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What's super?

Super700 is edgy, accessible and sings in English. A Berlin band worth keeping a close eye on, writes Rene Hamann.

Sometimes you only realize how hard it is to make good music, to be a good band, when you have a bad one in front of you. A band that doesn't manage to emerge from the large footprints of its idols. Whose music and lyrics are stuck together so clumsily, so unimaginatively, that you want to scream. There are many of these bands, far too many in Germany, still, and most of them sing in English, bad English.

Super700. Left to right: Ilirjana Ramadani, Simon Rauterberg, Albana Ramadani, Johannes Saal, Michael Haves, Ibadet Ramadani, Sebastian Schmidt. Photos courtesy

Super700 is not one of them. True, Super700 comes from Berlin and sings in English, but they know how. They sing in English because they decided to. What's funny is that since July, Silbermond, Wir sind Helden or Tomte and other German bands have been encouraged to sing in German because its seems to promise greater success. Obviously. But Super700 decided otherwise, and it was a conscious decision. There are seven of them. Four men with instruments, three women with microphones. The three women are sisters: twins and their older sister. The sister's family are of Albanian origin. All seven live in Berlin, in various parts of the city. They rehearse in Oberschöneweide and they're not part of one scene or another. That's the second thing that they consciously avoid: making music for people "who you already know personally." That's something they take from jazz, which is actually where they come from. In particular bassist Michael Haves who, together with the eldest of the sisters, Ibadet Ramadani, writes the music and texts.

The music that Super700 make would have been called alternative ten years ago. It's both edgy and accessible, it has sharpness and pressure and it lives from the interaction between Ibadet and her sisters and the boys on the instruments. The band has only been around for three years, but most of them have been on musical trips for a good fifteen. Lots of projects, bands that broke up quickly, with "rappers that then started studying architecture," as Michael Haves recalls. For Super700, music is the alternative. Their goal is "to get around the world. To live from music and for music." Which is not easy. But they definitely know the right tricks for making it in the music industry. They call a demo-CD a "booking tool," they met their new producer through an article he'd written about new recording techniques. They don't think much of radio, they've shot a video for MTV, without really expecting it to get played. "That's not really our world," says Ibadet. "We offer something in order to have offered something," Michael explains.

Instead they set up a myspace site. And the switch to Motor Music simplified matters. "It's nice when you don't have to worry about everything, when there are people there to pick up the slack," says Ibadet. "It's hard for seven or eight people to find a common path, to hold the band together – you can't be working at something else if you're always on the road," says Michael Haves, who does studio and theatre work on the side. All seven of them have other jobs. "My sister just got fired again because she has time constraints and can't be available all the time," says Ibadet. But they've chosen this way – yet another of those important decisions: they want to make something of themselves, with music, and Berlin is a city where these kinds of plans can actually work. The third strategy of avoidance is called: listening. Worrying about whether their own songs sound too much like those of other groups. On their new CD, the official debut "Super700," there's a song called "Millions" that sounds a lot like "1979" by the Smashing Pumpkins. A slow acoustic guitar intro. "Unfortunately we noticed that a bit late, our guitarist only heard that after the fact." Michael and Ibadet both laugh.

But the Smashing Pumpkins or the Red Hot Chili Peppers – those are definitely acceptable standards of measurement. Maybe not quite yet, but soon. Another big name: The Strokes. Their producer did the debut. Gordon Raphael. Getting him on the controls was both a choice and a coincidence. "We were playing with others at a party on our shared studio grounds. He heard it, liked it and approached us." Things like this can happen in the music business. The incredible thing is that the album doesn't sound that different from the mini-album "When Hare and Fox Had Fun" that they produced themselves. Raphael treated the band with respect, set a few accents but left the basic structure as it was. Some don't approve – because Super700, who sound great on the album, are even better live. More pressure, more edge, with great breaks and a wall of sound that comes from the sisters' triad. "The studio is another thing. But on the stage, we sometimes lack differentiation," says Michael. Ibadet adds, "we're still learning in the studio. Sometimes every earphone extension is a blockade. And it's always better live, when you can really top out."

Learning. Doing. Developing, Super700 are young and they look good. They write their own blurbs and instead of boring biographies, they tell fairy tale-like stories that match their somewhat mysterious vibe. It's possible that the songs on their new album are too reserved – only "Guys 'n' Girls" (audio) has real hit potential although the first single "Here Goes The Man" (audio) is going to be one. But the songs have a pull. The themes are: loss of self control, tandem riding on satellites, seven days of rainy weather. The latter in particular seem to be particularly popular with the German Garbage with the lovely Ibadet at the zenith. (Ha! A comparison that should be forgotten no sooner than it's made). You just have to feel it, be infected by the energy, or the magic that can emanate from Ibadet Ramadani when she's on stage.

A female reader once insisted that the beauty of a female singer is no criteria for music criticism. In this case, the opposite applies – but only because the band has real talent. It's important to add that male pop stars function optically as well. As long as the music is halfway acceptable, pop music is hard to separate from surface appearances, even in these days of waning music television and easily burned musical data. The eye is always listening, young people are the future and good music is better than bad music. We should definitely keep our eyes on Super700 – it's possible we're going to be hearing a lot from them. Going to see them is a good idea, no matter what. We'll just have to hope none of them decides they want to study architecture.


Rene Hamann, born 1971 in Solingen, is a poet and writer based in Berlin and Cologne.

This article originally appeared in die tageszeitung on June 17, 2006.

Translation: nb - let's talk european