Public broadcasting follows U2 and Bowie to Berlin on the new album Bright Magic

J Willgoose, Esq – the conspicuously nicknamed leading man behind Public Service Broadcasting – reflects on what a massive strain Brexit has become for British bands like his.

It made the rest of Europe feel like going to Switzerland used to be,” he says, “which means it’s a big pain. Now there are border raids everywhere. People get distracted by the issue of people mobility, but for bands, moving goods, like instruments and the gear we need on stage, is the bigger issue.”

He describes a level of bureaucracy involving logging serial numbers for even the smallest pieces of gear that would make some give up touring.

Exactly on the day of Willgoose’s Zoom Chinwag with me Verification, another British band discovered how seriously the EU takes post-Brexit bureaucracy. White Lies, who performed on Dublin’s Vicar Street last month, had all their equipment confiscated by border controls in France, meaning they had to cancel their concert in Paris that night.

Willgoose sympathizes. “It is stressful; There is a time investment and also a financial investment.” Does creativity cost anything? “It sounds like the highest kind of indulgence to say that,” he says, “but when you’re out there, you try to conserve energy for the show as much as possible because it’s such a massive explosion of energy and focus and.” Adrenaline. Even if it doesn’t look like it!

“It’s a pretty intense 90 minutes and your total time that you spend on tour is around that 90 minutes to take it easy on yourself and make sure you’re able to do it as well as you can. So when you come [Brexit-related] Stress invading your regime can be very distracting and that’s just not what you want on the go.”

Willgoose is hoping for a smooth transit at Irish border control when Public Service Broadcasting comes here for shows in Dublin and Cork next month. her new album, Light magicis a love letter to Berlin’s rich culture, and Willgoose looks forward to performing the songs live.

His band – whose members go by such playfully mysterious names as Wrigglesworth, JF Abraham and Mr B – are acclaimed for producing extremely intelligent, sample-heavy concept albums. Previous offerings have focused on topics as diverse as the US-Russia space race in the 1960s and the decline of the UK mining industry. This is fixed on the German capital.

“It’s a place that has fascinated me for a long time,” he says. It could be heard Attention baby as a schoolboy who brought him to Berlin – U2’s best album was made in the city when old divisions and their notorious walls were crumbling.

“I was nine when it came out, but I’m sure Attention baby was a big part of my fascination with Berlin,” he says. “You know, I subconsciously absorb the iconography and the music, although I’m aware that Berlin’s role on this album is a bit of a myth. They went there to write and record and somehow they failed at that and they ended up going back to Dublin and writing it there instead. But they sold the story so well that everyone assumes the whole thing was done at the Hansa, the legendary recording studio where the likes of David Bowie and Depeche Mode recorded some of their best work.

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Regardless of the effect Berlin had Attention babyListening to the album over and over again was a catalyst for Willgoose to explore the work of other musicians who found inspiration there – they still make the journey, in droves. It’s no surprise that he soon became obsessed with it Low and heroes Albums Bowie recorded there in the late 1970s with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti.

“One of the new songs The visitor, is our homage to Bowie,” he says. “The idea was to give a very strong nod in that direction without descending into pastiche.” He giggles. “It’s not really up to me to judge whether we were successful or not – the jury’s out. This sound world that Bowie conjured up was magical.

“Some weird influences came from the side when we were making the record – the Bladerunner soundtrack [composed by Vangelis] is a massive influence. The way I rationalize this is how much [Blade Runner director] Ridley Scott spoke about it metropolis [directed by the German master Fritz Lang] and what a massive movie this is for anyone making a sci-fi movie. I think there is a through line there.”

To give the album the authenticity he craved, Willgoose moved to Berlin with his wife a year before the outbreak of the pandemic. He immersed himself in the historical and cultural fabric of the city as much as possible, and much of his research was done at night. The album has a nocturnal spirit and it is not surprising when he suggests that much of it was written after the sun had set.

“I work much better in the afternoons and evenings and into the smaller hours,” he says. “Most of the time I was surrounded by artificial lights and it ended up being about artificial lights and for some reason around the world of Bladerunner was also an option. A lot of the synth patches and plucked strings and even wind chimes – which I vowed never to use – found their way onto this record.”

He returned to London when Covid took hold and put the finishing touches on the album there. There are several guest appearances, including Blixa Geld, German industrial rock pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten and Nick Caves Bad Seeds, and German actress Nina Hoss, famous for her appearances in art house film Yella and the hugely popular US TV thriller hometown.

When Public Service Broadcasting showed up with their debut album Inform – educate – entertain In 2013, they were seen by some as something of a novelty. Finally, the album was packed with carefully selected samples from the British Film Institute and the UK’s National Archives. It was a similar story on the second album The race for space. But 2017 Every Valley marked a change – fewer rehearsals, more guests. This album featured the vocals of James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers and Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. Light magic continues this trend.

“We didn’t want to get stuck in our habits and commit to a formula,” says Willgoose. “I think a lot of people would have thought that they would describe us as a band that samples old Pathé newsreels. But that’s not true,” he laughs, “because Pathé is too expensive. I personally wanted to challenge myself as a songwriter and see how far I can take this band as a concept.”

He says the group will continue to make themed albums and he has an idea or two for the next one. “To make these kinds of albums you have to go into that world to research the themes, you know. When we were making The race for space, I read everything I could about the Apollo missions and so on. You need to get as knowledgeable as you can. It’s different from the way most bands make albums, but it’s something that works for us.

“And,” he adds, “you certainly won’t get bored.”

Public Service Broadcasting plays at 3Olympia in Dublin on May 16th and Cyprus Avenue in Cork on May 17th. Public broadcasting follows U2 and Bowie to Berlin on the new album Bright Magic

Fry Electronics Team

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