Berlin plays MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, Florida on July 15, 2023.
The rise of new wave and electronic music in the late-70s and early-’80s occurred in a precarious, fraught manner. The genres were perceived as appealing to a very niche audience and were marketed in the hopes of appealing to outsiders who’d maybe outgrown or become tired of punk-rock and those who continued to eschew the trappings of corporate, arena rock.
Surprisingly, some artists and bands managed to break through the stylistic division and compartmentalization record companies contributed to in their marketing strategies. While it's obvious that the rise of MTV helped break the dam of exposure for many who might not have had a chance to become known to the average record buyer at that time, it's still puzzling to figure out just how certain bands were able to strike a chord with teenage music fans, the core audience the industry was pandering to at the time.
One band that was able to break through and defy expectations and predictions is Berlin. The California-based, electro-new wave outfit was heavily influenced by bands like Devo and Sparks and had more leanings towards the music that was being widely accepted throughout Europe but hadn’t quite caught on in the States yet. After a few years of existence with different lead singers (first a male singer, and then a different female singer), the band crossed paths with Terri Nunn in the late-‘70s and, by 1980, she was the permanent frontwoman for the all-male band.
A stint with an indie label and attention the band was garnering for their exciting live shows around California led to it signing to a major label and the re-release of a 1882 EP, Pleasure Victim. While the music video for one of the record’s singles, “The Metro” became a mainstay on MTV and led to brisk record sales, it was another track on the record, the racy and provocative new wave dance club hit, “Sex (I’m A…)” that was the dirty little secret within the grooves of that album.
As an early purveyor of femininity and girl power within the new wave scene, Terri Nunn, who’d also pursued an acting career earlier in her career (with a role in the 1978 disco era film, “Thank God It’s Friday”), stood as a beacon of encouragement, empowerment, and strength for millions of young females at very impressionable times of their lives. Berlin became a worldwide success with the release of “Take My Breath Away,” the ballad that rose to the top of the charts in several countries around the globe as the unforgettable love theme from the 1986 blockbuster film, “Top Gun.”
Fast forward to the present day and Nunn is still fronting the band who has steadily gained enormous amounts of praise and accolades from younger bands they’ve influenced throughout the ensuing decades that have passed. Still out on the road, writing, recording, and touring, Nunn, now 62, is prepping for another tour, this summer’s ’80s throwback package tour headlined by Culture Club joined on the bill by solo synth-pop artist Howard Jones on the bill.
Nunn admits that she’s a fan of both the Boy George-led Culture Club and of Jones. “We’ve played with them in the past. They are nice people” she added.
One of Berlin’s most important and globally viewed performances occurred exactly 40 years ago, when it appeared on a bill alongside musical luminaries like U2, Stevie Nicks, and David Bowie in 1983. The scene was the second installment of the US Festival, a three-day affair held in Southern California, conceived by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. In a move to counter the 1970s, often referred to as the “Me” generation, the founder thought it timelier to conceive a music festival that focused on community, hence the inclusive title it was given. The timing was rich and ripe for the band who was making the leap from club stages to a national platform, playing to hundreds of thousands of fans and receiving worldwide attention in the process. “The vibe is still there” Nunn said in reflecting on those days and comparing them to the present day.
“I love the concert experience” she adds. “A lot of our time is spent sitting in studios, which are like windowless man caves. I appreciate the tech aspect of them, but my connection is with people. That’s what I really love about music.”
On the date of our conversation, the lineup for this year’s gargantuan “Festival Corona Capital” music festival was revealed. Berlin was asked to be a part of the unbelievable lineup for this three-day affair that boasts huge acts like Blur, The Cure, Pet Shop Boys, and Arcade Fire on its roster. Nunn’s elation was evident when discussing the event.
“It’s our first time getting the invitation!” she gushed, which more than proved that her enthusiasm for the business she’s been a part of for 40 years is still a thrill.
Speaking of thrills, Nunn added some of her personal thoughts about her recent opportunity to share a stage with Andrew Eldritch and his band, goth kingpins and forerunners, Sisters of Mercy, which has taken to live performance again after a long time away from touring. In an almost sentimental tone, Nunn bubbled about the event.
“I’d lost contact with Andrew [Eldritch] for 30 years. Staying in touch wasn’t easy. There were so many things I wanted to say to him. The show was as special as being alone with him and getting to share more of that magical, musical connection with him” she added, regarding her platonic friendship and her admiration for the singer and songwriter.
“We’d had a huge hit with ‘Under the Gun’ in the U.K. in 1993” she remembers, when talking about the Sisters of Mercy single on which she duetted with Eldritch, “…and being able to reconnect with him onstage was amazing.”
Shedding light on the lifestyles musicians tend to lead was also an eye-opening admission Nunn introduced to the conversation, especially after asking why she’d lost touch with her one time duet partner.
“Most musicians aren’t really social people. We have issues!” she laughed. “It helps when we get to connect with people though… Music is a shared love and it’s really great when you’re with those people who share that love, as a group.”
Looking ahead, Nunn hinted at what Berlin’s future holds. Besides the current tour, there’s a Christmas album in the works. She also spoke of a film adaptation of “World in My Eyes,” the 2017 memoir written by Richard Blade, a British DJ credited with helping to break in many new wave acts as a California-based radio personality, dating back to the 1980s. One portion of the book is devoted to Blade’s short lived romantic relationship with Nunn which is sometimes referred to as a “rock and roll nightmare.”
It's clear Nunn is not one to sit still for long and that she’s always looking for ways to satisfy her lifelong thirst for music and for performing. Those who have seen her perform onstage with Berlin know of the charisma and the liveliness she brings to her performances; those who’ll be experiencing her and her band’s brand of high energy, electro-rock for the first time on the upcoming multi-act bill will no doubt become one of her many devoted fans instantly and will eagerly look forward to seeing Berlin again and again.
I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...