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the sweets of sin
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The Sweets of Sin's early days in Europe were characterised somewhat by an 'I've got mine!' manifesto, with members varying greatly in their joy at having to share everything, from money and cigarettes to space for three on the bedroom floor of a family's flat in the industrial Ruhr region of provincial Germany.

Perhaps more unfortunately this transformed six years later into a sense of 'I've got yours', mainly as far as girlfriends went, and the band split up in Berlin, having matured in its material and enjoyed moderate success, but without ever completing a much-awaited second CD or fulfilling its substantial promise - live and on record.

Still the Sweets developed strongly musically, not least by venturing into jazz, playing jazz standards and some jazz originals by Steve Z under the name "Kool Skool". They added a fourth member - Dirk Lang on bass - , and got to live in one of the more interesting corners of the world, the inner eastern Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg, just as the Wall came down and the West went up.

As a bleak winter set in in 1990, it was a far cry from Sydney, even from grungy, groovy Newtown. The air was choked by the belching of Trabants, the East's two-stroke answer to the BMW and the dirty brown coal that stoked factories and the big old tiled ovens in nearly every apartment. A Russian soldier desperately tried to flog a complete thermal parachutists' suit in the band room at one gig, while the Sweets joined a rush of artists, musicians and writers from the West to squat and later legally secure small two-room apartments in magnificent old buildings still pockmarked by WW2 machine-gun fire.
Chimney-sweeps with blackened faces and top hats strolled cobblestone streets, telephones were a relic of our past, alcohol was sold and consumed in every possible retail environment, and darkness fell heavily without a glimmer of neon.
Around our apartment blocks, in Duncker, Schliemann and Stargarder strasses, the streets were piled high with old furniture - solid old walnut wardrobes evicted from shabby old flats as Ikea marched into town - and all-night cafes and clubs opened on nearly every corner. In West Berlin, the long-established clubs like Ecstasy and Qasimodo continued to dominate, but in an environment where the house mixer would complain that letting east Germans in had made the city 'daggy'.
Inevitably the city's sharp musical edge shifted quickly also to the east, to old socialist subsidized youth clubs like Jo Jo and Knaack and the new groovy art-squat Tacheles (featured on U2's Achtung Baby cover), relegating western Kreutzberg - Bowie's old quarter - to sulking obscurity.
In that environment, it could have been a perfect time and place for a band like the Sweets.



"Well as many reviews said, the band certainly sounded more Berlin than Sydney, though Berlin wasn't immediately on the agenda when we left Australia," explains Mankyboddle. "Europe was the destination to have a larger audience. Germany was just the obvious choice because of my background and contacts, and the standard of living compared to the tough environment of, say, London. Originally we thought of basing ourselves in Hamburg or perhaps Cologne, but east Berlin soon became obvious from a number of levels - not least affordability and excitement."

Dirk Lang, another refugee from the west, moved in across the Hinterhof and joined the band as its bass player and the Sweets' sound developed more punch. New material shared an obvious ancestry: Japan, Kate Bush, Talking Heads but, more importantly, the general influences from Pink Floyd, Zappa, Ravel, Mahler, Oriental music, and whatever the band listened to. The classical background shared by both Mank and Z led to a very solid fusion of those elements, not just a juxtaposition - which was probably most evident in new pieces like "This is the News" or "Unter diesen Dächern".

There were great gigs at Volksbühne, the Franz Club, Objekt 5 in Halle, great tours to Poland, Prague, the Metz Festival in France and through Belgium, plus excellent reviews in Tagesspiegel, Tip etc.

But after six years it was still not enough to sustain the band financially. Management and promotion were not always on target and the second album took too long to arrive - for audiences, the record company and the band itself.

Finally the constant struggle to live gave more energy to all the other tensions inherent in the band, and the Sweets of Sin called it quits in 1994 after attempting to keep the band going after Mankyboddles departure.

by Marie McInerney

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