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Culture Reviews
The Notwist
By Jeremy Schaar
The Notwist, I’m convinced, are one of the best bands in the world today. I first heard them three years ago while lying on my bed. My roommate played a downloaded song and I was to and from the CD store within 30 minutes. Listening to their album Neon Golden (2002 City Slang Records), I asked my roommate, “is this this good, or is it just matching my mood?” He replied, “Well, it’s probably matching your mood, but, yea, this is really good.”

The music they play is difficult to define. It sounds different and familiar at once (a nice trick if you can manage it). I mean, you’ve probably never heard anything like it, but it’s not strange. Martin Console, the group’s electronics master, says their music is “electronic pop music for sensitive people.” There’s this quiet energy that runs through the music. They have lots of long, low tones; or repetitive chords that the songs float on. This means that the drumming, courtesy of Martin Messerschmid, is special because it isn’t holding the songs together. It’s free to come and go as the song needs it. Singer/guitarist Markus Acher has a desperate sounding voice. He doesn’t move through a wide range of notes, but he is under perfect control. Add in keyboards, bass, and numerous electronic effects, and you have The Notwist’s sound.

Saturday night they played at Apelsin for about an hour and a half. Apelsin has quickly become one of my favorite venues in Moscow. It has space for maybe 1000 tightly packed people, but the high ceilings make it seem a lot bigger. The stage is only a couple feet high making the band very close and easy to see.

The show started with a song that focused on lead singer Markus Acher. He has the epitome of shaggy brown hair and wore brown pants and a zipped up blue hoody. The song reminded me of Jeff Tweedy (lead singer of Wilco) solo effort – very folky with the focus on the guitar and contemplative lyrics. Their second song was played as described above. Only after they had warmed us up with these did the concert begin in earnest. They’d changed their music to make it suit a live setting. That’s incredible.

When asked about how they approached the show, Console said, “we were just looking for energy. It’s a struggle for energy.” The Notwist did a supreme job of adapting the soft, if strong, energy of their albums to a powerful concert energy.

The guitars were louder and there were lots of noise effects. For example, Acher kept making his guitar give a short scream by strumming above where his left hand was holding the strings. Their best trick, and one used extensively, was to lull us with the soft, familiar music and then explode with sound that blew us away. If you’ve heard the song “Creep” by Radiohead they use the same idea there.

The crowd, though rather large, never really got moving. Everyone was having fun though, and enough were singing along to hear the crowd above the music at times. Obviously The Notwist has a strong following in Moscow.

When making their music, Console said that they “didn’t have any principles. We wanted to try anything possible or not possible.” The result is an original band that is beautiful to listen to at home and powerful to listen to in concert.

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