Performance art in Berlin
A living room story
By Agustina Bullrich
“Through a friend”, “I saw it on the CouchSurfing website”, “my flat mate invited me”, these are some of the answers people give me when I ask them the million-dollar question: How did you find out? I engage in different conversations while we are on a break between the first and second artist of the night, and that’s the point of the break and the point of the night, to connect through music in an intimate venue. The living room audience is like a small sample of Berlin’s cultural diversity, people from Italy, Australia, Argentina, India, Pakistan and of course, also Germany. The trend of throwing intimate concerts in unconventional, often secret, locations has been increasingly popular in Berlin over the last decade or so, but how and why does someone start their own living room concert?
The host of this gathering is Manoj Pandey, a Software Engineer originally from New Delhi, India. I approach Manoj during the second break, he tells me he moved to Hamburg in the fall of 2018 and a year later found his home in Berlin, “it’s been a joyous ride and I have enjoyed every moment that I spent here” he says and adds he’s currently on a sabbatical “to find and work on new creative projects and reshape the direction of his life”. The third artist is about to start so we all go back to our concert seats, mostly on the floor.
Manoj has been working with communities for a very long time – when he was in India he used to speak at many international programming conferences, travelling around the world and building local communities. At that time, they were mostly around the software or the programming industry. He helped set up a community of people interested in data and software and they grew from 3 people to 8000 people within a span of 3 years.
“I want to build a model where everyone around the world is able to invite artists to their home”
It’s only 8 pm of a Saturday night but darkness has already been around for a few hours, together with the low temperatures that remind us it’s November. Lucy Clearwater’s voice starts to wander around the living room, invisible strings of sound cast a spiderweb in which we all hang suspended. When the spell ends, I ask Manoj if I can send him some questions over email. “Sure thing!”
How did the idea of the living room concerts come about?
So, that urge to build communities stayed even when I moved to Berlin. These house concerts came as an idea to fight winter depression as we all face in Berlin and Northern Germany. I planned a small house concert with 15 friends and an artist who was visiting from Spain, but we had to cancel it on the last day because of the global pandemic and restrictions in place. Fast forward a few months, we were able to organize our first event on my birthday as a fun thing to do, and since then I have been trying to host these events regularly, at least once a month.
Are you the only one organizing the concerts or are you working as a team?
I get help every time from my friends, whoever can do so, and I’m currently in the phase of setting this up properly with a small team, so organizing these concerts becomes smoother in the future. Special thanks to my two close friends, Rahul (@ra_go_ on IG) and Magali (@magalisworld on IG) without whom I would not be able to organize these concerts alone.
Did you have any project as inspiration or role model?
Sure, in July 2019, I went to an event called Sofar Sounds when I used to live in Hamburg and then later an event in Berlin and New York City. They seemed to have this idea floating around for a while, of hosting concerts in any location, from bars to backyards to commercial office locations.
What are you looking to create with these concerts?
I want to build a model where everyone around the world is able to invite artists to their home for a cozy evening of live music, be it with only 15 or 50 people. Kind of a like NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts” but then that desk is everywhere around the world. Imagine your favorite music artist playing in your own living space and being able to build meaningful relationships with these artists. At the end of the day, everyone is human, and sometimes these moments of conversational exchange bring the artists and the fans together, a lot!
Everyone is welcome, it’s an exploration of this art called music and you might find your “new favorite artist” at the show.
How do you choose the artists who will be performing?
Honestly, it’s very hard. In the beginning, I was not aware of many local artists from Berlin, so I was relying on my friend’s boyfriend or girlfriend or someone who knew someone. Slowly, we gained momentum and now quite a lot of people in Berlin know about our event, and I have been seeing artists contacting me to play at one of our concerts. I try to keep the program in a way that we bring together artists who don’t have a lot of audience but have amazing music with someone who has played some shows in the past, to have a balance at the show. There have been artists who played at our shows who never played anywhere before apart from their bedroom like @tamara.mandl, artists who have been making concerts all over Germany like @ben.haydie to artists like @whoismoli who have written songs for global artists like Topic & Lost Frequencies.
Words and photos: Agustina Bullrich
Treetop Travel Journalism runs study abroad projects in Berlin, creating magazine guides to the city