Back in 2014, Automat released their their eponymous debut album. This was no ordinary debut album. Automat was also the first in a trilogy of albums from the Berlin based trio. For a new group, this was an ambitious project.
The three members of Automat, Jocem Arbeit, Achim Färber and Georg Zeitblom were all experienced musicians. Collectively, Automat have over sixty years worth of music making experience. This they were determined to put to good use on Automat’s trilogy of albums.
Automat released their eponymous debut album on the 7th of April 2014. It had been recorded with the help of a few of their musical friends, including Lydia Lunch and Blixa Bargeld. Together, they recorded the seven tracks that became Automat. Its central narrative was Berlin’s airports. This twenty-first century concept album was well received by critics and record buyers. Now it was a case of doing it all again for the second album in the trilogy.
This was PlusMinus, which was released on 1st June 2015, and explored the subject of space travel. However, sonically and stylistically, PlusMinus was a very different album.
Gone were the guest artists that featured on Automat. They were replaced by an array of vintage analog equipment from the fifties. Home to this equipment was Candy Bomber Studios in Berlin. Automat put the equipment to good use, when they recorded PlusMinus over just three days in January 2015. Each of these tracks were then named after pieces of equipment that had been used to record PlusMinus. This dub-infused album of atmospheric and futuristic music. Again, the second instalment in Automat’s trilogy found the favour of critics and record buyers upon its release in June 2015. Later in 2015, Automat recorded the third and final instalment in their trilogy, OstWest.
The final instalment in Automat’s trilogy is OstWest, which will be released by Bureau B on 11th November 2016. Ost West is described as Automat’s: “take on the failures of neoliberalism.” What prompted Automat to record OstWest, was the changes not just in Germany, but across Europe.
This began when thousands of refugees made their way from the Middle East to Europe. Germany was one of the countries that the refugees headed to. Many refugees settled in several of Germany’s biggest cities, including Berlin. Just like in several other countries in mainland Europe, the arrival of the refugees didn’t please everyone. There was a backlash from far right political parties. Suddenly, countries and cities across Europe were divided. Germany and Berlin were no different.
Sometimes, protests were met by counter protests, and conflict seemed almost inevitable. Europe seemed on the brink of meltdown. Meanwhile, the three members of Berlin-based Automat were watching, and readying themselves to document the events musically.
To do this, Automat returned to Candy Bomber Studios in Berlin, in October 2015. The Studios are situated at what was the former Tempelhof Airport. This proved a poignant place to record OstWest.
Many of the refugees who had arrived in Berlin, were being housed within the hangars of the former Tempelhof Airport. These refugees were Automat’s neighbours as they recorded OstWest, an album that documented the arrival of the refugees within Germany, and what the response to their arrival had been. To do this, Automat deployed an array of eclectic instruments.
At Candy Bomber Studios, the three members of Automat began setting up what was a mixture of traditional instruments and technology. Automat’s rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Achim Färber; bassist Georg Zeitblom who also plays six-string bass, eight-string bass and takes charge of programming. Jocem Arbeit plays guitar, organ, mellotron, piano and is responsible for the electronics that features on OstWest. Augmenting Automat, are vocalist Matsuyams who features on Yuko. Max Loderbauer plays Fender Rhodes and EML ElectroComp 400 vintage synth on Yuko and West. Once the recording session in October 2016 were complete, so Automat thought was complete. Automat hadn’t banked on Britain voting to leave the EU.
On the 23rd of June 2016, Britain went to the polls. The British people were being asked whether they wanted to “remain a member of the European Union.” The answer was a resounding no. 52% of of those who voted, voted no. Britain was heading for the European exit door. This resulted in further outbreaks of xenophobia, as post Brexit Europe threatened to collapse. Automat who had watched events with interest, returned to Candy Bomber Studios, with co-producer Ingo Krauss in July 2016.
Eventually, Auntomat had completed the third and final instalment in their trilogy, OstWest. By then, it featured eight tracks penned and played by Automat, and co-produced with Ingo Krauss. They will be released by Bureau B on 11th November 2016.
Opening OstWest is Ost. Stabs of a dark bass synth sets the scene, before drums crack and percussion plays. They’re join by a myriad of samples, including an almost sinister half-spoken vocal. Ominously, it warns of: “crashing sounds.” Meanwhile, reverb is added to synths that shimmer and an organ meanders. Soon, a sample of a soaring, soulful vocal is adds a contrast to the big, bold and pulsating widescreen arrangement. It’s driven along, as layers of synths shimmer, glisten and sweep while drums click and crack and the vocal warns of: “crashing sounds.” It add the finishing touch to this melodic and dance-floor friendly fusion of dub, electronics, soul and techno.
Straight away, Fabrik der Welt (Factory Of The World) feels like a journey onboard one of Deutsche Bahn’s express trains.There’s an urgency as pulsating synths combine with the drums. Meanwhile, handclaps adds a somewhat sinister backdrop. Soon, Automat it seems, are paying homage to Kraftwerk, and classic albums like Trans Europe Express and Autobahn. By then, the tempo is rising as beeps and squeaks join the bass synth and vocal samples. Synths and drums power the thunderous arrangement along. They’re joined by vocal samples and strings. Together, they create a melodic and mesmeric, genre-melting track, where Automat successfully and seamlessly fuse elements of electronica, Krautrock and techno.
Tränenpalast (Tearful Palace) is named after the old border crossing between the former East and West Germany. Synths are to the fore, pulsating, grinding and whining. Meanwhile, drums, percussion and a shimmering Fender Rhodes have been added as the arrangement is powered along at a dance-floor friendly tempo. By then, the arrangement pulsates, buzzes and beeps, but sometimes, takes on an eerie, atmospheric sound. Always, it’s hypnotic. Even when the arrangement becomes understated, to make way for the eight-stringed bass. This signals the entrance of eerie, futuristic sounds and a myriad of beeps, bubbles and squeaks. That’s until a piano enters and plays slowly, signalling the arrangement is unwinding and will be stripped bare. All that remains are a deliberate piano that fades away, as a siren sounds. Maybe someone hasn’t escaped the Tearful Palace, and has been caught by Checkpoint Charlie in what’s a cinematic track with a poignant ending.
A drum roll is joined by Kraftwerk synths on Yuko. Soon, washes and pulsating synths join percussion, crisp drums and a mellotron. The arrangement is dark, slow and cinematic as it meanders moodily along. There’s an eeriness to the arrangement. Especially when a dubby, ghostly vocal and six-string bass join the plodding drums and washes of synths. Later, the ethereal synths adds a contrast and another layer of music, to one of the highlights of OstWest. It’s a dark, moody and cinematic sound is one that filmmakers should embrace.
The cinematic sounding West conjures up pictures of being onboard an express train as it crosses Germany. Maybe it’s carrying refugees hoping for a better life? As they make plans for the future, drums click and crack, and synths whine, beep, grind and bubble. They lock into the tightest of mesmeric grooves. Meanwhile, a vocal flits in and out. So do vocal samples, as Automat’s rhythm section joins with synths and a myriad of electronics. They join with a piano, Fender Rhodes and percussion. Each of these instruments are put to good use by Automat, as they carefully craft a track that’s variously dark, moody, mesmeric and melodic, but also hopeful, cinematic and captivating.
A vocal sample reverberates before the arrangement to Europa unfolds. Drums pound and join with a piano and percussion. Even then, the arrangement is melodic, memorable and mesmeric, as Automat again lock down the groove. A bass and mellotron join with a myriad of electronics and the recurring dubby vocal sample. Later, bursts of dark piano, join with beeps, squeaks and washes of synths. Still, the arrangement is joyous, melodic and memorable. It’s a dance-floor friendly anthem in-waiting, that shows another side to Automat.
Tempelhof was a place where refugees from the former East Germany sought refuge, after making their escape across The Wall. Automat provide the soundtrack to their escape. It’s dark, dramatic and moody, with the tension rising. Automat as the bass join the drums and percussion. Adding to the tension is piano as the arrangement creeps along, and a guitar chirps and cheeps. Meanwhile, it’s possible to imagine someone trying to make their escape across The Wall. Once across, they flee and aren’t safe to they seek sanctuary in the Tempelhof, which is also a powerful piece of music.
Transit closes OstWest. There’s a dubby sound to the arrangement which is also dark and moody. Drums and percussion are to the fore, while the bass rumbles and the distant piano plays. A vocal drifts in and out, reverberating as dark drones add to the tension. Meanwhile, thunderous drums and percussion provide the heartbeat. A myriad of beeps and squeaks are joined exotic percussion as the drama and tension never lets up. No wonder. Those fleeing from persecution in distant lands are seeking a better and safer life. Automat provide the soundtrack to their perilous escape in transit from East to West. It’s without doubt, the best track on OstWest. Just like so many bands, Automat keep the best until last.
That’s the case in more ways than one. OstWest which is the final instalment in Automat’s trilogy of albums, is there best album yet. It’s an album full of social comment, which is described as Automat’s: “take on the failures of neoliberalism.” However, Berlin-based Automat document the refugee crisis, which they saw firsthand last year. They watched as refugees arrived in Germany, and how German’s responded positively and negatively. This provided plenty of food for thought musically for Automat. Then came Brexit.
By then, Automat thought they had finished recording OstWest. However, Automat had to comment on the backlash cased by Brexit. After all, the EU was on the brink of collapse, as other countries demanded referendums to leave the EU. Meanwhile, there was a new wave of xenophobia was sweeping Europe. So Automat headed into the studio to record an addendum to OstWest. Now the album was complete.
And what an album OstWest is. It is, without doubt, the most accomplished album of Automat’s career. OstWest features music that’s variously cerebral, cinematic, dark, dramatic, poignant and powerful. The music is ruminative, and invites the listener to let their imagination run riot. Meanwhile, Automat provide the soundtrack. Other times, the music on OstWest is
melodic, memorable and melodic. Sometimes, it’s anthemic, hopeful, joyous and even dance-floor friendly. Always Automat captivate throughout their genre-melting third album OstWest.
Automat combine elements of avant-garde with Berlin School, dub, electronica, Krautrock, soul and techno. In just about every track, disparate musical genres, influences and instruments are combined seamlessly. This includes traditional instruments and technology, plus a goodly amount of samples. When they’re combined the result is Automat’s career-defining album OstWest, which will be released by Bureau B on 11th November 2016.