How much of the past 18 months have you spent looking out the window and wondering when (if?) music festivals were going to wind their way back into our lives again? Festivals were, are, and have been always the long shot of the (hopefully) ongoing return to normal life, as anywhere with a crowd has always been close to the back of the queue for getting back in action. Which is why any green shoots in this area are to be celebrated, and why the return of Berlin’s Pop-Kultur to actual real life is a very pleasant surprise.

The festival, which has been running since 2015, mixes music and all the noise, mess, discussion and debate that surrounds it in its mix of concerts, club nights, talks and cultural treats, and it’s back this August with real, in-person shows, in (obviously) modified, social distancing-friendly form. And they’re bringing a great line-up with them, so we took a dip into that line-up, picked out some of our favourite artists, and asked them a few questions, so you can get to know them a little better before the shows later this summer.


Andreya Casablanca

Andreya Casablanca

Photo: Suzanne Caroline de Carrasco

Half of garage rock duo Gurr, Andreya Casablanca released her debut solo single, the streetsmart pop song Talk About It, last year.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage?

It’s massively exciting, although I also have been thankful for a break. It made be think more about what it means to be on a stage to me. I am also a bit nervous I guess? But I am mostly excited about being up there and vulnerable, and forming a transcendent community with the people watching and listening – that’s a feeling I’ve been missing so much. 

After making your name with rock band Gurr, you’re stepping into a solo project as a pop artist. What made you want to explore a new genre? 

I tend to sing and write very hook-oriented songs (not on purpose really, thank you Spice Girls), but now I coat it in a different production that is more instant. I always liked the aspect of nothing being very solid, and with live shows I can work with this principle way better. I can change and add things to my songs in the Logic projects as I like, and it feels like a fun little puzzle that I figure out. I like the freedom of exploration across musical style, recording style and pushing the boundaries of my lofi-love I suppose.

You’ve cited influences as diverse as Tyler, The Creator and Angel Olsen in your work as Andreya Casablanca. Do you think there are underlying principles, or goals, that apply to all good music, across genres, and are they something you’re looking to guide the new music? 

Well ‘good’ music is also often subjective, but to me all these artists really just do what they want to do. When they don’t want to do something, they don’t do it (I hope). They release songs that are recorded differently or are very not conventional, but then they become conventional I guess. I’m inspired by Angel Olsen’s recording of, let’s say, Some Things Cosmic which sounds like it lives and breathes on a reverb plate. And in general, beautiful vocal melodies over simple or repetitive guitar lines, which is genius and it’s also what I also like about 60s girl groups and singers. And Elvis, haha. Tyler, The Creator just feeds my ADD brain. But they all create something that’s world-building, it very much sits there and builds up walls around it itself and becomes a world and that’s great. I think that’s a good guiding principle.

Are there any other artists on the line-up you’re excited about seeing?

Nalan and Albertine Sarges!… and then Discovery Zone, which I’ve seen a couple of times already obviously but everything is different now and I want to soak it all in. Oh, I’m excited that Culk are playing, I just discovered them briefly before everything started. And also Sophia Kennedy. And Noga Erez!!! Holy moly. Shouldn’t miss that show.

► Wednesday Aug 25, 19:20 – 20:00, Palais


Elizabete Balčus

Photo: Zigmunds Ziemelis

Latvian artist Elizabete Balčus’ work spans a dizzying array of topics and themes and mixes them up into omnivorous, experimental and colourful music.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage?

Live performance has always been a really important part of what I do so to have an enforced break was a big blow. Nevertheless, I had planned some time off from touring (I was touring my debut album material for about three years around the world) so that I could write my second album. Now I’m back with new material after a long, refreshing break. This is going to be one of the first chances for people to hear my new set.

Your last album came out in 2016 and last single in 2018 – Can we expect new music from you in the near future?

Yes, my album Conarium was quite a long time ago now. The single IKA was a one-off single and I did a video with a great artist from Latvia, which used some innovative motion graphics. The new album I would have liked to bring out earlier but the way I write songs is quite a long process. I have a picture of my music in my head before I even open my studio so when I’m in this state of writing, small interruptions can make me lose the flow needed to finish. I need prolonged time alone so I can be focused without life getting in the way. I did find that recently. When I catch my composition or the right atmosphere, I work a lot with layers and improvised parts to create a balance between something very structured and something anarchic. I self-produce everything and bring to it exactly the effects I want to hear before going to the studio to meet my engineer. Riga-based engineer Silvestrs worked with me on Conarium and has been involved in my new album, and brought a sonic quality that I don’t have the technical capacity to achieve alone. I can’t say too much more about the album other than it’s very nearly ready to send out into the world. But people can hear my new songs live for now.

You have written songs inspired by Greek mythology, and your album Conarium has a name that means both the pineal gland and a jellyfish larvae. Do you feel your music is an outlet for you to explore the subjects that interest you?

Yes – I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t an opportunity to manifest what’s most important to me. I reflect on my dreams a lot and I think a phantasmagoric quality tends to find its way into my music because I have a theatre background as well. I became really fascinated by the capability of human consciousness – I suppose music has this impact on me too, to take me beyond. The new album sees me explore unknown realms but I can’t say too much more yet. Lets talk at the festival. Come to the show!

Are there any other artists on the line up that you’re excited about seeing?

Yes – I particularly like CEL, a band signed to Bureau B records from Hamburg. They are one of those labels whose material is reliably exciting. I am also looking forward to hear Yegor Zabelov – I was at his concert just over a year ago and the energy he transferred through his accordion was stunning.


PAAR

Photo: Michele Di Dio

Munich trio PAAR’s debut album is called Die Notwendigkeit der Notwendigkeit (The Necessity of Necessity), which probably tells you a lot about their sound – dark, intense but danceable post-punk.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage?

It‘s kind of an eerie feeling. We‘re rediscovering ourselves going on stage again since we were working differently, after March 20 we did a couple of streaming shows which felt special but weird at the same time. Now we‘re looking forward to sucking the blood out of the audience again. 

You initially started the band when living in different cities, before you all ended up in Munich. How did PAAR come together in the early days?

Parts of PAAR share a past of playing together in previous bands; all of us knew each other from nightlife. Rico and Ly started a band as an electronic online experiment when Rico moved to Weimar. After showing Matthias a couple of demos he decided to join and we formed a band while still being unsettled, living in different cities and countries, and we shared our ideas online and recorded our parts all by ourselves. After reuniting in Munich we started playing live and PAAR became our main music project. 

Post-punk is an obvious touchstone for your music, but there’s also a real groove undergirding a lot of your songs. Is it important to you that your music has that rhythm and motion to it?

While having a common post-punk affiliation, each of us has various musical and artistic influences, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Sunn O))). Somehow it seems that our different influences interlink to form a catchy vibe.

Are there any other artists on the line-up you’re excited about seeing?

All Diese Gewalt, CEL, Culk

► Thursday Aug 26, 19:20 – 20:00, Palais


Dino Brandão

Dino Brandao

Photo: Gaetan Nicolas

Previously seen in the band Frank Power, Dino Brandão first went solo on a collaborative album with Faber and Sophie Hunger before returning recently with a single that was all of his own – the lava-lamp psych-folk song Bouncy Castle.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage?

Ooooh yes… it is indeed. I’m so hyped to be getting back on stage. Last week I got to play Montreux Jazz Festival with my friends. Going off stage after the concert I felt like I must have been dead for the last few months. I’ve missed it terribly and I realised how important it is to me and for the songs too. I could work on a tune for years but I reckon I only find out on stage whether it feels right or not. So I’m  happy to finally through myself out there again. 

You first launched Dino Brandão as a solo project on the joint album Ich liebe dich with Sophie Hunger and Faber. How did that project start, and was that the impetus for you to go solo?

I’ve lived together with Faber for a couple of years, I’ve toured with Sophie Hunger and we’ve became close friends. So like a year ago we were all stranded in Zurich during lockdown, knowing that playing live music will most likely not be a thing for quite some time. Ich liebe dich was the  result of that time, the emotional and  musical void that we’ve needed to fill with song. We’re all beyond happy how it turned out. But no, I pressed pause with my old bandmates three years ago and that’s when I started writing, recording/producing my oddly personal songs all by myself. So releasing music under my own name has been my plan ever since back then. Things take time though as music’s an endless room with thousands of doors available at times. 

Your first single Bouncy Castle has a new, psychedelic, soulful sound. What kind of musical territory do you want to explore as Dino Brandão?

I try to capture what’s inside of me. Trying to combine things into somewhat ‘new’. I use the entire range of my voice, and my journey as a solo-artist started by me analysing my own name, my musical heritage, trying to understand both my mother and my father’s homelands (Switzerland and Angola). So there’s some half-imagined half-lived African side in my music and a rich, Swiss sound full of dope guitar pedals. I call it afro psych, it’s the many MEs I have and I’m about to unleash. So – I’m exploring Neo-hippy-super-flow-rocking-out-boogie-crying-love-politics. 

Are there any other artists on the line-up you’re excited about seeing?

Noga Erez, Sophia Kennedy, Culk and Mustelide seems dope. There’s a ton of artists I don’t know – I’m very much looking forward to finding out more about them, as much as time will allow.


Benzii

benzii

Photo: Emilia Stroschein

Benzii specialises in brutal, intense, heavy electro-pop. For this show only she’s performing as Benzii & Friends, as she’ll be joined for the show by guest apperences from Bae.con and Luca Eck.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage?

To be honest I’ve only performed in front of friends or in school yet haha, so It’s more about being extremely excited about my very first live show ever for me!

Your music plays with a blend of minimalism and heavy, bass-driven muscle. Is finding the balance and blend between elements like that something that you find creatively compelling?

Well, I think the balance between sounds is the key to creating a multi-functional song, meaning it can be played in many different settings, moods etc, which I find very beautiful.

You’re having a couple of guests join you for your show. Did you want to add a collaborative element to your live performance? 

So l want to be honest. I’m very selective about my projects, which is why I do not have enough songs I want to perform for my slot. So I came up with the idea of sharing my stage time with people and friends that inspire me, which in the end also made a lot of sense to me, because they’re in some way part of the idea behind Benzii, even if they didn’t mean to.

Are there any other artists on the line-up you’re excited about seeing?

Yes! I’m extremely excited for Mechatok! I think he’s one of the brightest new talents out there. I cannot get enough of his work with Bladee.


Culk

Culk

Photo: Antonia Mayer

Culk, if the answers from some of the other artists are anything to go by, are the band everyone’s talking about. The band from Vienna released their new album Zerstreuen über euch, on which they summon up a musical storm perfectly represented by single Dichterin.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage?

We just started touring with our latest album which came out in Oct 2020. For us it’s the most essential part of what we’re doing musically, as it provides some kind of guidance between periods of songwriting. The immediate response of an audience to our music is where it all starts to make sense somehow.

A lot has been made of how important your lyrics are to your songs. Do you feel that it’s a signature of a Culk song that it has to be meaningful, whether politically or personally?

The balancing act is where it really gets interesting for us. Addressing bigger cultural or societal themes in 2-5 minute songs is doomed to failure from the beginning. Trying it anyways is what always seemed exciting for us. But even lyrics that seem to be bland create some kind of statement in itself, so we wouldn’t really care to differentiate music in what may seem meaningful and what not.

Are there any other artists on the line-up you’re excited about seeing?

We have a pretty tight tour plan leading up to our show at Pop-Kultur, so we will savour the program on Saturday. It’s really great that it features many different art forms that nonetheless are related to each other. We especially hope we can catch Eunique, KARMA SHE and Hengameh Yaghoobifarah’s reading session on Saturday.


Steve Mekoudja

Steve Mekoudja

Jennifer Tuffour

As well as being a musician, Steve Mekoudja is almost every other form of artist you could think of – poet, writer and filmmaker. His new EP Origins came out last year, which took his thoughtful lyrical style and paired it with more direct, soulful pop music.

Is it exciting to be playing live shows again? How does it feel to be getting back on stage? 

I haven’t played with my band now for over a year and a half. Just before the pandemic began, we were planning to do a small tour, and then, lockdown… We got in contact with each other to do pre- recorded performances or performances from my room on Instagram live. Who would have thought that two years ago?! So you can understand my joy to be able to perform soon at this beautiful festival. 

As well as being a musician, you’re also a writer, poet and filmmaker. Do you feel that you  have so much to express, that you need all of those creative outlets to do it properly? And do you feel that each idea you have is best suited to each different medium? 

I appreciate this question because I’m actually constantly questioning which medium is best suited for me to convey a message. How do I know if my ideas will be better heard through a poem, through a book or through a song? The truth is that we can’t know. I think you have to let the message that the universe sends take shape on its own. In fact, it is the work itself that imposes on us the form that it wants to take. We may think we have control over it, but I don’t find this to be true. We are only the instrument that art uses. All these things that you mentioned regarding my work: music, film, writing etc…, I can summarize them as such: I am exactly the same person when I sing, when I write or when I make a film. I don’t put myself in someone else’s shoes. In fact, I often say that I write a poem like I cook a sauce; It’s the same process. And again, the artist really doesn’t decide – they undergo.

Your album Rituals was a little bit more abstract in the songwriting, with divergences into spoken word, poetry and instrumentals. The new EP, Origins, is more directly a collection of straight-out songs. Do you feel the style you’ve developed on that EP represents the musical direction you’re currently pursuing? 

What you say is really very accurate. And I am first of all very grateful that you took the time to listen to my projects because to be able to make that comment, you have to have really listened. I thank you for that. 

It is true that my two projects differ enormously in form. Rituals was my very first project, it was very personal. It was very raw. I didn’t ask myself any questions about the form or indeed the length (18 tracks). I don’t know if I will do a project like that again as I’m not sure if I will ever have the necessary innocence again. I regret that loss of innocence a bit to be honest but that’s also what it means to evolve, to travel. That’s how I view my career… as a journey. My second project Origins was less personal. I didn’t really talk about my experiences but rather those of my Cameroonian compatriots who lived through the war. So the process was different. I was more attentive to others, to their screams, to their tears. I don’t yet know what the next project will be like but what I can say is that it will be very intimate. It will be a mixture of song, poetry and a bit more abstract. See you in a few months at the release…

Are there any other artists on the line-up you’re excited about seeing? 

I don’t know all the artists on the line-up but I took the time to go and look at what everyone is doing and I have to say that I am impressed with all of them. Kudos to the festival curators. I will try to see all the performances… The two performances I’m most looking forward to are Freak de l’Afrique (Saturday), K.ZIA (Friday) and Serious Klein (Saturday). 


Pop-Kultur Berlin 2021, Various Venues, for full line-up and ticket details see www.pop-kultur.berlin