Berliner’s made a long line in front of Gretchen last Monday for new British jazz sensation Alfa Mist.
Escaping the worst of the wind, fans swarmed inside and saw Dortmund born, Berlin-based hip-hop producer and Gretchen resident DJ Suff Daddy and his band The Lunch Birds start things off with some fine instrumental rap beats.
Suff Daddy, rocking his “SD” New Era hat as usual, lays down squelchy bass lines on his MiniKORG keyboard as he sings poppy, roboticized vocals via the vocoder attached microphone. Suff Daddy’s stripped down, lo-fi style is amped-up by the live drums and keyboard. Influenced by the likes of Madlib, Pete Rock and other legends of the Golden Era of hip-hop, they show how to play sample based music in a fun and engaging way.
Gretchen’s concave ceilings are supported by two rows of ionic columns, making for a very spacious feel. But the large space gets pretty claustrophobic after the openers leave and too many audience members just barely jostle for the last decent spots. Being too tall to comfortably push my way to the front, I stand my ground on the side of the stage, trading some sound quality for a close up view.
After a short wait, the five-piece ensemble struts onto the stage and begin tuning their instruments, radiating a calm, cool composure at every touch of the instrument. Without missing a beat, they get right into it with “.44.” The opener on the new album Structuralism has an infectious rimshot driven beat and warm Rhodes piano which instantly washes away any anxieties.
Seeing an Alfa Mist show is like having a great therapy session, but without having to even coming up with anything to say. You just listen. And miraculously, emotions you didn’t know you had inside come out and wrap their way around thoughts you didn’t know you had either.
Mist thanks the crowd for coming out to his third performance in Berlin. “We got a lot of music to play for you tonight”, he says, matter-of-factly, with a low key enthusiasm for the deep set they’re about to dive into.
They play a mix of old stuff off the highly successful Antiphon; “Kyoki”, “Breathe”, “Potential”, and some amazing new songs from Structuralism, which just dropped on April 25th; “Retainer”, “Falling” (featuring the deep, hearty vocals of bassist Kaye-Thomas Dyke), “Door” and more. Mist raps while he plays his parts on “7th of October.” Almost speaking into the mic, his chilled rhythm reminds me of OutKast.
During a short break, Mist tells us a bit about his past. He grew up in South London, a child of immigrant parents from Uganda. He remembers being a little boy and attempting to communicate with his Ugandan grandmother who didn’t speak any English. Mist never learned Mulago, his grandmother’s language, so they would just make signs and gestures and faces to get things across. “Mulago”, Mists says, is a song about communicating when you don’t really know how to communicate.
As the choice spoken word sample on the record laments, “That’s not a topic that comes up in, you know, in the GCSE: communication. We can talk about debating and all that stuff, but we don’t actually get taught about how to communicate with another person where your not shutting them down… or not hijacking, or taking their experience, or taking it and turning it into something different.”
If one word can describe what Mist’s songs do, it’s communicate.
Super long solos make the live sessions extra special and each band member listens in rapt attention, watching their band-mate closely, or closing their eyes and sucking it all in with their ears. Mist routinely shakes his head in amusement; a skeptical eye-furling “nah, nah, nahh” that means a certain “yes, yes, yes.”
Towards the end, the lights shine on a row of pensive, thought-provoked young women in front, apparently stuck in a state of trance. I wonder what they must be thinking as I wake up and out of my own melody induced day-dreams.
Affected by depression, Mist’s music is emphatically sad. But while one can choke up from time to time on the more bluesy numbers, brightly yellow E chords are there to pick you back up and smile like the sun shines.
The last spoken word sample on the album introspects on the enigma of emotional recognition: “You’re used to a certain weight, but you don’t check your self, you don’t ask yourself, Man, where did that actually come from? Why am I acting like that? Why am I communicating like that?”. After a eagerly called for two song encore, the nearly two hour set has sufficiently soothed this great mass of striving souls.
With so much music today bent on dropping bombs, hyping anticipation and killing it on stage, the mystical means through which Mist’s music magically speak to the deepest parts of our selves are truly refreshing.