As glorious at the rising dawn may be, the setting sun and soft slide into the dark allows the brave mask of day to be gently placed back on the shelf for the night. The facade rests, allowing the truths to slowly unravel, hiding is over, honesty is no longer intimidated by the harsh burning exposure of sunlight. The day may charge batteries, but the night charges the mind.
Given the association of Owls with wisdom, maybe Night Owls, or folk whose natural habitat is under Moon (or strobe) light have a superior capacity to sense themselves and their environment. With less distracting daily cacophony screaming for attention, the initial deception of darkness and it’s simplicity slowly unfolds, becoming beautiful enigmatic depths of calm, detail, nuance, infinity and understanding. Night is the back bone and central nervous system to life, the shipping lanes where our experiences are transported.
From the opening notes of Lea Porcelain’s stunning new album ‘Hymns To The Night’ (2017), even if you hadn’t read the album title, you would intuitively be of the belief that it’s two members (Julien Bracht and Markus Nikolaus), were more at home in the embrace and liberation of darkness. There’s a sound at the beginning of the first track ‘Out Is In’ that could be the clarion call of Charon’s boat arriving to transport us across the underworld ruled by Hades, on our way to Elysium, the land of the virtuous. Indeed our only way out is to step aboard and drift off into this new world, which we do willingly.
With a beautifully expansive sound that could be loosely triangulated between 80s OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark), Markus’ vocal echoes of Ian Curtis of Joy Division and a cinematic vista, the fathomless deep techno/electronic soundscape created by Julien/Markus that remind me of the ever growing spectrum of Christopher Nolan movies, particularly ‘Inception’. It also all comes with the immaculate attention to detail that all those various creators have achieved.
Every note, word and sound seeps with emotion, tenderness, history and waves of warmth like the slow release glow of MDMA, when the world slows down, you’re in that moment, you pause, smile and look around appreciating the world around you. There have been tough times ‘And there’s destruction in that romance’ (‘Bones’) but there’s also been magic ones too.
There’s no filler in the twelve tracks here, every story has earned it’s keep and wonderfully segues intuitively into each other like the best moments of a glorious night adventure. With standout tracks such as the gorgeous ‘Warsaw Street’ with it’s beautiful hints of The Cure masterpiece ‘Disintegration’, the Nolanesque ‘Similar Familiar’ and the haunting celestial beauty of ‘A Far Away Land’ that all hint at a parallel universe where Joy Divison never ended, and only got better with maturity and technology.
That may sound like very high praise indeed, but it’s justified. I’ve listened to the album countless times now. It broods and pulses at night, particularly on a heavy raining night such as I write these words now. In the dark and wet it releases new details that were previously buried, the rain washes away the grime of mondanity, it glistens, cleanses, feeds your reservoir.
The songs only get better in their live performance. Having seen Lea Porcealin play in South London recently, Omeara’s irreproachable soundsystem was perfect for the dark world that was woven around us, it really was a night to relish and remember, just like the album.
10/10 ‘Hymns To The Night’ by Lea Porcelain is out 16 June. The band will also be doing an instore performance at Rough Trade 15 June, check leaporcelain.com for more details.
FLUSH recently caught up with Markus to get some background on the band and album that should be part of your lives forever more.
SC: You were both born around the early ‘90s as if conceived by Dance/Rave culture itself. Did your parents/family have influences on your musical tastes, and if not where did they come from?
Julien was born 91, whereas I was born in 89 and grew up with Whitney Houston instead of Nirvana and Julien grew up with a lot of folk music from his mother who loves folk artists like Joan Baez. Although Julien himself as a kid used to love Michael Jackson a lot more than the folky tunes. But a lot of our musical taste was formed (of course) during our teenage years. Skateboarding was my entrance for a musical taste because music was so big in that sport and every rider you would like became somehow the musical role model. That includes Sex Pistols, Gray Matter, Gang of Four, Black Flag, Placebo, Interpol and so many other of that genre. Whereas Julien’s musical education grew out of his DJ’ing. He loved big electronic acts like Justice or Daft Punk and used to DJ them when he was 16. Julien also followed big DJ’s like Sven Väth or Luciano that both signed him on their labels later in his career. These are both very different worlds but we somehow found each other a common ground in friendship and in the club scene in Frankfurt and Berlin and that’s where LEA PORCELAIN started.
SC: Coming from diverse backgrounds, Markus in multiple bands (The Waves & Us, Cunt Cunt Chanel) and Julien (techno DJ, musician, studied to be a sound engineer at SAE Institute in Frankfurt, where Nigel Godrich of Radiohead also studied) listening to your previous works, there seems an inevitable destiny to the formation of Lea Porcelain. How did you meet, create the idea of the band?
We became really close friends and started following and supporting each other’s music, going parallel lines, showing each other new songs and giving advice or just loving it.
They still were very different worlds we were in but we were always connected as friends and so our musical tastes fused together. We both somehow wanted a piece of what the other one was doing. When we started the project we unconsciously filled this empty space with a music that was somehow new to us but we really started to love each track. It was this hybrid thing, these massive sounds combined with poems, lyrics and melody, all in one production and arrangement – we were just as excited when we discovered what we did as the people that discover our music now. Every time we recorded our eyes were wide open.
SC: Where did the name come from?
It was very simple. We were just looking for something that was neither common nor fashion and something that stands for itself much more than being just a momentarily cool word. We were looking for a name that we can create, not a name that creates us. Julien picked Lea, Markus picked Porcelain. It just sounded right to us.
SC: There’s a huge soundscape and emotive/emotional/cinematic landscape to the words and sounds that exist on the album, which is beautifully carried onto the videos for the tracks that have been released so far. Clearly the visual aspect is just as important as the music, particularly on tracks such as ‘Warsaw Street’ which you both directed. This visual awareness is also very clear in your live act. What are the guiding influences, and choices in creative collaborations for the videos/shows?
It’s basically anything we like, from films like Victoria to the music of Radiohead, Interpol and others that teach us a lesson of taste that is remarkably timeless. John Hopkins is also another influence, with his videos and musical productions which were somehow just a role model for us in terms of how we want to shape our sound and appearance. But we really couldn’t point out only one thing we like, it’s always just a feeling we follow and something we see in the music we make and the way we want it to be presented. We want to be the director of our own lives instead of paying someone for doing that.
SC: Given that 360º attention and ability to steering emotions visually, acoustically and story telling, are there any plans for soundtracks to a movies, or indeed directing a film?
We are certainly open for everything that crosses our taste and it’s also another way of showing people our world. One thing we certainly admire is the soundtrack of ‘VICTORIA’ by Nils Frahm. His music emphasized the picture so much and made the image so much greater than it even was that we both felt image and sound have to be a brotherhood of an artistic universe that cannot be separated. But preferably we would like to make the soundtrack of a Xavier Dolan movie. He also taught every viewer with the music he selected, the power of the right song to the right scene. We’re big fans.
SC: The new album title ‘Hymns To The Night’ (2017) is a wonderfully simple but perfect description of a journey through what seems the adventures of a night (highs and lows), and the cover imagery has graphic echoes of a cross or crucifix. Who created the artwork and what is the meaning behind it?
We were always on the search for something like a logo that can possibly describe the feeling of the music but that doesn’t come on the first day. One day Julien played around with a press picture of ours and through various visual distortions and effects that perfectly describe the effects we put on the music, Julien created this cross that is so similar in its aesthetics and its atmosphere and when he presented it to me (and he tried really hard because he knew that was it), there was only one word for it – Yes!
SC: The brooding techno aspects of Julien’s background melt wonderfully with the emotive rawness and vulnerability of Markus’ lyrics and vocals. What is the creative process to the inspiration, nurturing and developing of the tracks?
When we write, we always try to inspire each other because it’s somehow a natural cycle of creation. If you are too influenced by the music you listen to, you tend to re-create that. I mean, you always do that but there’s a certain extent and we want to be the most original we can be with the tracks. And making music that already exists in some way or another has never been our approach, we always want to do something new, something original and something that we feel is musically missing for us in whatever genre.
SC: You’ve had a couple of incredible remixes done of tracks off the album by Benedikt Frey (Similar Familiar) and Roman Flügel (Loose Life), do you have any more collaborations in the works, or indeed anyone you would love to see bringing their expertise to the Hymns of Lea Porcelain either in remixes or vocals?
Roman Flügel was one of the first people who heard this music and he immediately became a fan. After a while the label Robert Johnson wanted to do a remix-release with us which was the biggest honour because that’s where we met and when they said Roman was going to do a remix, we were all in for it. We are generally open for anyone that wants to remix our music. Ruede Hagelstein and Amin Fallaha made a remix of ‘Similar Familiar’ that Dixon seems to love and plays all around the globe. That also was a friendship thing with no budget that made it in into the artistic life and club scene and that’s what we love, to create something special out of nothing but a circle of friends and supporters. But we also have been working with remixers for an EP such as Scuba or Vessels and even Thom from alt-J who we dearly respect and admire.
SC: We briefly met after the excellent gig at Omeara here in London. The sound system was incredible and beautifully matched the sonic integrity and depth of the songs. You mentioned after that there was a substantial amount of extra tracks that didn’t make the album. Clearly it’s been a phenomenally creative period, are there plans to release some/all of the other songs soon?
We have plans to release some of the songs that didn’t make the album. It is not that they are any less good, it was just that we were looking for the most diverse and original tracks that show the essence of our work to the best possible extent.
SC: What does 2017 hold for you? Are there plans for a bigger tour, playing festivals across the UK/Europe?
We have now just been surprised to go on tour with alt-J through Europe and we have confirmed to play the BBC1/ NME stage at Reading and Leeds.
We will also do a headline UK and Europe tour during the autumn time and then we see what comes after. We have big plans.
Follow them on Twitter @LeaPorcelain