Aspiring Headliner

Berne: Citizens of Earth

One of the wonderfully positive takeaways from the frightening global pandemic has been witnessing artists find creative ways to not only produce new music that lifts the spirits, but supports their community in ways hitherto unseen. Particularly true of the Malta-born, London based dream-pop duo Berne, who are equal parts environmentalists and animal rights activists as they are musicians. It’s the launch of their Common Ground project that has seen them initiate a music live stream platform for other artists, rather than themselves.

I mention that they got this off the ground remarkably quickly; the first Common Ground ‘gig’ took place within the first week of the UK lockdown. “It’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while,” singer and synth-player Deborah Borg Brincat explains.

“We’d been paying close attention to the situation in other countries. We got a strong sense a lockdown was coming and our gigs would be cancelled. So we created Common Ground and just went for it! So every Sunday afternoon, we invite independent artists to takeover our Instagram and do a 25 minute show, plus a short Q+A with us and the audience. It’s a way of giving a platform to artists who’ve been affected badly by the situation.”

Guitarist, effects wizard and producer Gianluca Pulvirenti points out that Berne are not “booking agents, event promoters or anything like that. We’re just musicians wanting to perform and wanting to give other artists that opportunity as well. Also living together, having our home studio here has meant we can perform just as we would at a Berne show, from our living room, which has been great.”

Berne have been steadily building their name in the saturated London music scene, quickly becoming regulars in the capital’s live music circuit and honing their reverb-laden sounds that bring to mind London Grammar, The xx and Wolf Alice. Their focus on community certainly makes sense when bearing in mind their membership at the London and L.A-based music collective, The Rattle.

“The mission of Berne is to inspire people to make small changes, and remind them that we are better together,” Borg Brincat says. “It’s better for everybody to do something imperfectly than for one person to do it perfectly. And The Rattle have helped us a lot with that!”

“What is The Rattle, Deborah?”, Pulvirenti adds as a polite nudge. “It’s a highly-curated artist collective in East London with a team of experts across the board (which includes Imogen Heap) who seek to get your music to the next level.”

The mission of Berne has seen the release them release three singles: To The Lions, Oceans and Stay, the latter having a stunning stop-motion video that sees a visibly upset Planet Earth caught in a tug of war between two sets of humans.

Both Berne members follow a vegan lifestyle, and Borg Brincat explains that To The Lions is a song about “betrayal, but our interpretation of betrayal from the perspective of a farmed animal. And the choice that we make, even three times a day to be less-than-kind to some animals — and the repercussions of that choice. However, as much as it is inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, we do also approach lyrics as an abstract art-form that can apply to any part of people’s lives.”

The mission of Berne is to inspire people to make small changes, and remind them that we are better together.

Debut single, Oceans, similarly tackles another tough topic, in this instance being the refugee crisis. When I ask Borg Brincat if she ever considered the easier route of singing about love and flowers, she says “whenever I’ve tried that, I actually find it much more difficult. We decided to approach the music this way because it’s so much more natural for us.

"Oceans is our song about the beauty of diversity and about an episode that hit the news over Christmas where a boat packed with refugees was refused entry to Malta and were left stranded for 19 days. We imagined the contrast between people cosily having Christmas dinners, and those people trapped at sea.”

On a lighter note, once you’ve checked Berne’s song out, there’s also the banger-remix by Joanna Åström that’s hugely worth checking out also.

With Pulvirenti self-producing the music of Berne, we get chatting about the importance of Focusrite and Waves in achieving their unique sound.

“I’ve had my Focusrite Saffire Liquid 56 interface for six years now, and I love it until this day,” he says. “Having eight balanced jacks inputs, two of which can be high impedance instrument level, and eight XLR inputs, plus two have a ‘Liquid’ preamp emulation option. Also 10 analogue outputs, it gives me more than enough flexibility for a home studio, plus it’s easily extendable via ADAT!

“In our live shows, we also use a Focusrite Saffire Liquid 56 connected to Ableton Live. We use a lot of electronic live triggers in our live set and we love being able to send separate outputs to the front of house to have control over, whilst also feeding another pair of outputs into our in-ear monitoring system to always have consistent monitoring at every show.

I think Focusrite did a really good job overall with this piece of gear.”

And on to plugin wizards, Waves. “Also a staple of our live set and studio sessions are two Waves plugins: the Scheps Omni Channel Strip which we constantly use on Vocals, and the SSL G-Master Bus Compressor on the master bus, which I’m sure a lot of people use. I know the SSL G compressor is more popular, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but please do try the Scheps Omni Channel strip on practically anything, I think it’s a gem!”

If you go and listen to Berne now, you can have that smug sense of being there in their early days. With the big added bonus of being empowered by their vital message. And remember to tune in to their Instagram page every Sunday at 12pm to see their wonderful Common Ground live stream project in action.