Laying down tracks
Deutsche Bahn and Warner Music showcase young musicians at stations.
Stations have always been places for arrivals and departures. And now they also serve as a venue for new artists showcasing their talents. "trainsome sessions" is the name of a joint project from DB and Warner Music to create a stage for young musicians at stations.
Back to the 1950s @ Leipzig Main Station – session 6
Leipzig Main Station is a building with history, culture and – above all – a huge amount of style. It was the location for the last show of the 2017 trainsome sessions, the series of acoustic concerts presented by DB and Warner Music. The performers were the rock'n'roll band The Baseballs – Basti, Sam and Digger – who played their song "Mo Hotta Mo Betta" in what was once the station's royal waiting room. We caught up with the young men.
How are you?
Sam: Really good right now. This is a magnificent room. You'd never think you were in a station – it's more like something in a palace.
Have you ever played at a station before?
Basti: One of our first concerts was at Halle an der Saale's station. I think we can say that we've made progress in the past 10 years: the last gig was outside the station, and now we're inside. (All three laugh)
You've been playing as The Baseballs for ten years. Are there any personal quirks that you have trouble putting up with even after all this time?
Sam: It's natural that you get to know each other really well over the course of ten years. We've toured a lot abroad as well and spent very little time at home. It's like having a second family, one that you're on tour with. That's when you find out what one person thinks is a crazy quirk but the other person thinks is just "something cute". The guys do nothing that I'd single out for criticism. We're all so different in our basic personalities that we get on really well.
In your day-to-day life as a band, does each of you have a specific task?
Basti: We all have our own work to do. Digger is in charge of the creative side of things first and foremost. He shot a lot of our videos and the ideas for the videos normally come from him too. He has a degree in media design, luckily for us. Sam contributes that original 1950s sound. Lots of musicians try to copy it, Elvis imitators in particular. It all comes totally naturally to Sam.
Digger: Basti does the bit that nobody likes. He stays up until four in the morning taking care of the figures. Our job is great, but today it's almost impossible to do anything without keeping an eye on the money. Unfortunately, it's not quite as romantic as we used to imagine in the past.
You're performing the song "Mo Hotta Mo Betta" today. What does the track mean to you?
Basti: "Mo Hotta Mo Betta" was important to us because it was the first single that we wrote ourselves. Before that, almost everything we played was a cover. The song is important in our life as a band, and that's why we're really happy to perform it today.
Have a lot of fun at your trainsome session then!
Digger: Thanks! One more thing – a typical beat is what people call the "train beat". It got this name because it sounds like a train in motion. (Imitates train beat) Of course, the rock'n'rollers of the 1950s didn't say "Wow, great way to travel, let's turn it into a music rhythm", but there's a certain relationship between them on different meta-levels, and that's why we feel really comfortable here. Stations are part of our cultural heritage, just like rock'n'roll. You've got to have an open mind and say "Hey, why don't we bring two items of cultural heritage together?"
The trainsome session with The Baseballs is available for viewing on Deutsche Bahn's YouTube channel.
A lot of emotion at Cologne Main Station - session 5
Located right beside the city's majestic cathedral, Cologne's main station is a unique building, carrying travellers over the Rhine on tracks that cross the Hohenzollern Bridge. The station served as the venue for the fifth trainsome session, the series of acoustic concerts presented by DB and Warner Music. German pop musician and songwriter Maxim was the star of the Cologne event.
The evening's last rays of sunlight lit up the roof of the nearby cathedral as the singer arrived at the platform. Maxim is a stalwart of the music business, having released his debut album a whole 12 years ago. Since then, he has refined his very personal vision of urban pop song by song.
There was a lot of emotion on the platform!
Maxim played his pared-back set on platform 4-5. When the last notes faded away, an atmosphere of reverential, spine-tingling appreciation hung in the air. All you could hear were the sounds of the tracks. Late travellers who had been taken by surprise and stayed to watch the night-time acoustic show went to catch their trains, moved by this fleeting moment at the station.
Cool rap at Berlin Central – session 4
Laid-back acoustic session at Berlin's main station: Tom Thaler & Basil play "Cooler als ich"
Berlin Central: Germany's most important station is located in the heart of the nation's capital, near the Federal Chancellery and the Reichstag building. It was the venue for the fourth instalment of the trainsome sessions, the series of acoustic concerts presented by DB and Warner Music.
The fourth gig was a laid-back show courtesy of hip-hop duo Tom Thaler & Basil. For over 11 years, Berlin Central has been Europe's largest station with criss-crossing tracks, and it is used by 300,000 travellers and visitors every day.
Late one Tuesday morning, after the last wave of commuters passed through, an S-Bahn train arrived from the direction of Friedrichstrasse. Two young men wearing caps and carrying guitar cases got off. They were musicians Tom and Marius, the members of the hip-hop and production duo Tom Thaler & Basil, and they had come to record the latest trainsome session gig.
Gallery: trainsome session with Tom Thaler & Basil
Credits: Felix Wittich
The first three of these special acoustic gigs at stations were played by Lina Maly, Alexa Feser and Y'akoto. Tom Thaler & Basil were now the artists for session no. 4. They got to know each other as students in Mannheim, and when asked why they chose to play at Berlin Central, Tom replied, "Because we've been living in Berlin for a year. It's our base now, this is where we produced our album." There was a practical consideration too: "We didn't have to take the S-Bahn far." The duo is also very familiar with the place for other reasons: "We're musicians, so we spend every other day at the station. We're always travelling." One thing is really important: "You've got to have your music with you. If you forget your headphones, then you're lost." Luckily, the day of the gig was one time they didn't need any headphones. The production team quickly transformed a spot in the station into a holiday oasis with deckchairs, a paddling pool, toy sharks and plants, creating a summery atmosphere in the middle of the gigantic building. Unsurprisingly, the session that followed was extremely laid-back and relaxed. "It's okay that there's always someone cooler than me," Tom rapped – but, to be honest, there could be few things cooler than this performance in the middle of Berlin Central.
A few last bars on the guitar, a final rap into the mic, and the latest trainsome session recording was wrapped up. Tom and Marius smiled with satisfaction and treated themselves to a scoop of ice-cream before taking the S-Bahn back home. The current trainsome session song, "Cooler als ich" is on Tom Thaler & Basil's album, "Malu".
Soul in Stuttgart – session 3
Stuttgart Main Station is a place with a lot of history – and even more future. The Swabian capital hosted soul singer Y'akoto for the third trainsome session, the series of acoustic concerts presented by DB and Warner Music.
It was a sunny Monday when Y'akoto arrived at the platform in beautiful Stuttgart. She had released her album "Mermaid Blues" just a few days before and came to the city following a media tour that saw her criss-cross Germany. Now she was in the southwest of the country to record her trainsome session.
Born Jennifer Yaa Akoto Kieck, Y'akoto has Ghanaian roots and grew up in Hamburg, Cameroon, Togo and Chad. Today, she lives in Paris and has three albums under her belt. She has already been nominated twice for the ECHO music prize, and she is among the most successful soul singers from Germany.
When Y'akoto entered the old ticket hall at Stuttgart's main station, her musicians' instruments were already in place. Yannick (guitar) and Wendy (piano) had come all the way from Paris to accompany the singer. Stepping up to the mic, Y'akoto sang the opening lines of her current single, "All I Want (Comme Ci, Comme Ca)" and a hush fell over the big hall. More and more people passing through the station stopped to listen to her soulful voice, framed by her two backing musicians. Y'akotos songs tell stories, often about arrivals – but also about leaving. She often finds inspiration in her many travels: "Lots of times, I've been standing at a station with a melody in my head, and I record it quickly on my phone so that I don't lose it again."
Gallery of the trainsome session with Y'AKOTO in Stuttgart
Credits: Felix Wittich
As the final notes of "All I Want (Comme Ci, Comme Ca)" faded away, the crowd of listeners that gathered to watch her burst into applause, and Y'akoto was delighted. "It was a wonderful feeling to be able to perform the song here in the ticket hall. I've never played in a station before, and never in hall with such a high ceiling," said the 30-year-old with a satisfied smile, before she boarded another ICE train to continue her journey across Europe. With the memory of her smile still lingering, the audience hummed the song's melody for a moment until the day-to-day sounds of the station's business took over again.
The current trainsome session song "All I want (Comme Ci, Comme Ca)" is available from different sources and is included on her album, "Mermaid Blues".
Nocturnal sounds at Frankfurt Central – session 2
The clock struck midnight when a cheerful Alexa Feser made her entrance to the station hall. From nearby Wiesbaden, the musician feels a particular link to Frankfurt's main station – this is where she got on and off trains when she was a teenager looking to paint the town red at night.
Today, she lives in Berlin and writes songs about her life. And about stations: "A station always has something wistful about it, something connected to a yearning to travel." You could feel a hint of nostalgia. While Alexa was lost in reverie, the production team was busily preparing the platform. Trains were parked, lighting was positioned and the sound gear was set up. Everything had to be perfect for the night gig because time was tight:
in just a few hours, train services would start running at the station again. Michael Birnstock from Deutsche Bahn was all excited: "I think the acoustics here are fantastic, and it's a very special feeling to play at an empty station at night – a place that thousands of people pass through during the day." The recording at Frankfurt Central was scheduled for the night so that the organisers could really minimise the background noise during the acoustic set for Alexa's current single, "Wunderfinder (feat. Curse)". At 2 am, nobody showed any signs of tiredness – luckily, there was loads of coffee and hot soup for the entire team.
Gallery: trainsome session with Alexa Feser and Curse
Credits: Felix Wittich
As the singer sat down at the piano, you could only guess at the kind of magic that would occur just a few seconds later. The moment she touched the piano keys, the entire team forgot how cold and tired they were. Full of feeling, Alexa's voice carried over the platform. When rapper Curse joined in with his part, every last night shift worker in the cavernous building stopped to listen. It might have been cold, but the emotion and the excitement in the air were stronger. After the last notes died away, the team remained entranced in what seemed like a dream in the near-deserted station for another two, three seconds before they returned to reality. Happy and tired, the entire team headed for their hotel at about 4:30 am with a complete recording of the trainsome session. You can watch the finished product from this special night on Deutsche Bahn's YouTube channel.
The current trainsome session song "Wunderfinder (feat. Curse)" is available from different sources and is included on Alexa's album "Zwischen den Sekunden". Talking about it, she explains "Sometimes, everything gets decided in the fraction of a second – do you like somebody or not, are you in love or not. Wars get started, fates get sealed. A moment that lasts for an eternity. That's what the lyrics are about as well: they are about moments when people make a final decision about how they feel." The nocturnal trainsome sessions with Alexa Feser at Frankfurt Central was a moment just like that.
Soft songs at Hundertwasser's station – session 1
Stations have always been places for arrivals and departures, but now they also serve as a venue for new artists showcasing their talents. Artists such as Lina Maly.
From the moment she arrived, the station had an effect on her. The 19-year-old looked up at the big glass dome with a delighted expression, did pirouettes, her hands in the big pockets of her coat and her elbows angled in a way that made you think she just might fly away. Lina writes and sings gentle pop songs. From Elmshorn near Hamburg, Lina was in her final year at school. It was her first trip to Uelzen Station, renovated according to the plans of artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser to become a riot of curved lines, abstract mosaics, columns like strings of colourful marbles and a fantastical underground fountain. From the moment she set foot in the building, she was thrilled that she had been invited to play an acoustic set there. Painting is her other major interest alongside music, and she appreciated how the Austrian artist broke with many of architecture's conventions. "Hundertwasser was always against sharp corners and edges. I like his style of architecture."
While technicians laid cables and connected a mixing desk and the drummer performed a sound check in the main hall, Martin Libutzki knew that he had chosen the right place. The event manager for DB's stations said, "Every station has its own acoustics, just like every musician does. Our job is to find the right location for each artist. Uelzen is just the start.
Gallery of the trainsome session with Lina Maly at Uelzen Station
Credits: Felix Wittich
Up-and-coming singer Lina thought the idea is a good one. "Station's aren't all about speed: I think they're also places to slow down. I like to look at all the hustle and bustle there. All the people coming and going, all of them with their own stories." The stuff that songs are made of, in other words. With that, it was time to start. The station's main entrance was covered, camera operators put their equipment on their shoulders, the sound engineers adjusted the faders. There was one more announcement for an incoming train, and then the concert started.
Lina closed her eyes, clasped the microphone and sang the first lines of "Meine Leute". Her voice was delicate but nevertheless full. Light as a feather, she flitted through the lines, occasionally placing a special emphasis here or deliberately playing with additions elsewhere. The dome captured the mellow music that seemed to flow around the building's curved shapes. It was easy to forget for a moment that the building's actual use was for rail travel. Lina released her album "Nur zu Besuch" last year and followed this up with a tour of Germany, which nearly sold out, and a stint as the opening act for French superstar Zaz. She landed her first record deal before she finished school. So long as she's surrounded by the people who are close to her – band, family, friends – Lina doesn't worry that things could be moving too quickly. When she finished playing her final song, the hall filled with applause. Outside, the trains clattered by again. There was an announcement for an ICE. The concert was over. Slowly, the sounds of the station returned to a place that had been full of music just a moment before.