Arriving at Madame Claude is like waltzing into a dream. After walking down a steep staircase one enters into an alternate reality where gravity is switched. Looking up at the ceiling (or is it the floor?) a disco ball pops though a sitting arrangement. Shoes, an old landline phone, magazines, windows, cassettes, and other normal objects one would find in a Berlin apartment dwell above the heads of people who have come to see Madame Claude’s eXperimontag: the experimental Monday music series at the venue. DJ Sugar Wilken smiles without taking the cigarette out his mouth while sifting through the vinyl he will play. He kindly writes down a list of artists for me that he will be playing for the night: Nurse With Wound, Organum, Oren Ambarchi, This Heat, Tod Dockstader, and John Cage.
It is no wonder why many people agree that Madame Claude is one of Berlin’s most interesting bars and venues. This brothel-turned venue has an ambiance of flipping perspectives and perceptions both musically and literally. I had the opportunity to chat with the one of the owners of Madame Claude, and with a few artists who played at the eXperimontag show I attended on the night of August 8th, 2016.
Julien Bouille, one of the founders of the venue, told me a bit about the history of Madame Claude, as well as what it is like to run eXperimontag. Madame Claude began when three French friends decided to leave their professional activities and gather in Berlin to open a music venue. The vision behind Madame Claude was to provide more bands opportunities to play in Berlin. Since the opening in 2008, Madame Claude has welcomed more than 5,000 bands and DJs. Bouille tells me:
“For our eXperimontag we like to mix different musical culture(s), from harsh-noise punk, to delicate free-jazz, from extreme performances to atmospheric drone”
This commitment to booking a variance of musical acts creates a unique venue environment. Madame Claude is fully booked for the next 7 months – a testament to how central this venue is to emerging and touring artists. The musicians from
MOTHER/SISTER/MOTHER/SISTER (M/S/M/S) and Conure, the bands that played the night of August 8th, echoed the importance of Madame Claude to their musical development, as well as told me what it is like to be a part of the experimental scene in Berlin. M/S/M/S is a Berlin-based electro-acoustic noise poetry project. The band members of M/S/M/S relayed that they had a brilliant time playing at Madame Claude, “definitely get good vibes with this place”. Mark Wilson of Conure echoed the appreciation for the venue, staff, and economic compensation. The members of M/S/M/S acknowledged the reality of playing experimental music:
“Anything you do that is experimental- you gotta laugh a bit, it’s quite absurd, and not always a crowd pleaser”
Luckily, the vibrant and rich experimental music scene in Berlin embraces the absurd, and Madame Claude is a testament to the vast community support for emerging experimental music in Berlin. Bouille tells me that running Madame Claude is highly rewarding:
“It’s living the dream… working with your friends and bringing unknown talents to an audience”
Madame Claude is an important part of Berlin’s D.I.Y. experimental music scene. This brothel-turned venue treats its musicians and patrons well, provides opportunity to emerging musicians, and is well-connected to the experimental music community as a whole.
If you are interested in getting involved with the experimental music scene in Berlin, here are some further resources:
Great general resource for experimental music in Berlin: http://www.echtzeitmusik.de/
Antje Öklesund http://www.antjeoeklesund.de/
Bei Ruth http://www.bei-ruth.de/
· T – Berlin http://tberlin.com/walkthrough
(practice and show space)