Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 5 – The Flat Hunting Expedition

At the beginning of January we were already so sick and tired of the Berlin winter that going to Tenerife on a flat hunting expedition felt like getting away for a bit of an urgent vacation someplace warmer and brighter. As realists rather than unwavering optimists, though, we were mentally prepared for a rather tough and nasty month ahead, possibly even failure. We managed to book an affordable room in the coastal town of El Médano via Airbnb and landed on Tenerife with lots of determination, a chunk of money in the bank, and not much else. A week into our expedition a couple of good friends from Slovenia, who have lived on Tenerife for years now, took mercy on us and let us stay at their place. Our day-to-day expenses were thus significantly reduced, and they also provided us with lots of information as well as an occasional car ride. For that we’ll be eternally grateful.

Buying a flat is not something one normally expects to do very quickly, and we had already taken the island’s skewed perception of time into account as well. Nevertheless it took us a while to wrap our minds around the radically relaxed Canarian pace (I doubt the average “northerner” ever truly gets used to it, in all its various dimensions), as on the Canaries everything indeed strictly adheres to the proverbial “mañana, mañana” routine. We found several affordable apartments in the towns around the general area we’d opted for, but the infernally sluggish pace of even arranging for a single viewing was nerve-wracking. Of course, I won’t bore anyone with details, not even myself: I’ll just say that the initial enthusiasm soon gave way to routine phone calls (if somebody around here tells you they’ll call back or send you an e-mail, don’t put too much stock in it), information gathering (fortunately Monika speaks perfect Spanish, otherwise we’d be completely screwed), and, above all, waiting. Lots of waiting.

In the meantime, the first priority was to get our N.I.E. (identification number for foreigners), because you can’t even open a local bank account without it, let alone buy an apartment. We were told we had to go to Las Americas, a city some 25 kilometres from El Médano, to get it at the local police station, and that we better get there very early, otherwise the appointment slots for the day might all be filled. We took the advice seriously, but due to poor bus connections we weren’t able to make it there before ten, approximately: we did take the first morning bus, but it took the “scenic route”, meandering through every village and hamlet. So we arrived about an hour after the office at the police station opened… And it was already too late. The nice police woman told us we better get there at 7 in the morning at the latest, two hours before they start giving out the “tickets” for the appointments, because sometimes they supposedly ran out of slots in under half an hour. “No, you can’t get a ticket for tomorrow today,” she beamed. “Oh, there aren’t any buses from El Médano so early in the morning? Well, why don’t you ask a friend who works in Las Americas to drop you off?

Of course, how come we haven’t thought of that: like each and every foreigner who needs an ID number for foreigners, we had a horde of friends in El Médano who worked in Las Americas and commuted there every day at 5 a.m.

Stuck in Las Americas until the bus back, after accomplishing nothing whatsoever for who knows which day in a row, I succumbed to the first bureaucracy-induced redout of the season, and as all the anger management techniques I could think of failed miserably, including counting slowly to 999, I had no choice but to resort to bitching for half an hour to no one in particular. During the venting episode I hatched a theory why they distributed the N.I.E. numbers at police stations: so that the people who had been standing in line for hours only to be turned away and told to come back another day didn’t start slapping unarmed bureaucrats around.

However, the one thing we could do before showing up for our accursed ticket again was to pay the fees associated with the N.I.E. in advance, which you’re supposed to do at a bank. The nice policewoman had told us how much these fees would be, but, of course, we didn’t remember the price precisely to the last cent, figuring that of course the tellers at the banks would know. We went to a bank only to discover that one could only pay these fees during a short window of a couple of hours early in the morning. So we went to a bank in El Médano early next day, where we waited in line for the better part of an hour, only to find out that that particular bank did not accept this sort of fees. We headed to another bank that did, but after we’d waited for another hour (way past the “fee payment schedule”, but fortunately they elected to overlook that), they told us they didn’t know how much that fee was. We could have said anything, because nobody would check, but that would probably get us in trouble with the nice policewoman. And no, they didn’t have any price lists, nor did they believe the information could be found online somewhere. So, again, we accomplished absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, further redouts were averted, as we simply gave up on doing anything useful, sought solace in gallows humour, and decided to have a beer and stare out to sea instead.

At this point we started taking a piece of advice we’d received from a friend very seriously: “Don’t apply your mainland logic to anything you’re trying to do on Tenerife, because it’ll usually turn out to be completely flawed.

Our next attempt at obtaining the coveted identification number involved buying a bottle of the most expensive wine we could find in the local store, because we elected to bribe the poor guy in whose place we were staying. He gave us a lift to Las Americas at five a.m. the next day. Thus we managed to show up at six in the morning, and we were definitely not the first sufferers there. At around eight – about an hour before the slot assignment began – this was what the line in front of the police station looked like:

After several hours and a high-speed trek to the bank in order to pay the relevant fees in time, we finally managed to get our paws on the priceless documents. The policepersons were smiling and nice and, on the first-name basis with Monika, they said her Spanish was great. We soon ended up chatting about the wonders of linguistics and discussed who had studied what. One of the policepersons was an English major. Lovely, though frustrating for everyone else in line… But apparently the police were sick and tired of N.I.E. numbers and had more interesting things to discuss.

(It turns out I won’t have to learn the Spanish constructions for addressing people formally anytime soon, because not only is everyone on the first-name basis on the Canaries, but almost everyone you meet, even officials, immediately starts calling you “my love”, “my dear”, “my girl/boy”, and the like. Even I noticed the phenomenon, despite the fact that my knowledge of Spanish is currently virtually non-existent. I asked Monika if this was a Spanish thing, but she said that it definitely wasn’t and that it had to be a Canary thing. Other foreigners later confirmed that it is indeed so and that it’s as funny as it’s endearing. It’s kind of hard to argue with a bureaucrat who keeps calling you “my precious”, though. At least the policepersons refrained from doing that, exactly, but they were by no means able to go along with Monika’s unwitting attempts at keeping things formal for more than two initial sentences.)

Finally the apartment viewings started as well, as one by one the real-estate agents eventually started emerging from the woodwork, and eventually – after about a month or so, all in all – we found two apartments we really liked. As soon as we actually saw the inside of the second one of these, we both fell in love with it, especially because of its two terraces on the roof of a three-storey apartment building in San Isidro, a decently large town some 5 kilometres from the coastal resort of El Médano. Even if the apartments in the coastal towns weren’t far too expensive for us anyway, we’d have opted for San Isidro instead: it is an actual small city, not a tourist resort; and it is mostly populated by immigrants, a situation we’ve had great experience with during our five-year stay in the Neukölln district of Berlin. After all, we were moving in order to live and work somewhere else, not to go on eternal vacation… And as immigrants, what better place to do that than in a city full of other immigrants. Furthermore, unlike the coastal villages in the area, San Isidro is a real city of 20,000 people, with all the amenities, facilities, as well as comparatively good public transport. Hell, it’s even in the process of installing fibre optics (though, taking the Canarian pace into account, that’ll take another year or four).

As soon as we decided for the flat – a bank repossession which had been empty for years – it turned out that we’d have to collect a heap of documents, proving the origins of our funds. On the one hand that’s normal, in line with the EU legislation, and intended to safeguard against money laundering, but the task was exacerbated by the fact that the bank that owned the flat was, contrary to what one might expect, not at all happy that we wanted to simply buy the place rather than take out a loan with them. Thus they were by no means making the transaction easy. It makes sense: their best case scenario is giving someone an expensive loan, repossessing the flat once the borrowers (hopefully) default, and selling it again.

Playing it safe, we acquired our own cadastral records for the chosen flat and ran them past a lawyer, our friends’ acquaintance. Organising a meeting was rather difficult, as the lawyer whom I soon started calling “Nocturnal Attorney”, mostly operated during the night: allegedly all the commotion during the day distracted him. Finally we managed to meet, he verified the documentation, explained a few things, checked the supporting documentation we’d gathered in the meantime, typed up an explanatory note for us, and gave us the go-ahead.

It was time to pay the reservation for the flat, which means that the bank took it off the market, after which we had one month to provide all the documents, officially translated into Spanish. These sorts of transactions on the Canaries involve bank checks, not wire transfers, so we went back to the bank where we had opened a bank account and got it done. Our bank on Tenerife is the funniest place (well, that’s an original sentence I’ve never thought I’d come up with), thanks to Jocular Banker, a guy who convinced me that my choice of banks on the basis of a neat logo and colour scheme was the right one. (What do you mean, I’m being ridiculous? Sorry, but that’s all the info I had when we had to choose our bank, except for the fact that I dislike Santander because of their various well-known machinations and their role in the recent – or still ongoing – financial crisis. Santander was also the bank that sold us our apartment, which they had earlier repossessed from some poor guy, and capitalising on somebody else’s misery is all I ever want to have to do with them.)

After a trip to Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, the preliminary contract was signed. We returned to Berlin in order to take care of the rest of the paperwork and wait for it to go through.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 4 – Autumn in Berlin

At the end of September we were once again back in Berlin. The weather was still relatively mild, Monika and I had a lot of our mind and loads of work to do (unrelated to our “volcano lair” aspirations), and so we pushed the thought of moving to the Canaries out of our minds for a while. However, as early as in the beginning of November, the weather got utterly obnoxious very abruptly and with what seemed (and turned out to in fact be) a six-month finality. Thus our search for a flat to rent on Tenerife rose higher on our list of priorities with every passing week.

We put out lots of “feelers”, thanks to our newfound contacts on Tenerife. However, everyone involved soon started suspecting that, contrary to what all of us had previously thought, renting an affordable flat there would most likely turn out to be impossible. Our own online research proved the same: the influx of tourists to Tenerife towards the end of 2016 was shocking, even to the local population. All the capacities were filled to the brim, and even rooms that people there rent out en masse via Airbnb were relatively hard to find. It was obvious that Tenerife would, until further notice, be profiting massively from the fan-hitting shit and the resulting decline in tourism in the usual winter retreats of European tourists like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey… Even Greece, to a degree. So everyone in search of some sun during the winter (as well as spring and autumn) headed to the Canary Islands instead, also thanks to a large number of low-cost airlines flying there on a regular basis. In such circumstances nobody was renting flats long-term under anything even remotely approaching passable conditions.

One after another, our contacts on Tenerife started coming up with the suggestion that the only thing that made sense at the moment was to buy an apartment there – while one could still afford such a thing. At first we thought the idea was preposterous: how were we supposed to come up with the money for such a stunt? However, the idea soon turned out to be more than just a pipe dream: at the time apartments on Tenerife were still relatively cheap, even shockingly so, in comparison to, for example, Slovenia or Germany. Of course, the comparatively low prices of apartments on Tenerife were the result of the Spanish real-estate bubble that had burst during the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and we decided to take advantage of the situation while we still could – as it was, we were already two or three years too late to really “capitalise” on the best opportunities. The prices of real estate on the Canaries would most likely keep inflating, at least until the next financial meltdown that is most probably in store for us all, so there was no time like yesterday to get a move on.

It did not take us long to figure out that servicing a ten-year loan that we needed would be significantly cheaper than paying our rent in Berlin, and, of course, at the end of the ten-year period we’d end up with our own flat instead of merely shovelling cash out through the window for the next decade or more.

Theory is often far more elegant, simple and shiny in every aspect than practice, and trying to get a loan as a freelancer… Well, I can only say good luck. I will deliberately refrain from blowing my lid and embarking on an endless rant about the woes of the precariat in the brave new millennium at this point, because I’m so fed up with the issue that I don’t even want to write about it. Instead I’ll just say that after lengthy and frustrating negotiations, involving numerous complications, a load of paperwork and a fine selection of catch-22s, we managed to get a loan. We also liquidated our life insurance savings accounts back in Slovenia.

Finally we bought one-way tickets to Tenerife: at the beginning of January (after the Christmas and New Year frenzy would be over), we’d be looking for an apartment to buy. It was about time to start reading up on all the legal and bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo involved in such a transaction, as well as looking for flats for sale online, so that we’d get to Tenerife armed with at least the basic information.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 3 – Welcome to Tenerife

After years of thinking about it and postponing it in favour of vacationing on one of the Greek islands, September 2016 was – as we had already been thinking about the possibility of moving to somewhere in Spain – finally time for our first visit to Tenerife. The additional reason we apparently needed to finally check it out was to visit a dear old pal of mine, whom I hadn’t seen for some ten years or so and who had moved there last year. He was overjoyed when he heard we were thinking about doing the same, and urged us to get our asses in gear. He would also introduce us to a fine collection of his buddies, so we could get our bearing more easily.

Unfortunately it eventually turned out that this friend of mine, who intended to start a craft brewery – and offered me, at least in theory, a job there – would soon have to move back to Slovenia for reasons beyond his control that I will not go into here, but otherwise his plan to introduce the island to us (or us to the island) worked out well. We did get to meet a number of great people, some of them Slovenian, some Serbian, some Italian et cetera – but scarcely any Spanish characters. (Here we go again – in Berlin we’d also spent most of our time in the company of former Yugoslav brothers, Italians, Turks and other foreigners, crossing paths with Germans mostly only in various companies, offices, bureaus and administrations). My old pal also showed us around some of the island, told us everything about it, and we took a week-long rent-a-car trip around the rock ourselves.

As far as geography goes, Tenerife (or Canary Islands in general) must be the single greatest location you can find in the European Union. Yes, the French and Portuguese have other remnants of their former colonies and outposts left that may officially be considered EU as well, but generally speaking the Canaries are it, especially if you take their relative accessibility into account: five hours by plane from Germany (or Slovenia) is about as much of flight time that you can stomach in one sitting without going nuts, and the flights are relatively cheap. As far as the European Union goes: do not underestimate the advantages you enjoy as a citizen of the EU. The horror stories I’ve heard from non-EU citizens who moved to Berlin, as well as those told by some of my Slovenian compatriots who have emigrated – or have attempted to emigrate – to destinations outside of the EU, provided ample reasons against trying to live outside of the EU for any considerable length of time. There is more than enough hassle with bureaucracy as it is, even with the European Union’s “freedom of movement of people and capital” and “freedom of labour”. Even in the absence of any problems with visas and work permits, which you encounter should you try your luck outside of the EU bosom, migrants much too often feel as if we were tragicomic characters in a dismal yarn penned by Kafka. The fact that Canary Islands are officially a “remote region” of the EU (which they are, as they’re technically in Africa, of course) will surely provide for enough tax, shipping and other complications as it is – no need to get even more radical than that.

So, Tenerife. Is it beautiful? Worth it or not? What’s not to like: it’s a volcano in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Northern Africa, dominated by Mount Teide, which looms over the entire island from its height of 3,718 metres. No, I’m not particularly worried it might suddenly erupt, but if it ever does blow its lid, we’ll definitely go out in style. Apart from that, well… Once you get past the very idiotic notion that you’re going to stay in some kind of a tropical paradise with emerald lagoons and coconut palms and manage to replace that image with a desert in the vein of Nevada (at least the south of Tenerife, where we are going, is like that), you can finally start to appreciate the place for what it is. However, I will not spend any time writing any odes to Tenerife at this point, because we haven’t really explored much of it yet, at least not in enough detail. Instead I’ll leave the island-born poetry and reggae tunes to any sporadic bouts of inspiration I might yet experience once we finally manage to pull this off, settle there, and start enjoying everything that our volcano lair has to offer.

By driving around the island and talking to as many people as we could, we also decided that the south of Tenerife was the way to go. Most importantly of all, it is the south of the island that boasts the world-famous climate, the so-called “eternal spring”. Of course, this is a bit of a cliché, a moderately white lie that tourist agencies keep spouting… However, even without any embellishment, the night-time temperatures during the winter (in the south of the island!) in fact barely ever fall under 15 degrees Celsius, so winters are practically non-existent and it almost never rains. Showers do happen, but legendary drizzling like Berlin? Forget it. Summers are usually warm, though not steaming, as the temperatures only occasionally go much higher than 30 degrees Celsius, and even then it’s usually dry and windy, so as long as you don’t forget to wear a thick layer of sunscreen in order to avoid skin cancer at the age of 55, you’re good.

The north of Tenerife is nothing like the south, though: the climate there is much more similar to the south of the European mainland, with hot summers and reasonably mild though still relatively cold winters (night-time temperatures of about 5 degrees Celsius, especially at higher elevations) – and lots of rain and fog. Naturally, the north of Tenerife looks better: it’s indeed green and lush, with palm trees everywhere… But I experienced enough Mediterranean winters when I lived on the Slovenian coast to be itching for more.

There’s one thing about the climate in the south of Tenerife that we have yet to experience and which is allegedly far from pleasant: the so-called “Calima”. The Calima is basically a hot sandstorm that comes blowing in from the Sahara, especially during the winter. The insidious dust and sand fills the air, sometimes for a few days. That, however – eternally chewing on grains of sand and trying to wipe a fine coat of dust off of everything even when the calima is nowhere to be seen – is just one of the many things you have to come to terms with. Another annoyance is that tap water is not good enough to drink, except in emergencies, and thus lugging stockpiles of bottled water from the store will definitely become one of our favourite pastimes.

However, another exquisite detail about the south of Tenerife, resulting from its desert climate, is that there are no mosquitoes! It’s too dry and too windy! As far as I’m concerned that’s simply heavenly, because in Izola on the Slovenian coast, where Monika and I had lived before we moved to Berlin, it had been impossible to sit outside due to literal clouds of these bloodsuckers – the tiger variety, no less – trying to exsanguinate you. In fact, there are barely any buzzing insects and no poisonous varmints whatsoever. Forget about ticks, venomous spiders, scorpions, centipedes, fire ants and other monstrosities you might stumble upon elsewhere in this geographic latitude; forget about snakes, poisonous or otherwise. The only pests you have to come to terms with are cockroaches – lots of them – and rats. I know, these are not cuddly and cute, either (yes, I know, rats do have their charm, but not the pestilent ones), but at least they’ll go out of their way to avoid you (as long as you keep your food out of their reach). In any case, rats are everywhere – you’d probably have to move to Antarctica if you have a serious aversion to those.

It is also important for us that the south is mostly populated by foreigners, while most of the Spanish minority (haha) can speak English to at least a certain degree. That especially makes a difference in my case, as I don’t speak a word of Spanish yet, apart from being able to order a coffee or beer – unlike Monika who is fluent.

Furthermore, the south of Tenerife is where tourism has gone completely insane, and this will be useful for us when we’re trying to find work… And finally, all of the people we currently know on Tenerife live in the south.

Thus that part of the equation was settled. We decided we’d rent a flat somewhere in the vicinity of El Médano in the beginning of 2017, live there for half a year or so, and then make the final decision. Little did we know how soon that scheme would change.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 2 – Dear Berlin

Dear Berlin, you’ve been good to us, but it seems it’s time to go our separate ways.

You have some serious advantages going for you. You’re still reasonably cheap, though the prices of everything are, sadly, steadily getting worse, fie on you. I don’t need a car to navigate your innards as your public transport is superb. Your multicultural atmosphere and complex, fascinating past – yes, I know you hear this cliché far too often and you’re probably sick and tired of it, but it’s true – makes you one of the most vibrant and enchanting cities I’ve ever set foot in. Perhaps you don’t make a fabulous first impression, but you’ve certainly grown on me: once I got to know you, it became hard to let you go.

Indeed, Berlin is a city that never sleeps, but at the same time it’s so far from any sort of extreme hustle and bustle usually associated with beehive metropolises and their go-getter, yuppie populations that staying in Berlin still feels like living in a real place inhabited by actual human beings, not all of whom are completely revolting, miraculously. Anywhere you happen to be in Berlin – with the possible exception of Mitte, where barely anyone strays voluntarily if they don’t have some specific business to attend to – you’re most likely just a stone’s throw from the nearest park. The city itself is surrounded by lakes and forests that you can escape to simply by hopping on a train any time you feel like you’ve had enough, though you almost never feel confined or constrained: the city is airy, green, easy-going and open-minded; if you don’t like something, you just go and look for something else, as the possibilities are innumerable; and, most importantly, people live and let live, which is so very unlike Slovenia, where it seems that your life and your opinions are just about everybody’s goddamn business. So, all in all, the Berlin stint has been a very useful experience: if nothing else, Monika and I have learned some German while basking in the freedom that Berlin provided.

However, after a few years in Berlin – once we had separated our business from all aspects of the Slovenian system for good – the most mundane reason for our move manifested itself: while Germany offers much better conditions for freelancers than Slovenia (at this time, Germany doesn’t force you to contribute to the pension fund, so it doesn’t bleed you dry with these contributions whenever you’re not making nearly enough money, which is, in our case, most of the time), Germany also has horrendously expensive health insurance in comparison with Slovenia. Thus, once you exit the Slovenian system and can no longer take advantage the EU health insurance by paying for it in Slovenia where it’s cheap, you’re going to be doling out around EUR 350 per month for health insurance per person (or around EUR 260 at the minimum, provided that you’re broke enough and can prove it with your tax statements). Unfortunately this defeated one of our main reasons for living in Germany: because the conditions for freelancers were, at least in our case, better than back home. On the other hand, the conditions in Spain, when you take everything into account, are more favourable than even in Germany – let alone Slovenia, which has in the last decade or so become an absolute hell for freelancers. What is even more convenient is that Monika had graduated in Spanish, so we rejoiced in the fact that all the communication, especially with bureaucrats, would be much simpler than back when we’d moved to Berlin without any of us speaking (or understanding) German to any degree worth mentioning… And it has been her long-time wish to live in Spain one day, at least for a few years, so why not actually go ahead and do it.

Furthermore, we gradually realised that we were simply getting too old for the German capital – and I kid you not. Sure, life in Berlin can be spectacular if you’re twenty and looking to spend your nights partying your brains out and whoring around. However, once you hit an age advanced enough, you might gradually get sick and tired of meeting innumerable young so-called “creatives” and all sorts of clueless self-proclaimed artists, who do nothing but obsess about their “image” and work on “networking” by means of hanging around hipster bars incessantly, nursing their overpriced drinks, staring at their smartphones, and talking about themselves and their “awesome projects” that they never actually finish. You may suddenly feel that if you hear about one more cunning startup, another ground-breaking app – or have any sort of a new brilliant scheme, intricate concept, top-notch design, monumental business enterprise, and/or ingenious (crowd-funded) product described to you by a spoiled brat who invests all of his or her parents’ money in Apple products, beard oil, tattoos, piercings, ear plugs and coke – you’ll grab someone by the throat… Or hop over to the Ukraine to procure a second-hand AK-47. You may suddenly find innumerable bearded man-bun-toting blokes (with or without silly headwear) absolutely obnoxious, and you might even stoop as low as to abhor the very thought of spending any of your precious time in clubs, jumping to the infantile one-quarter techno beat in a drug-fuelled haze. Should that happen, it’s probably time to get out.

Don’t get me wrong, Berlin can be great. It was stupendous, and besides enjoying everything else that such a culturally-rich metropolis has to offer it’s also possible to see loads of first-class rock concerts here. That’s something that I’ve really taken advantage of, having, in the recent years, seen practically all the bands I’d wanted to see – but had been unable to – back in Slovenia. However, the relaxed and sometimes anarchic, chaotically liberal left-wing liberalism of Berlin has in the recent years given way to thorough gentrification, despite the constant and noticeable resistance from the leftists. The once colourful multicultural streets full of immigrants, crazy people, cheap dives and 24/7/365 liquor stores are currently being replaced by an increasing number of criminally-expensive hipster bars, vegan restaurants, vegetarian butcher shops (I’m not even joking) and yoga studios, populated by the global gluten-free convention of clueless, phony, spoiled brats – all of whom are driving the prices into the stratosphere with their idiocy. Rich morons are indeed the worst kind. You can’t even find a safe haven in the remaining traditional Berlin dives, as the hipsters have already invaded them all in their search of “authentic experience”. So the remaining authentic indigenous winos (who get their clothes by the side of the road or in dumpsters) can no longer afford to hang out in their former hangouts, as the clientele in these dives is rapidly being replaced by hipsters (who buy the same threads that the indigenous winos wear in hip second-hand stores for heaps of cash). Thus Berlin is gradually being transformed into a modern and utterly obnoxious European capital in the vein of London (it’s not nearly there yet, but it will be, eventually): the prices are being driven up steadily, and so are the rents.

To make matters worse, the weather is horrendous – as pedestrian as that may sound. No, it’s not so cold: in fact, my hometown in the north of Slovenia, which is a bit on the hilly side, can be much colder, on average, during the winter. However, without any exaggeration, in Berlin it’s a normal occurrence that the sun disappears behind an impenetrable wall of grey towards the end of September and doesn’t touch your skin for more than a minute or two at a time until the end of March or even April. That’s six or seven months of your life down the drain each year, because believe me, if you don’t have a very urgent reason to get out of your flat during the winter, you don’t. If you’re a freelancer who works at home, like my wife and I – or in case you’re a pensioner or zombie on social welfare – chances are you only leave your apartment once per week for months on end, and that only to buy groceries and run the most urgent errands. Cabin fever is so frequent an occurrence in Berlin that when the first truly sunny day hesitantly yet miraculously manifests itself sometime in March or April, after half a year of eternal darkness and tenaciously drizzling rain, the houses disgorge hordes of desperate, half-crazed people who are in such an urgent hurry to feel the sun on their skin that the parks immediately fill to the brim with half-naked and often blind-drunk characters that look as if they’ve just been released from subterranean dungeons or lunatic asylums. It really is pretty bad, and after five winters in Berlin I no longer have any wish whatsoever to spend more than half of my life hibernating.

Here, for example, is a photo of the barbecue frenzy on Tempelhof on the first sunny weekend in April:

Thus being moderately to clinically depressed in Berlin is not newsworthy at all, and during the winter sullen-looking, resigned people do little but complain about the weather: barkeeps, shopkeepers, waitresses, clerks, radio hosts, your friends and acquaintances as well as random strangers of all colours and creeds – they’ll all have horrible stories to tell about the dismal meteorological phenomena. No wonder that Berliners are relatively immune to ceaselessly fantasising about migrants, terrorism, or, perish the thought, refugees from the Middle East: they’ve already been terrorised by thick, droopy clouds, perpetual darkness, soul-leeching rain and bone-chilling wind that loves to swoop in from somewhere in Siberia just to see Berliners squirm; and they’ve all come together, internationally, to hate the weather equally under the united bearlin banner:

Yep, the first thing most of us foreigners learn here is to appreciate the hell out of the weather back wherever we’ve come from. Conceivably only Scandinavians would be able to stoically put up with the Berlin weather, but there aren’t too many of them around here, probably because they can’t come up with a reason to leave their own apartments back home.

In such circumstances I happened to talk to a very good old friend of mine who had moved to Canary Islands last year, so my wife and I decided to pay him a visit. As I have mentioned, we had already been thinking about moving even before that, perhaps to one of the Greek islands or to Spain, definitely somewhere far less “Nordic”… So why not check out what this friend was up to?

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 1 – Introduction

Last year, after four full years of our investigation into what it’s like to live in Berlin, my wife Monika and I decided to move yet again. After a long and careful deliberation we decided to go for the proverbial Monty Python “and now for something completely different” option, as we’d had our fill of exploring what living in a metropolis was like. The village people that still lurk inside us came a-knocking again, but they’re of the “coastal” variety: as far as we’re concerned, barely anything beats staring out to sea every day. Thus we decided to relocate to the Canary Islands. I know the idea may sound ludicrous and outlandish, but we’re no strangers to those sorts of schemes.

I won’t go into details in this short introduction, but it soon turned out that the very rational and well-considered “plus and minus table” with Berlin on one side and Canary Islands on the other tilted very much in favour of moving as soon as humanly possible. The urgency stemmed primarily from the fact that we had to move somewhere, as the translation work we do for a living is rapidly going down the drain, and Berlin is getting increasingly expensive.

Speaking from my experience with our move from Slovenia to Berlin roughly five years ago, radical upheavals like this usually result in a collection of tragicomic anecdotes, mostly involving Kafkaesque bureaucracy as well as a vast collection of screw-ups, thus making for a good source of at least semi-entertaining texts. Nevertheless, I wasn’t initially planning to write this series of blog posts or, for that matter, mention our newest “crackpot project” in public at all, mainly because I didn’t want to annoy people unnecessarily, and uncalled-for posts like this are just irritating. You simply can’t beat annoying your friends on Facebook with heinous provocations like “Hey everyone! While all of you are probably enjoying another horrific winter, let me just remind you that I’m currently scratching my nut sack on a subtropical island where temperatures barely ever drop under twenty Celsius. Speaking of which, here, feast your eyes on a gratuitous photo of me in my bikini (that I really took last summer)“. This is something I wanted to avoid (especially as I don’t have any photos of myself in a bikini that anyone could stomach without succumbing to a dizzy spell, at the very least).

However, a good friend of mine expressed genuine interest in this newest scheme of ours and asked me to write about it, because he was itching to see how we’d go about organising such a ridiculous undertaking. As I’m always glad to find that at least one or two humans on this planet still prefer a “tl;dr” wall of text to Twitter tweets, I decided to heed the man’s words and start describing the whole process in this here “Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair” series of blog posts. After all, why not: so many people seem to be moving to the Canaries these days that I may even unwittingly contribute a piece of information someone might find useful. If I happen to do that, please let me know so that I can edit it out! (DISCLAIMER: Jokery aside, I have no intention to write a “Moving to the Canary Islands for Dummies” manual, so don’t take anything you might read here for granted. Do your own research, so that you can make your own mistakes!)

Anyway, as great as moving to Canary Islands might sound in theory, in practice it’s already been pretty exhausting for about three months now. So, as far as pissing anyone off with my extraordinary luck goes: relax, because in general my life sucks donkey balls as much as anyone’s (I’m talking about the population fortunate enough to wallow in the misery caused by our “first-world problems” here, not about the much less important utter horrors occurring in the other 90 % of the world). Besides, our main reasons for the move are very mundane, even banal: Berlin has simply become too expensive to be a feasible choice for us under our current circumstances. The postponement of my next novel and the new Cynicism Management album, both of which are in the works but progressing much too slowly because the move has obviously taken precedence, is just the most obvious downside for me personally… While in the rest of the posts in this series I’ll mostly be whining about the more concrete snags that we’ve already stumbled upon, as well as the pitfalls still lurking behind the next corner.

Mind you, though: I started posting these contributions AFTER we’ve already secured our apartment on Tenerife – so unless something goes monumentally wrong from here on in, all should end well… That’s simply because starting a journal like this and having to conclude it with something like “so we fucked up – we tried really hard but it didn’t work and everything turned to shit” would be just too damn depressing. I have recently read one such journal, written by a friend of mine on that same island of Tenerife, and let me tell you: it sure gave me pause. However, on the other hand it, quite paradoxically, made me warm up to the silly idea even more. You know how it is, a terrier with a bone and all that… Anyway, I will explain more about it all as I go.

“Juice Connection” archives released on Bandcamp

I’ve recently had loads of fun rummaging through the ancient Ground Zero material (cassette tape recordings of my first band from the 1990s), which I’ve then uploaded to Bandcamp so that all of us former band members could drift down the memory lane a bit. I also took the time to write a brief biography of that band and posted it here. As the whole undertaking has stirred up a lot of pleasant memories as well as a few enthusiastic responses, I kept digging and also uploaded all of the Juice Connection soundtracks, recorded between 1998 and 2002, to Bandcamp.

Juice Connection was the main creative outlet for me for a while, after the unfortunate if completely prosaic demise of Ground Zero. The yarn of Juice Connection started out back in 1998 when my former Ground Zero bandmate, Marko Djukić, invited me to write and record music for a theatre performance he would be appearing in. As it was clear to me that I lacked the necessary knowledge as well as equipment to pull this off successfully by myself, I approached a fellow musician Stojan Kralj with the idea. He agreed and became my trusted mentor and associate, most intensely so during the next few years. We formed the Juice Connection music production team with only us as its full-time members, and went on to produce – between 1998 and 2002 – original soundtracks for twelve full-length theatre performances, a couple of shorter theatre pieces and a TV show about contemporary dance theatre. Later the extended Juice Connection lineup (with myself on drums, Kralj on bass and guitar, plus Aljaž Tulimirović on guitar, Samo Pečar on the second bass and Andrej Hrvatin on percussion) also prepared an extensive setlist of live material and performed at a couple of live gigs. Unfortunately those adorably peculiar sonic excursions have never been particularly “commercially successful” (go figure), nor have they been documented – it would have been a real treat if any recordings of that musical experimentation, sound terrorism and downright jokery existed, but of course we haven’t recorded anything. No – I don’t know what we were thinking.

Be that as it may, while working on various theatre performances, Juice Connection has collaborated with a diverse assortment of guest musicians, depending on what was required for a certain project. Here are the twelve original soundtrack albums that have been compiled almost ten years ago, and now – nineteen years after the creation of the first soundtrack – republished on Bandcamp:


1998: Sebastjan Starič: THE TUNNEL

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 1998, for the full-length physical theatre performance “The Tunnel” by the director and choreographer Sebastjan Starič. This is the first project of the Juice Connection team. Much of the material for this performance was recorded live. Almost exactly half of it was composed in advance, while the other half consists of impromptu jam sessions. A sequencer and quite a bit of electronics were already used for this soundtrack – back then still hardware samplers and synthesizers.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming, bass, guitar, vocals; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums, vocals; Zmago Turica: violin on 02, 13; Marko Zorec: guitar on 03; Janez Vouk: trumpet on 04, 05, 12, 15; Branko Rožman: accordion on 08; Miran Stergulec: guitar on 11, 12, 14, 16; vocals on 17; Andreja Pak: piano on 13; Rok Predin: vocals on 17
IMPROMPTU JAM SESSIONS: Kralj (keyboards) / Praper (keyboards) on 01; Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums) / Zorec (guitar) on 03; Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums) on 06; Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums) / Stergulec (guitar) on 11, 12, 14, 16
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


1999: Branko Potočan: AS LAST YEAR’S SNOW

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 1999, for the full-length physical theatre performance “As Last Year’s Snow” by the director and choreographer Branko Potočan. This is the second project of the Juice Connection team. Much of the material for this performance was recorded live, although a lot of electronic instruments were also used – still mostly hardware samplers and synthesisers back then. The basic material was often recorded at jam sessions, while additional elements were added afterwards, as the material was processed and edited.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Stojan Kralj & Aljaž Tulimirović – track 08. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
LYRICS: Branko Potočan on 04; Sebastjan Starič on 12
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: bass, guitar, keyboards, programming, various toys; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums, percussion / various toys; Sebastjan Starič: vocals on 04, 12; Aljaž Tulimirović: guitar on 08; Branko Rožman: accordion on 06; Andrej Hrvatin: percussion on 06
IMPROMPTU JAM SESSIONS: Kralj (guitar, various toys) / Praper (drums, percussion, various toys) on 04; Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums) / Rožman (accordion) / Hrvatin (percussion) on 06
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


1999: Sebastjan Starič: OH IT’S SPRING AGAIN

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 1999, for the full-length physical theatre performance “Oh It’s Spring Again” by the director and choreographer Sebastjan Starič. This is the third project of the Juice Connection team. The material for this performance was roughly half electronic and half live recordings. Work became much easier with better software, especially software samplers. Like before, material was often recorded at live sessions, after which additional elements were added and the material was edited.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Andrej Hrvatin – track 05. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Andrej Hrvatin – track 05. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming, guitar, mandolin; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums; Zmago Turica: violin on 04, 07; Andrej Hrvatin: percussion on 05; Miran Stergulec: guitar on 09
IMPROMPTU JAM SESSIONS: Stergulec (guitar) / Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums/percussion) on 09
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2000: Dušan Teropšič: THE FLIES

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2000, for the full-length physical theatre performance “The Flies” by the director and choreographer Dušan Teropšič. This is the fourth project of the Juice Connection team. The music for The Flies was mostly electronic and experimental, and some of the sound effects were recorded in the field. Since the soundtrack for the actual performance was a bit shorter than usual and because some of the less interesting sound effects were removed from this release, this album also includes several bonus tracks, consisting of the material recorded around that time, which was not used in any of the finalised performances – what the team called the “outtakes”.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming, bass, guitar; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2000: Branko Potočan: THE DOORS

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2000, for the full-length physical theatre performance “The Doors” by the director and choreographer Branko Potočan. The fifth project of the Juice Connection team. Most of the music for The Doors was electronic with live elements, recorded at jam sessions. A part of the soundtrack was performed live on stage by Andrej Hrvatin (percussion) and Borut Praper (drums). Unfortunately, no recordings of the material, performed live on stage, exist. All of the tracks on this album were written and recorded for The Doors; however, the final version of the soundtrack for the actual performance did not include all of them.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper. Co-authors at impromptu jam sessions: see below for details
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming, bass, fretless bass, guitar; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums; Barbara Šantl: vocals and lyrics on 03; Katja Turica: vocals on 04; Aljaž Tulimirović: guitar on 05, 09, 13; Sebastjan Starič: vocals on 05; Zmago Turica: violin on 10, 15; Andrej Hrvatin: percussion on 11, 15, 16; Janez Vouk: trumpet on 14; Miran Stergulec: guitar on 18
IMPROMPTU JAM SESSIONS: Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums) / Tulimirović (guitar) on 09; Kralj (bass) / Praper (drums) / Tulimirović (guitar) on 13
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2000: Sebastjan Starič: THE RECYCLED

This album actually contains soundtracks for two full-length theatre performances: “The Recycled” (2000) and “Planet DIC” (2001) by the theatre group POZITIV, directed and choreographed by Sebastjan Starič and produced/mentored by Drago Pintarič. The collection also includes a couple of tracks written and recorded at the theatre music workshops in Izola, mentored by Stojan Kralj and Borut Praper at that time, which were not used in either The Recycled or Planet DIC. The Recycled was a joint project of Borut Bernik – Torulsson and Juice Connection, while Planet DIC was written and recorded by Juice Connection.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Borut Bernik – track 02, and Aljaž Tulimirović & Borut Praper & Samo Pečar – tracks 03 and 08
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Borut Bernik – track 02, and Aljaž Tulimirović & Borut Praper & Samo Pečar – tracks 03 and 08
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming, bass, fretless bass, guitar; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums, darbouka; Tomaž Nedoh: soprano sax on 01, 03, 08; Borut Bernik – Torulsson: keyboards, programming on 02; Aljaž Tulimirović: guitar on 03, 08; Samo Pečar: bass on 03, 08; Andrej Hrvatin: percussion on 03, 08
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Borut Bernik – track 02, and Borut Bernik & Borut Praper – track 01, 04


2001: Sebastjan Starič: CALL ME CRAZY

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2001, for the full-length physical theatre performance “Call Me Crazy” by the director and choreographer Sebastjan Starič. Most of the music for Call Me Crazy was electronic / experimental, except for a couple of live instrumental tracks. Some sound effects were recorded in the field and later processed in the studio.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: guitar, keyboards, programming; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming; Janez Vouk: trumpet on 03; Andrej Hrvatin: clarinet on 11
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2001: Dušan Teropšič: THE SWAMP

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2001, for the full-length physical theatre performance “The Swamp” by the director and choreographer Dušan Teropšič. This performance was inspired by the ballet Swan Lake by P.I. Tchaikovsky, and certain tracks on this soundtrack were also based on some of the most famous music from that ballet (tracks 1, 6, 8 and 11). Most of the music for The Swamp was electronic, except for certain live elements and a single live improvised instrumental track, where drums & guitar were recorded at an impromptu jam session, while bass and keyboards were added later.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: guitar, bass, keyboards, programming; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming, drums; Janez Vouk: trumpet on 09, 10; Marko Zorec: guitar on 09; Andrej Hrvatin: percussion on 10
IMPROMPTU JAM SESSIONS: Kralj (guitar) / Praper (drums) on 12
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2001: Tanika Šajatovič: SUPERSEXY

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2001, for the full-length theatre performance “Supersexy” by the writer and director Tanika Šajatovič. Most of the music for Supersexy was electronic, except for some live elements.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: bass, keyboards, programming; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming; Janez Vouk: trumpet on 08; Andrej Hrvatin: percussion on 08
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2001: Branko Potočan: PERKMANDELJC – THE VANISHING SPIRIT

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2001, for the full-length physical theatre performance “Perkmandeljc – The Vanishing Spirit” by the choreographer and director Branko Potočan. Perkmandeljc – The Vanishing Spirit was a performance inspired by the life of miners in a small industrial community where the director used to live. The concept of the soundtrack was that it should be reminiscent of a small brass band of suspicious pedigree, therefore most of the music for this performance was performed by brass and woodwind instruments. The soundtrack also includes a few electronic / programmed tracks and atmospheres.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper, except Andreja Dajčman – track 08 (arranged by Borut Praper)
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming; Miha Vavti: sax; Janez Vouk: trumpet; Matjaž Rebolj: oboe; Zdenko Korenjak: clarinet; Iztok Kološa: tuba
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2002: Nick Pickard: WALKING ON EGGSHELLS

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2002, for the full-length theatre performance “Walking on Eggshells” by the director Nick Pickard, written by Michael Pigott. Walking on Eggshells was an intriguing collaboration with the Australian director Nick Pickard. The performance placed a lot of emphasis on dialogues, so the soundtrack featured many atmospheres, experimental sound design pieces and sound effects as well as several melodic tracks. Many sounds were recorded in the field (in the basement where this performance was first staged) and used for the soundtrack, either raw or heavily processed. The director wanted to include some hints of folk song themes in the performance, so a small choir performing folk songs from the Koroška region was recorded, and then heavily processed in the studio. These pieces were entitled “Zee Koroshka Sessions”.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: keyboards, programming; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming; Matjaž Rebolj: oboe on 02; Zmago Turica: violin on 03; Otokar Praper: vocals on 04, 07, 13, 14; Peter Praper: vocals on 04, 07, 13, 14; Jože Praper: vocals on 04, 07, 13, 14; Zdenka Praper: vocals on 04, 07, 13, 14; Marjan Popič – Ožbej: vocals on 04, 07, 13, 14; Zdenko Korenjak: clarinet on 08; Miha Vavti: sax on 12
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


2002: Sebastjan Starič: LUST

The original soundtrack, written and recorded in 2002, for the full-length dance theatre performance “Lust” by the director and choreographer Sebastjan Starič. Lust was the last project of the Juice Connection team. The first versions of the tracks Lahko te čutim (here entitled I Can Feel You and sung by Urška Samec), Ne premorem besed (here entitled Speechless and sung by Mojca Žerjal), Zarja (here entitled BooM) and Nosi me (here entitled Revolve) were written and recorded for this performance towards the end of 2001. While working on these tracks, the idea for the project SUR started taking shape, which is why the soundtrack for this performance is regarded as a joint project of Juice Connection and SUR. The “evolved” versions of these four tracks, sung by Neža Trobec Teropšič, were later published on the first album by SUR, entitled Na jug and released on a physical CD in 2004. After this performance, Stojan kept working on his own projects, while Borut and the lyricist Marko Djukić concentrated on their newly-founded group, which went on to write and record music for 13 theatre performances, a variety of other audiovisual works, as well as release its two “tangible” albums – Na jug (2004) and Druga stran (2007). The former members of the Juice Connection team still collaborate on a regular basis and contribute to each other’s projects.
MUSIC: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
ARRANGEMENTS: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper
MUSICIANS: Stojan Kralj: bass, keyboards, programming; Borut Praper: keyboards, programming; Marko Djukić: lyrics on 01, 02, 08, 10; Urška Samec: vocals on 01, 02, 08; Andreja Žel: accordion on 04, 07; Mojca Žerjal: vocals on 10; Janez Vouk: trumpet on 13
PRODUCED BY: Stojan Kralj & Borut Praper


After the last Juice Connection project, I concentrated on the band SUR that I founded together with the lyricist, dramatist and theatre actor Marko Djukić, while Stojan worked on other things. However, Kralj and I have continued working together on various projects to date.

Stojan Kralj and I – the core of the Juice Connection team – have never limited ourselves in terms of what style we would or would not dabble into. While writing music for all the diverse performances we have worked on, we have proved time and again that we can be extremely versatile – sometimes to the point of ending up with exceedingly schizophrenic albums. One has to keep in mind, though, that it is hard to imagine what the music is for and why it is what it is if you don’t actually see the performance. However, we have also strongly believed in collaboration and kept involving other musicians in each of our individual efforts, because that seemed to produce the best and sometimes most surprising results, if done properly. Thus we have recorded a vast variety of tracks ranging from jazz to metal, from ethno to pop, from trip hop to swing, from experimental, avant-garde, atmospheric and ambient pieces to drum & bass, industrial, and even orchestral music and brass band arrangements.

Because of the extremely short development times for most performances, lack of technical and financial resources, and therefore quite a lot of creative as well as technical improvisation involved in each project, the production quality of the resulting work of the Juice Connection team may vary somewhat, especially by today’s standards, while the tracks recorded at impromptu jam sessions may often be less than perfect in terms of technical execution, of course. Nevertheless, these recordings are documents of certain times and circumstances and should be perceived as such. Ultimately we got things done: all the performances were staged successfully, we’ve certainly had lots of fun working on them, and that’s what it all boils down to in the end.

On the tenth anniversary of the first soundtrack we had ever recorded, Kralj and I decided to sift through the material and share it all on Jamendo, in order for it to be documented and perhaps used again by someone who may find it useful. Now, almost twenty years after The Tunnel, it was high time to release this on Bandcamp as well, and post the whole collection as well as a short biography in one place, so that the various facts and names of great musicians who have contributed to all of this don’t get forgotten.

“Pendulum Pet” released on Jamendo

For reasons I will not go into right now, my main band – Cynicism Management – has been quiet for a while. The work on the band’s third full-length album (as well as my third novel, which is supposed to accompany it) IS proceeding, though not exactly as initially planned, so I cannot yet predict with any certainty when either will be done.

In the meantime, we have released the Pendulum Pet album on Jamendo, where you can grab it as a FREE download under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ Opeth

There’s a reason – besides my being a serial procrastinator, of course – why it took me almost exactly two months to finish scribbling the following “review” (or, my personal concert journal entry) of the Opeth concert in Berlin on 24 November 2016: it was so damn good that I didn’t have anything to grumble about. I’ll try my best to find something that was annoying – but be warned, the following account may be damn boring.

This was the second time I saw Opeth live. The first time was in Huxleys Neue Welt, my favourite venue in Berlin, but this time the gig was in Astra Kulturhaus, which I was not yet familiar with. Because the place turned out to be one of those semi-dilapidated (on the outside) squats-turned-businesses that I normally don’t particularly enjoy, I was worried about the sound. Furthermore, drinks were far too expensive for its outward appearance… But all my reservations were soon appeased.

Well, maybe not during the opening act, which was a band of cute Swedish shieldmaidens singing lullabies and Scandinavian laments, thus promoting suicidal tendencies in most of us, the audience, as we had already been moderately to fully depressed due to the eternal winter doom and gloom of Berlin. In short, it was OK, but nothing to write home about: however beautifully performed (and it was fine, musically speaking), this sort of ethereal angel choir over acoustic guitar or piano (not even both at the same time) can make me very sleepy in no time. And I had got up at 5 a.m. that morning, so three tracks in I was in serious danger of prostrating myself in a dark corner and missing the whole thing.

Fortunately, Opeth soon elected to get on stage and…

Well, what can I say. Flawless musicianship, superb sound (clear, well defined, loud enough, though not brutally so… actually I don’t have any negative sound-related comments whatsoever, which is very rare for me), and first-class stage act and presence. As far as I’m concerned, Mikael Åkerfeldt is the man. Not only is he a musical genius, guitar virtuoso and top-notch singer (despite his continuous protestations that he doesn’t really know how to sing), but I especially appreciate his sarcastic and cynical ramblings in between tracks that never fail to entertain. His communication with the audience is stellar (he even made the proverbially reserved Germans sing some godawful vocal line I didn’t know my way around at all – I suppose it must have been a hit in Germany or something, which is certainly an achievement in its own right, as it was definitely not a sing-along jingle). In this regard he reminds me of Zappa, and in a very good way, too. One of the self-ironic remarks I remember went something along the lines of “I was bored, so I changed the tuning on my guitar, played a few chords, and – lo and behold – another masterpiece.” Ha, ha, ha, indeed.

What else… Oh, there was one thing that pissed me off, besides the prices of drinks: there was a nasty pillar between me and the stage, so my vantage point sucked, but it was my fault – because I had no wish whatsoever to elbow my way further into the impressive crowd. However, another positive thing: this time there weren’t many hipsters around, unlike the All Them Witches concert the other day, which was a massive relief. Opeth do attract a great, loyal crowd of sensible people, and for a reason: they’re simply so damn good. If I ever have the chance, I’ll definitely go see them again.

Rick Neidlinger releases “A Taste of RickyRock”

For the last half a year or so I’ve been collaborating with a Kansas-based singer/songwriter, bassist and first-rate guitarist Rick Neidlinger. While he was in charge of everything else, I contributed drums and then mixed and mastered the tracks as well. The resulting work has just been released on Bandcamp. Have a listen and/or grab a download:

Released November 6, 2016
Music, guitars, bass and vocals: Rick Neidlinger
Drums, mixing and mastering: Borut Praper

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ All Them Witches

I hadn’t known All Them Witches at all before a friend of mine with compatible music taste, whom we’ve been exchanging musical tips with for the last 20 years or so (we’d even played together in my first band back in 1994/1995), happened to mention that they were playing in Berlin on 15 October. (Yeah, so it took me a while to write my impressions about it, what can I say, I’m a world-class procrastrinator.) So my pal decided to mount an expedition from Slovenia and drop by the now eternally dark and murky Berlin for a visit, and we’d go to this gig while he was at it. A grand idea, if you ask me.

I gave the blokes in question a good listen, like I usually do when I’m about to attend a concert by a band I don’t know, and, lo and behold, even though I hadn’t recognised their name, I already knew their whole Our Mother Electricity album by heart for some peculiar reason. Raising a semi-surprised eyebrow I thought, what the hell, man?!

Later I realised that my neighbour – this demented dipsomaniac who lives next door and keeps blasting his rock ‘n’ roll through the window for all the neighbourhood to hear – might have been a bit obsessed with this album for a while, so he must have played it frequently, without my registering it, really. As his musical tastes are quite OK – even if he’s otherwise an insufferable idiot – I don’t often get back at him back by playing Meshuggah or something, for example, to drown out his tunes… At least not until he really pisses me off. So I must have inadvertently picked up the whole All Them Witches album through the wall. Excellent.

Therefore this had been my favourite track by All Them Witches even before I knew the name of the band, and they did perform it here in Berlin, which I appreciated a lot:

The rest of their albums sounded perfectly cool to me as well, a sweet combination of blues and stoner rock, so I was looking forward to seeing them live. They played at White Trash Fast Food, a place I’d never been to before – a sort of a “moderately hipsterish” fusion food joint / tatoo studio / DJ lounge / (rock ‘n’ roll) concert venue. So of course I had my doubts with regard to sound and atmosphere and clientele et cetera – you know, the usual concerns of a cranky old fart. Unfortunately my pessimism once again turned out to be well-founded, though the actual reasons for the disappointment completely eluded me this time. I mean, we’re all used to bitching about the guy who is dying a slow, tedious death behind the mixer, but this time I couldn’t possibly imagine whose fault the poor sound was. I’ll explain.

My first impression of the place was very positive:

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The second impression was that half of Berlin’s hipster population ate there, and the third was that the concert venue security was totally weird. We had to go in through a side entrance (NOT through the restaurant), where they punched our tickets and felt us up, of course, you know the routine, in order to prevent us from bringing anything illicit inside. We ended up in this neat hall, quite large, I estimated you could stuff around 1000 people in there (turns out I was close, just checked it, and the capacity is 450 seats, 700 standing). Then we were once again forbidden from vaping (this was the second time after the Katatonia concert the other day, I suppose they’re finally onto us), but we were told we could go “smoke” in a “designated smoking zone”. So we did, but it turned out that dragging your ass there meant you had to get a stamp and vacate the premises through the restaurant, so we, for all intents and purposes, ended up where we had already been before: outside, in front of the restaurant. At that point we could have loaded up on beer and suspicious pharmaceuticals… Or grown jihad beards, put our passports in our pockets for the police to conveniently find later and fetched our scimitars, AK-47s, hand grenades, rocket launchers, suicide vests and sarin gas, because nobody gave any of us evil smokers/vapers a second glance when we reentered the venue through the restaurant on our way back from the “smoke break”. Of course not: after all, we had THE STAMP. How typically German.

The gig was opened by infernally loud (hell, yeah!) Israeli stoner rockers who call themselves The Great Machine. I must admit I was impressed: the sound rocked and if this was how the rest of the gig would go, it would be one hell of a concert. As impressive as The Great Machine sounded, I was starting to feel horrendously bored about four or five tracks into the set, which is just something a full-on stoner rock setlist consisting of virtually identical three-chord tunes will do to me. Still, the sound and the band’s stage presence were a plus. I wondered how many cymbals per year their drummer cracks, because he kept slamming down on them like a deranged methaphetamine-abusing blacksmith. Nice, it makes an average rocker all warm and fuzzy inside.

After a most welcome break – because The Great Machine took their sweet time – All Them Witches finally got on stage. I’ll just get it over with and spit it out: THEIR SOUND SUCKED DONKEY BALLS. Well, isn’t that odd? Usually it’s the other way around, isn’t it? I mean, hasn’t it been etched in the great rock ‘n’ roll tradition with letters made of titanium that the sound of the support act should suck so as to underline the monumental glory of the headliners? Well, this time it was the other way around, and the difference was shocking. To sum it up in short:

The Great Machine: excellent drums with a good kick and punchy snare, gut-punching overall sound, massive and well-defined bass frequencies, radical guitar; but barely audible vocals (which nobody missed, really, as they were mostly nonexistent or consisted of tortured screams, for the most part quite gratuitously provided by the bass player for some reason – though, as far as I can see on YT, it’s usually the guitarist who “sings”?);

All Them Witches: bass frequencies horrendously poorly defined (puffy, muddy as hell, so you couldn’t distinguish between the kick, bass, and anything else), barely audible drums with non-existent kick and flimsy snare, frail guitar and feeble vocals drowning under an excess of electric piano.

The proverbial tormented person behind the mixer apparently worked on it and gradually improved the sound somewhat as the concert went on, but didn’t succeed in saving the day for whatever reason (one of which might have been that the guitarist’s amp died and the Israelis lent him their hulking Marshall stack, which made a notable improvement). Besides, at least the infernal electric piano was eventually toned down a little and the vocals pushed some more, but the morbid muddiness of the bass/low-mid frequencies plagued me until the very end.

Nevertheless, it was good to hear songs like this one live:

…though I really ached to sit down, because my back and my knees were killing me. Next time I’ll get there sooner and appropriate one of the seats. Yeah, so I’m a grumblin’ ole geezer, but due to all of the above the concert felt as long as a day at the dentist’s. To make matters far worse, it was sold out, so one could barely move, which was quite a surprise after the “relaxed” Katatonia and half-empty Leprous concerts recently. Well, at least we could secretly vape by hiding in the crowd, just like everyone else (hell, people even smoked, the criminals!). What a crowd, though… You’d think that there’s something odd going on with the stoner scene, but judging from the sickening mass of full-blown hipsters around me I immediately suspected what it was. I mean, for crying out loud: where do they put all of the woodwork that such vast quantities of these bearded, man-bun-toting blokes, preferably sporting silly hats to boot, can crawl out of?