by Mareike Lütge
It’s a summer evening in shimmery hot Berlin. People are spending their time at lakes, parks or in front of bars with a cold beer. Only a few will find their way to Privatclub, a small venue in a basement in Kreuzberg, although there’s a very good reason to go there: Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas is playing a gig in Berlin for the first time ever, shortly after the release of his debut album Learning. This evening is going to be the only chance to see him perform live in Germany; tomorrow he will be playing in London before he travels back home. The tickets have already sold out, which is unsurprising, as NME recently gave his album nine out of ten points.
We meet Mike Hadreas shortly before the show. He is sitting in the stylishly sleazy backstage area, waiting for the interviews to begin, and seeming charmingly unfamiliar with the situation.
The last couple of weeks have been eventful for the 26 year-old Hadreas, who says he never really considered a being a successful musician. After moving away from New York, where nights were too long, life too unhealthy and thoughts too confused, he started working on some songs in the basement of his mother’s house. Equipped only with a piano and stories that had to be told, he recorded a debut album that takes hearts by storm with its beautifully minimalistic musical arrangements and its lyrical honesty. He never saw himself as a songwriter, and even though he took piano lessons as a kid, he always felt more at home doing visual art, says the Seattle-based musician. In fact, during our conversation he seems surprised to be sitting in Europe doing interviews all of a sudden, surprised that he actually made a record, that a label wanted to release it and that he is on tour.
Asked about the lo-fi- aesthetic of his music, consisting only of his voice, simple piano harmonies and sometimes synthesizer elements, he frowns and seems to be thinking about the circumstances under which the album was recorded. Sure, if he hadn’t worked in the basement but in a studio, he would have liked to use more instruments, strings maybe, but that doesn’t really matter, the lyrics are more important than the music. As long as the story being told is honest enough it will be a good song.
What will happen next? Tomorrow he’ll play a show in London, after that back to the US for a few more. In October he’ll do a bigger tour of Europe, he is still practicing he says. As for everything else, he’s not sure.
Tonight’s concert will be one of his first, his times on stage can still be counted on two hands. He doesn’t dare to look at the audience while playing; he’s too shy. But exactly this insecurity and the total absence of pretense or pose suit him and his music perfectly.
Later this evening the audience will sit on the floor and be quiet as mice during the half-hour long set. There will be no encore and no interaction with the audience, for as Mike Hadreas has said earlier he won’t be looking at people, much less talking to them. But that doesn’t matter: those who listen carefully will connect to him through his lyrics and will know to keep their eyes and ears open and look out for future gigs. We do for sure.