Geoff Berner in Amsterdam

Arise spirits! You will be able to reel and writhe as singer/accordionist/raconteur Geoff Berner and his Klezmer Trio play this Wednesday 30 March at Cafe Pakhuis Wilhelmina in Amsterdam. Don’t miss it. He’s a bit of a Whisky Rabbi and his latest album, Victory Party produced by Socalled, is really quite excellent. I particularly appreciate the more spiritual direction he’s taken with such tunes as ‘Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religious Agenda’. You can read an interview I did with him last year HERE where he also reveals much about the Odessa underbelly, an ex-Rastafarian mentor and how curling is making a comeback in Canada.

Posted: March 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm.

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A friend pointed out this report featuring a pissed off Johan Cruijff and complained about how the subtitles don’t do justice to the man’s gift for freestyly language. And that’s truly a shame…

Most of the work of Dutch philosophy’s major figures can be handily summed up with one of their catchphrases – Erasmus with his ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king’, Descartes with his ‘I think therefore I am’, and Spinoza with his ‘We are a part of nature as a whole, whose order we follow’.

But Johan Cruijff is a case apart. First off: he’s a football player. But he was perhaps the best footballer of the 20th century and remains the most famous Dutch person alive. As a member of Ajax and the Dutch national team in the 1960s and 70s, he developed and became the personification of ‘Total Football’ which he later fine-tuned as the coach of Barcelona FC and applied at his own Johan Cruijff University where pro-footballers learn how to deal with life after they’ve hung up their shoes. He remains a favourite commentator at major football matches. His catchphrases – equally applicable to football as to life – keep filling books and invoking wonder in the way they make perfect sense in a strangely nonsensical way. After meditating deeply on the following Zen Slaps of insight, you will understand why it’s not only his initials JC that earned him the name of ‘The Redeemer’.

‘Football should always be played beautifully.’

‘If you don’t score, you don’t win.’

‘You should put the point on the ‘i’ where it belongs.’

‘Every disadvantage has its advantage.’

‘Coincidence is logical.’

‘You should never cheer before the bear is shot.’

‘The game always begins afterwards.’

‘He heard the clock strike but didn’t know what time it was.’

‘A balloon keeps going deeper into the water until it bursts.’

‘Whenever things do not work, you realise the importance of details (details that have gone wrong in the detail).’

‘A mistake begins where it’s supposed to begin.’

‘Either you are on time or late; therefore if you are late you must make sure you leave on time.’

‘When my career ends, I cannot go to the baker and say “I’m Johan Cruijff, give me some bread.”‘

‘If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better.’

Posted: March 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm.

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Unfold Amsterdam hits the streets

Unfold_Vol01_01_COVERUnfold Amsterdam has officially hit the streets. Every two weeks, Amsterdammers will be able to pick up this free English-language poster/mag highlighting the work of local artists/designers and covering the best of what’s going down around town. Hopefully it will fill the gap left since the demise of alternative weekly Amsterdam Weekly. In fact, Unfold Amsterdam arises from the luminous efforts of some of the more luminary ex-Weekly staff and freelancers. So I dig it indeed. Especially this edition’s poster by Simon Wald-Lasowski. So check, check, check it out — or at least put your finger on the pulse by checking regularly at their sweet-looking website.

Also keep your eyes out for the Unfold special edition covering the mighty Klik Amsterdam animation festival coming up on 15-19 September.

Posted: September 15, 2010 at 10:00 am.

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Amsterdam As Chill Murder Capital


BEST. COPSHOW. EVER. It’s called Baantjer and it’s set in Amsterdam, a gloriously scenic Amsterdam where it rarely rains and its inhabitants – a rich interactive tapestry of cops, penose, squatpunks, Suri-Vlaamse hipsters, Yugo mafia types, e-clubbers, admen, real estate speculators, prostitutes and fishmongers – all run the risk of being murdered at any moment.

Happily those Amsterdammers that do get offed can rest in peace with the knowledge that police detective De Cock (‘ceeooceekaa‘) – played by Piet Römer using a static minimalism that he fine-tuned as a celebrated interpreter of Beckett plays – will unmask the perpetrator through sheer doggedness and a Zen-like tolerance of all who he encounters within the victim’s milieu. Watching Baantjer is like putting on an old comfortable sweater: one that begins with a bloody corpse and then ends with a flashback of the bloody act while De Cock explains to his wife and colleagues, during a gezellig dinner at his home, how he managed to put his finger on the pulseless pulse.

But the most charming part of the show occurs about 37 minutes in when De Cock goes to his favourite Red-Light local (Cafe Lowietje which is in fact located on  a very quiet Jordaan street, 3e Goudsbloemdwarsstraat) to ruminate over a ‘cognackje’ and to shoot the shit with his pal the bartender who acts as a local gossip encyclopaedia. At one point, a usually inane comment from this bartender triggers a dramatic swoop in the soundtrack and a subtle glimmer in De Cock’s eye that works to tell the now happily hypnotized viewer: EUREKA! Other recurring elements that makes the show more about blissful familiarity than elbow-chewing suspense are: De Cock’s smartass sidekick Vledder nursing a hangover, De Cock’s petty-minded boss screaming ‘Get Out!’ after De Cock subtly makes him aware of his own stupidity, and product placement in the form of Yakult yoghurt drink (in earlier seasons) or Lipton Cup-A-Soup (in later seasons). As bonus, the acting is in fact quite fine and the script quite well researched – though the latter is probably aided by the fact that many of the shows  are based on the books by a former Warmoesstraat cop Appie Baantjer (books that in the English translations curiously transform ‘De Cock’ into ‘De Kok’).  

But the real star of the show remains the setting: Amsterdam rarely looks sweeter. It makes you proud to be an Amster-burger. Perhaps it’s just the pacing: the calm slow pans of gables, water, parks and trams that actually hold to the speed limit. It’s an idealized vision of Amsterdam you can turn to when you are too lazy to bike through the rain to see it for yourself.

RTL4 is currently prescribing the Xanax of copshows on Saturday nights.

Posted: August 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm.

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orangeUsually I don’t have a lot to say about orange. And  certainly my football strap starts twanging hollow as soon as I have played out my two basic one-liners:  

‘Wouldn’t two balls solve the whole problem?’

‘If two teams can’t get it together to share, what hope is there for the bleeding billion different teams that make up this planet?’

It would be easy to smirk my way through some smart-ass facts like orange being the colour of the sex ’n’ spleen chakra, or that orange was considered by Goethe as the colour of the rough and uneducated, or that orange is the favourite colour of everybody’s favourite god of wine ’n’ bonking, Bacchus.

I could even dwell on the irony of orange — despite advertising’s Golden Rule: ‘Never Use Orange’ — becoming a marketing phenomena where seemingly everything that is now currently being sold in this country, from condoms to contact lenses, is orange.

But actually I’ve been getting into the spirit of things and now when those orange guys score, I even catch myself jumping to my feet as if an industrious fart of mine has suddenly harnessed the secrets of rocket science. So out of respect, I choose to discuss the aesthetics of football. It is such a purty sport after all…

For instance, when the mass psychosis surrounding the game gets too much for my weak and dicky ticker, I let my eyes glaze over and randomly follow the lil’ orange blobs darting about the green field until the sport takes on the vibe of fireflies darting about in a kid’s glass jar (or flames randomly darting about in a campfire…). It is all so very relaxing and probably similar in effect to staring into an orange hypno-pinwheel and getting very, very sleepy.

But before I get too lost in these visual games and a dull-voice inside my mind starts chanting ‘Must… Buy… Orange… Products… Must… Buy… Orange… Products’, I redirect my focus to take in the equally pleasing rhythmics of relaxation to be found within the stadium crowd scenes. The texture reminds me of those scrambly computer-generated pictures that you stare at until a 3D image pops out at you. And yes, invariably out of the sea of distorted orange comes a freaking huge orange clog to kick me upside the ass and onto my feet again and thereby forcing me — albeit happily — to start the whole process again of trying to regain my preferred state of freestyle floating.

But I wouldn’t dare to come across all flaky like psychic spoon-bender Uri Geller who has spent a lot of energy trying to convince people that if enough fans of a particular team focus on an orange dot placed on their TV screen, the resulting convergence of cosmic energies will lead to certain victory for your team… I’m no jock pundit, but that sort of stuff doesn’t strike me as very sporting.

But whatever. Off to the stamkroeg.

Posted: July 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm.


Unfolding Election





For those who want a, um, concise view on the national Dutch elections, my pal Floris Dogterom is writing a series of reports on the still very-BETA website of Unfold Amsterdam. This web/paper  publication is a very welcome endeavour to fill the void left by Amsterdam Weekly‘s demise and includes a lot of Weekly alumni. They won’t be truely kicking off until 1 September but meanwhile the website already features a savvy choice of what’s going down in town. Check it out! It will rule! Support!

Posted: June 3, 2010 at 11:53 am.

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Best of PiPS:lab in Paradiso

Head down to Paradiso this Friday 29 January for the best of Pips:Lab. You can look upon PIPS:lab as a kind of A-Team — where the ‘A’ stands for ‘Art School Dropout’. Actually, they are more like MacGyver — but then with a sense of humour and a taste for Human Growth Hormone. But seriously, PIPS:lab tells a heart warming, and often brain melting, story of what happens when a collective of artists from a variety of disciplines seek to create everything, from software to vocal harmonies, themselves. Combining new media, theatre, music, film and photography — along with tech, chuckles and raw public interaction — PIPS:lab produce everything from theatrical performances to installations. And it’s all done live in your face, right down to the video editing.

For example,  their Washing Powder Conspiracy show is  a groovy, funny and catchy  laundry-themed multimedia theatre concert. And while loose and wacky, the show is still tighter than two people in a washing machine. Everything — from the sing-along tunes and primal screaming right through to the light graffiti artistry and outfits — refers to washing powder. Things that did not quite make sense from earlier in the show are later power edited live to form new backdrops for yet more nonsensical acts of madness. Where else can absurdist speeches about detergents be magically transformed into radical political statements? Meanwhile all the happy chaos is rhythmically backed by a washing machine, three dryers and a sextet of irons. And remember folks, your whites can always get whiter…

Meanwhile, staying in touch with friends and loved ones just gets easier and easier these day. And now it’s even possible to stay in touch with the dead thanks to the internet community DieSpace. Step right up folks! Yes indeed, with laptops, cameras and light sensors, PIPS:lab has created a interactive musical show about post-mortem social networking. And with today’s ongoing ‘grayification’ of society, it’s not such a crazy idea — especially if you believe the onstage marketing manager/show master. Meanwhile… Your mug shot is being projected on the screen since he chosen you, above all others, for a DieSpace Premium Account!

OK, maybe you just got to be there…

Posted: January 27, 2010 at 11:15 am.

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Geoff Berner Interview (part 1?)


This week my token whisky rabbi drinking buddy Geoff Berner is touring the Netherlands with his kickass klezmer trio. Don’t miss his show in Amsterdam on Tuesday  1 December  2009 at the Nieuwe Anita.

Ah yes, the lone troubadour… One human. One instrument. And a stack of tunes. Once they were a dying breed but now a renaissance seems to be in full effect where one inspired freak falls in love with a mutant instrument and proceeds to learn how to use it as both a lover and a weapon. Personality helps too — and singer/songwriter/accordion-player Geoff ‘The Whiskey Rabbi’ Berner has that in spades. Already a respected cult figure in Scandinavia (thanks in part to his colleagues Kaizers Orchestra) and his native Canada, his songs have been covered by everyone from ukulele legend Carmaig de Forest to Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Certainly he has the ability to transfix any crowd he’s confronted with since it turns out that everyone’s a sucker for klezmer-based tunes that drip with politics, sex and drink — no Jewish wedding to be found here, just one ‘Lucky Goddam Jew’ (as another song is called) who knows how to play and sing from his heart. Berner’s motivation is simple: ‘I want to drag klezmer music kicking and screaming back into the bars.’


GBthumg_2So once a guy has a taste for it where can he find some more whisky rabbi drinking buddy types? In Odessa a hundred years ago perhaps?

Geoff: Well, contrary to some beliefs, Jews are actually a pretty hard-drinking racial group. Many of My People can give the Irish a run for their money. There are a large number of traditional drinking songs, including ‘Di Mashke’ (‘the whisky’). Most of them put forward the idea that drinking hard liquor is a privilege of adulthood and we should thank G-d for it, and a man who doesn’t drink is basically good for nothing.

My song ‘King of the Gangsters’ is about Benya Krik, a character in a series of short stories by Isaac Babel, set in the Odessa underworld in the teens. Babel makes Odessa sound like a wild and fascinating place. I think that his stories make the point that when a people is oppressed and denied power in society, its men and women of great talent often emerge from the criminal element, for better or worse.


But time travel is a bit tricky (and I can imagine green zero emissions time travel to be REAL REAL tricky). So what would be a more realistic option?

Geoff: I recommend hanging out with Bob Cohen, leader of my favourite klezmer band, Di Naye Kapelye. He lives in Budapest, speaks Yiddish, Hungarian, Romanian, three dialects of Roma, Zulu, and Brooklynese. He can tell dirty jokes in all these languages. He can tell you where the best food is in places that you’ve never heard of. He was once a Rastafarian for 10 years, and was the first American tourist in Grenada after the invasion.

You should read his crazy blog here.


GB_GML765003939_largeSo I’ve basically lived outside Canada for almost 20 years. But I spent a lot of that time writing about the world from the perspective of a Canadian peckerhead. Now I am planning to return to Canada for a longer stretch to write about Canada from the perspective of eurotrash. That’s my plan… And my question is: what went down in Canada in the last 20 years that may have passed me by that I should really know about if I want to write about the state of Canada…   socially, culturally, politically… new flavours of beer… that sort of thing…

Geoff: Canada. What the fuck is it? What’s changed in 20 years?


The gap between rich and poor has widened. So your middleclass friends whose careers are progressing will have more STUFF than you ever thought possible. And also they will be stepping around a lot more homeless people on the streets of the cities.

There are far fewer CanCon Rock heroes for the young. The internet has cancelled out the effect of the CanCon radio regulations. The Tragically Hip are still going strong, but they don’t fill arenas, and there’s no one who’s come up to take their place. Sure, the Arcade Fire are huge, but most Canadian teenagers don’t know they’re from Canada, and don’t care anyway.

People work harder than they did 20 years ago. That is, they work ALL THE TIME, constantly using their iphone/blackberry to check on what’s happening with work. At the bar.   In the car. At the kid’s soccer practice.

It’s fucking WARMER here, man. You’ll notice it. Even in Ottawa. The river freezes later, and thaws way earlier. In BC, we’re used to seeing crocus flowers shoot up in January now.

We’re at war. When I was growing up, everything was about how Canada hadn’t fired a shot in anger since Korea.   How Lester B. Pearson invented peace-keeping and that’s what our army was all about. Now, we get an average of one body bag a week, like clockwork. And have done for several years now. It’s a slow drip, drip, drip in the national consciousness that’s slowly changing our national character, making us more militaristic as a country.

Beer: People with university degrees now exclusively drink decent tasting beer from the micro-breweries. Some of the small Canadian beers are better than even some English ales. Working class people still drink Canadian and Blue. And they think people who drink ‘that fancy shit’ are faggots who think they’re better than everybody else.

Wine: People drink a helluvalot more wine than they used to here. Lots of Australian wine.

Drinking and driving is still practiced far and wide in Canada, to an astonishing degree compared with Europe.

People aren’t living in Canada. They don’t know where they’re living. They’re living on Facebook.

All of Canada is noticeably less white than it was 20 years ago. Canada has done the best job of integrating minorities of any country I’ve ever been to. Sikhs, Chinese, Muslims, Jews, can all wear whatever the hell they like to school, work, whatever, and nobody says boo. We know from experience that in a generation they’ll all be wearing blue jeans, if they’re not already.   Even working class people eat sushi, curry, Ethiopian food, whatever. That didn’t happen in the 80s.

Even the conservative party isn’t immigrant-baiting anymore. They’ve figured out that there’s a huge electoral gold mine in the immigrant community, and that, wonder of wonders, most immigrants believe in traditional families, hard work, low taxes, and long jail sentences for criminals–just like the Tories! That’s why the Tories will win the next election.

Anything I’ve left out?   Oh yeah: Curling is making a comeback.

Posted: November 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm.


What’s up Doc?


With the world’s largest documentary film festival IDFA opening this weekend, let’s take a moment to pay tribute to the forgotten masses who have been working the last weeks  in subtitler  sweatshops  found across town in dank basements and dusty attics.   So instead of feeling sorry for all those overhyped masses of  call center workers, take a moment to give thanks to all those selfless subtitlers out there who make this event possible…

Meanwhile check out films about space tourists, the Russian War on the North Sea island of Texel, a non-violent psychopath, a freaky futurist, the birth of Punk Islam, disco in Estonia,  a Belgrade folk hero, the inner life of Glenn Gould, googling yourself a  baby, and some miscreants of Taliwood…

It’s also worth  checking out T_Visionarium Open City  (pictured) at the Zuiderkerk (an ancient church worth visiting in its own right as Amsterdam’s urban planning center). This installation, running until 22 November, bends the mind  as a 360 degree 3D — complete with glasses — projection of hundreds of films about urbanisation. Browse, watch, remix, repeat. Really quite trippy…

Posted: November 21, 2009 at 10:02 am.

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Anacondas vs King Kong vs Godzilla

anakongaThis evening my pals The Anacondas  (stay tuned for their new album, Lost in the Space Age/Bad Buzz,  which I’m working on with them) are performing  in the epic City Archives. They are providing a live soundtrack to the classic Japanese B-movie King Kong vs Godzilla as part of the inspired Rocket Cinema  festival (where you  can also  catch  zZz accompanying Frankenstein in an ancient  church  and DJ Alec Smart doing  Jaws in a swimming pool).

Tonight’s happening is being jumpstarted by the  hilarious short, Godz***A Vs The Netherlands,  by another pal Sietske Tjallingii. Should be cultural. And if you haven’t yet been to the new-ish City Archive, just go: some parts are like entering an Egyptian mummy crypt.   Yes, scary.

Posted: October 29, 2009 at 11:58 am.

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