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VISIONS OF ZHIVA

PRESENTING MUSIC FROM CENTRAL EUROPE

INTRODUCING: LEA PORCELAIN (from Frankfurt, based in Berlin and London)

Words by Nathan Lova, published 20.7.2018

Two music worlds clash to produce a piece that is well-balanced and beautifully haunting. The duo had international music webs (such as Stereogum) sing odes to them soon after they released their first material. The British music site Velvet Independent wrote that their debut track Similar Familiarproves you don’t have to be established to make something massive”. It seems that Markus Nikolaus and Julien Bracht have reached the perfect constellation of energies, both sonically and personally. Their debut album Hymns to the Night came out last year on their own label Lea Porcelain Recordings as well as a vinyl of remixes. 2018 has seen a release of three singles and a mesmerizing concert at the Funkhaus venue in Berlin.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that band members are close friends or that they both have music careers outside of the band. In the case of Lea Porcelain, however, the timeline is somewhat twisted. The pair first met in a Frankfurt club back in 2012. The night was already giving way to the morning when Markus and his then-eccentric hairdo struck Julien, but it wasn’t till the second chance meeting about a week later that they actually spoke, the duo recalls in a 2017 interview. Upon meeting they were both established musicians in their respective corners of the music universe, Markus as part of the independent scene and Julien as a techno DJ. The differences attracted each other and mutual interest in the other’s endeavours eventually grew into launching a project together. Searching for a name they wanted something timeless that they could fill with meaning rather than creating a hype, and so Julien picked Lea and Markus Porcelain.

Listening to the pair talking about their creative process, one grasps quickly that for Lea Porcelain night the most fruitful part of the day. It was in nightlife they met, it was in the night when the inspiration came and it was from dusk to dawn they were in the studio to record the album. After six weeks they came out with 12 tracks that pay homage to the more enigmatic part of daily cycle. As daily routine fades away the senses either numb or heighten, depending on what the night promises: Some bring rest, some bring joy and some nothing more than bad dreams. In the hazy outlines the album captures both the heights and the lows any night might bring.

Lea Porcelain combines the dismal sound of the early Manchester with entrancing synths and electronic drums. Both reviewers and internet users are quick to compare Markus’ vocals to Ian Curtis and bring up The Cure, Echo and the Bunnyman and shoegaze as reference points. Working on the intersection of their respective musical backgrounds, the guys invented a sound that builds bridges between the cult and the contemporary. It is the mixture of nostalgia and innovation that has charmed listeners into this night-time day-dream in which Markus’ distinct vocals come through a thick layer of synthesizers and a hazy guitar. The album kicks off with a series of outstanding tracks all the way to number six. At that point the duo breaks the pattern and slows down to a ballad which in theory would be a welcome intermezzo, but turns out to be the weakest point of the album for me. In the second half they get back on track without being able to reach the ecstatic qualities of the first half. 

The synths set out the mood for the lyrics, as this is usually the working order for Markus and Julien The lyrics tend to be brief sketches of complicated relationships, promises and desires. Even though their content often remains obscure, through the delivery they gain emotional weight. Just like at night, when familiar things suddenly start to spill out of their usual shapes, the sound of Lea Porcelain has similar visual qualities. Anyone will be quick to observe that aesthetics plays a significant role and the music videos provide a conclusive proof. Take for example the video for Warsaw Street, which is a short film in its own regard and adds up to the mysterious atmosphere of the song. 

What started as an experiment has since lured both protagonists into putting their previous projects on hold and focusing on Lea Porcelain. Hopefully, this decision will not create the same pressures they were running away in the first place and they maintain the creative freedom and drive that went into their debut.

Europe is easy to travel but her cultures are hard to access if you don’t speak respective national languages. On similar grounds, it is not easy for musicians to reach listeners beyond their country of origin. Even if they sing in nearly-perfect English, there might not be anyone writing about them in the global language. Visions of Zhiva is a zine presenting artists from Central Europe.

Who is Zhiva? Zhiva is the anglicised spelling of the name Živa (also Živena, Siwa). The Slavic goddess of life and fertility was worshipped in the region of today’s Poland, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia before the arrival of Christianity.

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