She was the “Snake” for Acid Washed, covered the Talking Heads with Kid606 and sang on tracks by Sneaky, Jahcoozi, the Rhythm Monks and T.Raumschmiere. Now Barbara Panther, a Berliner of choice, is taking her first proper solo step into the limelight, presenting her debut EP Empire on German super label City Slang. And no less than British sound magician Matthew Herbert took over the producing part to create flickering shapes of Klang with Panther, who already had a first, but apparently unsuccessful try-out with Moses Schneider (Beatsteaks, Tocotronic) last year.
Now, on Empire music, vocals and setting at first appear randomly constituted, before revealing themselves as conflicting with both, each other and their inner, when put under a closer, holistic view. There a beat bluntly drones, before getting distorted, metallically interlaced and, finally, thrown out of step within a clanking, buzzing, throbbing battle. In the meantime the singer enjoys her play with the words: instead of wah-wah-guitars Panther onomatopoeically sings, “I don’t care if that makes me a wa-wa-wa-witch!” Her voice tumbles, Herbert runs a riot on the volume control.
But here and there is always an almost disconcerting moment of warmness and lights in this wildly rooted mahogany undergrowth. Once as unwieldy perceived choruses suddenly becomes danceable.
Thereby the EP in even two respects turns into a (downright enjoyable) antithesis to the currently dominating ideal of modern pop, the (wo)man-machine.* Musically, in the above mentioned deconstruction of the technique, and lyrically, when Panther demands the return of nature’s reign in the title track or when she stylises Dr Frankenstein as the waker of the “evil in me” in the follow-up “Voodoo”. Thus an associational circle is closed, leading to Björk or Karin Dreijer-Andersson, of whom the Rwandan born artists’ inevitably multi-faceted voice reminds. It’s a hoarse child and a powerful in one, quite contrary to one’s expectations as Panther herself suggests in the press text, “I may also create a futuristic and mystic feeling because I’m black and the music doesn’t sound black at all.”
Well, surely there has been more than one other black non-soul-or-R’n’B artists in pop history, but indirectly this observation is underlined by the media and her own label’s inability to put her unconventional live performances into other words than the repetitive comparison to Grace Jones. Anyway, Barbara Panther and her band’s new set-up can be seen live this Friday at the highly recommendable Berlin Festival and throughout the whole November and early December as support act of Caribou.
As first preview for this can already be watched in Woof-Wan-Bau-directed video to “Empire”. The beginning of 2011 shall then see the release 13-song-strong debut album taking place. So the “Last Dance”, for which Panther and Herbert ask us to at the Empire‘s end, apparently won’t be the last.
Empire will be released digitally on September 10 via City Slang.
Barbara Panther live:
10.09. Berlin Festival – Flughafen Tempelhof, Berlin
14.10. Club Gargar-in, Moscow (Russia)
08.11. Feierwerk, Munich
14.11. Central Theater, Leipzig
15.11. Uebel & Gefährlich, Hamburg
16.11. Enjoy Jazz Festival, Heidelberg
29.11. Gloria, Cologne
04.12. Fluc, Vienna (Austria)
05.12. Mounsonturm, Frankfurt a.M.
*See Wibke Wetzker’s essay “Menschmaschinnen” (German only) in the Spex #328 for a proper introduction.