One thing that makes music festivals essentially so special is the way they are located. Especially when you are outside the environment that normally defines your life. With the whole combination of the camping in the wilderness, the sleepless nights, the constant narcotic influences and the lack of hygiene you’re automatically switch into a certain festival modus. Far away from civilization and ordinary routines the special, almost hippie-esque spirit can spread around each and every one. Well, to make this clear first – the BERLIN FESTIVAL is not such an event. And it doesn’t want to be one like publicist Stephan Velten recently told us in an interview. It doesn’t even want to show the cultural diversity of Germans hip capital – it rather wants to be as colorful and versatile as the city itself. Placed right at the end of the BERLIN MUSIC WEEK this event works differently – it’s a bit more cleaned up, focused on art and the mechanisms of the ever changing music industry and on the concerts itself. So, we left our tents at home, pur our cleanest shirts on and threw ourselves into the hipster heart of Berlin City.
So, there was a lot going on in the town besides the festival itself. Still a lot of events in the frame of the BERLIN MUSIC WEEK (you can read our impressions on this one here too within the next days), a lot of club happenings in the aftermaths of the main event that was – once again – based on the Tempelhof airport with the official night program in the Club XBerg at the Arena in the district Treptow. So with the historical background of Berlins most famous airport the theme was once again set. Volunteers were dressed up as stewardesses, the whole check-in in the entrance hall was basically like everyone was boarding a flight and the main stage looked like a giant airplane with all the others stages being also build up in different hangars. Without any doubt – this area is really special and probably the best way to handle such an event within an urban environment. And there was so much to discover. Debates, art, paintings, installations, various shopping options and of course the music. We got the chance to see a few of them.
Friday – “Walking, talking endlessly / Dancing, dancing on my tongue”
Due to a late arrival we missed the astonishing opening by the BRANDT BRAUER FRICK ENSEMBLE which is kind of sad – but we got there just in time to experience Icelandic indie shooting stars OF MONSTERS AND MEN and their euphoric indie anthems. This almost made us forget about the cloudy and slightly cold autumn day. The guys were followed by the brilliant London neo-soul newcomer MICHAEL KIWANUKA who managed to warm up the hearts of the small crowd in front of the main stage on this afternoon. Brilliant singer/songwriter, beautiful warm voice and a lot of soul and funk within him and his band. We highly recommend his debut Home Again – a record that sounds like a lost one from the 70s but which is clearly set in the hear and now. After this hyped indie-hipsters FRIENDS were playing at the Hangar 5. To criticize this right at the beginning – the sound on this stage was pretty weak throughout the whole festival. Very echoed, hazy and not very well mixed which makes a lot of bands sound worse than they are actually. Same goes for WE HAVE BAND – their energetic dance pop wasn’t nearly as powerful in this place as we remembered it. Sad thing. So we left the big stage to have a visit to the even smaller Berlin Music Week Stage where Scandinavian indie pop newcomers HIGHASAKITE – who we already met earlier this week – once again proofed why their hymnic songs are worth to be recognized by the whole world. Really. Believe us! Another pretty hyped act was up next on the Hangar 4 stage – canadian artist Claire Boucher aka GRIMES presented tracks from her criticly acclaimed 2012 longplayer Visions. A crazy and wicked show, with a lot of dances, nudity (not by Boucher herself, unfortunately), wild moves and lasers. And an interesting musical mixture that constanly switches between abstract sound and beat constructions and cheap electro trash. We’re still not quite sure what to think of her but you can’t tell without any doubt that she’s kind of exciting.
But we were even more excited about what was next. The triumphant return of Icelandic sound virtuosos SIGUR RÓS to German stages after an absence of four years. Well, what can we say? Can we even say anything? Are words really capable to describe their sound and the impact it already had on our lifes in the past and had on this evening? The seventy minutes these four guys were playing with their backing band were clearly the highlight on this day. From old tracks like the still epic Hafsól to music of their recently released longplayer Valtari – the icelandic geniuses presented a wide range of their musical brilliance that made everyone forget the dipping rain fall on this evening. Exciting, disturbing, sheer beauty – it was a challenge to invite such a group as main act but the triumphant applause at the end of their stunning performance makes us believe that the decision was right and well excepted by the audience. As we needed a musical contrast program we decided to focus on MAJOR LAZERs performance who is kind of hard to describe too – but in a different way. A lot of genres, confetti, sexy dancing and bouncy beats – great way to get us in shape for the party program at Club Xberg.
We had a tough choice at the beginning since METRONOMY and WHEN SAINTS GO MACHINE were playing at the same time. We choose the danish synthie poppers over the British indietronics and we couldn’t be happier about this decision. Their performance over at the small Glashaus stage was another highlight of this weekend. Brilliant sound, great vibe and the hauntingly beautiful voice by frontman Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild made the crowd go completely crazy. The group was clearly overwhelmed by the positive feedback they got at this night. Slowly grooving but magical synthie pop moments that left us speechless – and that get us warm for the upcoming dance acts. First there was New Yorks modern queer disco icon Andy Butler who performed as the HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR SOUNDSYSTEM – that means it was him playing old house tunes and two brilliant singers who sung live on the beats from vinyl and who constantly pushed the crowd. A great, great disco experience – especially when Butler left his turntables and danced with his singers – only dressed up in leather shorts. Do we need to say more? That was some hot stuff. Is almost in the middle of the night when Butler finished and the main stage was handled over to the heavy, acid-driven over-the-top-rave by CROOKERS and later DADA LIFE. Definitely nothing for electronic sophisticates – it was pure hands-up-dance-music. But well a good way to release the rest of our energy. What a finish for the first day. And there was still a second one to come.
Saturday – “Time finally caught up with me”
Due to the extensive dancing on the previous night we were still a bit wasted on the next day. Who could blame us? So a perfect mood to experience the festival besides the musical acts who were already beginning on this Saturday afternoon. We walked across the Art Village, painted some graffiti and grabbed some old second hand clothes. And we listened to the BERLIN DEBATE – a discussion of the ongoing problems with the copyright issue and the problems with the GEMA here in Germany. Everyone on the podium made good points but – of course – there was no real answer given to the problem. We all might have copied and illegal downloaded music in the past and everyone should be aware of this fact and might find an individual way to support their favorite act. So while the invited guests were still debating, DJANGO DJANGO have started playing on the mainstage. But we soon realized that the abstract indie pop of these guys was a bit too much for our still slightly damaged brains – so we were looking for something a bit less hectic and we found it in form of the Swedish folk sisters FIRST AID KIT who did a really lovable performance full of beauty and feeling. Next it was time to face the sound problems of the Hangar 5 stage again – but it somehow seems to sound a bit better this day although it was somehow difficult to hear the voice of Ed MacFarlane – frontman of indie pop band FRIENDLY FIRES. But, well, this was acceptable as his extrovert performance is just true beauty to watch. The whole band is just a highly endorphine-pumping musical adventure whose energetic beach pop makes us all want to shake our booty or at least jump in the pool – as one of their hits already tells us to do. They were great and made us finally feel like living again. FRANZ FERDINAND made their comeback next on the main stage – a performance without compromises and risks since they were playing all the hits that made us once fell in love with these guys. We’re looking forward to an already planned new longplayer. Back at Hangar 5 we witnessed the first ever German performance by IAMAMIWHOAMI – the ambitious multimedia art project by Swedish songwriter Jonna Lee. She just released her long awaited debut kin and managed to transform this unique concept with an interesting stage show. We won’t spoil much, but there was a huge cub, a lot of fur, sexy dancing by the singer and pumping beats from her band. If you ever get the chance to experience this whole thing somewhere please do so. Although the sound was quite good at this performance it was – once again – a bit later at the show from British electronica newcomer SBTRKT. Kind of sad since his performance was really interesting but less powerful as it could have been. But this might have been our very own perception of it.
Back at Club Xberg the focus was – once again – laid on electronic beats. New York synthie pop duo LIGHT ASYLUM did a stunning performance with their darkened 80s pop that clearly sounds like it has been recorded back in 1984. Especially Shannon Funchess and her unique voice is the engine that drives these songs. Great thing. After this we decided to constantly switch between the acid-driven DJ-Set by German electronic institution MODESELEKTOR in the huge arena and the groovy dance-pop by the JUNIOR BOYS in the tiny Glashaus. Both were just too good to decide just for one of them. And since the way between both stages is quite short it made perfect sense to not stay at one point. We later did for the performance by indietronic newcomer and hype act TOTALLY ENORMOUS EXTINCT DINOSAURS. His show was slightly disappointing although it wasn’t completely his fault. First, he had a lot of technical issues over on the stage – which he mentioned more than once during his set and second, his intense electronic pop might function a bit better in a small location instead of a huge hall. But, well, these are the problems that come along with success. We still had some energy left, danced to the fancy French house by THE MAGICIAN and the underground-esque techno beats by SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO. A great and deep ending for the Club Xberg. We were happy and totally far out – but mostly very tired. We threw our shoes away, stumbled towards the Subway and into the sunrise after a long music marathon.
So, what stays after this massive amount of impressions? Well, as we said at the beginning – the BERLIN FESTIVAL 2012 was clearly not one of the typical open air music festivals that puts you far away from civilization. It is pretty much happening within the very heart of it. That makes the general mood probably a bit less free spirited but also puts the focus differently. There is much to discover here, far more than we were able to see and experience. And probably a bit too much different stuff to fully see everything you wanted to see. A bit less of everything might be more effective in the future – just to rearrange the focus a bit. But there is always room for progress. We really enjoyed our weekend in Berlin and we really enjoyed being there – the BERLIN FESTIVAL might still be on the way but it’s a good one as far as we can see. We might book another flight next year.