“In sound we trust: A Place to Bury Strangers rocks out in Bratislava” by Zach White
It had been six long grueling months without live music. My last concert was in September of 2021. As I sat on a crowded bus scrolling through endless European festival lineups, it made the 2022 summer vacation seem like an eternity away.
In a desperate attempt to find new bands that would be touring Europe in the time between March and June, my discovery, and ultimate obsessive curiosity with the NYC-based shoegaze band A Place to Bury Strangers grew as they perpetually snuck into every facet of my digital existence. This is the story of how I got to spend an afternoon with “The Loudest Band in the World”.
Initially, the band crawled onto my Spotify recommended list, then presented themselves on my Instagram feed, even suddenly cropping up in concert discussion forums like a dove from the sleeve of a magician. The devil works hard. But the media team for APTBS works harder. It’s no wonder that the band has garnered so much attention. Oliver Ackerman, the groups’ Guitarist, lead vocalist, and creative mastermind has developed a dedicated fanbase and cult following through 19 years of rigorous touring around the world, and in that time, built up an impressive resume supporting icons of the psych genre such as The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Jesus and Mary Chain, as well as big names such as the Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and MGMT.
Much like the lineup of the band (Ackermann has remained the only original member of the band). The sound of APTBS is fluid, but many describe it as a mix of a multi-layered wall of sound shoegaze with post-punk elements. In Ackermann’s own words, he states his band produces “the sound of a breaking public address system.”. After a plethora of bassists and drummers, the band’s current incarnation consists of Oliver on Guitar and lead vocals, accompanied by John and Sandra Fedowitz, both playing bass and drums respectively since 2021.
So when I found out that A Place To Bury Strangers was embarking on a speed demon European tour across an impressive 20 countries in 35 days (the tour being given the tongue in cheek name “let’s see each other”), I knew I had to see if they were coming close to Vienna. Sure enough, they were, of all places, in Bratislava, Slovakia. Unbeknownst to my spontaneous friends who piled on the hour-long train ride with me, the next stop was noise city.
We arrived at the venue Nova Cvernovka about an hour before the concert to get something to eat, and for me to get prepared by scoping out the hall in which the band would be playing. The formerly abandoned monster of a building, which previously served as a soviet thread factory and then a chemistry school, is a newly renovated cultural hub on the outskirts of town which is bursting with creativity. It’s got a great atmosphere, reminiscent of the legendary Arena Wien in Vienna. Bathroom Walls plastered with stickers, a floor full of house keys, and even a secret bar gave us a lot to look at and take in during the show.
In addition, the merch stand was packed with everything ranging from Vinyl, Tote bags, and Lighters, to T-shirts and beautifully hand-screen printed tour posters. And fear not. True to the band’s reputation, official APTBS earplugs were also available to purchase.
The merch stand was manned by Mitch, the band’s roadie and frontman of his own Berlin Based band Data Animal, who released their debut album ‘Future Primitive’ not long after the show on March 18th. Besides the usual merchandise, Mitch was also pedaling “Death by audio” guitar pedals (ha ha), a company Oliver founded that has gathered the attention of U2’s guitarist and sound sommelier The Edge, who frequently used the Harmonic Transformer and the supersonic fuzz gun during the recording of the band’s 2009 album, ‘No Line on the Horizon’.
Mitch and I talked for a while and I bought a shirt as well as ABTBS’s self-titled album and he threw in a poster for free. Super nice dude.
About half an hour before APTBS was due to come on stage, I was trying to find my way to the bathroom and accidentally wandered into a hallway where I heard the faint sound of a drumbeat. Sure enough, it was none other than Sandra, John, and Oliver warming up with their instruments. When I heard a break in the music I found it only natural to introduce myself and they were kind enough to invite me into their Library/makeshift green room and even offered me some coffee! Between two cappuccinos, our conversation eventually turned into a casual impromptu interview that went something like this…
Zach: So, you guys haven’t toured for a while, how does it feel to be back playing live again?
Oliver: It feels great man, I mean, we almost had to cancel this tour due to Covid but I’m really glad we decided to go through with it. We’ve been having a lot of fun and have just been trying to hit all the countries that have little to no restrictions for live stuff.
Zach: Can I ask you, out of all the shows you’ve played in your career with APTBS, is there any one show that really stuck with you as your favorite? Or what’s the weirdest place you’ve played as a band?
Oliver: Hmm that’s a good question! About 10 years ago in Brooklyn we played at a church and the cops showed up to shut it down but liked it so much they let us keep playing.
Zach: That’s awesome! The NYPD must be pretty cool to like your music, considering how loud it is!
Oliver: Yeah I couldn’t believe it either. That was a great show.
Zach: So you guys are from New York right?
(John the Bassist chimes in)
John: Well, Oliver and I are from Virginia, but yeah we all live in New York.
Zach: Oh, so I should’ve brought my I Love New York shirt to wear to the show!
John: No you shouldn’t have! (laughs) Unless of course you like rats in your apartment and in trash everywhere and stuff then sure. You’re fine with what you’re wearing now. Can’t really mess up with black, right?
Zach: So the real question is, where did the name for the band come from? It’s such an interesting name it’s got to have a cool story behind it right?
Oliver: Well, one of the guys who founded the band with me got the name from Aceldama which is an Allister Crowley book, and it just kind of stuck.
Zach: Oh shit! That is pretty wild.
Oliver: Yeah, well he was a pretty crazy dude.
Zach: So what was it like touring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre? They’re one of my all-time favorite bands, how was that experience? Is Anton still as chaotic as he was back in the “Dig!” days?
Oliver: Well, yeah… Anton is… Anton. He’s pretty off the charts sometimes. He’ll do some things and you’ll just be like “seriously man?”.
Zach: Ok, Oliver, so one more question before I let you guys get back to your practicing, cause my friends are probably wondering where on earth I am. I’m working on a project. It’s a Spotify playlist where I ask people I meet their all-time favorite song, or a song that means a lot to them or that has stuck with them through their lives. What’s that song for you?
Oliver: Oh that’s too hard. Just one song?
Zach: Just one song, I know, it’s a tough question.
(Intense thinking occurs as the room goes silent.)
Oliver: Ok. Maybe one that’s pretty fun is the 5-minute version of ‘Surfin’ Bird’ from the Cramps, and towards the end, it just goes really crazy and distorted. I like that one. But a favorite is too hard to say.
Zach: Sweet! That’s one of my favorite scenes from Apocalypse Now when that song plays. Last question for you guys: Do you have any pre show rituals to get you prepared for the madness that ensues on stage?
Oliver: We just laugh a lot!
John: Yeah, laugh and be merry.
Zach: Ok, I’m going to take off, but it was super nice meeting you guys, and have a great time!
Oliver: You too Zach! Great talking to you!
And I was off. Equipped with my construction site-level headphones and accidental conversation with one of the hippest NYC bands, I met up with my friends again and walked through the doors into a pitch-black room.
Silence fell on the crowd. A storm of droning guitar feedback slowly stretched across the room in the darkness. Then, an explosion of green and blue light. Stepping out into the fog like a Trippy circus ringmaster was the silhouette of Oliver, with a faint light shining on his brutally battered and hastily repaired Fender Jaguar that makes the wear on Hendrix’s Monterey strat look tame.
The word loud is not even conceivably close to what I experienced at this show. Granted, I loved every second of it, but for a moment I took off my headphones and it made me even more glad that I had brought them. It was like the mouth of a furious demon opened up and was screaming into my ear. In all seriousness though, I’ll give a quick disclaimer. I strongly recommend ear protection if you ever intend to see APTBS live as it enhanced the sound quality by getting rid of the echo in the room as well as kept me from going home with partial deafness or tinnitus, both of which are neither fun nor reversible.
To complement this, the lights and visuals on stage were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. For those who suffer from photosensitive epilepsy, this show is not for you. I distinctly remember there was a moment in which the lights were going so fast, it seemed as if everything was in slow motion. As for the crowd, they were an eclectic mix of old and young, hipsters and punks, locals and tourists.
It was one of the most interesting shows I’ve ever been to in the sense that, despite the heaviness of the music, everyone (with the exception of the few headbangers closest to the stage) basically stood in a hypnotic trance, not moving at all. Despite the somewhat dead crowd, it’s definitely safe to say that A Place To Bury Strangers delivered an electric and piercing attack in every sense. The lights, the smell of the constant running fog machine, the wave of sound, and the bass that was so intense that felt like invisible arms wrapping around me in a hug that was both constricting and freeing.
While John remained more reserved and on the side, Oliver took a no holds barred approach to his stage presence by rocking out in every way possible. Laced throughout the setlist were songs spanning the band’s discography, from 2012’s ‘Worshi’ to 2018’s ‘Pinned’, and everything in between. Some highlights of the show included Oliver picking up a fluorescent tube light and violently strumming his guitar with it, as well as the band running into the crowd with a shopping cart and a pink laser machine halfway through the show to perform an almost ritualistic drum chant.
Towards the end of the show, the trio kicked into ‘End of the Night’, my personal favorite song from the band. If you’re looking for a place to start burying strangers, I highly recommend this song from their newly released EP ‘Hologram’ as an introductory escapade into the band’s discography. Finishing off with ‘Ocean’, the band disappeared into the fog of their own creation as quickly as they had appeared, leaving the screeching hums of guitar feedback to slowly morph into an ebb and flow of echoing silence.
Check out the music video for “End Of The Night” here:
In conclusion, A Place to Bury Stranger’s visit to a formerly abandoned Soviet Factory was utterly fantastic. For an hour and a half they opened a wormhole to a raw, unhinged, fearless, and thrashingly unique alternate dimension that I would love the privilege opportunity to stay in for just a little bit longer. Just as my spontaneous friends did, you will leave as a fan. I won’t be forgetting this show anytime soon and will be thoroughly craving to see APTBS next time they’re on tour.
What started as an accidental discovery snowballed into one of the most compelling and engaging live music experiences I’ve ever had.