The stunning new album from DIY inspiration Mary Ocher draws on everything from the cold wave synth-pop native to her current home of Berlin through to dark ambient, folk and African and Latin rhythms – a testament to the Russian-born, Tel Aviv-raised artist’s ever-broadening horizons. Elizabeth Rushe finds out why Ocher’s been writing “songs for young xenophobes” on The West Against The People, the new LP out on Friday.
This year marks a decade of living in Berlin for musician, multimedia artist and professional anarchist Mary Ocher, who releases her fifth full-length album, The West Against the People, on March 10. It feels like a moment on the precipice for Ocher, who has barely paused for breath during the last decade. Since her early days busking in Berlin’s Mauer Park, Ocher has earned a reputation as a creative powerhouse, organising festivals, making documentaries, releasing albums and directing a wealth of quirky music videos to accompany her genre-hopping music, typically featuring characters that could have walked straight off a John Waters set.
At times eerie, melancholy and sparse, the new album finds Ocher playing over a backbone of grooving, kraut-infused drums, sometimes with three drummers, building on the “new tribalism” of her previous album, Mary Ocher + Your Government (Ocher refers to her two drummers as Your Government, though the line-up changes with each album – she also drums on The West Against the People). There are quiet moments on the record too, on tracks such as ‘The Endlessness (Song For Young Xenophobes)’ and the melancholy ‘To The Light’, further unveiled in a stunning piano version (below). Ocher doesn’t let you wallow for too long, though; ‘Zah Zah Part I’ is an irreverently groovy moment of respite before the shamanic chills of ‘My Executioner’. It’s an eccentric and boldly disparate album, channeling voices as varied as Klaus Nomi, Nina Hagen and The Knife, and marks Ocher’s second release on Klangbad, the label of krautrock pioneers Faust, whose Hans Joachim Irmler acted as producer on the LP.
On a cold February morning, with Siberian winds gusting through Berlin’s streets, I meet Ocher at a community cafe in Friedrichshain. The cosy room is furnished with antique theatre seats, while stickers reading “Analogue Table” fend off the laptop crowd. Explaining the album’s provocative title, Ocher outlines the political essay she published last December, also called The West Against The People, which rails against Europe’s increasing xenophobia.
“It’s mind-blowing that so many people who vote for [racist political parties] don’t realise that they’re voting against themselves,” she says. “People who have migration backgrounds, they feel comfortable and integrated but don’t realise they don’t qualify against the people who have racist, purist ideas. They’re still impure – they’re still “dirty foreigners”. I think we should all remember that we all either come from somewhere else ourselves, or our friends come from somewhere else.”
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