louisiana, Bristol
4th – Soup Kitchen, Manchester
5th – Village Underground, London

Find Breton online

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