Public Service Broadcasting release their fourth album, Bright Magic, on September 24 via Play It Again Sam. An album in three parts (Building A City / Building A Myth / Bright Magic), it's their most ambitious undertaking yet and even includes vocals from Einstürzende Neubauten leader Blixa Bargeld. It brings the listener to Europe’s heart and de facto capital, the cultural and political metropolis that is the ‘Hauptstadt’ of the Federal Republic of Germany – Berlin.
“Doing this felt inevitable, somehow,” muses J. Willgoose, Esq. “In my head, it was whirring and pulsing away for a long time, even before [2017 album] Every Valley – this fascinating, contrary, seductive place. I knew the album was going to be about the city, and its history and myths, and I was going to move there. So it’s quite a personal story. It’s become an album about moving to Berlin to write an album about people who move to Berlin to write an album…”
A Eureka moment of sorts came in November 2018 when Willgoose heard Walter Ruttmann’s radical Berlin tape-artwork Wochenende (or Weekend), which is sampled on three of Bright Magic’s tracks. Created in 1928, the piece collaged speech, field recordings and music into a sonic evocation of the city. Resolving to integrate these long-gone fragments with new manipulated sound sources, he set about making his own Wochenende, a narrative drama for the ears which decodes and realises the dreams of Berlin he’d constructed in his mind.
J. Willgoose, Esq. says, “I started to get a feeling for where the title of Bright Magic wanted to take me, towards ideas of illumination and inspiration, electricity and flashes of light and colour and sound (all the tracks would eventually be colour coded). I sent it to the rest of the band, and said, I know it’s going to change, but we’ll see how the city itself colours that.”
Willgoose moved to Berlin from April 2019 to January 2020. Combining sound archaeology and the flâneuring of the psychogeographer, one street-level pursuit of the city’s energy involved Willgoose walking the Leipzigerstrasse, site of the city’s first electric streetlight, using a wide-band electromagnetic receiver from Moscow’s Soma Laboratories. “I walked up and down recording electrical currents and interference,” he laughs. “You can hear a few of these little frequency buzzes, clicks and impulses in Im Licht (a song inspired in part by pioneering lightbulb manufacturers AEG and Siemens). It’s what I was trying to do in the wider sense, I suppose – to capture those tiny little pulses you pick up while walking through a city.”
He wrote and recorded in Kreuzberg’s famous Hansa Tonstudio recording complex. This brought closer several inescapable musical touchstones, including Bowie’s Heroes and Low. “The whole shape and structure of the record is very much in debt to Low,” says Willgoose. Indeed, the Warszawa-evoking The Visitor – whose designated colour is the particular orange of that album’s sleeve – was initially intended to feature a sample of Bowie reflecting, says Willgoose, on “how he viewed himself as this vessel for synthesising and refracting other influences, and presenting avant-garde influences to the mainstream. We tried to absorb a bit of that spirit.”
Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld lends his distinctive voice to Der Rhythmus der Maschinen, while new single People, Let’s Dance includes vocals from the Berlin-based musician EERA and uses a guitar riff from Depeche Mode's People Are People. The accompanying video is directed by Chloe Hayward.
Public Service Broadcasting will tour the UK this October and November with a show at London’s O2 Brixton Academy on November 10, 2021. Tickets go on general sale from June 9.
Public Service Broadcasting 2021 UK tour
Oct 24: Cardiff University Great Hall
Oct 25: Brighton Dome
Oct 26: Bristol O2 Academy
Oct 27: Exeter The Great Hall
Oct 28: Southampton O2 Guildhall
Oct 30: Aylesbury Friars Waterside
Oct 31: Birmingham O2 Institute
Nov 01: Leeds O2 Academy
Nov 02: Llandudno Venue Cymru
Nov 04: Manchester O2 Apollo
Nov 05: Newcastle O2 City Hall
Nov 06: Aberdeen Music Hall
Nov 07 Glasgow Barrowland
Nov 09: Nottingham Rock City
Nov 10: London O2 Brixton Academy
Nov 11: Cambridge Corn Exchange