Nirvana, Madonna and the new Berlin: Ballet School

Last week, I was really lucky to meet up with a real damn inspiring woman: Rosie Blair of the Berlin based art rock band Ballet School. Rosie is from Belfast, Ireland, and moved to Berlin two years ago. Just like that. To find a band and work on her music and make her dream come true. And she did! Together with Michel Collet (lead guitar) Nicolò Foglia (bass) and Joe Dilworth on (drums), Ballet School just became that beloved local Berlin band that everyone awaits that first album from. These guys already toured with The Rapture in the UK, and we must say that we are some lucky bitches to be able see Ballet School live in Berlin before they will take off and take the world by storm. Enjoy our interview and be as inspired just as we are!

PDC: So Rosie, how did you get into making music?

Rosie: Well I started young, like everybody does; just doing my own music. The first interesting thing that happened was for me to work with some producers based in Berlin while I was living in Belfast. So I would fly over here and do vocals for them. And they were doing techno tracks. And that was ok, I did that for a while. And then one track was released by DFA.

PDC: Cool, which one?

R: It was called Moon Unit Part Four on a label called Death From Abroad, a subsiduary of DFA. James Murphy wanted to give exposure to the more interesting stuff that was happening in the european dance underground. Ours was a seven minute track with a motorik beat and an RnB vocal. It was a little ahead I guess. And so they put out a compilation of these artists who were all on this Berlin label, and I was one of them. But it came out a long time ago, in 2008.

So because that generated just enough for the beginning of a career, I decided to move over here and to produce a full-length record.  So I came over here and worked with lots of different people just doing vocals for them on dance tracks. But what I really wanted to do was my own band. I had this vision of Ballet School. So I just took some time to write some material. And I started looking for people to form my own group. It is hard to find people in Berlin or anywhere really, because you need to have the right chemistry that is really important. Especially, if you are a live band. But I really wanted to do a live project.

But that is not what Berlin is best at. The scene is really changing a lot though, last year I really felt there was a change. Three years ago, and you would go to a party somewhere, and it’s some guy in his thirties, djing techno. And now you go out and it’s some 19-year-old kid doing R’n’b. Shit is changing. So this loosens things up. There were also so many rules in that techno thing that you could not break, it just came to its natural apotheosis. It was time for something else to come, in terms of a new generation. So that worked out kind of lucky for us, because we are doing something which is completely unconnected to the establishment dance music.

PDC: So how is the music scene in Belfast?

It’s really good. I love Belfast. I love Ireland; it’s a great place to live. It’s very small, but there is one of everything. There is like one hipster bar, The Menagerie. I go back as much as I can, but it was not the right place for me to make music because I need to take risks and do crazy stuff. So if you are in the local scene there, it’s very provincial, just by nature. It’s a lot of boys just doing rock, and I do not find it inspiring at all. At the same time, there are a lot of good friends who have bands over there, David Holmes moved back recently from LA to Belfast. And I went home last year made a movie with him about a friend of mine who is very iconic Irish punk rock guy.  His name is Terri Hooley. He released Teenage Kicks by The Undertones; and they were making a movie about his life and they cast me in it as Siouxsie Sioux. So there is shit happening. I would go back and live there like that, but I am just on another trip right now. But I miss it all the time. I am really profoundly homesick. Belfast is a lovely place.

PDC: So you’ll stay here for a bit?

R: I don’t know. I am thinking about moving to Lisbon. Anywhere cheap is the smart move for today’s artists I think. I’ve been here like two years and I think it might be good to go to back to London at some point, but I really recommend artists living in Berlin because you can afford to do your art full time here. And that is a rare gift. But it depends at what stage your career is at. If you are at the stage where you formulating your ideas and if you need time to think, then Berlin is the place to come. If you have your project formed and it’s ready in it’s package, then go to New York. Because the industry is over there, you go to a party and David Byrne is fucking going to be there. And if you go to London it’s the same thing. But if you go there and you don’t have anything to say for yourself, immediately, you’ll get swallowed up. You gotta come to Berlin first and do all your shit; work your three days a week job, get your really cheap apartment and spend quality time on your art. And that is just an intense blessing. And we are at this stage now, we are recording our album. We are producing it ourselves; with Jonas over at Kaiku Studios, who does Dena and LCMDF. It should be done by the end of October. And then it would be the time to take it to the industry, I guess. UK is the number one market. But we’ll see what happens.

PDC: Who inspires you to do music?

R: Nirvana and Madonna. The Labyrinth soundtrack. Wanting to be a princess. Losing my mother. The hard and the soft. Innocence on the precipice of experience. I love pop, but I also have this really acute knowledge of the American Independent Underground. I used to trip whenever I would watch „1991: The Year That Punk Broke“ which is the tour documentary of Sonic Youth and Nirvana. There is this scene where Kim Gordon is doing these really good impersonations of Madonna.  In that same year, Madonna released „In Bed With Madonna“, also a tour documentary. And it just blew my mind, that Kim Gordon was basically a Madonna fan and that Kurt Cobain had watched „In Bed With Madonna“ enough times to quote dialogue. I love that when you can be a true artist who also has glamour, that’s very important. Because you don’t want to be too evangelical. And I always look for these moments in the most pure icons. I don’t know if there was like one artist, but it is more about the relationships between the artists that I really love. Which is a hard thing to do because ethically speaking, Madonna is at the end of the spectrum, and Nirvana at the opposite end. If you are 15 maybe that is what you think, but they are one in terms of their ambition. But this is a deep cut, this is music cultural theory we’re getting onto here. Things get interesting when you generate genre-gliches. Like, have you seen those T-shirt House of La Dosha do? Rihanna written in the Nirvana font, Ramones t-shirts that say ‘Hormones’.

PDC: When is your next live show?

R: On the 11th of October, there is going to be a Berghain show with Teengirl Fantasy, Simian Mobile Disco and Schwarz Dont Crack.

I did a track recently with Schwarz Dont Crack and we are going to premiere it in that show. So I am going to come on and just sing a song and not play guitar. I am really excited about it because it’s a really good track. It’s an RnB track, and I have a fierce love for RnB still. Irish girl singers are really good at doing 16-note runs. So this is going to be a really fun time with Ahmad, who is the singer in Schwarz Dont Crack, and also a really good friend. So you definitely have to come to that, there are so many good shows happening right now. DIIV were here, Grimes was here djing – Berlin Creamcake booked fucking Grimes and Mykki Blanco – and Trust are coming soon. Things are kicking off in New York as well, and the shock waves are always felt in Berlin and London, because the artists want to get booked in Berlin.

PDC: Do you have any favourite upcoming bands that you can recommend?

R: I have to rep my friends. So definitely Dena and Schwarz Dont Crack. I’m really into Elite Gymnastics right now and I am really excited to hear new stuff. Concept-wise, they have lot in common with Ballet School. I love the new Wild Nothing record. And I really want to see his show in November. Also there is that girl, that I have been reading about on a couple of blogs. She is called Eddi Front. She is kind of like Lana Del Rey but way more lo fi. Also no big hair or anything. She is from Brooklyn, and her songs are so good, great song writing. That is what I always look for, when people are really saying something. She only just started, it’s like break up music, super emotional, you should listen to this it is really beautiful.

I really love Fatima Al Qadiri. She has something very important to contribute and she has the power to affect real change I think – particularly as a visual artist. You have got to listen to her stuff it’s ridiculous. I guess we’re all coming to terms with this idea of being ‘post-internet artists’. These are crazy days; this is like post-punk but on a global scale. Crazy accidents will happen. Some of it will be to an artist’s advantage and for others it feels apocalyptic almost. Some artists will get credit and some artists will be overlooked. I think in the next 30 years it will all start to calm down and people will routinely start developing the skills that you need to really be a musician in the 21 century. Which is a completely different set of skills than what it was even 5 years ago. Some artists are displaying a precocious knowledge of these new skills. The ones that do that AND make a powerful musical statement – these are the exciting ones. People are standing on both sides of the fence right now and I have that myself, some real ethical issues. An example for that would be getting money for shows. We don’t ever play for free ever. You should not do that in today’s industry, you don’t have to. Get paid!

PDC: So you have toured with The Rapture. What was your favourite tour moment?

R: I always wanted to meet Gabriel for my whole life; he is my favourite one in The Rapture. And he is exactly as I imagined a top-2-percent-cool New York guy to be. He makes me think of James Chance and the Contortions or Kid Creole and the Coconuts in Downtown ‘81.  He is this skinny, crazy looking New York guy. He is from the Mid-West, I don’t think he is even from New York state or New Jersey. But he plays the sax and dances so cool and hypes the crowd. At one soundcheck he and our guitar player Michel were having like a little jam, and he was like „Hahaha, I’d love to join your band!“ So ever since then, I imagine songs with a sax break in it. Or thinking „oh he would be so good at playing this hook“. I’m gonna poach him. Obviously this is like the funniest thing ever. Before that tour, I was so shy, it was so hard to even say hello. If you are on tour with someone you really admire, no matter what happens you just have the best time of your life. So I was really getting off on the purity of that. Every night, they would always have hotels and we would be couch surfing. But it was really good for us and got us the exposure; you got to get on that level where you are touring the UK, without a label, without representation, we managed to do that. We just made it happen. We got a lot of good stuff out of it. They were really generous. We called him Luke Jenner-ous, he is such a darling. But they are daddies now and in a way they are sort of over it. They know their esteemed place in the history and they are just playing for love, not fame or the game. They are very gracious, a lot of self-control, just really lovely men. We learned a lot.

Thank you Rosie Blair for taking the time doing this amazing and inspiring interview!

Julia steht auf schwitzige Rockkonzerte, Whiskey und blutige Steaks. Sie braucht jede Nacht mindestens achteinhalb Stunden Schlaf und mindestens zehn Minuten um einen ironischen Witz zu verstehen.

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  • […] our all time Berlin-based favourites, them art rockers from Ballet School with whom we had the best interview ever – were SIGNED to Bella Union a couple of weeks back! OMG! Congrats you guys – we knew […]

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