Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bonkers "On Tour" in Germany: The Scent Of The Underground

I am sure I have written posts in the past featuring the word "tour" before - as in "A Bonkers Grand Tour", to name one example. But last week I guess you could describe me as being "on tour". I wasn't doing my usual work, which has been quite scarce of late, though ironically I had several job inquiries just as I was packing to go away(!), ranging from phone interviews with van dealerships in the UK to so-called "intercept interviews" with German tourists on car ferries. But like a large ocean-going vessel myself, I cannot turn myself around that quickly, and ended up going over to Germany on the original mission. I guess you could call it a sort of "VSO work", the voluntary services in question being the manning of a merchandise stall at a series of gigs, which in turn explains the aptness of the phrase "on tour".

Yes, over the course of four nights, I single-handedly clocked up quite a respectable sales total, selling to about 25% of the audience each time, which Mr Bonkers tells me is a very good ratio. I have known this particular group for 30+ years: the music critic of the German broadsheet, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, last year dubbed them "the best unknown band in the world". I suppose I inhabit a comfortable no-man's land somewhere between fan, friend - and now "crew". : - )

As it happens, I have had two prior stints of retail experience in my life, in a cheese and a fruit & veg shop respectively, also some 30 years ago. However, this was a whole new category of merchandise to me - one bearing that very name indeed - though it was typically shortened to "merch". I basked in my newly-coined job title of "Head of Merch etc, Germany", the "etc" referring to ad hoc assistance with the provision of maps, in-train snacks, and deciphering the more arcane paragraphs in the Terms & Conditions of the Deutsche Bahn website.

As well as honing my retail skills, I learnt a new set of vocabulary unrelated to my usual business milieu. This included such up-to-the-minute German terms as the splendid "bemannen" ("to man!"), "Album", "CD", "Song", "T-shirt", "Drummer", "Backstage", "Download" and "Vinyl" (for which there are currently no plans, in case you were about to ask). Yes, I fielded so many requests for old-style vinyl in fact, that if I had had a euro for every one, I could almost afford to press the blessed things myself. While speaking German, I don't think I fooled anyone as to my real nationality, though one lady complimented me on my "good endings".

As time went by I started getting quite creative with my sales techniques, positioning the silver-coloured CD as a "handy emergency compact mirror". To some people I mentioned that if you bought nine of the CDs and arranged them in a rectangle you would have a pretty sizeable bathroom mirror. It would cost you an arm and a leg, mind, and the actual CDs might warp in the condensation, but you won't find anything like it in IKEA.

Then the album lyrics were printed on a folded pocket version of the band poster, tucked inside the sleeve, and I lost no time in pointing out how the CD - especially factoring in its reflective characteristics - was tantamount to a complete "activity pack", perfect for long car journeys - assuming you aren't driving, that is.

Then when the small T-shirt size sold out, I began to extol the versatility of the M and L sizes to the more petite customers, explaining how they would make a first rate nightie or even a mini-dress if you teamed them with a stylishly low slung belt.

"Bemanning" the merch table gave me an opportunity to meet and chat to fans from all over Germany and further afield, including a man from Nuneaton who was thrilled to find himself in Frankfurt on business on the day his favourite band happened to be playing down the road.

In terms of my "Scent Of The Gig" choices, I wore just two all week: Orris Noir, as it seemed suitably dark for the unrelenting gloom of my working environment, and Guerlain Plus Que Jamais, which struck me as an amusingly ironic choice for the grungy outfits I had taken to wearing. Well, my best efforts in a grungewardly direction - I may not have been layering perfumes, but I was layering T-shirts like a pro!)

Now I was only dimly aware of other scents - ambient or otherwise - over the course of the week. I do recall the burning smell of brake fluid on Berlin trains, and the smell of crusty egg rolls, but that is about it. I guess the trip was more about sounds than scents, and maybe it is good to switch sensory track sometimes...

Well, I say that...the band did half-jokingly wonder if they should have a perfume of their own, which could be another potential merch idea. They have already come up with its name: "The Monochrome Scent", a rather nifty play on "The Monochrome Set".

Well, I was instantly reminded of Tarleisio and The Devil Scent project, though in that case the scents being created are for an individual band member who is a character in Tarleisio's book, Quantum Demonology, albeit one based on a real musician of her acquaintance.

So on the long train rides - I was travelling independently of the band - I gave the idea of The Monochrome Scent some more thought. It occurred to me that whilst it might well be overcomplicating this hypothetical creation to do so, it could be fun to have top, heart and base notes in the perfume that not only characterised the traits of each musician but also correlated with the role of their respective instruments in the overall musical composition. That way, the notes associated with the bass player would be base notes (of course!), ditto the drummer, and so on.

Or if that was too tricky and restrictive (and it almost certainly would be!), one could just ensure that the scent included at least one note that was strongly
associated with each band member. So the drummer asked for something to denote curry and sweat - cumin? : - ) ), then the guitarist (who is from Quebec) requested maple syrup and pipe tobacco...and I am thinking some kind of Canadian lumber might also hit the spot? The singer is half-Indian so he could be Mysore sandalwood (not least because he complained about his feet a lot!). Then the female violinist likes magnolia and citrus notes, while to represent the bass player it would not be beyond the realms of possibility (Christopher Brosius-style!) to replicate the odour of his signature mac...

Or - the simplest of all routes - one could just stick in a load of notes
that the band members collectively associate with being on tour: after a quick brainstorm, curry and sweat predictably topped the list! Now...even if The Monochrome Scent ever saw the light of day - or the gloom of night on a merch table, rather - I shan't promise to sell it to one in four punters unless this madcap, olfactory "camel designed by a committee" ends up smelling half-way decent...

And finally, here are some more "tour snaps": Germany does a nice line in eclectic venues (an Art Nouveau villa, a former hospital, a Lost Property Office, a punk squat) - actually, most of them look like a punk squat on the inside, which in the case of the Art Nouveau villa was particularly unexpected.



And no round up of tour photos would be complete without an example of one of the doors, for finding your way into an alternative music venue is the ultimate initiative test.

For anyone who may be curious, here is a review by John Robb (formerly of The Membranes) of a recent UK gig, which also looks back at the history and influence of the band.

And thanks to one of those surprise Google coincidences, I have just learnt that Tigrushka, known to many as one of the moderators on Basenotes, is also a fan. I stumbled upon this review on her blog (in Finnish!) and the following tweet of hers:

"Listening to the new Monochrome Set album Platinum Coils for the first time. It's stunningly good."

And this unexpected collision of two fumeheads' musical and fragrance interests is - you might think - further strengthened by a mention of perfume in the opening lines of "On My Balcony", one of my favourite tracks on the new album:

"Through the perfume of sweet velvet sleep
I glide into the afternoon"

Except that the singer tells me the use of the word perfume is quite gratuitous, and he probably just liked the sound of the word without any reference to what it meant. Ah well, you can't have it all. : - )




Now I did hope to meet up with a couple of perfumistas on my travels, but sadly it didn't work out in the end due to illness and a job move. A round up of my solo sniffing experiences follows in the next posts!

Photo of villa from, other photos my own


Olfactoria's Travels said...

Wow, the things you do when not smelling perfume...
Thank you for taking us on tour with you. I'm sure no merch counter was ever better "bemannt" than with you.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

It was a very different world, for sure, and such fun. : - )

Oh, and I also learnt "Umbaupause", which is a proper German word at least...!

Vanessa said...

PS But "bemannen" was my runaway favourite, because there at least someone had a half-hearted go at verdeutsching it!

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Sorry, but I don't think bemannen originates in English. It is a proper German word derived from Mann.
Originally it meant to be provided with a husband, then also to man a ship for instance.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Thanks for putting me straight on the etymology of "bemannen". "To be provided with a husband" is frankly even more fun than my assumption that it was a Germanized / Germanicised? word. : - )

Cymbaline said...

Sounds like you've really taken the "diversify your portfolio" way of thinking to a whole new level! Crazy times call for creative measures : )

This post had all of my favorite elements: music, perfume, travel. I think I'll do a little traveling now and see what I can discover about this band on the www.

(loved the Mysore/sore feet connection!)

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Your first paragraph totally cracked me up, and I cannot but agree with your assessment about "diversifying" my portfolio!

In addition to having the appropriate provenance, the singer does also like sandalwood as a note, I believe. : - )

tigrushka said...

Love the idea of The Monochrome Scent! And since Lester Square is such a sharp dresser (hub was very impressed, too!) I wasn't surprised he came up with the best notes: maple syrup and pipe tobacco. Yumsters!

Though no one mentioned it, I think leather note is a must:
"But when I wear that leather jacket with the silver studs/
I am Evil, I am Glory, I am Beautiful, I am God"

Vanessa said...

Hi tigrushka,

Thanks for stopping by - it is so great to meet a fellow fumie TMS fan - what are the chances of that? And in Edinburgh too!

And you are quite right, leather should be in there too. There was the jacket of the song you mention and also of course *Those Leather Trousers* from the early 90s, which are no longer extant, I believe. : - )

Undina said...

I always request large (or even extra-large) t-shorts: they are just perfect for those uses you've described! (and I do not wear t-shorts as such)

Enjoyed your report and pictures.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I do wear a lot of T-shirts as nighties certainly, especially in summer when they are the perfect cool choice. : - )

Carol said...

I think I used to have a 45 of TMS - but because I gave away all my vinyl years ago (except for my signed copy of a Duran Duran single - which was signed by John on my birthday a million years ago) I have no vinyl any more.

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Oh, how interesting - that may well have been He's Frank, which was their big hit Iggy Pop covered not so long ago - played it on the Letterman show, no less. I still have all my vinyl - well minus the more popular prog rock stuff I sold off to pay a mopedding fine in 1984 - but I have no means of playing it anymore, plus I am not sure what state it is all in.

Am pleased to hear you hung onto your signed Duran Duran single. By a strange coincidence, Mr Bonkers' mate Beetmoll, who has featured in a couple of posts on Bonkers, is John's guitar tech - here he is discussing changing strings:

"I usually leave the decision of when to change strings to my sonic valet Beetmoll Troy- who makes his decisions usually based on fear- that a string may be about to break."

I like the term "sonic valet"!

Carol said...

I like that term too!

I gave all my vinyl to a Russian-born punkrock loving student a few years back - I figured he could cart all that weight around. I grew weary of it all. Though I must admit, there are a few of those albums which aren't available on CD that I miss.

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

Isn't it always the way that we pass stuff along and then live to regret it? I also have this problem from time to time with books - and of course perfume samples!

Unknown said...

FYI :) "Bemannen" is never used in the infinitive form, only conjugated as "bemannt", e.g. "Bemanntes Raumschiff" vs. "Unbemanntes Raumschiff". I don't know if the space capsule with Laika the dog would be called bemannt or unbemannt though. "Behundet" doesn't exist, even if it sounds nice...

Vanessa said...

Hi Marc,

Thanks for putting me straight on the lack of infinitive 'bemannen', though the way German is evolving in a general Englishwardly direction, it seems only a question of time before it does exist. ;)

Love your philosophical musings on whether a 'dogged' spacecraft could be said to be 'manned'. I want to use 'behundet' at my earliest convenience, real or no.