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Video Premiere: "Checkpoint Charlie" by The City Gates

The City Gates
18 November 2019

The City Gates – Photo Credit: Renee Coutlee

Hailing from Montréal, The City Gates is a hybrid post-punk/shoegaze band composed of Maxime, François, Justin, Gautier, and John. They play an atmospheric and textured sound that is heavy on reverb, fuzz, and delay.

Their sonic drive springs from the alternative music scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s (The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Chameleons, The Sisters of Mercy, Slowdive, Sonic Youth, and My Bloody Valentine).

On the live front, The City Gates has recently played the amazing shoegaze/post-punk Kalamashogazer 13 festival in Michigan alongside a cast from across North America, including Blushing, New Canyons, and Tambourina.

The band has toured throughout Canada, the US, and the UK, and has shared the stage with iconic French cold wave band Trisomie 21, Actors, Bootblacks, The Foreign Resort, Nothing, Did You Die, Heaters, shoegaze veterans The Veldt, The Stargazer Lilies, Acid Dad, La Mécanique, Trade Wind, and many more.

The Big Takeover is extremely excited to host the premiere of the video for “Checkpoint Charlie,” a standout track from The City Gates’ latest album, Forever Orbiter. The song is classic shoegaze in sound/mood, and the video, which references the Cold War Era in Berlin, comes out at the perfect time since November 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

With the video, The City Gates capture the meaning of the song through images of Berlin and textures from that time. The city represents the whole story behind the song. Footage of the band playing live is intercut with the historical clips in the video, showcasing the energy of their performances.

“The fact of incorporating live images demonstrates how this song means something for us and still gives us goosebumps, especially when we play “Checkpoint Charlie” during rehearsals or live shows,” state Maxime and François.

The epic “Checkpoint Charlie” was originally released as a single in 2015, and on the now sold-out DIY limited EP cassette edition of the same name. It is also the leading song that opens Forever Orbiter, which was released in 2018 via Northern Light Records to great critical and fan acclaim.

Since its original release, “Checkpoint Charlie” has propelled the band to a higher level. It was featured on several compilations, including on The Blog That Celebrates Itself Records and For the Love of Chris Tressler, a compilation that premiered

The track has also been spinning on many radio shows, including DFKM Shoegaze Radio, Highwire Daze Radio, and the legendary Canadian CHOM.FM 97.7 FM.

“Checkpoint Charlie” is a meld of burnished guitar-driven ascendant shoegaze glory, bass line-driven and pressing drums post-punk, and just a touch of vividly stormy noise rock. The band delves into the details of creating the song, explaining, “To maintain the “human” feeling and textures, the song was recorded live in one take without a metronome (except for a few overdubs) to preserve the kind of energy when we play that song live. That feeling can totally be heard at the end of the song with the added action of some white noise from the guitar, bass pedals, and feedback.”

You are leaving the American sector: The story behind the song:

“Checkpoint Charlie” was inspired by the departure of individuals from one place to another. A passage from a zone of no return between two different worlds. “It is actually the main theme of the song: You are leaving what you have left behind,” says François and Maxime. “The metaphor of “Checkpoint Charlie”, which is the transit zone linking West Berlin and East Berlin during the Cold War era, was perfect to put some lyrics and images to the main idea. It is based on two antagonistic worlds. A dichotomy between capitalism and also consumerism, and, on the other hand, communism.”

“The whole idea behind “Checkpoint Charlie” came from an old t-shirt I cherish,” explains John. “It had that particular phrase: “You are leaving the American sector,” written on it in French, English, German, and Russian, and somehow it gave me chills.”

“I really liked the timeframe and the imagery that “Checkpoint Charlie projects”. It brings you to a post-WW2 Germany, with the terrible reality of the infamous Berlin wall that separated the country in a very uneven manner, politically, economically, and culturally. I remember, as a kid, reading stories about people getting killed or getting arrested trying to cross the wall. I guess the subject stuck with me ever since,” John continues.

“The lyrics to the song almost came instantly. Never have I written so fast. I’m pretty sure it took less than a half hour from the first draft to the end of the corrections. As if it had a life of its own; like it was meant to be, written and played. I was completely shocked and amazed by how beautifully solemn it was. Transposed to the music it was marvelous … A perfect fit.”

“It’s a very sad song, melancholic, but also sweet I guess. It is about ending a relationship, moving away; maybe it’s about death. The beauty of this song is that it could mean something different and very special to each and everyone who listens to it. We all have at one point in our lives or another parted with something or someone, for better or worse, and the outcome isn’t always what we dreamed or hoped for. That is how I would describe “Checkpoint Charlie,”“ concludes John.

The City Gates are now working on a new album that should be released in the fall of 2020. They are also planning a North American tour including dates in the US; on the East Coast in May and on the West Coast in June/July 2020.

You can also soon catch a brand-new video for their song “Cape of Good Hope,” which has been released on the Northern Noise vol. 1 compilation via Velouria Recordz, a small DIY label focusing on post-punk, cold wave, darkwave, and shoegaze music founded last year by François and Maxime from The City Gates.

The two band members are working on a second edition of the Velouria Festival that will be taking place on March 12th, 13th, and 14th in Montreal, including bands from Canada, of course, but also a few bands from the US and Europe. Last year’s edition features bands like La Mécanique (Cold Transmission Music), Scene Noir (Cold Model Records), The City Gates, and Sarajevo & Moi.

You can purchase/stream Forever Orbiter at Bandcamp