Musician, composer and producer Simone Silvestroni last year created the concept that is Minutes to Midnight, a reference to the Doomsday Clock, a symbol which represents the likelihood of a human-made global catastrophe since the start of the atomic age. As I write, this clock has now moved to 100 seconds to midnight – make of that what you will!
After 1989 – A Trip to Freedom is Simone’s first album under the Minutes to Midnight brand and is what the concept was set up to showcase. After 1989 tells the story from Simone’s perspective as a grandson, following the trail of his grandfather who managed to escape Germany in 1945. Simone says
During a family dinner, after a glass too many, my grandfather let a story slip from his past. He told us how fascists captured and sent him to Germany, where he spent four years in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, on the outskirts of Berlin. The Nazis spared his life because of his craftsmanship as a shoemaker. In April 1945, a few days before the Allies stormed into the city, he managed to escape with a fellow Russian inmate. They crossed Europe and came back home.
The album starts off at the very beginning of the story, with ‘Skinny Kid‘, in which we hear about Simone’s grandfather’s escape after the fall of Berlin in 1945. This sets the scene literally and musically for the rest of the album with a fine gravelly voice and an unmistakably indie vibe.
Further on, the album gives us a sense of how Simone felt about both his grandfather’s war experience and growing up under the cloud of the cold war. He says
I grew up during the Cold War, obsessed by a shared feeling of impending doom. My very first trip was to Prague and Berlin, a few months after the collapse of the Wall. I watched a divided city as it still was, but didn’t dare to visit the camp. Many years later, I was able to put my resolve to the test.
The political face of Europe, particularly Eastern Europe has undergone immense change since 1989 and it’s easy to forget the isolation that East Germany and the rest of the Eastern Bloc endured, or the downplayed but ever present threat of the cold war turning nuclear. The fall of the Berlin wall began a process that enabled Simone to retrace his grandfather’s footsteps in separate trips. The impact of this is explored in ‘Unter den Linden‘ and ‘Sachsenhausen‘, the latter an acoustic filled, almost bleak sound that explores the affect of war on subsequent generations, not just those who lived through the trauma. We all have our prisons, and those that take a non physical form are no less confining.
Throughout After 1989, Simone uses archive material to accentuate the music and narrative, most effectively in ‘Love Field‘, about JFK. The insertion of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and the commentary on the leadup to his assassination in Dallas are especially poignant and speak to our collective experiences of the last sixty years. Yet, you remain aware that the album is also a personal journey and one family’s history – the story and the music will stay with you long after the music finishes.
After 1989 – A Trip to Freedom was released on 9 November 2019. Get your copy here.
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