Pulling It Together
We can see him before we can hear him. Dressed in a cozy knit sweater, nestled in a woven rocking chair, Hans Tobias — guitarist/vocalist of post-punk trio Plattenbau — is silently gesturing away via a wavering Skype connection.
Drummer Brandon Walsh cuts in, “Tobi, you look like a proud grandpa relaxing on his throne after a successful hunt.” We finally get the audible affirmative chuckle we’d been waiting for.
Walsh, bassist/vocalist Lewis Lloyd and I are all sat on a couch with the virtual Tobi in Lloyd’s Neukölln apartment, a plan B after our efforts to fly Tobias in from Sweden for the weekend fell through.
Plattenbau had its Berlin beginnings in 2011, the result of a failed Craigslist ad and a chance meeting at a summer BBQ. Like many before them, both Lloyd and Tobias had moved from their respective home countries to the German capital, seeking musical camaraderie. “Lewis actually wrote to me [before we met],” Tobias admits cheekily, “but I just didn’t have the time to answer him.”
Despite this near miss, they eventually connected through a mutual friend and started jamming together. The first couple of years were rocky, as their search for a drummer turned into a never-ending saga.
“We had these people who were trying to make it so damn complicated. Just keep time, keep a straight face,” explains Tobias, visibly frustrated.
As luck would have it, Craigslist finally pulled through in the form of Walsh, who — recently moved from the states and eager to find new bandmates — was the exact type of no-nonsense player they needed.
Honestly, it’s not surprising that they encountered difficulty putting together a solid, committed band. It’s no secret that — while it is a hotbed for creativity and innovation — Berlin is brimming with restless wanderers, many of whom have a penchant for complacency. “In Sweden, being in a band is a big thing, whereas in Berlin, it’s sort of like, of course you’re in a band, of course you’re a DJ,” says Tobias. (As we’re speaking, Lloyd’s techno producer flatmate comes home, exhausted from a gig — because of course he does.)
To their credit, the guys of Plattenbau are trying their damnedest to dispel this phenomenon. They’ve all been playing in bands from a very young age, but agree that this is the first time it’s truly gotten “serious” and they treat it as such.
This year sees them embarking on their first-ever US tour in mid March, including a stop at SXSW. They’ve poured countless hours into planning for it, booking everything themselves, navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth of applying for elusive travel visas, and even making a gag sales pitch-esque fundraising video to soften the edge of asking for money directly.
When I point out the insane amount of extra work that they must be doing, Lloyd says with a laugh, “it wasn’t a choice to be DIY — believe me, I’d much rather everyone else do everything for us — but it just kind of worked out like that.”
Plattenbau also happen to be on the heels of self-releasing their debut full- length album, which finds them truly settling into their music. When a band named after an architectural symbol of the former Eastern Bloc writes their first EP about societal conformity in the basement of the ex-Stasi headquarters and entitles it Square Squares, there’s really nothing else you could call that other than a strict concept project. However, their style has since blossomed into something more organic; still cerebral, but not contrived.
Their dark post-punk sound has adopted a dreamy quality: think gritty, industrial surf rock, complete with jangly guitars and the sounds of waves crashing ashore. They throw listeners curve balls: from small, hidden surprises like tambourines, cowbells, and doo-wop ooh’s, to the more remarkable dystopian cover of 40s classic, That Old Black Magic, about which Lloyd said, “I thought it would be cool to take this cheesy song and bring a sort of cynical vibe to it. You know, cast a shadow over the love.”
Contrary to what their name would have you believe, Plattenbau are wary of boxing themselves in. Yes, they’re dedicated and their music often embraces morose intensities, but make no mistake, Plattenbau are anything but dull. “We just want people to dance!” they say excitedly when asked about what they’d like people to take from their music.
And as for future plans? “We’re going to put out a hit Christmas album,” explains Lloyd, “A Cold Christmas With Plattenbau.” Then Walsh clears his throat and croons, “‘The winds from the East are coming…’” and somehow, I’m convinced that if anyone could make a seasonal Soviet- inspired post-punk classic, it would be them.