The best street musician Berlin has to offer – Frederik Konradsen

page0_1If you live in a city like Berlin, you have a soundtrack for your every day, a song for your every move and a riff for every conversation you will have in your head. Because whether you’re crossing the road, eating a sandwich from a street vendor or taking the train, there’s always the voice of an artist coming from nearby. Street musicians or “buskers” are a recognized institution in this music metropolis of a city. And no matter how busy you are, it’s still somehow hard to pass by and ignore the loud amplifiers, echoing voices and open hats of these buskers. Although there are so many buskers scattered everywhere in Berlin that after a while, all their lyrics, songs and faces became jumbled up in your head, there are still some musicians that leave such an impression that once you hear them for even a minute, you end up canceling all your plans and waiting for their entire set to finish. For me that artist was  Frederik Konradsen. I will never forget sitting amongst the tourists and locals at Alexanderplatz, swaying to this guy’s music.

He’s more talented than he realises, more charismatic than he knows, humble enough to answer all my questions and has no qualms about travelling to Pakistan to play music. He’s also appeared as a contestant on the first season of X factor Denmark.

How long have you been performing in Berlin? What’s your story?

In September 2011, I took a short holiday to Berlin. At that time, I was living in Copenhagen, Denmark and Berlin was only a short drive (6hours) away. Going there was something I had thought of doing for quite a while. So I started exploring the “busking” scene of Berlin and fell in love with the city immediately. For the next 12 months, I would spend a few weeks from time to time in Berlin, staying at friend’s places or hostels, until I finally rented a room in Berlin in August 2012. Now I am no longer living in Copenhagen, and have taken all the necessary steps to become a Berliner.

What do you think about the Berlin street music scene?

The Berlin music scene is great. People are very appreciative of art and music. As compared to Copenhagen, Berlin is a huge city with a lot of places to play. Berlin even has a subway which is playable, but I have yet to try it. I am most comfortable above ground.

Have you played anywhere else in Europe? US?

I have played in Spain, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Italy, United Kingdom, Poland and Sweden. In Italy and Austria, I have participated in street performance festivals. That´s a great experience because you get to meet performers from all over the world, and it is very intense. You can apply online and depending on the festival, they cover your transportation cost and accommodation. There you can play your music and collect money with your “hat”. In 2003, I spend a year traveling around the World. I visited the U.K., Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the US. I brought my guitar and supported myself by performing in the street and in bars and restaurants. Recently, I have been invited to play in Russia. A festival in Perm and concerts in St. Petersburg.

Have you recorded an album?

After participating in the Danish X-Factor television program in 2008, I released my first album with the title: Home is where the Heart is. In 2012, I released an album in Danish with songs for children which I had composed.

Is music your day job or do you do something else on the side?

Playing music and performing is my only source of income. Have you written original material or do you only do covers? I do compose my own songs and perform them in the street. I am in a transitionary period right now where I am moving from mainly performing cover songs to actually performing my own songs. I have had great success with covers, but now I want to evolve and focus on songwriting.

How much do you get to earn from a day playing on the streets?

The daily “hat” varies a lot from close to nothing to a lot. I have a policy of never letting people know how much money I make. One of two things can happen when talking about money – either people think it´s a lot and they stop donating or they think it´s too little and then the donation turns into “charity”. By combining the street and playing at parties I manage to make a living. I don´t drive a fancy car and I don´t own a Rolex, but I live the life I love and I get to see the world. And for that I am thankful. I like it when the money is taken out of the “equation” For example, I spend time in a penthouse apartment in the middle of Melbourne. After hearing me play someone opened his home to me. Living there would have cost a fortune, but music opened the door for me.

What is the biggest problem you face as a musician?

The biggest problem for me as an artist is the balance between the art and business. The compromises you may or may not have to make in order to “make”it. I have released two albums in Denmark. Been on national television and on tour, and that has shown me how uncomplicated the street can be. I enjoy the touring and the rock and roll part, when it´s happening, but there is so much “stuff” going on besides that. With “stuff” I mean negotiating a contract. Finding out who gets what of what. Choosing whether I should have a manager or not. Which manager to choose and so on. I am a performer. I love performing. I love getting up in the morning, looking out the window to see what the weather is like, getting on my bicycle and hitting the street with my guitar. Returning a few hours later having had fun with a lot of people I just met. There is no marketing, no manager, no contract. Just me, the street and the people I meet.

What do you love most about playing music on the street?

What I love about the street is that it’s real. It´s complete freedom both for me as a performer and the people as my audience. However, long we choose to be together it is based on choice. Pure naked choice. There have not been a poster with a cool photo announcing the concert. No commercial on television saying that I will be there at that time, and telling people how wonderful I am and how great it will be. It is a complete surprise and most of my audience had other plans that day in that moment. They are probably out shopping or on their way to or from work. I am an interruption in their life or routine, and the fact that they stop to enjoy, thrills me and I am very honored. Since people did not stand in line for two days to spend 200 Dollars on a ticket for my show, I trust they will leave the moment they get bored. (some people do…. Leave.)

I’ve heard that Berlin has a structured street music scene whereby each musician gets a certain territory to play at, is this true? Can you give me more details about how the authorities have made it better or worse for musicians? Do you have to pay authorities a certain amount of money to play somewhere?

In the U-bahn – Subway I know you show early in the morning and choose your favourite spot and time. In different cities I know you have to audition to be able to play in the subway. Which can be good and bad. It is great that the city supports the musicians by allowing them to play, and create designated busking spots. Things can turn ugly with the anarchy / freedom of the street, so a certain level of supervision can be fine. However, if you just started playing chances are that you suck, and if you do not get to play because of an audition, you will not get the experience and a chance to improve. But, luckily there are other places you can play. In the street of Berlin there is no supervision from the city in terms of “who gets to play where and when”. They have a policy of the use of amplifiers – which is illegal without a permission. You don´t have to pay in order to play in Berlin, but in Munich I know you have to show at the city hall each day you want to play and buy a permit for 10€.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I love swing jazz, and in particular gypsy swing jazz. I am have been influenced by Django Reinhardt, Cab Calloway. I also enjoy Paul Simon and Bob Marley.

Would you like to come to Pakistan and play for the audiences here?

I made it my mission to see the whole world. So yes, Pakistan is included in my mission.

Frederick Konradsen will be in South America from January 16th to February 16th 2013.

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