Films about dance music culture usually conjure up cringe worthy DJ cameo appearances ('It's All Gone Pete Tong') or misleading portrayals of the role of drug use and its link to dance music (Human Traffic). On that basis, BERLIN CALLING is a breath of fresh air.
Due for release in early October, this a feature film that captures the life of a contemporary electronic musician set in the Berlin of today; a modern city in every sense of the word. The story trails DJ Ickarus (Paul Kalkbrenner), a hard working, creative artist who strains balancing work for a new album, a packed DJ schedule and his personal relationship with girlfriend and Manager Mathilde (Rita Lengyel). Throw in a propensity for excessive drug consumption and the landscape of the film has a dark realism that touches on the destructive nature of the self, especially when isolated or intoxicated. After one particular gig, Ickarus finds himself in the emergency drug ward of a Berlin psychiatric clinic and so the struggle begins.
Director Hannes Stoehr explains that the film "deals with art and insanity, intoxication and ecstasy, hope and future, friendship and family, music and the lust for life, and, of course, love." Whilst all those themes do feature prominently, art and insanity do seem to perfectly capture the mood of what Stoehr is trying to present. Insanity in the unrelenting pace of life, exertion to succeed, in the drugs and when it all breaks down. Art in the Berlin cityscapes, the interpretation of love and relationships and of course in the music; a soundtrack composed by the film's lead, Paul Kalkbrenner.
Now, this part is fascinating. Kalkbrenner is, of course, better known as the innovative German producer whose electronic soundscapes over the last few years have found themselves onto the compilations and laptops of the likes of Dubfire, John Digweed, Sasha and Nic Fanciulli. His best known track, the epic 'Gebrunn Gebrunn', provides the backdrop to the trailer (see below). In fact, as well as producer he is a live electronic artist, rather than DJ, playing his own original material in real time performances at festivals and in clubs.
His involvement in the film is remarkable on several levels. Although, quick to dismiss that the film is not a biopic depiction of his own life, the fact Kalkbrenner is an electronic musician playing his own - real world created - music, and from Berlin, makes it all so much more intriguing. There are times when the boundaries of film and reality are blurred mischievously.
The soundtrack is typical of his previous BPitchcontrol productions. Genre defying grooves laden with an incessant beat; guaranteed to stir the emotions and make you think. You could be listening to Sigur Ros, Radiohead or a Loco Dice set! The sounds collide with the vista of Berlin effortlessly, whether it is a beautiful cityscape or a pumping club scene or a dirty backstreet, the aural/visual marriage works perfectly.
Above all else though, the fact that, in his acting debut, Kalkbrenner is able to single-handedly carry the film is what leaves the best impression. Of course, many of the themes and environments would have seemed natural but can you imagine watching Sven Vath or Pete Tong or any other DJ/producer in the same situation? It just wouldn't work. Now, it would be a surprise if we didn't see the German debutant in further roles; he most certainly has the ability to play a multitude of emotions and convincingly.
French magazine Télérama described the film as "the first honest and candid film about a musical genre often arrogantly vilified by mainstream media." For me, that captures the cultural significance of this particular piece of film making.
BERLIN CALLING is a refreshing and modern-day perspective on electronic music culture in one of the scene's most innovative and exciting cities. And for all the laughs, drugs, sex and electronic beats that illuminate the film, the story is still one of tragedy, make no mistake; but a must see tragedy at that.
Ickarus - Paul Kalkbrenner