British-born producer and Houndstooth affiliate Marquis Hawkes tops off his recent run of EPs with the project’s first full-length, Social Housing. This week on RBMA Radio’s First Floor, he speaks with Shawn Reynaldo about re-locating to Berlin and finding inspiration in the city’s social housing projects out east.
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What made you decide to settle in Berlin?
Well, the main thing for me really is that I have the biggest concentration of friends anywhere in the world, including the UK, really. I’ve been living back in the UK for a little bit, and after being away I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. It’s just hard to do anything there. You know, you’re just on a kind of working treadmill. I never went to university. I don’t have any other kind of special skill other than doing music stuff, really. Originally when I came back here it wasn’t really with the intention to pursue a music career. It was more just I had friends here, I figured if I had a crappy job in the UK, I might as well have a crappy job in Berlin.
The new album that you’re releasing is called Social Housing. When the album was announced, it seems that that title actually applies to your living situation in Berlin. I was wondering if you would talk a bit about that.
I mean, when my wife fell pregnant, we were in a bit of a sorry state financially in Berlin. We were claiming benefits. There’s actually a cap on the amount of money they will allocate towards rent, and that level is so low that you can’t get a place in any of the kind of areas where most people are familiar with. The only place left for us, really, was Marzahn, where we live now, right out east, which is the former East German kind of social housing complexes that they built in the seventies and the eighties. These rows and rows and rows for many kilometers, blocks. After a lot of frantic searching for an apartment, it was like, “Well, we’ve got nothing to lose. We need a roof over our heads. Let’s come up here and have a look.” We had the keys in like two weeks, which is just unheard of Berlin, or in a lot of places. To go from finding a place to having the keys in like two weeks. Yeah, it was very, very helpful in our situation at the time.
Is this basically the German equivalent of a council estate in the UK? Or public housing in the US?
Yeah, I mean it was basically set up after the East German regime. There were these kinds of housing, they were basically housing co-ops, and they didn’t exactly get privatized, but they got handed over. They got kind of divided up and handed over to other organizations. They’re not directly funded by the government, but they’re non-profit organizations that just put their profits back into renovating the properties, building new properties and whatnot. Just to supply for the housing need, as opposed to kind of this trend that’s happening in the UK of them being slowly sold off, which has pretty much contributed to the housing crisis over there, really.
What was it about living in this kind of environment that you found inspiring to the point where you wanted to make an album about it?
I’d say the music came first before the name of the album, really. The album was named because basically it was written while I was living in social housing, but the more I thought about it, social housing played such a part in my life. The first place I lived when I was born was a counselor state in London. Up until I was four years old we loved on council estate. It’s been a prominent part of my life to a certain degree at least. I just kind of felt it wouldn’t be possible to do what I’ve done had I not had affordable housing. It’s just kind of nice to pay tribute to that.