Sunday, 22 April 2012
Bonkers "On Tour" in Germany: The Scent Of The Underground
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. : - )
BACKSTAGE SIGN IN DARMSTADT
OBLIGATORY BACK-OF-TOILET-DOOR GRAFFITI
UNCHARACTERISTICALLY COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF TOILET PAPER FOR A MUSIC VENUE
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 fotocommunity.de, other photos my own