“Tina lives in Berlin…” The inspiration behind Underworld’s ‘Push Upstairs’


Landing in 1999 amid much fanfare, Underworld’s fifth album, Beaucoup Fish, is arguably the group’s most compete long player, featuring bona fide stompers such as King Of Snake, Moaner and Kittens (the best Underworld track of all time, and we’ll happily take on anyone that disagrees). 🙂

The album’s first single was Push Upstairs – if you don’t count the Batman & Robin-linked release of Moaner two years previous – which was released in March 1999, and featured quixotic lyrics that seemed to suggest a spurned love interest.

“Tina lives in Berlin
Her voice so seldom on my machine is here tonight
And I’m on the market
And when I’m on the market, words move faster, wire and clouds move thin between us…”

According to the website Songmeanings.com, the track is reportedly about “A night spent in a club, seen through the eyes of a guy who has an idealistic view of love, but who has his dream shattered when he quickly becomes aware of the cold, cynical nature of what he sees at the club.

The woman who flaunts herself like a whore, the people who are transfixed by it, and the impersonal, animalistic copping off with each other – all of this impinges on his consciousness. The dark, pounding music reinforces the sinister subject matter of the song.”


As it turns out, the reality is somewhat different – but that’s poetic licence for you.

More than 20 years on from its release, some more light has been shed on the context of Push Upstairs, courtesy of Martina Dünkelmann, aka the ‘Tina’ namechecked in the track’s opening line.

As Germany’s Groove Magazin reported, at the time the song was recorded, Dünkelmann was an editor at Berlin radio station Kiss FM, during which time she carried out an interview with Underworld at the Matrix club on Warschauer Strasse, which prompted the songsmith to pen the track.

“When they finally arrived very late, Karl felt sorry for me,” she explained. “He asked me something like, ‘Do you have to stand here all the time now and guard the entrance to the backstage?; ‘No, I’m just showing you the way. Here is the backstage room, up the stairs to the dance floor.’

“‘You are pushing everybody upstairs?’ he asked and laughed. I didn’t understand the joke because I didn’t know the English phrase: to ‘push upstairs’ means to promote someone unwillingly or with an ulterior motive’. It’s about advancing someone who doesn’t want to, or doing it secretly. How fitting.

“After their concert, the two came on the dance floor. It was pretty empty. […] I noticed that Karl was looking at me and looked back again and again between the strobe and the fog. Should I go over to him? I found him very nice and personable. But that was too unprofessional for me. I’m not a groupie, and even after that I always fended off any advances made by stars in interviews and the like.

“At some point Karl said something to his partner and waved his hand as if he were throwing something into a trash can. Then they went and left the building. Five minutes later the backstage room was cleared.

“Yes, I went to look again, maybe to talk to him again, in the intimacy of the horrible backstage room. But he was gone. I felt miserable for putting principles above my desires. And then soon went home. Nothing happened. That thought was kind of liberating.”

Read the full interview with Martina Dünkelmann on the Groove Magazin website, by clicking here – non-German speakers may need to use the Google Translate app. 🙂

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