These Gypsy Jazz River Rats Roam Our Streets and Infest Our Ears
By Tom Taylor . October 25, 2016
It was at Wilma Bar sometime last year that I first caught sight of the River Rats.
Wilma’s bare walls, the candlesticks overflowing with wax and the cigarette smoke which perpetually hangs in the air, all evoke the spirit of some arthouse film. That evening was no different, the sound of live gypsy jazz seeping from upstairs area set the mood in me like blue velvet curtains.
Curious, I climbed upwards towards the sound, to where I spotted a group of musicians crammed into the corner of a tiny room. Wielding a double bass, a violin, guitars and several sweet sets of lungs, this band conjured up the spirit of 1930s France. Coming across as part vagrant buskers, part jazz manouche aficionados, one thing was clear – these guys were the real deal. They were the River Rats.
BERLIN LOVES YOU met with Camille Franc, the band’s frontman and violin player, to learn all we could about this band.
River Rats’ story is the quintessential ‘Berlin band’ story, defined by the free-spirited atmosphere of day-to-day life in the city, and the transient nature of relationships in Berlin. Despite Berlin being full of musicians, the right ones aren’t always easy to track down. “Forming the band wasn’t easy” says Camille. “I’m of the opinion that if it happens, it must happen naturally”.
After searching the city for months for the right musicians, Camille met Italian-born Tiziano and American guitarist Matt in October 2014, who he’d found on Craigslist. That moment they all knew there was a connection between them. Double bass player Antonio (also Italian) was introduced via a mutual friend and the lineup was complete. Each member brought their own individual influences and tastes to the project – from gypsy folk to Django Reinhardt-esque jazz guitar.
In a city where people frequently come and go, bands are often and unexpectedly faced with significant setbacks and new opportunities. For River Rats, the departure of Matt in April 2015 certainly made the remaining members question what to do and where to go next.
There was talk of putting River Rats to bed and beginning a new project, but ultimately it was decided that there was an opportunity to develop something exciting and new from what they already had. Camille took over singing duties and new guitarist Steffen was welcomed into the band.
“In Berlin there’s a real street musician culture, which isn’t the case in Paris.” says Camille. These new River Rats found their sound busking on the streets of Berlin, and found their way around the city by playing in whatever bars would take them. “Berlin is very open to the kind of music we play. We love performing in the streets and giving something back to Berlin. As foreigners here, it’s important to contribute your own energy and ideas to the city.”
Word on the street is that River Rats are planning on spreading their highly-infectious brand of gypsy jazz around Berlin this autumn…
Upcoming River Rat Gigs
Saturday 29th April – The Folk Road Show + River Rats, Prachtwerk Berlin
Event details here.