PSB have been “teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future” for more than a decade now. 2013’s debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain used archival samples from the British Film Institute as audio-portals to the Battle Of Britain, the summit of Everest and beyond. Two years later, The Race For Space used similar methods to laud the superpowers’ rivalry and heroism in orbit and on the Moon. In 2017, joined by voices including Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield, Every Valley was a moving exploration of community and memory via the rise and fall of the British coal industry. Pointedly topical in its analyses, it reached number four on the UK charts.
Now they have a new destination. Still with the core aim of achieving communion with times and places far removed, it is their most ambitious undertaking yet. With Bright Magic, prepare to arrive at Europe’s heart and de facto capital, the cultural and political metropolis that is the ‘Hauptstadt’ of the Federal Republic of Germany – Berlin.
“Doing this felt inevitable, somehow,” muses PSB’s auteur J. Willgoose, Esq. “In my head, it was whirring and pulsing away for a long time, even before Every Valley - this fascinating, contrary, seductive place. I knew the album was going to be about the city, and its history and myths, and I was going to move there. So it’s quite a personal story. I’ve said this a lot: it’s become an album about moving to Berlin to write an album about people who move to Berlin to write an album…”
Though PSB’s use of electronics and surging guitar rock remain familiar, Bright Magic uses samples, and the English language, sparingly. It differs from previous PSB albums in other ways: less linear and narrative, instead it’s an impressionistic portrait of a city from the ground up. A Eureka moment of sorts came in November 2018 when Willgoose heard Walter Ruttmann’s radical Berlin tape-artwork Wochenende (or Weekend), which is sampled on three of Bright Magic’s tracks. Created in 1928, the piece collaged speech, field recordings and music into a sonic evocation of the city. Resolving to integrate these long-gone fragments with new manipulated sound sources, he set about making his own Wochenende, a narrative drama for the ears which decodes and realises the dreams of Berlin he’d constructed in his mind.
Public Service Broadcasting have returned. Expect a new ‘abstract expressionist’ inspired stage presentation, with their corduroy-suited suits re-rendered in brilliant white (“It’s a nod to the Thin White Duke,” says Willgoose). They’ll play it live in Berlin, of course, and the other cities of the world where progress, unity and possibility are embraced. Mach schau, PSB, mach schau!